ELIJAH: STANDING BEFORE GOD

1 Kings 17:1—6

We are about to meet the most exciting prophet of the Old Testament.  Elijah appeared suddenly, with no fanfare, as God’s spokesman during the reign of King Ahab.  In the darkest hours, God’s light shines the brightest, and Elijah was that bright light for the days of Ahab were dark indeed.

Ahab was the northern kingdom’s seventh monarch.  He was the son of and successor to King Omri.  Ahab’s 22 year reign was marked by a depth of moral and spiritual decline in Israel not seen before.  Ahab continued the wicked ways of his father but took them even further.  Even though he was one of Israel’s strongest leaders in terms of military prowess, he was vile to the core.  In an act of outright rebellion, Ahab married the beautiful but deadly Jezebel, and through her influence the prophets of God were mercilessly slain and the worship of Baal was firmly established as the national religion of Israel.  The whole nation seemed to be completely caught up in this terrible, idolatrous religion.

King Ahab was a reprobate of the highest order.  He was proud and arrogant and completely self-absorbed.  An example of evil this man was is seen in 1 Kings 16:34—

In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun.

In defiance of Joshua’s long-standing curse, Ahab allowed Hiel to rebuild Jericho, which resulted in the death of Hiel’s firstborn son.

At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: “At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates.”  (Joshua 6:26)

So we see that Ahab had no regard for the Word of God, yet he was a complex man.  He was selfish and cruel, morally weak, and obsessed with living a luxurious life.  But at other times, he actually heeded the Word of God and displayed genuine bravery in the face of enemies.  King Ahab, though, was a compromiser of God’s Word, and here is God’s estimate of King Ahab—

There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife.  (1 Kings 21:25)

To this man, God sent His man, Elijah.

1.  Background of Elijah, verse 1a

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead

Elijah was a true rugged individualist; he was tough and determined and he was the perfect man to be prophesying during the darkness that shrouded Israel while Ahab was ruling.  Throughout the history of the faithful southern kingdom of Judah and the idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel, God raised up a succession of prophets to bear witness for Him.  God never abandoned His people; even during this period of judgment God, was concerned about them and sought to communicate to them using men perfectly suited to the task.

The days of Ahab were wicked, evil and dangerous.  No mild-mannered, professorial-type of prophet could have done what Elijah did.  He was definitely a man of his time, and his time desperately needed the Word of God proclaimed.  Elijah’s time not only needed a preacher of great spirit, but also of great deeds.   God manifested His power through Elijah over and over again, all to the defeat of the demonic forces in back of Baal and Asherah.

We are told he was from Tishbe in Gilead.  The Hebrew of this whole verse is a bit obscure as evidenced by the way different translations read.  There was a Tishbe in Galilee and it is certain he did not come from there.   Since there is no evidence to the contrary, the assumption scholars have made is that Elijah came from a desolate, mountainous area bordering Arabia and that Elijah was at least part Arabian.  With such a background, this prophet was tough as nails and just as rugged as the country from which he came.

2.  Elijah’s standing, verse 1b

“As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”  (tNIV)

As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.  (KJV)

Elijah was a man who both served God and stood before God.

(a)  He had unwavering faith in God.  No man could stand before such a violent king as Ahab in his own strength!  We are reminded of Moses coming before Pharaoh, yet Moses was never alone; he walked in the presence of God.  Elijah’s faith in God gave him victory over any fear he may have had of Ahab.

No Christian need ever fear anything or anybody if their faith and focus is on God.  If we experience fear—of disease, or financial difficulty—those things appear bigger than God to us.  When confronted with overwhelming feelings of faithlessness or inadequacy which lead invariably to fear and anxiety, we must remember before whom we stand and in whom are faith is.  Our faith must never be in ourselves or any man and we must stand before the God we serve constantly.  Proverbs 29:25 states it clearly—

To fear anyone will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

Some of the most fearful people in the world are Christians; they seem to fear everything and everybody.  What a terrible witness to sinners!  What a terrible way to live.

(b)  He was accepted by God.  Elijah was a man who was clearly accepted by God; he was one who had yielded himself to God.  God was able to channel His power through Elijah because the prophet had opened his life and his heart to God.  Elijah had offered himself up to the service to His God.  Really, Elijah did nothing more or less than what every Christian ought to do—

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  (Romans 12:1—3)

Elijah is a classic and enduring example of one who had done precisely as Paul had prescribed.  He spoke boldly the Word of God because he knew exactly what God’s Word to Ahab was.  Elijah did not have to guess, he did not have to spend a lot of time praying about a word that may or may not have come from the Lord; he KNEW what God’s Word was because he walked in the presence of God.

Elijah’s weather report to Ahab was not good news to king.  The drought had already been going on in Israel for at least six months, so that part of the message came as no surprise to the king.  But the revelation of the real cause of the drought served to not only scare the daylights out of Ahab, but it also showed the apostate leadership of Israel for what it really was.  The awful drought that had afflicted Israel for the past six months was the result of a godless king!   How this must have galled the king and frightened the people; they were suffering because they had broken their covenant relationship with God.

In contrast to the phony fertility gods of Baal and Asherah, the very gods the Israelites were enamored with, Elijah’s God had the power to withhold rain and stop all the crops from growing.

3.  He was obedient and God took care of him, verses 3, 4

“Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.”

The words Elijah spoke were powerful and they hit their mark.  But words were not enough; God had to drive this message home.  To show just how serious the situation was and how serious it would become, God took the unusual step of putting his prophet into seclusion.  Why would God do such a strange thing?

First, in the days and weeks to come, Ahab would frantically search for Elijah to entreat him to intercede on his behalf in order to end the drought.  But God was finished speaking for now; there was nothing Ahab could say that God wanted to hear.  There are times when, in our rebellion, God turns a deaf ear to all but words of repentance.

Second, Elijah’s absence would be a vivid illustration of God’s extreme displeasure.  There is precedent for God withdrawing Himself from His people; consider the words of Asaph—

O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?

We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.  (Psalm 74:1, 9)

Lastly, Elijah had a lot to learn, and like Paul many centuries later, the prophet needed to get away from everybody in order to hear from God.

In complete obedience to God, not asking why, Elijah walked some 15 miles from Jezreel to the Jordan River.  There, in one of the many narrow gorges along the Jordan, God’s prophet took up residence.  Notice:  Elijah was completely alone.  He had no distractions from friend, family, or foe.  He had no resources of his own. Elijah was literally forced to trust in God’s provision.  He had plenty of water to drink and, miraculously, ravens brought him food.

It is true that Elijah already had faith, but in the future his mission would require him to have and to exercise much, much more faith just to survive.  He needed this time alone to be taught by God and to witness God’s miraculous provision.

In these opening verses of Elijah’s life, we may learn a few simple lessons.

  • God finds and equips the right person to do His will.  Just as Elijah was perfectly suited to the task to which he had been called, so God calls each of us and equips each of us perfectly to do His work.
  • God’s choice servants are almost always prepared in secret and in seclusion.  God calls individuals to service and He alone can adequately prepare them.
  • Great men and women of God come from the strangest places.  If we had seen Elijah living among the rocks of the Arabian desert, we would have never suspected that he would become a mighty prophet of God.
  • The secret of speaking boldly for God is the same for us as it was for Elijah:  we must “stand before God” continually.
  • God’s judgment is sure to fall on those who rebel against Him.  God will use common, everyday things to show His displeasure with sin.
(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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