Summary: Elijah comes as God's representative to call his people back to God. He is a type of Christ
By Rev Bill Stewart
In the church we often use outdated language or terms that are not generally used by other people. We sometimes talk about God as "sovereign" and often speak about the "sovereignty of God." My dictionary (The Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus) defines a "sovereign" as "a person exercising supreme authority, especially a monarch", and "sovereignty" as "supreme and unrestricted power." While kings like Henry VIII exercised enormous power, with all due respect to Queen Elizabeth II, for example, she does not exercise that kind of power. So what does it mean to speak of the "sovereignty of God" today?
I'm sure you've noticed by now that I'm a huge fan of Eugene Peterson's The Message translation of the Bible. It seems to me that he's not just translating the Bible but preaching it at the same time. He has also written some brilliant short introductions to each book of the Bible which I think speak straight to us. In his introduction to the books of Kings, Peterson talks about the "sovereignty of God" today. [Hopefully in the spirit of Peterson's Bible translation I have translated a few of his words from American speech into Australian in the following quotations].
"Sovereignty, God's sovereignty, is one of the most difficult things for people of faith to live out in everyday routines. But we have no choice: [...] God rules. Not only in our personal affairs, but in the cosmos. Not only in our times and places of worship, but in office buildings, political affairs, factories, universities, hospitals—yes, even behind the scenes in pubs and rock concerts. It's a wild and extravagant notion, to be sure. But nothing in our Scriptures is attested to more frequently or emphatically."
But then Peterson says:
"Yet not much in our daily experience confirms it. Impersonal forces and arrogant egos compete for the last word in power. Most of us are knocked around much of the time by forces and wills that give no hint of God. Still, generation after generation, men and women of sober mind continue to give sober witness to God's sovereign rule. One of the enduring titles given to Jesus is 'King'."
Then Peterson poses the question all this raises:
"So how do we manage to live believingly and obediently in and under this revealed sovereignty in a world that is mostly either ignorant or defiant of it?"
The answer Eugene Peterson suggests is that "Worship shaped by an obedient reading of Scripture is basic. We must," he says, "submit to having our imaginations and behaviours conditioned by the reality of God..." We would agree with him here, I hope! But then he says that we find can what he calls "essential data" on life under God's sovereign rule in the books of Kings. Is that where you would look for that "essential data"? As Peterson says, the books of Kings are for the most part about the failure of the kings of Israel. There are a few bright lights but on the whole it’s a very dark story indeed. In fact, he points out that Kings shows that Israel’s demand for a king "was about the worst thing they could have asked for." So what is the "essential data"?
Well I think four of the things Eugene Peterson says in response to this (and I’m paraphrasing him here) really are "essential data" for us today:
(1) Despite the failure of the kings God continues to work his purposes in the world.
(2) God's rule isn’t forced upon any man and woman so that they have no choice but to conform to his to justice and truth and righteousness.
(3) The way God’s rule is worked out is from within, and often it is invisible and unnoticed by most people but it is always there.
(4) The Books of Kings is about God’s rule being carried out "among some of the most unlikely and uncooperative people who have ever lived."
II. WHO IS IN CONTROL?
I'm sure you would agree that in last week's reading from the Book of Kings we heard about some of the most uncooperative people who have ever lived – those dreadful kings, Baasha, Zimri and Ahab. Last week was exhibit one in the evidence that the demand of God to "have a king" was about he worst thing the people of Israel could have asked for. Well today we hear about some of the unlikely people God was working out his purposes through – Elijah the Tishbite and a widow from Zarephath. It starts out with God deciding the time has come to take action against King Ahab. So what does God do? Well he challenges his opponent to a duel. And this week and next week we are going to be witnesses to that confrontation. But how does God fight this duel? Not by hiring some great warrior but calling some nobody – Elijah the Tishbite! And he sends Elijah (unarmed) with a message for the King: