Elijah - How God Prepares a Prophet for Battle
On the afternoon of Day 1 of the Precept Holy Land Tour, we transitioned from Caesarea by the Sea to Mt. Carmel.
Though it is only a forty-minute bus ride, the difference in terrain from the Mediterranean Sea to the Carmel range is significant. On top of one of the highest points on the western edge of Carmel is Stella Maris, a Catholic monastery which serves as the world headquarters of the Carmelites.
Under the church, there is a cave, which, according to tradition, is a place where the Old Testament prophet Elijah lived for quite some time. The view from the roof of the church is massive, overlooking the plain of Esdraelon.
Directly beside the church, on the southeastern peak of Mt. Carmel, there is a place called Muhraka or "The Scorching." An ominous statue of Elijah, sword raised to heaven, marks a showdown with the prophets of Baal.
Here, overlooking the plains and situated in the trees, our Precept Holy Land Tour opened our Bibles to 1 Kings 17. I had the fantastic opportunity of reasoning through the scriptures with everyone on the tour, so I’ll share some of thoughts here with all of you as well!
Before jumping into the scene that took place on Mt. Carmel, one really must understand the big picture view of God’s Word. The Word of God is one overarching story. There are many sub-plots, but one main plot line. I walked our group through an overview of the Old Testament, starting in Genesis 1 -3. The theme of God’s people, God’s place, under God’s rule, is woven throughout Genesis. God gave Abraham a promise – God’s people and God’s place. Throughout Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – the ups and downs of these three elements are woven together though the hearts of the people of Israel are prone to idolatry. In Joshua, God brings a new generation to God’s place. Through God leading them to fight their battles, the people of Israel under the command of Joshua take possession of (most) of the land of Israel. Things take a turn for the worse in the times of the Judges when “There was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:1). A downward spiral of sin and idolatry resulted in God giving the people of Israel over to various captors. At the end of this period, though the people were to influence those around them, they instead became influenced by the surrounding nations in many ways, especially in wanting a king to rule over them. Saul, David, and Solomon each rule for 40 years, but after Solomon,
God split the nation in two because of Solomon's idolatry.
Big picture story – the people of Israel continually tried to mix the worship of Yahweh with the worship of other gods. A little bit of Yahweh and a little bit of this god and that god from the nations around them. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had a succession of evil and wicked kings, 19 of them to be exact that span 200 years. Elijah's challenge came during a period after successive kings "did evil in the sight of the Lord" (1 Kings 16:30). King Ahab had married the Phoenician princess Jezebel. She turned his allegiance from Yahweh to her god Baal and had Yahweh's prophets slaughtered. Worship of Baal and Asherah promised prosperity and protection during a time when Israel felt like she needed it. But the worship of these gods became increasingly dark, resulting in child sacrifice.
The Preparation of the Prophet
When God wants to do something about this situation, he didn’t raise an army. He didn’t raise a super-hero or man of immense physical strength; God raised one man.
In chapter 17 and 18 of 1 Kings, Elijah, which means Yahweh Lives in Hebrew, and the gods of Baal are facing off. Before we can get to the intense battle on top of Baal’s bluff on Mt. Carmel, the Lord walks us through how he prepared Elijah, the man.
God builds Elijah’s trust.
“Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
Elijah trusts God. So, he prays and declares that there will be a severe drought. How would Elijah get such bold confidence to pray such a thing? Elijah trusts God’s Word.
Why choose a drought? Why emphasize that Yahweh lives?
“Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lᴏʀᴅ will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land the Lᴏʀᴅ is giving you. (Deuteronomy 11:16–17)”
Elijah determines to attack Baalism at its theological center-rain. Baal worshipers believed that their storm god made rain. To refute this belief, Elijah states that Yahweh is the one who determines when rain falls, that Yahweh lives at all times, and that Yahweh is not afraid to challenge Baal on what his worshipers consider his home ground.
Man, I’d love to get into all of it with you, but some bullet points will have to do it.
Elijah trusts God. God provides for Elijah.
Though the rest of the land was experiencing a drought, God tells Elijah to go to a particular brook (1 Kings 17:2). There, God feeds Elijah with the ultimate Door Dash or Uber Eats, bread carrying ravens.
Elijah trusts God.
God builds his trust by drying up the brook and stopping the food.
The man of God is trusting the Word of God, but it doesn’t work out the way that we think that it should. Friends here lies a key repeated theme throughout God’s Word – Before God can use us, He must break us. Imagine the situation when that brook dried up, and dinner delivery stopped. Imagine what was going through Elijah’s head as he was walking from the brook more than 100 miles through enemy territory in Sidon and Phoenicia, the land of Jezebel.
Friends, many times, God will make you weak so that you learn dependence on him.
Friends, many times, you think you are dependent upon God, and he will make you even weaker so that you learn total dependence upon Him.
God continues to prepare the man for the showdown by taking away provision from him. Though he is a man that has a hit on him from Jezebel, God tells Elijah to come out of hiding and go straight to the epicenter of Baal worship in Phoenicia to find a window to ask for some bread (1 Kings 17:8-16). God orchestrates details in Elijah’s life to teach him some things. He continues to prepare Elijah for battle by building trust by showing him about his character.
God builds Elijah’s trust by sending him to the outsider.
He goes to a foreigner to ask for bread. He goes to someone poor. He goes to someone who is a woman. He goes to someone who is a widow and a mother. She is a racial, religious, economic, gender, and political outsider. God sends Elijah to an outsider.
God builds Elijah’s trust by causing the outsider’s son to die.
At first, things look great – the woman, her son, and Elijah all have food because of Elijah’s obedience and the woman’s hospitality. Then the son dies. The woman says to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” In other words, “God, why did you allow this to happen? Did my son die as judgment for my past sins?” Instead, he goes to God and cries out to him (1 Kings 17:20). Notice, she doesn’t blame God. Elijah doesn’t give her a pat answer. Elijah doesn’t tell her that God can heal if she believes. He grabs the son and cries out to God.
God builds Elijah’s trust by demonstrating his power over death.
Death is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t care how much money you have, how fit and beautiful you are, or how religious you have been. People looked to Baal for rain, but in the middle of the enemy territory with the most unlikely person to ever receive favor from a god, the one true God shows off. The God of Israel shows that he has the power to do something that no other god can do – the ability to raise the dead.
1 Kings 17:19-22
Do you remember the question that the widow asked Elijah? Did my son die for my sins? Then, we see that God has the power to raise the dead, a foreshadowing of Jesus, the son who did die for our sins, who rose victorious over the dead.
1 Kings 17 starts with Elijah the Tishbite.
1 Kings 17 ends with Elijah, the man of God (1 Kings 17:24).
Tomorrow, we'll continue with 1 Kings 18.
Question: What are some ways that God has weakened you while also increasing your trust in Him?