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The Life and Times of Elijah (1)

J Hay, Comrie

In the northern kingdom of Israel, the rot set in early when Jeroboam installed his golden calves at Dan and Bethel. From then on, it was a downward spiral of idolatry, and rebellion against God, reaching an all-time low in the days of King Ahab (1 Kings 16.30,33). He had married Jezebel, an audacious heathen princess, and she incited him to endless acts of wickedness. Together, they vigorously promoted the worship of Baal and defied the God of Heaven by sanctioning the rebuilding of Jericho. Such was the spiritual climate in which Elijah ministered for God.

Elijah’s background

We know little of his background, save that he was "of the inhabitants of Gilead" (1 Kings 17.1). His forebears were the people who settled on the east of Jordan. For materialistic considerations, they lingered on the fringe, rather than enjoying an inheritance in the land. From that unpromising background, Elijah emerged dramatically, a dynamic power for God. One day, at a low point in his life, he complained, "I am not better than my fathers" (1 Kings 19.4). It was not true! His commitment and loyalty made him far superior to these reluctant ancestors. Learn the lesson, that to be reared among people who are shallow and half-hearted does not disqualify you from being something special for God. Possibly Elijah’s own parents were God-fearing people: at least they gave him a suitable name - "My God is Jehovah". In bearing that name in the heartland of Baal worship, everyone knew where his loyalties lay! Let us be equally open in our commitment to Christ in "this adulterous and sinful generation" (Mk 8.38).

Before Ahab

Presumably, his first message to the errant Ahab was delivered at the king’s court. It was brief, but full of instruction. "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word" (1 Kings 17.1). Notice that despite the rebellion of the people, God was still regarded as the God of Israel. In Hosea’s time God said, "My people are bent to backsliding from me…How shall I give thee up?" (Hos 11.7-8). He still acknowledged His connection with them, for backsliding and rebellion can never sever a genuine relationship with Him. God was still the God of Jonah despite his disobedience (Jonah 2.1). God is still "the Father" of the sinning saint (1 Jn 2.1). However, He does expect confession and repentance: that is crucial if the joy of the relationship is to be restored (Ps 51.12).

Elijah had confidence that the Lord God of Israel lives. In contrast to Baal and every false deity, He is "the living and true God" (1 Thess 1.9). In that very generation, God had given evidence that He lives: He proved it in that Hiel’s two sons died during the rebuilding programme at Jericho (1 Kings 16.34). The living God executed the threat of Joshua 6.26.

The prophet also had an awareness that he stood in the presence of God. Just as the illustrious Gabriel stood "in the presence of God" (Lk 1.19), this man on earth was equally attuned to hear His voice, and equally ready to do His bidding. Let us desire that intimacy of fellowship with God and that attitude of availability that is conveyed in the concept of standing in the presence of God.

Elijah’s warning that there would be no dew or rain came after he had made earnest representations to God (James 5.17). Evidently, he had been reading in Deuteronomy 11.16-17, and now he asked God to implement that threat of discipline. He took God at His word. Daniel had the same attitude to the Word of God. His ninth chapter tells of how in reading Jeremiah he discovered that Judah’s captivity would be for seventy years. The seventy years were up: Daniel believed God, and prayed accordingly. We would be happier people if, like Elijah and Daniel, we just took God at His word. Accept every precious promise of the Bible, saying like Paul, "I believe God" (Acts 27.25). Doubts and unbelief inevitably produce anxiety.

The last clause of his message held out the hope of recovery. At His word, the discipline would be lifted, and the drought would be over. It is so good to know that in circumstances of chastening and barrenness, an end is in sight if we create the conditions which allow God to be merciful.

At the brook Cherith

Elijah had invoked divine discipline upon the nation, but now he would have to share the privations of the people. God personally superintended his safety and his sustenance: His message was, "Hide thyself" (1 Kings 17.3). When the time came for Elijah to take centre stage in the purpose of God, the message was, "Shew thyself" (18.1), but the order is most significant. God’s servants require the time of hiding before the time of showing. Moses, John the Baptist, and Paul all had their wilderness experiences with God before they emerged into the limelight. The Lord Jesus chose disciples that "they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach" (Mk 3.14). Being with Him is a prerequisite for active service. Without the necessary preparation of fellowship with Him, service will be immature and ineffective, fleshly and futile.

Elijah was to learn the lesson of dependence on God. This was a real test of faith! In a time of drought he was being sent to a brook and not a river! Thankfully, he obeyed the voice of God, for the ravens had been commanded to feed him there and nowhere else. To be blessed, we must be in the location of divine choice. "There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee" (Ex 25.22); "Galilee…there shall they see me" (Mt 28.10). The frustrated Naaman deemed the rivers of Damascus to be very suitable, but the place of God’s choice was Jordan (2 Kings 5.10,12). Make sure that you are where God would have you, and when.

God’s channel of provision for Elijah was remarkable - the ravens! He has the whole of creation under His control. A great fish did his bidding to preserve Jonah. The "strongest among beasts" (Prov 30.30) was docile as He preserved Daniel. And now, the ravens obey Him as He preserves Elijah. The beast of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea all acknowledge His sovereign authority.

God richly rewarded Elijah’s simple obedience (v.5), as He does every act of obedience to Him. The ravens also obeyed His voice, and what God had commanded, they performed. With unwavering regularity, they brought him "bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening". The diet was varied, and regular. He was not allowed to hoard, for ravens never hoard, they "neither have storehouse nor barn" (Lk 12.24). Elijah lived a day at a time in dependence upon God, and there was no provision for the rainy day! His requirements came when needed! Let that be an encouragement to us all. "Consider the ravens", said the Lord Jesus. God’s hand feeds them; do you think that He will neglect you? He has had long experience of feeding them; they are the first birds to be mentioned in the Bible. He feeds them even although they rank among the unclean birds of Scripture! In this context they were so well fed that they had extra resources to bring to the hidden prophet. The threat of unemployment causes anxiety. Negative equity is a problem. A disappointing pension plan is alarming. But the God who feeds ravens and who fed Elijah by the ravens, is the God who takes a practical interest in you.

Why should I charge my soul with care?
The wealth in every mine
Belongs to Christ, God’s Son and heir,
And He’s a friend of mine.

In emergencies, God is not confined to a single course of action, so "after a while", when Elijah’s circumstances changed, God initiated a new strategy for his preservation. The prophet had watched the brook reduce to a trickle, but he stayed at his post until "the word of the Lord came unto him", sanctioning his departure. Mary and Joseph were equally sensitive to divine leading. They were told to flee to Egypt, "until I bring thee word" (Mt 2.13). They obeyed implicitly. Sadly, in days of testing, without any mandate from heaven, Abraham abandoned his station with disastrous consequences (Gen 12.10). We all wish to escape from adverse circumstances. We cry out, "Oh that I had wings like a dove" (Ps 55.6), but be like Elijah and await God’s perfect timing for any necessary move.

To be continued.

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