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Elijah (4): The fire of the Lord

C Jones, Cardiff

Elijah, the man of God, had, at the command of God, hidden himself for three and a half years. Now, again at the command of God, he came out of hiding and went to meet Ahab (1 Kings 18.1-2). When they met, the first words Ahab spoke to Elijah were, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" (v.17). He attempted to blame Elijah for the suffering to which God had subjected Israel because of the idolatry into which they had been led by King Ahab and Jezebel, his wife. There was no contrition or repentance on the part of Ahab: he was hardened and insensitive to his sins. Elijah stated clearly and unequivocally that the sins of Ahab and his family were responsible for the drought and famine, for they had "forsaken the commandments of the Lord" and followed Baalim (v.18).

Today, it is regarded as naïve and a cause of needless controversy and argument to be dogmatic and to stress that God is holy and will punish sin. It is offensive to some to teach that "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov 14.12), and to be as dogmatic as was the Lord Jesus Christ when He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (Jn 14.6).

Elijah, the man of faith, who knew that he was doing the will of God, spoke boldly, and commanded Ahab the king to summon the people of Israel to Mount Carmel, together with "the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table" (v.19). The "prophets of the groves" were the priests of the goddess Asherah. They did not go to Carmel (v.22). King Ahab did what Elijah required, for God controls all things, including the minds and decisions of kings. We read in Proverbs 21.1, "The king' s heart is in the hand of the Lord…he turneth it whithersoever he will". The people and the 450 prophets gathered on Mount Carmel, and Elijah spoke those momentous words, "How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18.21). The assembled people made no answer: they would not yet decide to repent and return to God.

Believers, as they go through life, are faced with the need to make decisions. We make choices regarding, for example, how to spend our time and other resources. Are we going to obey the will of God as it is revealed in the Word of God, or allow idols to come into our lives and serve them? Idols could include material possessions, or activities which are not in the will of God.

Elijah claimed that he was the only one remaining of the prophets of the Lord, and pointed out that the prophets of Baal numbered 450 (v.22). Humanly speaking, it looked as if it was 450 men against one man, but Elijah knew the truth of the words, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8.31).

The fire of the Lord fell

At Elijah's command, two bullocks were brought. The prophets of Baal chose one, cut it up and laid it on the wood. Elijah would do the same with the other. The test was to see whether Baal or the God of Israel would send fire to consume a bullock. Elijah said, "the God that answereth by fire, let him be God", and the assembled people agreed to this (v.24)

All the morning, and into the afternoon, the prophets of Baal, in a frenzy, called on their god, but nothing happened (vv.25-29). Elijah told the people to gather around him, "And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down" (v.30). He "took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name" (v.31). The twelve stones with which the altar was rebuilt brought to the minds of the people the privileged position they held as those chosen of God. They were reminded of the twelve tribes descended from Jacob to whom God had said, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men" (Gen 32.28). Elijah made an altar and made a trench around it. He put wood on the altar, put the pieces of the bullock on the wood and then commanded that four barrels of water should be poured on the offering and on the wood. This was done three times and the water flowed until it filled the trench around the altar (1 Kings 18.32-35). Then, "at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice", Elijah prayed saying, "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word" (v.36). Elijah called on God to answer his prayer, saying, "that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again" (v.37). Elijah sought to glorify God: he prayed in accordance with His will and God answered his prayers (1 Jn 5.14). God caused the fire to fall immediately. It fell not on the sinful people but on the vicarious sacrifice. How this makes us think of the substitutionary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ who bore our sins in His own body on the cross (1 Pet 2.24), and suffered, bled and died, "the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Pet 3.18). The fire "consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench" (1 Kings 18.38). When the people saw this awesome sight, they "fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God" (v.39).

The people turned back to God, and the prophets of Baal were revealed as being false prophets. Elijah was zealous for the God of Israel, and commanded the people to take all the prophets of Baal, "and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there" (v.40). The prophets of Baal had had an evil influence on the people and led them away from God to worship idols. Those of us who are believers can have idols in our lives which take the place of God and they should be removed.

There is a sound of abundance of rain

Elijah, the man who was close to God, and knew, loved and served Him, did not seek prominence for himself but continued humbly to serve, glorify and honour the God of Israel. He sought no glory for himself but spoke to Ahab and said, "Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain" (v.41). The people had returned to God and now the land would be blessed with adequate rain. The unrepentant Ahab went away to eat and drink with no thought of God in his mind. The humble Elijah went to the top of Carmel, "cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees" to pray fervently and reverently to God (v.42). In the experience of a believer, there is the possibility that after God has enabled him to have victory over sin, he may experience feelings of self-exaltation, relax his vigilance, and be less aware of his total dependence on God. Elijah did not make this mistake.

Elijah told his servant to look toward the sea. The servant obeyed but could see nothing unusual. Elijah persevered and told him to go back seven more times. On the seventh occasion, Elijah's faith and patience were rewarded, for the servant said, "Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand". Elijah then sent his servant to tell Ahab to go to Jezreel before the coming rain would prevent his travelling (vv.43-45). In the past, Elijah had told Ahab it would not rain (17.1); now, when he told him that the rain was about to start, Ahab sped on his way to Jezreel. Elijah also left the scene and, empowered by God, ran before Ahab to Jezreel which was eighteen miles away. Despite believing Elijah's statement that the rain was coming, and having seen the power of God, Ahab remained unrepentant, and, sadly, at a later date the people went back to idolatry.

To be continued.


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