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1 Kings 17-19 include some of the most famous stories about the prophet Elijah. It begins with a drought ordained by the Lord upon the land of Israel as judgement against their idolatry under king Ahab. For years on end there is no rain, and a great famine settles over the land. In that time, Elijah is commanded to stay with a widow and her son in Zarephath.
He arrives and asks her for bread and water, but she tells him she only has a little flour and oil that are about to run out, after which she expects her and her son to die. Elijah promises that neither the flour nor the oil will run out until the Lord sends rain upon the earth, and it is so. Shortly after, the widows son dies and the woman beseeches Elijah who cries to the Lord, who raises the son back to life.
After three years staying with this widow, Elijah is commanded to show himself to Ahab, after which rain will return to the earth, but not before there is judgement on the people of Israel, especially those 450 people who have become prophets of Baal under Ahab and the 400 who had become prophets of Asherah under Jezebel. All of Israel gathers to see a contest in which the prophets of Baal and Asherah slaughter a bull and offer it on an unlit altar, seeing if they would light the altar fire in an act of divine might. Elijah also slaughters a bull but fashions the altar as it ought to be done in Israel, out of 12 unmarked stones and offered to the one true God.
The false prophets cry out to their gods and dance and cut themselves with swords until their blood flowed in an act of worship, but no god responds. Elijah mocks them, and, just for good measure, pours three large jugs of water over his offering. He then cries out to the Lord of Heaven who pours out a mighty tongue of fire, consuming the offering, the water, and the very stones themselves.
All of Israel rallies to Yahweh and the false prophets are put to death according to the law. Rain then returns to the land. After this, Jezebel is out for Elijah’s blood, who flees to the wilderness. Elijah, full of doom and gloom, is told to take a nap and have a snack provided by an angel. After this, he decides things aren’t too bad and continues on his journey. There is a moment when the Lord passes by Elijah, but is said not to be in the great wind or earthquake or fire that follows, but in a soft whisper that speaks to the prophet, saying that the Lord will leave a faithful remnant of Israel alive after a change of regime in Israel and after indicating that a man named Elisha will take Elijah’s place as a prophet in Israel.
How shall we interpret these passages? There are many lessons to be learned, such as relying on divine provision, the judgement and justice of God, and the folly of idolatry (plus the Biblical suggestion that a nap and a snack can do wonders for ones spirit!). The thing that stands out most to me is the up-and-down resolve and courage of Elijah throughout his ministry. He is remarkably called and provided for in divine ways, being rescued miraculously by the Lord and His servant, the widow. But Elijah shows such grief and bewilderment at the death of the widows son, expressing doubt in the goodness of God by seeing such a death, though it is short lived as the son rises later
We see it again in chapter 18 when God works mightily in the presence of all Israel, judging false prophets and ending the famine by sending rain from the sea. Even so, Elijah in the desert despairs of life himself, asking God to take away his life, as if none of these things happened. Later he shows himself in a piteous state, bemoaning the fact that Jezebel is seeking his life. At first glace, we wonder how a man who saw and was a part of such divine works could ever doubt the goodness or provision of God, but I encourage all of us to remember – whether things are good or going absolutely terrible, whether we are celebrated or oppressed, included or marginalized, the Lord is always good, always faithful, always sure, always a refuge.
Our feelings or circumstances do not impact God’s closeness nor do they change His love for us. They cannot negate any of His promises or stop any of His plans. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us! Whether on the mountain top or in the valley, our God is the same!
Try and bring to mind the last time you felt desperate. Some of us are feeling desperate one way or another right now. Think of the ways in your life that things feel out of control, delayed, or not going the way we want. What I strongly encourage each of us to do today is offer these feelings, these emotions, and circumstances up to the Lord in prayer in absolute surrender.
Take a moment to meditate on what it really means to be in the Hands of God. Take a moment to consider the fact that He has a plan for your life and has never left your side, even in the darkest, longest, driest places you’ve ever been. Take a moment to think how He wants you to depend on Him not only when things are good or a bit of a challenge, but in the desperate moments and the darkest night. He operates in His own time and is faithful to continue sanctifying and growing you even in and with the chaos of life. Praise God that all things work together for good for those who love Him! Tell him your anxieties and sadness, for He is your heavenly Father who is always and forever close to you.
Application question –
What does it look like to depend on God when things are rough? Do you give Him your burdens, or take over control when things are going bad? How would it make a difference to seek peace in your life instead of change?
Father, you did not even spare your own Son from suffering, but put on Him the wrath that we all deserved. Thank you for being a God who knows our pain and grief, and thank you for always being close to us, no matter how we feel. Help us to depend on you no matter what and remember all the ways in which you have sustained and blessed us, so that more and more, we might continue to build our lives on Christ the solid rock.
Song - Highlands (Song of Ascent) - Hillsongs United
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.