The Bible is very forthcoming on the nature of God's people. God tells us in great detail about the faults of His servants so that we can be sure that it is He who does the extraordinary with the ordinary. And so that we can take courage in the fact that no matter how low a person feels or acts, God can still use them for good if they allow Him to.
Today, we begin a sermon series on the life of Elijah. Elijah was a person just like us, according to James 5, who was willing to be used by God. We will look at his growth and failures together throughout this series. When we finish our study, it is our hope that we all will be better encouraged and prepared for the task that is ours.
Let's begin at the beginning. We first find Elijah in the Bible in I Kings 17:1. Now remember this is the first time that Elijah is mentioned. Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word." Boom! (A good word to use just before the Fourth of July!) Boom! He's on the scene. What an entrance to a story! This is the first we ever hear of Elijah and he is already making trouble! Who is this man? He has no background. In fact in some Jewish circles they believe that Elijah was actually and angel because he has no genealogy. The Jewish people love genealogies. Even Jesus had a genealogy listed in the bible. But Elijah doesn't. Who is he? He just appears on the scene just like Melchizedek We don't know where he's from. Well, James 5:17 ends the debate to some degree, saying, Elijah was a man just like us. He was not an angel. He was a man, not an extraordinary man. He was a man just like us. Well, who is this man, Elijah?
Fortunately, we are able to deduce a few things about Elijah. His name tells us about his parents. His parents were people who loved the true God. How do we know that? Because of what the named their son. They gave him a name that was both bold and dangerous in that day. "Eli-yah", or Elijah as we pronounce it today. It means, "Jehovah is my God", or "The Lord, He is the real God." Because Israel was no longer worshipping the real God. In fact there were only seven thousand left in all of Israel that still worshipped Yahweh. Baal was the god of choice. So his name indicates that his parents believed in the real God, Yahweh. And they were bold enough to name their son that. Israel was not a place where this name would be popular.
We do know that Elijah was a Tishbite from Tishbe in Gilead. Elijah was from a village that was so obscure, so un-noteworthy that archaeologists have not found it. They are unsure as to where it was. But we do know that it was in the mountains because Gilead is a mountainous region. The people from Gilead were known to be rugged and rough, or as they would say in Israel, "uncouth." No social graces, they were just a rugged people. They would not mix well with the people of the city due to their rough dress and their rough accents. In fact, they were hard to understand because of their dialect. In times of war, if a person approached in Gilead and they had to give a password, they had to be able to say, "Shibboleth." Now, I don't know how to say "Shibboleth," but they had to know how to say in with the proper intonations and everything or else they'd be known as a stranger. Their accent was so strange that if you couldn't say "Shibboleth" you were an enemy. The dialect of Gilead was hard to mimic.
The people were rugged because "a sheltered tree is not as strong as one which has faced the weather." Elijah's trials from living in such a rugged land must have made him strong. Trials produce a people that God can use.
Gilead means, "Hill of Witness." Gideon also came from Gilead. Gideon came also to heal the nations from idolatry. It's no wonder Jeremiah, in his wicked time, said (Jeremiah 8:22), Is there no balm in Gilead? Raise us up another savior to come out of Gilead to save us from idolatry, to lead us out of idolatry.
Gilead was fifty to sixty miles from Ahab's palace, where Elijah had to deliver his message of doom. I imagine that his faith was tested as he walked this distance through the most beautiful part of the promised land, past streams and rivers that were known never to go dry, past lush trees and flowers, past pastures full of grain or livestock growing fat. The promised land indeed. How could all of this be dried up? And yet this was the message that he was taking to Ahab.
Why did it need to be dried up? What was behind the need for God to send Israel a message? For many years Israel had been rotting in a serious moral and spiritual decay, and by the time Elijah had reached adulthood, they had come to an all-time low the bottom of the barrel. The golden age of David and Solomon was finished. Six kings had come and gone in just fifty-eight years. A bad lot if ever there was one. The first two of these were idolaters, the third was a murderer, the fourth was an alcoholic and a murderer, the fifth was accused of "spiritual treason," and the sixth was described as worse than the previous five before him.
Now the seventh king was on the throne, and was worse even than number six! He was Ahab, with his lovely wife, Jezebel. Now, I don't doubt that this marriage was beneficial to them, but I doubt that this marriage was a happy one. If you marry for any reason other than love, watch out! And this was not a marriage of love, it was due to politics. They may have never even met each other before their wedding. Ahab and Jezebel came together as a result of a peace treaty struck by Ahab's father, Omri, with the Phoenicians in the north. Omri came to power after four years of civil war in Israel between the army and the ruling classes. Since Omri held the loyalty of the military he prevailed and became king.
The Syrians were a threat to Israel and the Phoenicians. So an alliance was made between the two and sealed with the marriage of Prince Ahab to Princess Jezebel, daughter of Eshbaal, the priest-king of Tyre. Tyre was an extremely powerful nation which even had outposts in what is now modern day Europe.
When Jezebel moved in, things changed. She brought her fascination for the occult with her. Israel was not initially shocked by this. Others in the royal family had been know to worship idols all the way back to Solomon's wives. But Jezebel brought it to a new level. She was not just some passive worshipper of Baal, she was an evangelist for Baal. It was her goal to change Israel from a people that at least said they worshipped Yahweh to a people that said they loved to worship Baal. She made it her point to transform Israel to the false god. She was very zealous about this to the point of executing the prophets of Yahweh. It was common to allow a queen to worship another God but Jezebel was very zealous about promoting this worship to the kingdom.
Where was Ahab during all this? Why didn't he put a stop to this? He should have known better. But we find Ahab very wishy-washy on this issue as he was on several other things. He wanted to make everyone happy. So, what did he do? He built a temple for Baal, but he named his children after Yahweh! He wanted the best of both worlds. He named his children Jehoram, which means- "Yahweh is high," Ahaziah, "Yahweh has taken hold," and Athaliah, "Yahweh is exalted." Yet he exalted Baal.
Baal worship included indulgences (people kind of paying the gods and the priests and stuff so they could get away with different things), prostitution in the temple, and, worst of all, child sacrifice. Are we so different today? That was then, this is now. Today we have people that worship by legalism, are involved with sexual immorality, and child sacrifice that we give the name of abortion. The human race has not improved much over the centuries. So much for evolution!
Why was Elijah the one to be given this task? Let's turn to James 5:17, but keep your finger in 1 Kings. James 5:17 has the answer. He was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Notice, he prayed earnestly that it would not rain. God was not giving him a message, "Just go tell them it won't rain" arbitrarily, Elijah had been praying that it would not rain. Why would he pray such a thing? We'll find that out. But his passion had begun with prayer. Israel had become infested and Elijah hated it! At first, Jezebel had been merely a joke. She loved to paint her eyes with Kohl, a mixture of burned frankincense and almond shells, a kind of primitive mascara. Her name means "where is Baal" but in Hebrew, Zebel, as in Jesebel means "dung." I can imagine all of the jokes about how the First Lady of Israel was more powerful than her wishy-washy husband, but the jokes about her name must have been awful. I believe the joking stopped when she started killing the prophets of Yahweh. It was taken seriously.
Well, Elijah made this a matter of prayer. The literal translation of James 5:17 is "He prayed in prayer." It doesn't quite seem to make sense in English. He prayed in prayer. This indicates an intense earnestness in his prayer. This was no hurried note to God prayed between appointments: "Dear Lord, bless me, bless the family, bless Israel and sort out the brains of the royal family. Amen." This was a deep heartfelt earnest groaning of the heart to God.
When was the last time you prayed for our country, the United States of America, with the same earnestness that Elijah prayed for Israel, his country? We are at a time of intense immorality and idolatry. It is time for "praying in prayer!" Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the Independence of our country from an oppressive nation. I challenge you to spend at least part of the day praying in prayer for this country.
Be warned, though, "praying in prayer" is dangerous! Only those who mean business should try it, because it will lead to radical action. Intercession is a bridge between interest and involvement. Real praying can never say, "God, would you please get involved with this situation, as I, your passive servant, don't want to bother." "Praying in prayer" should carry a government warning, everything else does: "Prayer is risky, and may seriously affect your capacity for ease, comfort, and general mediocrity." I think that should be labelled on prayers.
Elijah's prayer was not just with emotion, it had scriptural backing. He knew his Scriptures. He knew how God could act. Just look at Deuteronomy 11:13-17. This is obviously a text that Elijah knew about, talking about Israel taking the Promised Land. So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today-to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul-then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.
Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord's anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. Now we know why Elijah was praying for the rain to stop. "Lord, You said back at the beginning that if we turned away You would cause it to cease. Show them that You mean business." And he prayed a prayer that God would fulfill His promise. This was so appropriate. Baal was known as the god of the rain, as well as the god of sunshine, as well as the god of fertility, and so on and so forth. People would curse Baal for lack of rain, and they would curse Baal for too much sun. You'd get it both going and coming.
So Elijah was chosen to enter the throne room and deliver God's message. This would be like you or me walking into the White House, wearing cutoffs and a ragged T-shirt, past all the guards, into the Oval Office, and telling the President and his cabinet that due to the immorality of this country, God was going to dry up the Earth's oil supply. It would look and sound ridiculous! But it would surely raise some eyebrows and get some talk going.
Well, what did Elijah say. Look back at 1 Kings 17:1 again. Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word. Look at that. A one-sentence sermon. This is all he said. But every word was packed. "THE Lord; there is no other Lord. THE God of Israel: there is no other God of Israel. He's the ONLY one! All the rest of them are only stones. THE Lord, THE God of Israel. The ONLY God, the only true God. He lives, He is not dead. You have all been living like God is dead. He's still alive and I serve Him. There will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word." Even today, people are acting as if God is dead. Each one of these words was a slap in the face to the king of Israel from the King of Kings through a nobody wearing a camel-skin jacket. Elijah could act in utter confidence and boldness knowing that God was speaking through him. I picture a stunned silence from the whole royal chamber as Ahab and all the advisors and servants and friends and maybe even Jezebel drop their jaws in amazement. Partially looking at Ahab because I'm sure the blood just drained from King Ahab's face at such audacity. By the time Ahab composes his anger enough to do something about it, the little man from the country is gone!
I don't know if Elijah just disappeared or if he walked out as he had walked in. But God was still leading him. Look at 1 Kings 17:2. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: "Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered ravens to feed you there."
So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
God seems a bit ironic here. He tells Joshua to prophesy drought and then he tells him to head for Kerith which means drought! Also, it would seem logical to send him to a river that would last longer than a brook which is susceptible to dry up too fast. What seems logical to God is nonsense to us, what seems like logic to us is nonsense to God.
While hiding, Elijah was being shaped into the person God needed him to be. He was sent into a rugged land not far from his home but where he would be alone. It was not a place of ease and comfort but the necessities of man were provided there.
Before Moses could lead Israel out of bondage, he had to spend forty years in Pharaoh's palace learning to be somebody. Then he spent forty years as a man on the run learning to be nobody, and then he spent forty years leading the people of God; learning that God can use nobodies to do His will! David spent much time alone leading the sheep before he could lead men. Elijah had to spend time alone: he much to learn.
One thing he needed to learn was that God has His time and that we are called to do His will in His time. It may have seemed that Elijah's career as a prophet had ended after a one sentence sermon. But that was all God needed at that time.
Another thing that Elijah needed to learn was that God is full of surprises. His methods of operation are not always predictable. He can care for us in ways that we never considered. To be fed by ravens was unexpected! Some may argue that it was not ravens that fed Elijah but Arabs. This argument comes about because the Hebrew word for Raven is almost identical or very close to being the same as the word for Arab. When the Hebrew Old Testament was first translated, it was translated into Greek the Septuagint, said to be the translation that Jesus used. The Greek translation of this word is Raven. I believe this to be the proper translation. Besides, it's more fun: being fed by dirty birds. And that's what they were. These ravens, they didn't go to people's bird feeders and eat bird seed, they ate dead things. They ate out of trash heaps, and he was having to take his food from the beaks of these unclean birds and according to Leviticus 11 they were unclean. Ravens of every kind are unclean. God is ironic in how He works. If it had been Arabs feeding him there would have been so many people going to and from twice a day that soon his hiding place would have been seen. But who would suspect birds flying with food in their beaks? Dirty birds! This proves to me God can not only use anybody, he can use any thing to do His will.
A lesson that Elijah learned that hits home, especially to me, is the ability to sit still. If I were silent for two minutes, just standing here, how many of you would be comfortable? Not many. Is he lost? Did he lose his place? Did he forget where he was going? What's going to happen now? Just for a couple minutes. Even if I did it for one minute. We get fidgety. We can't stand to be still for a minute. It is hard for us in our frantic, addicted-to-activity society to relate to this scene. Most of us feel that the urgent jangling of the alarm clock is really like a starter's pistol for the day to go places and see things just like a conveyor belt; you get on and you can't stop because you have so much to do before you get back into bed again. You don't feel that way, do you?
Even our leisure time is frantic. Theme parks, Television, Music, Games. When we make a phone call to the doctor's office and are put on hold, is there silence? No! They play music so we'll stay on the line because we have to be hearing something, we have to be doing things all the time. I have a car that I don't like to drive because the radio doesn't work. I can't stand the silence. We try to tell others of the Prince of Peace and we don't know a minutes peace ourselves!
BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD. Can you be still? It may be hard to find a brook, Kerith, but there needs to be a point in everybody's day where they can be still and meet God. This is what Elijah had to learn.
It is our desire in this series on Elijah that we will come to the place that like Elijah, when Gods says, "Go," we can go knowing full well that the faithfulness of God is always there.
Opening Hymn: #647 - Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory Scripture: 1 Kings 17:1-6 Closing Hymn: #100 - Great is Thy Faithfulness CoolWater.wpd Crutcher
Return to McDonald Road Sermons Index
Return to McDonald Road SDA Church Home Page
McDonald Road Sermons converted to HTML and
last updated 7/07/99 by Bob Beckett.