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