JUST LIKE US (part four)
Last week we looked at the example of Samson. When Samson was born he was given a special Nazirite vow. He couldn't drink alcohol or even grape juice. And he couldn't cut his hair. These conditions were to indicate that he would be noticeably set apart for a special purpose.
God also gave Samson unique physical strength. Unfortunately, however, Samson in some ways did not possess a high level of spiritual strength. He was vulnerable to the persuasions of the opposite sex. This ultimately led to his downfall when he revealed the secret to his strength to Delilah.
But throughout Samson's disobedience God was still with him-even at the very end. Today, we'll look at another super hero-Elijah. He may not have possessed great physical strength but he was bold and courageous...well, most of the time.
1) Bold and courageous.
Elijah was one of the prophets of God. We first see his name in 1st Kings 17:1 where we see him pronouncing a drought prophecy to King Ahab. Elijah would have his share of run ins with King Ahab and more definitively his wife, Jezebel. More on that shortly.
Elijah is mentioned over 100 times in the bible. He performed miracles, even raised a widow's son from the dead. Another interesting thing about Elijah is that he was one of only two people (Enoch being the other) who ascended to heaven without dying. It was a pretty dramatic scene with a chariot of fire and horses taking him up to heaven in a whirlwind. That's pretty amazing to have on your resume.
He was a prominent OT figure. In fact, when Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a mountain and transfigured into his glorified state, two OT figures appeared with him-Moses and Elijah. Moses was the leader of God's people in their exodus from Egypt to their eventual entrance into Canaan. And he delivered God's law to the people.
Elijah represented the prophets and he was the one who would come to restore all things, as Jesus said in Matt. 17:11.
And as Moses' successor was Joshua, Elijah's successor was Elisha which is another form of Joshua. And we have Jesus, whose Hebrew name was Joshua.
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah to tell him he would have a son, John, he said in Luke 1:17 that he would go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. John the Baptist preached boldly and courageously as he prepared the way for Jesus. John confronted King Herod about the unlawful relationship he was carrying on with his brother's wife Herodias.
Elijah was bold and courageous too. He confronted King Ahab and his wife Jezebel on a few occasions. And, as King Herod's wife Herodias' rage ended up delivering John the Baptist's head on a platter, so King Ahab's wife Jezebel had a mind to end Elijah's life too.
And Jezebel was no empty threat. 1st Kings 18:13 mentions that she was going around killing the prophets of the Lord. She had it out for God's workers and Elijah was no doubt at the top of her list. After Elijah pronounced the coming drought to King Ahab, God told him to leave the region.
In the third year of the drought God told Elijah it was time to go back. So, did Elijah sneak back in and hide from Ahab? No, when he saw another prophet, Obadiah, he told him to go tell Ahab that he was in town and that he wanted to meet with him.
What we see take place then is probably Elijah's finest moment. 1st Kings 18:16-40, "So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD'S commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing.
Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD'S prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.
Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.”
With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there."
That's quite an amazing story, don't you think? How bold does one have to be to make a challenge like this? How brave do you need to be to take on 450 false prophets by yourself? How confident does Elijah have to be to taunt and tease the enemy? How confident does he need to be to have his alter saturated with water? How trusting did he need to be to believe that God would still be able to send fire and burn it up? Elijah's boldness, courage and trust was rewarded as God delivered in dramatic fashion. In Sunday school we'll be getting into the details of this story and answering some questions.
2) Fearful and despondent.
So, how does Elijah follow up this monumental display of courage, confidence and power? With fear and despondency, of course. 1st Kings 19:1-4, "Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
Elijah has the faith to believe that God would come through and show these prophets of Baal who the real God is. The fact that it was 1 vs. 450 didn't matter to Elijah. He taunts them and tells them to drench the alter, all the while having the confidence that God was going to come through. And then, on the heels of this giant victory, one woman threatens his life and he runs away in fear.
Not that Jezebel's threat was an empty one, but really? You just took on 450 false prophets, are you really going to be scared away by some woman? God just delivered you from these false prophets, is he now suddenly unable to deliver you from the hands of wicked Queen Jezebel? What are you thinking?
One thing he may have been thinking was that his great victory would invoke fear in the heart of miss Jezebel. So, when it didn't do that but instead it emboldened her to take her anger to the next level, he wasn't prepared for this reaction and beat feet out of there. We can have sudden changes like this. If we see or hear something funny and we turn to look at our friend and they're not laughing it suddenly causes us to stop laughing.
Or when something positive happens to us and we share our joy with someone and they don't show enthusiasm it can take the wind out of our sails. When we witness a wonderful spiritual event and our spirit is moved by it but it doesn't catch fire to those around us we can get discouraged. When other people don't have the same reaction to things that we do or they don't react to things the way we think they should it can be immediately discouraging.
Elijah is so discouraged about all this that he wants to die. It's like he was brought straight from the top of the mountain down to the deepest valley in pretty short order. So what will God do about this? Will he rebuke him for his lack of faith? Will he abandon him? No, he replenishes him.
3) God replenishes, teaches and encourages.
1 Kings 19:5-9a, "Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night."
Here we have a beautiful picture of God strengthening someone who was utterly exhausted. Is this not what God does for us? When we are spiritually drained or when we are feeling dejected or even hopeless, God comes along and gives us what we need to keep going. Then God confronts Elijah.
9b-18, "And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.
And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
We see that Elijah was wrong about being the only one left. First of all, his friend Obadiah had told him that when Jezebel was going around murdering the lord's prophets that he hid 100 prophets in caves and were giving them provisions.
And we see that Elijah was wrong about all of Israel rejecting God's covenant as God reveals that there were actually 7,000 Israelites that had not rejected his covenant. How often is our emotional state affected by extreme non-realities? "I'm the only one who's suffering this badly." "No one cares about me". "Everyone's against me." "It'll never get any better." Extreme statements that are built upon an emotionally skewed perspective.
So we need God to come along and give us the facts; show us the reality. And sometimes, God reveals himself to us in a teachable moment like he did for Elijah in the whisper and we still don't get it. God was trying to teach Elijah that he wasn't just seen in the powerful way he displayed on Mount Carmel but also in the soft, quiet whisper.
And Elijah knew when the Lord was coming. He knew he wasn't in the earthquake or the fire but when he heard the whisper he pulled his cloak over his face. Yet when God questioned him he didn't realize that God was looking for a different answer than the one he had previously given.
But did God scold Elijah for not getting it? No, he dismantles his incorrect assumptions with truth and sends him on his way. He tells him to go back. God is sending Elijah back because there is more work to do. Elijah wanted to run away and be done with everything but God said no, go back and finish the work I have prepared for you.
Such as it is with us. We can have great spiritual mountaintop moments followed by crushing blows of spiritual depletion. So, we run and hide and want to give up. Then God comes along and revives us and teaches us something about himself and about the situation we're confused about and tells us to get back in the game because we're not finished yet. Elijah was a great man of God who was bold and courageous at certain times but fearful and downcast in others. Elijah was just like us.