Naboth’s Vineyard (Part Two)

1 Kings 21:1-16

Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.” But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors” (21:2-3 NIV).

Ahab came to Naboth with a greedy demand. Naboth was immediately in a very uncomfortable position. Though the northern kingdom of Israel was nominally part of the people of God and Elijah had called them back to God, the reality was far different. Since the split between Israel and Judah after Solomon’s reign, Israel had worshiped two golden calves, and Ahab and Jezebel had led them into Baal worship. Therefore, Naboth was confronted by an evil demand from a wicked king, who cared nothing for God’s covenant with Israel. In other words, Naboth’s situation was like the one true Christians face from a world that cares nothing for Christ’s new and better covenant. How ought we to respond. Consider Naboth’s faithfulness (21:3).

What was the background for his refusal: the command of God. The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land (Leviticus 25:23-24 ESV). Ahab sought a permanent transfer, as Naboth’s immediate response indicates. In the whole scheme of things, this can seem like an insignificant command. It was not written on the stone tablets, and there is not much written on the subject in the law. “Why risk your life over something so small, Naboth? You’re refusing an evil tyrant!” People easily assume that they can decide what parts of God’s word are important on the basis of their social consequences. For example, sexual abuse is wrong, but sexual immorality is quite permissible; in fact, it is not considered terribly wrong, even in most churches in our time. Fornication is part of the path to marriage, as long as two consenting people “love” each other.

However, Naboth reasoned in a godly manner. The issue was not how significant he thought the command was; the issue was that God had ordered him not to sell the land. Naboth knew his responsibility. God was the owner of the land, and Naboth was merely a trustee, and not a permanent trustee at that, but a pilgrim on a journey to a better country. God had his rights as landowner, and neither Ahab or Naboth had any right to act contrary to the word of the Lord. It is this perspective that gets true Christians into problems with a post-postmodern culture. The great evil, in the opinion of the current culture, is to call anyone out on any moral issue. Everything is to be tolerated and accepted, except truth and the judgment to come. To warn people against eternal punishment is regarded as an act of hatred. To Ahab, Naboth had decided to hate him.

Naboth’s obedience. He chose to live his life according to the Scriptures. He stood for absolute truth when Ahab was trying to bend reality to fit the desires of the individual. The ultimate issue is authority. Who is the boss, the holy God or a sinful, twisted human? Here, faith in God is crucially important. Who will choose to follow God’s word in the scriptures, unless we are fully persuaded that God has ultimate, absolute authority and speaks to us with final authority through his word?

Sometimes in order to obey God, we must disobey people. And that choice to disobey a wicked person may be extremely expensive in this world. Compare Acts 4:18-20 with Acts 5:17-20, 40-41. We in the church have forgotten much of our history. Not many remember the cruel sufferings of the Anabaptists during the Reformation. Many Puritan ministers had to make this choice at the time of “the Great Ejection”, and they lost their positions and their means of making a living. During that time, John Bunyan was imprisoned for the better part of twelve years, leaving his family charity cases. He had only to sign a paper, acknowledging the authority of Britain’s king over the church. Through his sufferings, we received his greatest work, Pilgrim’s Progress.

Grace and peace, David

Naboth’s Vineyard (Part One)

1 Kings 21:1-16

Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.” But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors” (21:2-3 NIV).

This is a well-known Bible story, or I ought to say it was when I was young, when parents took their children to Sunday School and read them Bible stories at home. Perhaps you can remember it from their childhood. Its purpose is to present an ongoing question in God’s story: Will people make choices about living for the glory of God and pleasing God rather than to please themselves? Both the main characters had to make this choice.

Life in this present time is filled with suffering (Romans 8:18-27). We do not like to hear this. It is much easier to play to the desire for pleasure that people have and tell people that God wants them to be happy and prosperous now. Such teaching destroys and perverts God’s message as much as teaching salvation by good works.  God speaks to all in the setting of a fallen world, handed over to bondage. And in that situation, evil people do run over the righteous and harm them. God wants us to understand the world in which he works out his glory. Here it is King Ahab’s greed (21:1-2, 4) that will harm a godly man. A powerful and already rich man was about to oppress a common person. In the plan of salvation, God permits evil events. He allows people to commit sins, even monstrous sins. Our view of God and his world must be correct, so that we are not misled with false ideas like “God will bless me and make we happy, healthy, and prosperous, if I have enough faith.” How did this evil event happen? Ahab wanted something that was close to him but that did not belong to him. The desire to have a field was not wrong in itself (cf. Proverbs 31:16), but Ahab desired something that God’s law had forbidden him to have. There can be a very thin line between legitimate desire and greed. When we wrongly want something forbidden that is nearby, it can be very difficult to resist the temptation to covet, since the object constantly attracts us. Think of David and Bathsheba, Herod and Herodias, Judas and money.

Ahab continued to covet, even when his offer was refused (21:4). He plainly transgressed the tenth command of the law covenant. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s (Exodus 20:17). To paraphrase Matthew Henry, Paul was content in a prison, but Ahab was discontent in a palace. Contrary to popular opinion, comfortable circumstances cannot produce happiness and satisfaction. Think of Amnon’s illicit desire for his half-sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-4). In an affluent culture, such as the one in which I live, it is too easy to fall into greed. Everything around cries out, “Purchase me, indulge yourself, and you will enjoy comfort!” But the whole world cannot satisfy the human heart.

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Restoration (Part Three)

1 Kings 19:11-18

But I will leave seven thousand in Israel—every knee that has not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him (19:18 CSB).

We must realize the crisis through which the Lord planned that Elijah must walk. It had been a lonely path. God had sent him to a ravine to hide, where his only companions were the raven that brought him food twice a day. Next, God led him out of Israel to stay with a Gentile widow (Luke 4:25-26) and her son. He was away from the people of God for about three years. He was far off from Jerusalem and worship. When he returned, he saw God’s people devoted to false gods. It was too easy for Elijah to draw the conclusion that he was the only one faithful to the Lord. Yet God always has a people.

God raised up other men for the ministry (19:16). First came Elisha and Micaiah, and after them many others appear. We must not give up when we appear to be alone. How foolish we sometimes feel and act! Our goal should not be to count noses, but to stand for God and his truth, trusting him to bless his word in our generation. When by grace Luther “rediscovered the gospel”, he had no intention of starting a movement. He merely wanted to testify to the truth of the Scriptures. God sent the revival.

Hopefully, Elijah’s heart was filled with joy to know that God had another man to carry on his prophetic ministry. Regardless of how Elijah was affected, The Lord taught him the doctrine of sovereign grace (19:18). Lesson to what the Spirit later said through Paul. I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me.” And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:1-6 NIV).

Things had looked dark from Elijah’s limited perspective. We only have a small window on the world, a window that is limited by space and time. God was saying to Elijah, “Come here, son, and look through my very large window.” Every time we read the doctrines of grace in the Scriptures, we ought to think, “This is really cool! I’m able to look through my Father’s window.”

There was a remnant because of God’s gracious choice. God did this: I have reserved for myself. “If any are preserved from false worship … it is by his special influence and agency” (Haldane). The Lord did this completely by grace; he did not consider the works of any whom he had chosen. All of us only deserve one destiny, eternal punishment for our countless acts of rebellion against the living God. But thanks be to God, in Jesus Christ he has freely chosen to be gracious to us. How did God restore Elijah? By teaching his prophet about sovereign grace. We do not have a weak God, who is bound by the fickle dictates of the corrupt wills of a fallen people. We serve a God who is infinitely powerful and who is able to save. What has he taught you of his power to save?

Are you discouraged? Then learn what God taught Elijah. Turn your thoughts from your own limited self to the unlimited God. You and I must have the proper starting point for our doctrine and practice. Are you without hope? There is only one way to face the future properly. You need to have hope, confident expectation. You cannot find this in yourself or in the things and activities of this world. God gives certain hope to people like you and me in Jesus Christ. Turn from your sin, which can only bring you to everlasting sadness and despair. Turn to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in him for eternal life. Then you will have a hope that will never perish, spoil or fade!

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Restoration (Part Two)

1 Kings 19:11-18

Then the Lord said to him, “Go and return by the way you came to the Wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive, you are to anoint Hazael as king over Aram. You are to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Then Jehu will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Jehu (1 Kings 19:15-17 CSB).

We have seen how Elijah fled from Jezebel to Mt. Horeb, fearful, faltering, and fatigued. He prayed to die. But God still had service for Elijah to do. He reaches out to his servants in their weakness. He renews and restores us. Let us see more about how the Lord brought this about in Elijah.

The Lord immediately reassigned Elijah to other work. Go … anoint…. God has the right to command us, and we are responsible to obey him. The purpose of human life is to live for the honor of God. One way we do this is by serving him. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV). We live among a people that are totally consumed with the desire to make ourselves individually happy. The Bible does not exalt the self; it exalts the living God. For example, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV; cf. also Jude 1:24-25).

God first revealed himself to his prophet; then he sent him (cf. Isaiah 6:5, 8-9). We must first know God before we can testify about him to others. Imagine this scene: “Elisha, God has anointed you as his prophet.” What if Elisha had replied, “That’s nice; who is God? Could you please tell me about him?” No, it didn’t happen that way. First you must know God, then you can serve him. When Elijah met Elisha, he knew that he wasn’t the only one left.

God continued to use Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 21:7; 2 Kings 1:3). Even though we may sin many times, God still can use us. He is the God of overflowing grace to his people. So that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21 NASB).

A helpful example of this is Peter, to whom the Lord said, “feed my sheep … my lambs.” The ongoing experience of God’s grace should spur us on to serve him more fervently. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Psalm 51:13 ESV).

Elijah obeyed. See 19:19. So Elijah went. Persevering faith produced obedience. How did God restore Elijah? By sending Elijah on a new mission. Thank God he does not abandon us after we fail or fall. The promise is extremely sure: He will never, no absolutely never, leave us or forsake us. He gives more grace. Has God been gracious to you? His grace is given in Jesus Christ the Lord. You can only know God through his Son, Jesus Christ. Come to him today.

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Restoration (Part One)

1 Kings 19:18-18

So he got up, ate, and drank. Then on the strength from that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. He entered a cave there and spent the night. Suddenly, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:8-9 CSB)

Years ago I worked in residential construction contracting. We primarily did new construction. Ah, there is something invigorating about watching newly framed walls being raised against the backdrop of an autumn sky! However, we sometimes would restore old buildings. When God saves us, he renews us, but afterwards, we might require restoration. He restores my soul (Psalm 23:3 NIV).

Even God’s prophet needed restoration. Remember Elijah’s problems: fear, fatigue, false view of himself, and failure to work out his theology personally and practically. Now we see God dealing graciously with Elijah, not because he deserved it, but because of God’s free grace. In this section we want to examine God’s wondrous way of working in grace to accomplish his purposes. Remember that the Bible tells us God’s story; God is revealing his surpassing power and significance through what he accomplishes, even when we his people fail.

God does not always work in the way that we expect him to work (19:11-13). The setting was Mt. Horeb. It was at Horeb, also called Sinai, that God had made the law covenant with his people Israel. See Deuteronomy 4:10-14. Consider the physical effects at that time: fire, the mountain trembled, and loud noise. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder (Exodus 19:18-19 ESV; cf. Hebrews 12:18-21).

For unknown reasons, Elijah went to Horeb. From verse nine, we can deduce it wasn’t God who directed him there. People do many strange things when they are troubled spiritually and emotionally. Let’s not be quick to judge suffering people. We don’t know exactly what Elijah expected to find there. Sometimes it is hard to know why people do what they do; to know what they are looking for in religious experience. Here are some ways people seek to charge themselves up emotionally through “spiritual” means.

  • Solemn formalism
  • Entertaining services
  • Heart-wrenching stories
  • Beaten, guilty consciences
  • Dynamic, exciting praise

When I was a pastor in a local church, I’d have people come to me after a service and tell me, “It felt like God was here today!” I wondered how they would seriously answer, “How can you know that God is here? You can’t see him or touch him. You can only experience his presence through faith.” Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6 CSB). Faith requires confidence in his being and the truth of his promises. When you do his will, then you will know (John 7:17). When you know the Lord, you know his love, his joy, his peace, and his hope! Has the Lord, the living God ever met you?

God appeared to him in a different way than he had to Moses and Israel. We can never put God in a box and demand or expect that he will act the way that we want him to act. God acts in conformity with his own will, not ours.

God deals with us in a different way. Seriously and attentively think through Hebrews 12:22-24 and the surrounding context. We are under a new covenant; the old has passed away. Therefore, we should not seek physical signs of God’s power, but the spiritual blessings his power produces.

How did God restore Elijah? By speaking to him on the mount with a gentle whisper. He let Elijah know that he is always present, even if it is in ways that we do not expect. Does God still speak to his people today? Yes, but not in an audible voice, but in the Scriptures. Today, if you hear his voice… (Hebrews 3:7, 15 NIV). Dear friend in need of restoration, the same God who spoke to Elijah still speaks today!

Grace and peace, David

Elijah: A Man Like Us (Part Two)

1 Kings 19:1-11a

There he went into a cave and spent the night. 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, torn 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” (19:9b-11a NIV).

We continue to look at the great contrast in Elijah as recorded 1 Kings 18 and 19. In chapter 18, we read of Elijah standing boldly before hostile false prophets, a wicked king and people that had walked away from the Lord to worship false gods; in chapter 19 he flees from a threat of one woman, Jezebel. What caused this? We can discern four reasons. The first was that he gave way to fear, and the second was physical and spiritual fatigue. He was worn out from the events. Now, let’s think on two other reasons.

Elijah had a false view of himself, an aggravated sense of importance (19:9b-10). He justified himself. “I have been very zealous….” Do we really know ourselves well enough to ever say this? We need the evaluation of the Spirit of God. Search me, God, and know my heart;     test me and know my concerns (Psalm 139:23 CSB). Who can measure up to all that God requires? Luke 17:7-10. For example, remember the rich young man (Mark 10:20).

With a high view of himself, Elijah blamed others. “The Israelites have….” These two actions usually go together. When we think too highly of ourselves, we look down on others. Let us not imagine ourselves better than Elijah.  There are various ways we can do this. “If only brother ________ or sister ________ would _________.” “If only the pastor would ___________.” And even pastors say, “If only the people would ________.” And so Elijah exalted himself rather than humbled himself. He assumed that he was the only one left to stand for God. It is easy to fall into the trap of imagining that we are indispensable to God. The Lord corrected Elijah on this point later.

Elijah failed to work out his theology personally and practically (19:11). This was his basic problem. Too often we concentrate on the effects and not the cause. Too many incompetent doctors treat the symptoms instead of the disease. (At this point, we could talk about how to talk with your physician, but that is another subject.) Sadly, Christians do the same thing when they talk with one another or evaluate themselves. For example, we might talk with somebody battling depression or discontentment. A quick answer fails to solve the problem, such as saying, “Get more involved” or “Come (to church) expecting a blessing”. I’ve heard such shallow “cures” offered to people. We need to ask questions and seek Biblical answers. We are too impatient and too lazy. Or think of those struggling with a lack of assurance of salvation. Some want a quick answer, such as “read the verses on assurance and believe them” or “pull out your decision card”. But we should examine ourselves. Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5 NASB).

This is where God begins to correct Elijah. Sometimes we need to return to square one. Remember how God corrected Job in his trials (Job 38:1ff). We need to remember what we are: “the best of people are but people at their best.” No one is invulnerable, including those who are most in prayer.

It is easy to get four “F’s” on your spiritual report card. Exercise fear instead of faith; overexert your body; become puffed up, and put your theology on the shelf. However, it is better to trust, to take care of our bodies, to see ourselves in the light of God’s word, and to realize that sound teaching produces healthy living. What can you learn from Elijah today?

Grace and peace, David

Elijah: A Man Like Us (Part One)

1 Kings 19:1-11a

Consider the great contrast between chapters 18 and 19. It is hard to comprehend that they are speaking of the same person. In chapter 18, we read of Elijah standing boldly before hostile false prophets, a wicked king and people that had walked away from the Lord to worship false gods; in chapter 19 he flees from a threat of one woman, Jezebel.

A great victory does not prevent future troubles, whether it was a victory in service to God or a victory over remaining sin. People hope to solve all their problems by triumph in one shining moment. “Let’s win this one victory so we can get on with our lives.” We should never think that sin, the rebellious world and the evil one will surrender so easily. The believer’s life is a constant warfare against sin. Why else would we need the full armor of God?

Let us think about some problems that Elijah faced immediately after seeing God answer his prayers for fire and rain.

Elijah felt the pressure of fear (19:1-3). He looked in the wrong direction. It’s amazing how quickly we can lose the proper spiritual outlook. Peter experienced this while walking on the water with Jesus (Matthew 14). Remember what happened to the ten spies (Numbers 13:33). They had known God’s miraculous provision and victory over two powerful enemies within two years. Yet they did not believe that God was able to give them the land.

Elijah fell into fear, because he did not wait for the Lord’s direction. Contrast 1 Kings 17:2-4, 8-9; 18:1. He had done so well before, but he did not wait for a word from the Lord now. By the way, it’s useless to speculate about “what would have happened if….” Don’t waste your time in empty wishing that you would have done something different. Repent, believe and get on with the good work of serving the living God. In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan, the Great Lion, says to one of the children, Lucy, “Child, I do not tell people what would have happened.”

Even in his failure, the Lord was working for his prophet’s preservation. Elijah failed to see what God was doing for him at the very time he fell into fear. Why didn’t Jezebel slay Elijah immediately? Why did she wait? The Bible teaches us confidence in the living God who controls everything. The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Proverbs 21:1). The Lord can protect when everything seems hopeless.

Elijah felt the pressure of fatigue (19:4-6). We must be aware of the effect of our bodies upon our souls. A human is a functional unity of the spiritual and the physical. Jesus told his disciples that they needed to rest (Mark 6:30-32). Not only does the body affect the soul, but the soul can also affect the body. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24 NIV; cf. 17:22). This physical fatigue influenced Elijah to pray foolishly (19:4). It is grace that some of our prayers are answered “no”, because we can ask for some foolish things. I do not think that Elijah really wanted to die. If he did, he could have stayed where he was and Jezebel would have been happy to cooperate. God wisely and lovingly supplied what tired Elijah really needed then. He gave him sleep (Psalm 103:13-14), and he gave him food.

We must apply this knowledge to ourselves. Some cases of spiritual depression have physical roots. If your soul is down in the dumps, you may be ill or mistreating your body. You may need to see a medical doctor. Make sure you have proper rest. Choose wisely when you read your Bible. This can involve hard choices for busy moms. Some people function quite well at night and they can profit from Bible reading late at night. You may not be that way. You may be a morning or an afternoon type of person. Know yourself. The axiomatic wisdom of Jack Sprat. Know the rest you need before you go to church services. Get to bed earlier on Saturday night.

Grace and peace, David

Mercy After Judgment

1 Kings 18:41-46

Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36 CSB).

God’s prophet Elijah acted boldly for the cause of God and truth, in the face of strong opposition. Hundreds of false prophets had opposed him. Yet the Lord vindicated Elijah’s stand for him and that he was a true prophet. Then Elijah led the people to carry out the doom of the law covenant upon the teachers of error (1 Kings 18:40; cf. Deuteronomy 13). Was it time for the Lord to pour out judgment on the people who had also worshiped false gods?

God had the right, the authority, and the power to do that. Yes, the people deserved wrath. But God is also merciful. Sometimes we hear of people asking God to judge his enemies in our time, like the disciples wanted Jesus to judge the Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). Anger and hatred reside in the human heart, and their preferred objects are people that cause us problems. This makes us forget the character of God. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:8-9 NIV).

The mercy of God is seen in the sending of rain for the good of his people. What caused the rain to come?

It was not due to a change of direction in Israel’s leadership. There wasn’t any positive change. We read no record of repentance, thanksgiving or prayer on Ahab’s part. As we will see, Ahab was not softened by wrath or mercy. He steadily became worse. The evil king’s chief concern was for eating and drinking (18:42). Ahab was a materially-minded man, like those Paul later described. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19 ESV). Elijah grants him liberty to pursue his pleasures. To be given material benefits without spiritual blessings is slippery ground (cf. Psalm 73:18). History is filled with many examples of this preference for partying over praying. Consider Belshazzar (Daniel 5); or those in London during World War II who partied during the air raids.

Sending rain was an act of the kindness of God. The covenant Lord had taken the initiative (18:1) in this entire event. It pleased him to do this. God is in control of the weather (Psalm 148:8; Matthew 5:45). He had withheld rain for three years and six months, and then he chose to send it. Yet at the same time, rain came because of the prayers of Elijah. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:18 ESV). The God who ordered the end also ordered the means to that end. Prayer is part of God’s plan.

How did Elijah pray?

  • With a posture of humility (18:42). Though Elijah had experienced great blessings from the Lord, he did not lose a high regard for God’s majesty.
  • With persistence (18:43-44. cf. Luke 18:1-8). Notice the difference in the length of this prayer with his prayer in 18:36-37. God does not always answer when we expect. Even Elijah did not always receive an immediate answer to prayer.
  • With faith. (James 5:15-18). By faith Elijah heard the sound of heavy rain (18:41). Faith looks at things future, at things not yet seen, and reasons that God will bring them to be, and so acts as if they already were.
  • With fervency (James 5:17).
  • With a definite request (James 5:17-18). For example, every follower of Christ should always pray for the salvation of five people. Your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers form a fine place to start your list.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to pray as Elijah did. Let us have faith in God. With him all things are possible! Read Jeremiah 32:17, 26-27; 33:3.

Grace and peace, David

Showdown on Carmel (Part Three)

1 Kings 18:25-40

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be knowntoday that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36-37 NIV).

Next we read Elijah’s prayer for fire from heaven. Too often we assume that prayer for “big things” must be spectacular. And we suppose that if we can add a lot of religious or spiritual stuff to our prayer, we have a better chance of getting what we want from God. Any pastor can tell you that people come to him asking for him to prayer, because they presume that the prayers of a “holy man” are more powerful than those of average Christians. Elijah’s short prayer ought to end those wrong ideas. We should also learn that superstition overflows with ceremonies; faith uses the means of prayer.

First, think about the way Elijah addressed God. He spoke to God as the covenant Lord of his people, Israel.  He was saying, “Lord, you are faithful to your covenant. Remind these people of your faithfulness.” We are able to plead a better and eternal covenant in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20). He prayed plainly, directly and reverently, yet with emotion. There is nothing wrong with emotion, provided it is in response to the truth. The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever… (2 John 1:1-2 NIV). It was only a short prayer, especially as compared to the prayers of Baal’s prophets. Their ritual was six hours long; Elijah’s prayer was less than a minute. The length of a prayer is unimportant, provided that its duration is not done to be seen of people. God is most concerned about the content, your attitude, and your faith. The length of a prayer is a secondary matter.

Second, listen to his requests. Elijah asked for the glory of God, that the Lord would clearly demonstrate that he is God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6 NIV, my emphasis). He prayed for the vindication of the word. He wanted the Lord to testify that Elijah was his prophet and that his actions were in conformity with God’s word to him. This was not self-centered, but a matter of the truth of God’s word. He asked for a work of grace. He cared about his people. He longed that the Lord would turn the hearts of the people back to God. Conversion (repentance and faith) begins with God’s supernatural act of the new birth from above. This was a God-centered prayer. This is the crucial concept. Are we seeking first the honor of God? Our foremost concern should not be for the prosperity of our church or our lives, but for the honor of the Lord (John 8:50; 12:28; 14:13;15:8; 17:4).

Third, we see God’s answer (18:38-40). The fire had a supernatural character. An ordinary fire simply doesn’t produce such an effect. I had many fires in my fireplace, and the bricks easily outlasted every fire! It was also a controlled fire, because it did not harm any of the people, even Ahab and his pagan prophets.

The people outwardly acknowledged the supremacy of the living God. The indisputable happening constrained the people to worship the Lord. How many of them were truly converted is not stated in this passage. An outward confession is no proof of grace; they could have just been overwhelmed by what occurred (cf. Mark 5:16-17; John 6). A miracle alone cannot change a heart. Ahab saw the fire fall, yet he did not repent. Consider the unbelief at the raising of Lazarus (John 11:47-48). We need to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who alone produces regenerate hearts, instead of praying for  miracles or judgments.

The end was the execution of the false prophets. Elijah had a firm Biblical warrant for this action (Deuteronomy 13). The law or old covenant was a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3).

What are some lessons we should learn?

  • Let every Christian be encouraged to put their trust in God and to go forth in his strength to live for him in this ungodly age.
  • Let us not underestimate the power of faith in the Sovereign Lord. Nothing is too hard for him! Therefore, we ought to believe and pray.
  • Let everyone fear the living God who has such power. Hear the words of Jesus. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Luke 12:4-5 NIV).
  • Let everyone find acceptance with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Showdown on Carmel (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:25-40

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord (1 Kings 18:30-32a ESV).

Elijah led the return to the worship of the true and living God. This was a much bigger and better goal than simply proving that he was the Lord’s prophet. It is too easy for humans to have desires for personal vindication. At this moment, he was spiritually on course. Elijah was motivated by the desire to see God exalted.

Elijah prepared the means of worship. We need to remember the time in which Elijah lived. It was the time of the law or old covenant. Israel was the people of God, if they obeyed the Lord (Exodus 19:1-6; etc.) Worship and fellowship with the Almighty, Holy God was only possible through the offering of an animal sacrifice presented in the proper way. As God’s prophet (cf. similar acts by Samuel), Elijah could do this on special occasions, though only the priests could minister at the altar in Jerusalem. The Lord graciously called his people back into covenant fellowship with the enemies of God and his people watching. Churches do not hesitate to have new covenant practices (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) on display before unbelievers. In fact, such times have often been the occasion for unbelievers to turn to the Lord Jesus and be saved.

Elijah did everything very openly so that no one could accuse him of trickery. He called the people near. Truth does not fear investigation. He thoroughly doused the altar, wood and sacrifice with water. (Certainly, the people would have come with much water to drink.) It seems like Elijah was trying to make it “harder” for the Lord. There was no possibility of a spark on that altar.

He acted to show the people that the Lord was still their God (18:30-31). It was kind of a covenant renewal service. Remember what Moses did when the law covenant was given. And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early the next morning and set up an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel at the base of the mountain (Exodus 24:4 CSB). The people had broken the covenant by following other gods, but God is rich in mercy. He welcomes back those who return to him in faith. Elijah proclaimed by this action that there was hope for the people. They still could rightly be called Israel. God had named the people, and so they could rebuild an altar in his name. Worship could be restored.

Too often when we read the Scriptures, we can skip over what is important. We need to slow down, reread, and think. Notice how the writer described Israel: to whom the word of the Lord came. Having the word of the living God was preeminent among Israel’s privileges. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God (Romans 3:1-2 NIV). In the Holy Writings given to the Jews, we have the words of the God who speaks! A core problem of Israel in Elijah’s time was their failure to hear and to obey God’s word. For three years there had been no rain, in fulfillment of a covenant threat (Deuteronomy 28:22-24). But the writer reminds us that God’s people have his word and can and ought to return to the Lord.

What of us? Do we value God’s word? Do we read it daily? To we by faith listen to its message? May God give us grace to treasure God’s word in our hearts!

Grace and peace, David