The Prophet Series: Elijah, part 7
The Prophet Series: Elijah part 7
Elijah roamed the Negev desert for forty days while he sought an audience with the Lord. His heart was grieved and disappointed that God's miracle at Carmel seemed to have no effect on the king and queen of the northern kingdom of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel. The Israelites who witnessed the miracle from the plain did fall on their faces and announce Jehovah as God, but with Baal worship remaining strong in the land through the promotion, deceit, tyranny, and cunning of Jezebel, how long would that attitude last? We know that it didn't last very long in many of them, but as God will show Elijah, not all have bowed the knee and kissed Baal.
We might expect as apparently Elijah did that in the presence of such raw power from God that all would have repented. Men do not yield to God when they see that He is more powerful if they continue to think in their hearts that they possess some power. They believe that some power can increase. Jezebel likely believed that Jehovah won the day on Carmel but also believed that Baal might win the next day. Men yield to God when they realize that they have no power. It is not enough to conclude that Baal may be weaker. He does not exist at all!
1KI 20:23 Now the servants of the king of Aram said to him, "Their gods are gods of the mountains, therefore they were stronger than we; but rather let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.
One might expect that God would have rained fire down on the idol worshippers of Israel like He did to the ox on Carmel, Jezebel being first on the spit, but He did not. Elijah is bewildered and sullen. He wanders forty days, forty indicating a time of trial, and finally he ends up at Mt. Sinai, also known by the name Horeb. Here Moses received the Law and talked with God as a man does to a friend. Elijah seeks just this and he will find that audience with God, but it will not go the way he foresaw or hoped, just as God's dealings with Israel didn't either.
1KI 19:8-11 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. Then he came there to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" And he said, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." So He said, "Go forth, and stand on the mountain before the Lord."
After a night in the cave God approaches and gives him the opportunity to voice his intension for being there. "What are you doing here, Elijah?" One would hope that Elijah would snap out of his self-induced, despondency fog and ask himself, "Yeah, what am I doing here?" But Elijah doesn't answer the question. Has he been going over and over in his mind that he alone has openly worshipped God and revealed the great power of God as well as the impotence of Baal and yet neither the king or the people responded, and for all his trouble they only want to kill him? When he finally has a chance to talk with God this is just what he says. We all know how our heads lack of clear thinking when we are mulling over ourselves, our own worth, and the personal pain of not being recognized for that worth. While it is true that Elijah was the only one to openly challenge Baal and his servants, the king and queen, it is not true that Elijah is alone in all of this, nor is it true that the outcome of Israel's future depends only upon him. In fact, it doesn't depend on anyone but the Giver of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Elijah hasn't seen the result of his zeal for the Lord and so he expects that it will never come. Is God on Elijah's timeline or His own? It would seem that Elijah believes God to have looked on quietly while the ungodly boldly defied Him. It is as if Elijah might believe that God slacked and so he had to pick up that slack. Is he really alone as Israel's savior? Self-absorption which brings about carnal zeal has caused him to forget Obadiah and the many who had actually participated in killing the prophets of Baal. One couldn't imagine that all of them had forsaken their own zeal to follow the Lord. All Elijah sees as the reward for his zeal is that some of the people want to kill him, but does that overrule the rewards that God has for those who love Him?
God doesn't respond to Elijah's testimony of zeal. And I personally do not beat up on Elijah for this as so many do. We should know that Elijah has great love for the Lord as well as His elect Israel and that love has given Elijah the true zeal of dedicating his entire life to the service of Jehovah. That is something that should never be overlooked and should be admired and applauded. However, at this time concerning these circumstances he lacks understanding which makes him self-absorbed and dull towards God's way, but who of us can say that we have not done just that and as we mature that we are not yet done doing just that. Instead of responding to the wrong points of Elijah's statement, the Lord instructs him to stand in a certain place so that He can show something to Elijah in which is hidden the message of truth. Sometimes words are not enough and God must plainly show us the reality of truth through life's circumstances.
After revealing His way towards Israel to Elijah in order to correct Elijah's somewhat false understanding of it, God will again give him the chance to answer the question of why he was there.
1KI 19:11-14 And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. And it came about when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Then he said, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."
The Lord was "passing by." It is recognized that in this same place the Lord did the same for Moses when Moses asked to see His glory.
EXO 33:18-23 Then Moses said, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!" And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" Then the Lord said, "Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen."
What Moses would see was the goodness of God in His graciousness and compassion. Did Elijah see this? He did not choose to look at this vital aspect of God's dealings toward the ungodly, but rather choose to focus on the judgment of God. I was excited to see this passage in Exodus again after studying the life of Elijah. I understand the face of God to represent His judgment, for it is certainly true that no man can face the judgment of God and live. The final judgment will place all who have not believed in His grace and salvation into the Lake of Fire. If God judges Israel as Elijah expects He should then no man in Israel will live, but God is patient and forbearing, not wishing for any man to perish.
2PE 3:3-10 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
God is compassionate towards all and gracious. A man may be fully evil his entire life and then come to saving faith in Christ and be delivered from death. Man demands justice on all but themselves and Elijah has a bit of that within him as well. But God is slow to anger and judgment so that all may be saved. If Hitler accepted Christ as his Savior just before his death in his Berlin bunker then he would have passed out of judgment. Therefore, God's back represents this patience and mercy and it should be the desire of every unrighteous man that He not turn around and show His face, for when this is seen by the unbeliever, judgment has come upon him and he will not escape. On the contrary, because the believer of the church is perfectly righteous in Christ, he may now fully behold the face of God in the joys of fellowship. He is in union with Christ and may behold Him as a child does his father.
Elijah's vision is different than Moses' but the same grace and compassion is shown. While Moses heard the words "grace and compassion" Elijah will see them in the phenomena of nature. Moses had a burning love for his people and in affirming their preservation he was impelled to ask to see God's glory. Elijah on the other hand was not quite free from human passion, and he was led by that passion to see the fruit of his own labor for the Lord, from which he failed to see the work of God amongst the people. The Lord prepared not only to manifest His glory in the form of love, grace, and compassion, but to first show Elijah that his passion was not in harmony with this. Hence, nature's power is shown first. The power of wind, earthquake, and fire easily kill men by the thousands and so they represent judgment or the face of God which no man can see and live. This was what the fiery zeal of the prophet matched, but God was not in them, and so He was not in Elijah's zeal. Elijah was sure the tempest of God's judgment was to come upon the ungodly in Israel, while God had purposed to send to them more grace, compassion, and truth through many other of His prophets. Just as Moses heard a voice, so Elijah will, but not in the booming of shattering rocks - gentle and soft.
"And after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing," in the Hebrew literally translates "the tone of a gentle blowing." The message is clear, God will not bring the tempest upon Israel, but rather the continuation of the message of grace and gentleness through the prophets so that Israel has time to repent of all her ungodliness. Eljiah wrapped his head in his cloak and walked back to the mouth of his lodging, but when Elijah is asked a second time as to what he is doing there, his response is exactly the same as before - "I want the tempest!"
God is gracious with Elijah as well, but He will not allow the guilty to go unpunished, just as He said to Moses. Elijah will not be in judgment and therefore die, but his ministry will have to be faded out and superseded by Elisha's.
EXO 34:6-7 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.
1KI 19:15-16 And the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.
God promises Elijah that the evildoers in Israel will find themselves under death eventually, and this is said to comfort him, but that execution will come only after the patience of the Lord has been fully played out.
1KI 19:17 And it shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death.
The Lord opens his eyes to the fact that his judgment was clouded by his dissatisfaction. He indeed is not the only one who is willing to publically oppose Baal and his servants Ahab and Jezebel, for there is a whole garden of faithful in Israel that will rise to the call should it come, and it will, especially to Elisha.
1KI 19:18 Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him."
Elijah will immediately anoint Elisha, but Elijah ministry is not over; it is just in the process of fading away. This is another revelation of God's grace to him. He did not respond to God's message, but God is still going to honor his service and zeal for Israel by allowing him to continue his prophetic ministry, but with the understanding that his place had been taken. If Elijah had learned the lesson that God so beautifully portrayed on Horeb then he would have rejoiced in this and rejoiced for Elisha's blessing, and there is every indication that he in fact did so. Elijah was a special man of God, so much so that he was taken into heaven alive by a chariot of fire.
Pastor Joe Sugrue