The Prophet Series: Elijah, part 6
The Prophet Series: Elijah part 6
Elijah setting the stage for God's grand display of power had its desired effect. The people of Israel fell on their faces and worshipped God.
1KI 18:39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God."
The prophets of Baal were executed. This day from start to finish would have been very encouraging to Elijah. While the prophets are being executed in the valley, King Ahab is still on the mountain. He stands there astonished and speechless. We might assume that at least for the time being Ahab is a convert to Jehovah. The sacrificial meat is to be eaten and Ahab actually is the one to eat of it. This is God's offer to him. Even after all the evil he has done, God offers him the meat of the sacrifice.
1KI 18:41-42 Now Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower." So Ahab went up to eat and drink.
Elijah does not eat. His feast is the word of God. But, neither of them must linger, for Elijah hears the sighing and low moaning of the wind in the forest of Carmel and he climbs to the topmost height of Carmel out of sight of the king and there he prays.
1KI 18:42-46 But Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth, and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." So he went up and looked and said, "There is nothing." And he said, "Go back" seven times. And it came about at the seventh time, that he said, "Behold, a cloud as small as a man's hand is coming up from the sea." And he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, 'Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.'" So it came about in a little while, that the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. Then the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins and outran Ahab to Jezreel.
Elijah and his servant are in full view of the Mediterranean Sea and while Elijah is occupied at the throne of God he commands his servant to look towards the sea for a rain cloud which his faith had heard earlier. Elijah will not look since he walks by faith and not by sight and after seven commands to "Go back" and look, finally the servant reports a sighting of a small cloud as small as a man's hand. Seven is the divine number of completion. The curse upon Israel has completed and has been removed. The curse truly is the prophets of Baal and they have all been killed. Now the curse of the severe drought can also be removed. It will rain, and despite the size of the cloud, it will rain torrentially. Gideon had only 300 men, the Lord, only 12, and the conqueror of death and sin as well as the defeater of Satan and the author and perfecter of faith was only One. God is not like man who needs a grand show of numbers, mass, and volume. God only needs a word.
After three years' drought all vegetation would have disappeared from the plain of Jezreel, and the loose clay composing its soil would have been changed into a deep layer of dust. The rain will run all over the dry land of dust and make the valley into a deep bed of mud. Elijah warns Ahab to swiftly ride his chariot to the summer palace in Jezreel where his wife Jezebel resided before the mud made the trip impossible. It is important after God's display of power that Elijah have an audience with the king and queen, and as we will see, in Elijah's mind, he is sure that they will bend the knee to Jehovah, and if they do not, they will face a similar fate as the idolatrous priests, but this is not to be, and it will disillusion Elijah to the extent of causing depression to grow in him.
When Ahab drove off, the hand of the Lord came upon Elijah, so that he ran ahead of Ahab arriving in Jezreel ahead of him even though he was on foot. This is a further display of God's power as well as the confirmation that Elijah is God's man. How could the king and queen not be further impressed? How could they even now remain in the camp of Baal? Neither Elijah or any other man of God understand the depth of stubbornness that can sometimes anchor itself in the foundation of evil. All together: not destroying the king, allowing him to eat of the sacrifice, warning him to hit the road before travel became dangerous, going ahead of him in order to convene with him and the queen - all was admirably adapted to touch the heart of the king and produce a conviction in him. It was clear to him that neither God nor His prophet desired to effect his ruin, but rather his conversion and the salvation of his soul. It is Elijah's deepest desire that he believe that salvation is only in Jehovah and then finally put on his big boy pants and act as king, throwing off the yoke of idolatry that Jezebel placed upon him with the promise of fulfilling his every fleshly desire, and demand that she relinquish her underhandedly acquired power and remove the worship of Baal from the land. That would make a wonderful story indeed, but Ahab will do no such thing. Life in the court and in the land will go on as usual despite all this and God will patiently endure it. This breaks Elijah's heart, for he loves Israel because she is elected by the God he also loves.
This brings us to a question of the condition of the heart of Elijah that is almost always misunderstood. Did Elijah run from Jezreel because he was afraid? Why would Elijah fear the threat of Jezebel directly after publically facing the king and 450 prophets of Baal? Elijah didn't run because he was afraid. That word is not used though the NASB translates it that way. The Hebrew reads wayelek el-napshow, "he went for his life/soul." He did not go in order to save his life. His wish to die (19:4) is opposed to this. Elijah becomes disillusioned and he commits his soul or his life to the Lord in the solitude of the desert in order to see what the Lord would determine concerning him.
1KI 19:1-4 Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." And he was afraid [he went for his life] and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers."
G. Menken has given the following admirable explanation: "For conscience sake, from conviction, out of obligation, not from fear. After all his former experience, and from the entire relation in which Elijah stood to God, it was impossible that he should be afraid, and not be firmly convinced that the God who had shut up heaven at his word, who had supplied him with bread and flesh for a whole year in the desert through the medium of ravens, who had supported him miraculously for years in a foreign land through the medium of a poor widow, who had concealed and rescued him for three years and a half from the search of the king, who had accredited and honored him in the sight of all the people as His servant, who had given an immediate answer to his prayer for rain, could also defend him in this extremity, and rescue him from this danger, if such should be His will. He left his servant in Beersheba, while he himself went a day's journey farther into the desert (Paran), not merely because he was so filled with weariness of life in his dark oppression, that he thought he should have no further need of his servant, and therefore left him behind in Beersheba, but that he might pour out his heart before God alone in the desert and yield himself up to His guidance."
As we have shown, Ahab's soul hangs in the balance. He is standing on a knife's edge and on one side is Jehovah and the other Baal and Jezebel and we have no doubt that the cunning and ruthless Jezebel is very aware of this. Her first wish is to remove Ahab from all contact with Elijah as soon as possible and then to shower Ahab with the pleasure that his flesh has always lusted so that he will forget all about Jehovah. For this purpose she sent a message, threatening the life of the prophet within a day. If she really purposed his murder, and she possesses all the power in the kingdom with thousands of assassins at her disposal, there was no reason for her to warn him of it and actually give him twenty-four hours to escape. Her desire is to induce Elijah to leave Israel completely, which she accomplishes, but not for the reason she had hoped. Elijah doesn't bother to explain his motivation to her or the king, why should he? Elijah's failure is not in fear, but in failing to comprehend God's mercy and patience towards Israel and even towards the wicked queen.
Elijah makes the long journey (approximately 100 miles) from Jezreel to Beersheba which is in southern Judea. We must remember that the kingdom is split. Ahab and Jezebel have no power in the southern kingdom of Judah and so in Beersheba Elijah is perfectly safe. This is a further reason why we know that Elijah isn't running out of fear. He leaves his servant in the town and heads a day's journey further south into the wilderness of the Negev desert. He is approximately in the area where Moses and the Exodus roamed for 38 years. It is hot and he is mentally and physically exhausted and he takes cover under a "rotem" which is the finest and most striking shrub of the Arabian desert. These are often used as shelter from the sun and the wind. Here Elijah sits, after calling out to God from the solitude of the wilderness, hoping to hear God as Moses did in this very place but hearing nothing, and in his deepest depression and confusion he asks God to take his life. God has no intension of doing so, but as our God is always for us, He is more interested in teaching Elijah a lesson of truth that he has yet to comprehend though he knows and believes so much. First, God reveals to him that no matter how much he may despair that God will always provide for him just like He will do for Israel, and that for His name's sake. God sent ravens to feed Elijah in the past but now He sends an angel.
1KI 19:5-8 And he lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, "Arise, eat." Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, "Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you." So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Finally falling asleep an angel touches him and arouses him. What a welcoming and comforting thing to wake up in a wilderness and behold an actual angel and then perceive that he has made you breakfast. A bread cake baked on hot stones is a savory article of food that is a favorite of the Bedouins. We might image how wonderful tasting is such a cake prepared by an angel. Elijah eats his fill, and satiated, he falls asleep again only to be aroused by the same angel with even more delicious cake which is so packed with energy that Elijah will be able to go on for forty days.
The journey to which the angel refers is even farther south to the very tip of the Arabian peninsula where Mt. Horeb (Sinai) stands; the very mountain upon which Moses spoke with the Lord in the burning bush and then years later received His perfect law. It is the prophet's hope that he will receive such an audience with the Lord and he is not disappointed, although he doesn't hear what he expects.
It wouldn't take forty days to reach Sinai being about 150 miles from where the angel appeared to him. Like Moses wandered in this same wilderness for forty years and years later the Lord would wander for forty days so Elijah wanders on the strength of the angelic food in search of God's will for him. It is a trial of endurance in faith and an exercise in humility. Elijah is to be purged of his carnal zeal for the immediate conversion of Israel or the destruction of Israel by God's judgment. He must learn that neither is going to happen and that God in mercy is going to deal with her in forbearance and grace.
We will examine the meeting of God and Elijah on Horeb and conclude this great man's life in our next blog. Until then, keep standing firm in the grace of our Lord.
Pastor Joe Sugrue