“Long ago in a land far, far away…” Welcome to the sermon series: “Seer Wars”. Have you been wondering how this Star Wars take-off will play out? Well I won’t dress up as Darth Vader. Like Yoda not speak will I. And I won’t tell you that the movie series is based on the Bible. Luke Skywalker is not a “Jesus” figure, and The Force is not God. But there are certain aspects of the struggle between good and evil in Star Wars that we see played out in the life of the seer, Elijah. Over the next six Sundays we’ll see how God combated the evil forces of Satan in Elijah’s day and be assured that God still fights for us today. All set to learn more? Let’s begin then with Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
In the opening scene (from 1 Kings 16:29) we meet King Ahab, ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel. A hundred years before Ahab’s day, Palestine had been divided into two different Jewish nations. The southern kingdom, known as Judah, was ruled by descendants of King David, while the northern kingdom, known as Israel, was already on its fourth dynasty. Ahab was the second king to rule in his dynasty and he was the strongest ruler. During his reign he twice defeated the powerful Aramaeans to the north. He built up the capital city, Samaria, so that a hundred years later it took the mighty Assyrians three years to breach its walls. Ahab’s palace itself was a site to behold as the inside was made of inlaid ivory.
Although politically Ahab was one of Israel’s best kings, religiously he was the worst. Ahab’s religious resume begins with the ominous note that he thought nothing of committing the sins of Jeroboam (1 Kings 16:31). Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom, was infamous for having built two shrines and putting a golden calf in each. He then urged his subjects to worship at these shrines instead of going down to worship in Jerusalem claiming that his people were still worshipping the God of the Bible, just in a different way. God himself did not agree. He had given his people specific commands regarding worship, including the command to worship him only at the temple in Jerusalem. He had also told them not to bow before any idol.
God’s view of Jeroboam’s worship style reminds us that there are right and wrong ways to worship God. I’m not talking about Lutheran chorales versus contemporary music. I’m talking about those who would say that God doesn’t care whether you worship him at a mosque or in a church. He does care and tells us clearly that the only acceptable way to worship him is through faith in Jesus as our Savior from sin. If we don’t believe that we are sinners unable to earn salvation, and if we don’t believe that Jesus has given us that forgiveness for free, then anything we call “worship”, even the things we do right here in this church are not acceptable to God. In fact without faith in Christ they are abominable! Friends, let’s not kid ourselves and think that we’ve worshipped God just by showing up at church this morning. True worship is a matter of doing things God’s way with God’s heart.
Unfortunately Ahab thought that worshipping at Jeroboam’s shrines was passé. He wanted a more exciting form of worship. He found it in the religion of his wife, Jezebel. Queen Jezebel was from Sidon, an area just north of Israel, and was an avid worshipper of Baal – a local idol believed to be the god who provided rain and good harvests. Jezebel is the Phantom Menace in our story. It was she who was responsible for many of the wicked decisions Ahab made, including the decision to import 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, an idol believed to be the sister/wife of Baal. It was also at Jezebel’s insistence that Ahab had the prophets of the true God hunted down and killed.
Baal worship had always been enticing to the Israelites because its adherents worshipped by having sex parties. The idea was that if Baal saw the people engaging in sex he would get excited and sleep with Asherah, an act that supposedly caused rain to fall and give good harvests. God knew how tempting this form of worship would be to the sinful nature of his people. That’s why he had commanded the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites and their Baals before they settled in the Promised Land. But this didn’t get done and from the beginning Baal’s influence seeped into the lives of the Israelites and then under Jezebel was pumped into their homes with extraordinary pressure (LaSar, OT Introduction, p. 266).
How did God respond to Ahab’s choice of wife and religion? He could have just let Ahab go his merry way, a way that was leading him and many others to hell. But God, in his grace, did not do that. He sought to turn Ahab from his destructive ways when he moved the prophet Elijah to go speak with him. Don’t think of Elijah as a Luke Skywalker. Elijah was more of an Obi-Wan Kenobi character. He was a loner who lived out in the desert and wore rough clothing much as Obi-Wan did. Elijah approached the king with this message: “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” (1 Kings 17:1).
As far as we know, Elijah didn’t have a direct command from God to approach Ahab, nor did he know for certain that God was going to send a drought (Jeske). According to the New Testament book of James (5:17), Elijah prayed that God would send a drought. Now why would Elijah put his life on the line by praying for something the king would not like and then telling the king about it? Elijah did this because he cared for Ahab. He wanted Ahab to see that it wasn’t Baal who caused the rain to fall, but God. He wanted Ahab to turn from his evil ways and be saved.
Bold, direct, yet caring. That was Elijah. Does it describe us? Do we love the people around us enough to pray that God would do something in their lives to bring them to their senses? And when that happens do we rush in to point these people to the one true God who is in charge of their lives? Don’t think it’s our place to do that? Still waiting for a direct call from God to speak the truth about sin and grace? Elijah didn’t have a direct command (as far as we know), but like us he had God’s command in Scripture. Although the following words were recorded by the prophet Ezekiel 150 years after Elijah, they were concepts Elijah understood and truths that still apply to us today. God said to Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood” (Ezekiel 33:7, 8).
Even with God’s command to warn others about their sin, it’s not easy to do that is it? It means getting out of our comfort zone and putting ourselves in the battle zone. How did Elijah do it? How can we become bold like him? We can’t become bold on our own; God has to make us bold. He does that through his promises to be with us and to care for us as he cared for Elijah. After Elijah preached his one sentence sermon he became public enemy number one. God knew that and he wasn’t going to let anything happen to his spokesman. So God told Elijah to hide in the Kerith Ravine where he would find water from a small brook and food would be brought to him twice a day by ravens. If God can cause ravens, birds that normally jealously guard their food, to feed a prophet, he certainly can care for us no matter what our circumstances and he has promised to do that. That promise frees us from worrying about unimportant things like where our food and clothes will come from and allows us to “worry” about things that matter - like how can I tell more people about Jesus and his blood that erases our past, no matter how perverted it may be.
What effect did Elijah’s sermon have on Ahab? You’ll have to come back next week to find out. Let’s just say that things got worse before they got better. Although the Phantom Menace continued to cast her shadow across Israel, God’s grace and power shone through it. It still does today. No matter how bad things get in our society we have God’s Word, and therefore we have God’s grace and power to call sinners (including ourselves) to repentance. So be bold. Be direct. And be caring just as Elijah was as you tell others about Jesus. Amen.