Characters and Character: Elijah

1 Kings 17-18

Dr. Chris White June 2, 2013

     There are people whose influences on their times are beyond description. That is, there is no way to fully appreciate what they meant, what they stood for, and how the times changed through them. There aren't a lot of names that meet the description, but the name of Elijah does. It is hard to fully appreciate the role of Elijah in both the Scriptures and in the history of Jews and Christians. When we think of a prophet we are thinking of Elijah: bold, rough, calling down fire and miracles, deeply faithful to God, and going toe-to-toe with bad kings. 

     Elijah will hold an authority beyond the kings of his day, and he will hold a power beyond their powers as well. While the best kings died a common death, Elijah will go to heaven in a whirlwind. And as people would await a messiah, a great and powerful leader, Malachi 4 states that Elijah would come first. And that is why when John the Baptist begins to preach as he does, it is not just that a prophet is among them. It is that Elijah is among them. His is a story worth knowing, and so we consider a few pieces of his story in 1 Kings 17-19 and see what larger messages were coming through him for us.

Read 1 Kings 17:1-16. Our lesson: Alone and Together

     Elijah has the unfortunate job of serving God under Ahab, an ungodly mess of a man and a real threat to Elijah’s safety. This word from the Lord to Ahab is a bad word: drought. More than a hard word, there was a hard time coming. And hard times led kings to desperate measures. As the story tells it, even God saw the wisdom of Elijah’s solitude. But it is more than solitude. It is a season for Elijah to see the provision of God for him, even when the highest powers were against him. He would have to depend on God’s care, as humble as it was: scraps of meat from ravens and a running brook.

     ALONE. This is a unique time in God’s work as spokesman. It’s hard to be the guy who brought the word (and maybe the conditions) that will make so many people’s lives so uncomfortable. It is meant to remind us, I think, that there are paths of faithfulness to God that we have to walk alone. I know that we cannot help but wonder why people don’t jump on our causes like we’ve jumped on our causes, but maybe there is something to be learned through a solitary faithfulness. Maybe there’s something to be learned when God alone knows your need and where to find you and when that need must be met. Maybe God makes His people stronger as a group when they each know individually that He is near. There’s something important about hearing God call your name and asking you to join Him. I was reading Mark 3:13 this week which says this about the first disciples of Jesus: “And he went up on the mountain and summoned those whom he himself wanted, and they came to him.” It is such an interesting moment. So simple. Jesus calling the ones he wanted to follow him, and they came to him. There’s something about being called apart, called alone, to follow Christ. We will face some steps of faith alone. And I hope we all see where the ravens of God are chasing us with God’s provision.

     But not alone. In the widow and the son, Elijah, is called to wait for God TOGETHER. It wasn’t just for Elijah to wait for God and serve Him as this rumbling discontent. He was asked to join the widow and her son. He was asked to not only be with them but to suffer with them through the drought and the threats. It was to live with her, wait with her, and share the waiting. She cared for him, he cared for her, and they waited together. Together they shared in the labor and faith of their lives. Big idea here: There is someone in God’s will for us. It is beyond marriage and friendships, I think. It is a matter of waiting for God’s provision together.

     Read 1 Kings 18:30-39. Our lesson: A Day for Testimony

     This passage is a cut to the highlight of the standoff with the priests of Baal at Carmel. Elijah has reappeared to face off with the king and the pagan priests, noting that he was the sole prophet there for God among the 450 prophets for Baal, a local divinity and favorite of the king’s wife. The challenge given to the priests is for their god to bring fire from heaven and burn up the bull sacrificed on the altar. The priests have already had their time of calling on their god to produce fire and show that Baal is Lord, as per the terms of the wager; not surprisingly, nothing happened. Elijah situates the altar and bull like a prophet expecting God to move, then he goes so far as to douse it with water to put himself behind 8-ball. The prayer of Elijah (v. 36-37) is a prayer aligning himself with God and offering them a way back home. And then the Lord moves—fire eats up everything, leaving no question about the Author of the fire. Their response is one of fear and conviction, and Elijah’s faith is part of the story.

     There comes a day in a world of choices when a choice must be made. There are times when alternate opinions cannot sit at the table of your heart  with God. True, the greater part of the crowd may not see the wisdom or truth of our devotion to God, but as Elijah stated earlier, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow Him.” (v. 21) You cannot make people believe in God, no matter how many books or testimonies you throw their direction. Neither can you call down fire at your will to move them God’s way. But you can speak when it is time to speak. You can live as you are called to live. You can be consistently faithful to Christ as a statement of your faith in Christ. Can you be faithful to Christ and still thrive in business? In love? In contentment? If people do not see it in us, why would they ever try? Every day we waver between two opinions we deny both of them.

     Read I Kings 19:9-18. Our lesson: Larger than (your) Life

    Here Elijah sees the noose tightening on his life and work. Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, has considerable power and directs it toward his death. Elijah flees for forty days and forty nights until reaching Mt. Horeb, where he goes into a cave to sleep.  And there is the great question from God: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

     Elijah’s answer is an answer of despondency: I am the only one left. God grants him an assignment: anoint new men as kings, anoint your successor. And then God grants him the news: by the way, I happen to know 7,000 like you who have not bowed to the pagan god Baal.

     “You are not alone in your faithfulness.” No matter how great the work of God in Elijah’s life, the work of God in the world is larger than Elijah’s life. No matter how alone you might feel when serving God, no one is alone. God’s plan and God’s people are much greater than one person. Even when it involved one unique person like Jesus Christ, the story was unfolding in 12 disciples, healings, teachings, and feedings. No one is alone in their faithfulness to God. In this day and time you might look around and wonder if people still care about God, still pray, still make commitments to follow Christ. God, I think, would tell us that there is more to His Church than we see or can count. We are not the measure of God’s work or righteousness. As the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows to great height and like seed planted on good soil, harvest are coming.

     No matter how great or small the work of God in your life, the work of God is larger than your life.


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