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

Confidence in God

DSCN2717Psalm 4

In Psalm 3, we saw how David the king turned to the Lord during a painful time of his life, which was the rebellion of his son Absalom against his kingly authority. Psalm 4 doesn’t give us any information about when David wrote these words. Most Psalms lack this information. We do not need to panic that we don’t have it. The Holy Spirit led the Psalm writers to record their experience with God and life, and so we are able to profit in whatever situation we might be in. As we read, let us remember that this is a song, intended for the benefit of God’s people as they sing together. Notice that the superscription tells us that it was written for the director of music, and that David intended that stringed instruments be used when it was sung. God loves artistic expression, and he desires that we use such abilities as we possess in worship and instruction of one another.

  • David sang about his need to receive an answer from the Lord (4:1). It is obvious that he sought a positive answer, as we all do. The Lord wants us to make our requests to him. He doesn’t not tell us to simply state the situation without making known the result we desire. Imagine saying to your wife or husband, “I’m thirsty.” Would you want to hear, “Thanks for the information”? No, usually when we make known our need, we specify what we want. In this example, “I’m going to get something to drink; would you like something, too?” I mention this because some people are of the erroneous opinion that you shouldn’t tell God what you desire. But the Lord wants you to use your mind and emotions and to ask him. With respect (“O my righteous God”), David made clear that he longed for relief from distress and mercy in the form of answered prayer.
  • David sang about the opposition that he endured from other people (4:2-3). The songs of our lives will have melancholy and even dark stanzas. This opposition was of a religious character. David had the task of leading Israel back to the Lord, because the reign of Saul had been a time of spiritual decline. David magnified the Lord, but others did not. His confidence in God was to them a matter of shame. We face the same kind of opposition from the ungodly today. Their attitude involved that they made the “evil exchange”. They turned from God to idols (cf. Romans 1:21-25). Notice that David openly rejected their course of action. He asserted the truth of the Lord’s covenant relationship with his people. Those who know the Lord have been set apart for him. God wants us to share our lives with him. We have become a people for his possession. This means that the Lord will hear us when we call to him. “O beloved, when you are on your knees, the fact of your being set apart as God’s own peculiar treasure, should give you courage and inspire your fervency and faith” (Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Vol. 1, p.38).
  • David sang about the way of life for God’s people (4:4-5). Though anger is a part of our lives, we must avoid sin in our anger, which is extremely difficult, because our thoughts, ideas, and emotions are easily twisted by sin. This requires self-examination of our ways. We need to consider what motivates our hearts and our actions. Since David wanted to lead his people back to the Lord, he pointed out the need to offer the sacrifices that God required in the law covenant. We live in the new covenant and have a perfect and finished sacrifice, the blood of Christ. So for us, the new covenant application is always and only to approach God our Father through Jesus Christ and his sacrifice.
  • David sang about his hope or confident expectation (4:6-7). He pointed out what his people could expect as they sought the Lord. He told them there would be doubters about God’s concern for them. In response to those who questioned, David boldly restated the source of blessing. Then he gave a personal testimony of the greater joy that the Lord had given to him. His joy was greater than what the doubters experienced in their material prosperity. True, joyful humanity is experienced when we rejoice in the true and living God, our family relationship with him, and contentment with the material provisions that he has given for our joy.
  • David sang about the rest that the Lord had brought to him (4:8). Yes, his situation had been one of distress. But now, through believing confidence in the Lord, he was able to “sleep in peace”. This confidence does not come simply through the exercise of prayer. We must not only pray but also rely on the Lord’s goodness, wisdom, and power as we wait calmly for what he will do.

While you and I do not know the tune of Psalm 4, we still may sing it in our souls. Let its truth resonate through your heart. Meditate on it. “Sing it” with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Seek the Lord through it. Your Father in heaven does want you to have “greater joy”.

Grace and peace, David

Pray for Kindness for Others

IMG_0914Ruth 1:6-9

Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were on the road back to Israel. For Naomi, this was a return to the old covenant people, their land, and their worship of the true God. For Ruth and Orpah, it would be a return to God from idols. For some reason not explained in the Bible (and it is pointless to speculate when the Word is silent), Naomi stopped to talk to the young women about not going with her. One thing is clear, Naomi wanted the Lord’s blessing on her daughters-in-law (1:8-9).

Naomi demonstrated the place of kindness in relationships. The Hebrew word translated “kindness” is a rich word that means “covenantal loyalty, kindness, goodness, mercy, love, and compassion” (Younger). People in covenant relationships (whether to one’s family or one’s local church) are to show kindness to one another. You have a right and an obligation to expect and to give and to receive kindness. By the Spirit, you and I are to bring forth kindness (Galatians 5:22). Naomi acknowledges their kindness in her family. When people act properly, we should commend them for it. She honored them for acting kindly in her family, and especially toward her deceased sons, in the way that they should have. May each of you experience this in all your relationships with your in-laws!

Yet Naomi sought or seemed to seek the end of her relationship with Ruth and Orpah. She unexpectedly did this in two ways. She suggested they return to their mothers’ homes, which is an unusual expression in the Old Testament Scriptures. In the three times it occurs, it refers to marriage and marital love (Genesis 24:28; Song of Songs 3:4; 8:2). So Naomi suggested that they return to their mothers to seek assistance in finding new husbands. She also kissed them goodbye. She intended to seal her permanent separation from them in a loving manner. We are wise to always and only part with true affection for each other, since we do not know if we will ever see each other again in this world. For example, one of my uncles died very unexpectedly in his forties years ago. He and his pastor had been having some sort of sharp disagreement about something. But the last Sunday morning my uncle was in church, he parted from his pastor by saying, “Pastor, you know I love you.” And the pastor said, “Bill, I love you, too.”

As already said, we are not given an explanation in the text for Naomi’s reason. But we should not be overly critical of her. Her life was filled with uncertainties. In addition, in her current condition, Naomi could not make any promises to the young women. She was destitute herself and unable to suggest that they might be able to remarry within the covenant community of Israel. All that Naomi could see for them at this point would be poverty and long lives as desolate, childless widows in a foreign country.

We should also realize that by returning to Judah, Naomi was throwing herself upon the mercies of the Lord, who promised to care for widows. But did her daughters-in-law, who were of a people who worshiped false gods, now really share her worldview? Would they trust the Lord? However troubled Naomi may have been in her friendship with God, she was on the way back to God, to live in conformity with his word. Now, she could give a clear witness of her faith in God. Are we living in faith, so that we can also testify to our reliance on the Lord’s provision? In other words, what is there in your life that provides evidence to others that you are living by faith?

So then, Naomi prayed for God’s blessing on Ruth and Orpah. “It is very proper for friends, when they part, to part with prayer” (Henry). Observe how she mentioned “the Lord” (Yahweh, the living God) twice in her prayers. She consciously uses the covenant name of God to seek blessing. Her prayer was based on the truth that the Lord is God over all nations and can bless in any place.

She prayed that the Lord would show kindness to them. Having heard of God’s renewed kindness for his people, she dared to pray for his kindness for two women from the nations. How much more should we who live in the new covenant pray for God’s kindness on the nations! She also prayed that the Lord would provide both with new husbands. Notice the idea of “rest” for women in the marital relationship. “In essence, it connotes permanence, settlement, security, and freedom from anxiety after wandering, uncertainty, and pain” (Hubbard). Much more could be said on this subject! Ladies, do you pray for your families, as Naomi prayed for her daughters-in-law?  Men, are we concerned that our wives experience “rest” in our marriage? Let us all pray for God’s kindness to produce rest in our families.

Grace and peace, David