King Ahab and Queen Jezebel must have been shocked to see fire rain down from heaven at the request of this rough, unkempt, unlettered man. Elijah was literally a nobody from nowhere, yet God was listening to him. Isn't that the beauty of the Gospel? God delights in using nobodies...like us!
“A NOBODY FROM NOWHERE”
(I Kings 16:29-17:1)
The following article is from the U. S. Government Peace Corps Manual for its volunteers who work in the Amazon Jungle. It tells what to do in case you are attacked by an anaconda. I looked up Anaconda in my encyclopedia - it happens to be one of the two largest snakes in the world. It can grow to thirty feet in length and weigh between two and three hundred pounds at the maximum. This is what the manual included: 10 points in its instruction on how to survive if you become the next meal potentially of an anaconda. Now, typically, I read, the anaconda feeds on young crocodiles and pigs - but you never know, member of the Peace Corp.
Point #1. If you are attacked by an anaconda, do not run. The snake is faster than you are.
Point #2. Immediately lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides, your legs tight against one another.
Point #3. Tuck your chin in.
Point #4. The snake will come and begin to nudge and climb over your body.
Point #5. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet end - always from the feet end. Permit the snake to swallow your feet and ankles.
Point #6. The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. This will take a long time.
Point #7. Do not panic.
Point #8. When the snake has swallowed you to your knees, slowly, and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife and very gently slide it into the side of the snake’s mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg. Then suddenly rip upwards, cutting the snake’s head and ending its life. (The last two suggestions were the ones that got me.)
Point #9. Be sure you have your knife.
Point #10. Be sure your knife is sharp.
This is not a very good recruiting tool for the Peace Corp - in fact, who among us would volunteer?! No one!
This morning I invite your attention to the life of an ordinary volunteer - a man who knowingly stepped in the path of a huge, menacing, dangerous snake - two of them in fact - these twin serpents had crushed the spiritual life out of Israel. Their names were Ahab and Jezebel, and those who stood for God were paralyzed with fear - except, it seems, one man - a rather ordinary man named Elijah.
In fact, I want to introduce him to you, not be turning first to the Old Testament, but to the New Testament Book of James 5:17. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and 6 months. And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
The amplified Bible expands this first phrase to read - “Elijah was a human being with a nature such as we have - with feelings, affections and constitution as ourselves.”
The King James translates it, “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are.”
The NIV renders it simply - “Elijah was a man just like us.”
Elijah was an ordinary human being - and in our study over these next 6 or 7 weeks through his biography we’ll observe him on the mountaintop of spiritual victory and in the valley of spiritual and physical depression and exhaustion.
My friend, if you were to interview Elijah on the porch of his rustic mountain cabin and ask him, “Elijah, how would you like to become a model of faith and an example of courage for millions of people over thousands of years?”
I’m convinced he would immediately respond, “Not on your life.”
But he is . . . why? Because he was an ordinary man, totally surrendered to God who then used him in an extraordinary way.
You need to understand that a common run of the mill Christian in an ungodly culture shines with uncommon brilliance.
And in our culture, when the church seems paralyzed before the serpents of our age - where the saints are stumbling as if in a fog; when the Christian community has dissolved into the liquid of society, we need a flesh and blood model.
Ladies and gentlemen, God never challenges us to become something without giving us someone as an example - Like Paul who said, “Imitate me, as I follow Christ.”
And James makes it crystal clear - Elijah is an example of power, reflected in his prayer - but guess what - Elijah was nothing special or unusual - Elijah was a man just like us.
Now with that under our belts - turn with me to I Kings and let’s understand a little better what Elijah will be up against.
I Kings chapter 16 - while you’re turning - you may remember the fact that the Northern Kingdom was ruled by one evil king after another. Finally, a man named Zimri assassinated the King and assumed the throne. The Northern army found out about it and declared their general king - his name was Omri. They immediately marched back to the north; and the assassin, knowing his short reign was about to end, (only lasted 7 days) went into the royal palace and, in an act of suicide, set the palace on fire and burned it down around him.
What erupted was civil war - Omri became king, but half the people didn’t like him and the coronated Tibni - now we have two kings in the North. Now the Bible doesn’t give us all the facts, but it does say - verse 22. But the people who followed Omri prevailed over the people who followed Tibni . . . and Tibni died and Omri became King over Israel. We have every reason to believe that Omri helped Tibni die - earlier than expected - maybe he spiked his punch with poison - we’re not specifically told.
So what’s this new king like - verse 25. And Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, and acted more wickedly than all who were before him.
Now verse 29 introduces us to the diabolical duo of Elijah’s day. “Now Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel in the 38th year of Asa king of Judah, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel is Samaria 22 years. (now Ahab’s name can be literally translated, “Like his father” - only worse - 30.) And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. (don’t miss this - there is an incredible digression occurring in the land - Omri does more evil than any other king before him - and Ahab tops Omri - he’s even more wicked!) 31. And it came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of EthBaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshipped him.
The Sidonians/Phoenicians were Israel’s rich and powerful neighbors to the west. They enjoyed wealth and luxury on a scale known by few in the ancient world. Phoenician colonies dotted the Mediterranean and her navies ruled the sea. Phoenicia or Sidonia was a byword for affluence and influence.
Ahab wanted a piece of the action . . . so he married into it by taking their king’s daughter as his wife.
Solomon had earlier set the stage for political alliances through marriage - but Ahab took it one huge step further. You see, Solomon’s foreign wives brought their gods with them but they never forced their idolatry on the people of Israel . . .Jezebel will force Israel to accept Baalism as the state religion.
Now verse 31 tells us that she was the princess daughter of Ethbaal.
Josephus, the Jewish historian living in the first century, informs us that EthBaal, at the age of 36 assassinated his own brother and assumed the throne where he reigned for 32 years.
Frankly, his name - EthBaal - says it all - it means, “With Baal.”
Now the name “Jezebel” is interesting - it was closely associated with the worship of Baal. In fact, it was taken from a popular expression of Phoenician poetry that archeologists have uncovered that says, “Where is Baal, the overcomer? Where is the prince, the Lord of the earth?”
The phrase, “Where is the Prince” in Phoenician is “izebel” - Jezebel’s father was such an adamant follower of Baal that he named his little girl as answer to that question - she was the princess of Baal!
Ahab things he’s just marrying some King’s eligible daughter - he gets more than he bargained for - the truth is, as other scripture makes clear - he will be utterly dominated by this demonized, idolatrous woman - named after the Prince of the earth.
What’s interesting is the fact that the Bible mentions their marriage - it is the first time that a marriage is mentioned in the entire Northern Kingdom - and there’s little doubt who’s wearing the royal pants in this family. In fact, according to verse 31 of all the terrible things Ahab did -marrying Jezebel topped em all!
Now note what Ahab does - verse 32. So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria - by the way, II Kings tells us that this great temple to Baal was large enough to hold every Baal worshipper in the land at one time - it must have been a magnificent, awe-inspiring temple - temples to false religions usually are.
Now verse 33. And Ahab also made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.
Now you need to understand that Baal was the Chief Canaanite god - He was a god with several faces - the wind, the sun, etc. Baal had three mistresses, and the belief was that every spring, if the people were good to him, he would co-habit with his mistresses and the results would be rain, bumper crops and nice weather all around.
Now you need to understand that Asherah was supposedly one of Baal’s three wives. Her name Asherah means “Earth mother.” By the way, the worship of mother earth is certainly not new - it tracks all the way back to Canaan - by the way, an elementary song that my children’s chorus sang in a public concert went like this:
The earth is our mother, the earth is mother, the earth is our mother and our best friend too.
The great provider for me and you; the earth is our mother and our best friend too.
There’s an ancient Hebrew word for that - “garbage.”
Old garbage - going all the way back to people like Ahab and Jezebel.
By the way - one of the popular nicknames for Baal was “Rider of the clouds.” You worship Baal and you get rain - rain brings crops and crops sustain life.
And, as you are already way ahead of me - that makes it incredibly significant that Elijah’s will pray that it doesn’t rain - a direct attack on the worship of Baal!
One more thing by way of background - you’re probably thinking, “Man alive, Stephen, when are we going to reach to Elijah.” Well, we’re on the trail - but just hold on to your hound dogs a little longer!
One of the reasons we have not appreciated the ministry of Elijah is because we have not understood his times. The darker the times, the brighter the light. He lived in a time when the prophets of God seemed down for the count; chapter 18 tells us that Jezebel finally begins to systematically kill the prophets
wickedness reigned in the palace
idolatry was the language of people;
the God of Israel was forgotten, ignored, blasphemed.
We can miss the point of history - “His-Story.” Ladies and gentlemen, the reason we panic in our times is because we have a shallow understanding of Elijah’s times.
If we learn anything from our study today, I want us to learn, “When times are at their worst - God is at work.”
So notice one more insight into Elijah’s times - verse 34. In his days (under the direction of Ahab), Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho; he laid its foundations with the loss of Abiram his first-born, and set up its gates with the loss of his youngest son Segub, just as Joshua had prophesied generations ago.
If you’re thinking that we have enough material to know just how bad it was - Jeremiah inserts a sideline note that Ahab was directly disobeying God’s word. When Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin down, Joshua then uttered a “curse” so to speak and pronounced that no one should ever again rebuild this city. To do so would cost that builder the lives of two of his sons.”
That was prophetic. And it happened to Hiel. HOWEVER, while we would assume that his sons would die from disease - or accident; archeologists have uncovered evidence from this period of a practice called “foundation sacrifices” in which children were buried, perhaps alive, in the foundations of building projects in hopes of ensuring the pleasure of Baal.
We already know that Baalism involved child sacrifice - so what may very well have happened that explains this mysterious verse is that this Baal worshipper sacrificed his first born son when the Jericho-project began and he killed and buried him - notice the verse again, middle of verse 34 - “he laid its foundations with the loss of Abiram his first-born (then at the end of project as they complete the project by hanging the gates) “he did so at the loss of his youngest son.” - that is he buried him underneath the massive gates.”
Heard enough?! Now are you ready to understand why Elijah was a shining light?
David Roper wrote: “Perilous times are times of unparalleled opportunity. Those who know the true God must not fear them, but rather buy them up.”
The Apostle Paul put it best, under inspiration, “Make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15). He didn’t say, “Make the most of every opportunity, before the days become evil, but because the days are evil.”
Evil epochs are custom-made for godly examples to shine.
God did not wipe anxious sweat from his brow when Jezebel moved her bags and Baals into Samaria’s palace. He did not welcome his martyred prophets into paradise with the words, “Oh, I wish there had been something I could have done.”
He was not then, and He is not now, at a loss of what to do. Whether it is among the persecuted Christians in northern India; or in the hushed voices of underground house-church worshippers in China; nor is He confounded by the bedrock of unbelief in the land of France, the ancestral worshippers in Korea, the anamalists in Africa, nor is He confused by our post-Christian American culture. He is not shooting off memos to the angels saying, “Hang on fellas - we’re loosing ground!”
For 60 years the northern nation called Israel has slidden into debauchery, immorality; even now the princess of Hell has ascended the throne of Samaria - the prophets will either die or hide in caves - the people will be forced, lured, exposed and then plunged into Baalism - it couldn’t get any worse!
Yet, God was not at a loss for words or plans.
In fact, at the very moment when Zimri was plunging his dagger into the heart of a drunken Baasha, somewhere in the rocky hills of Gilead a young man was herding some sheep. And when the moving van from Phoenicia pulled up in front of the Ahab’s palace 12 years later, a middle aged man was already praying for God’s word to be heard.
God doesn’t make plans - he’s always had plans.
But has it ever occurred to you that you are His plan? You are His solution?
Ordinary people, yielded to God, used to transform their times.
What does it take to transform our times? Turn to Chapter 17 and you will notice in verse 1 that God’s solution has been under preparation for some time.
He’s simply introduced in verse 1 as Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead.
F. B. Meyer writes that the inhabitants of Gilead took on the character of their country - wild, unkempt. They lived in crude, stone huts and villages and subsisted by keeping flocks of sheep. Elijah grew up like the other lads of his age. In his early years he probably did the work of a shepherd on those wild hills. As he grew to manhood, his erect figure, his shaggy locks, his cloak of camel’s hair, his girdle of leather made him a crude standout among the palace surroundings of Ahab.
The only good physical description of him occurs in II Kings 1 where he’s called “a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.”
The words “hairy man” literally meant “lord of hair” which suggests he had long hair and a long beard.
Elijah was an unlettered, uncultured, unkempt man from an uminpressive village in the Tishbite region. Tishbite sounds like a nutritional cracker - you know the kind that taste like sawdust but they are good for us.
Tishbe, Elijah’s village was a rather tasteless, plain place - it was a place of solitude and hard work. There was little culture here - little diplomacy - it was insignificant in the scheme of Israel’s affairs - politically and religiously. Even today, no one is exactly sure where Elijah’s home village was located in the mountaineous region of Gilead.
Frankly, “Elijah was a nobody from nowhere.”
It couldn’t have been a greater shock to his King and Queen that once God chose to speak - he would speak - he would speak through him. That once God decided to send fire from heaven, it would follow the prayers of this rough, unkempt, unlettered man.
Elijah was a nobody who came out of nowhere. God delights in using nobodies.
But messenger after messenger had arrived in Gilead bringing the latest news of Baal’s inroads and Ahab’s and Jezebel’s idolatry.
And no one had the courage to do anything but hide, or hope - or bend their knees to Baal.
Now as you hear the story of Elijah, maybe you’d volunteer to step forward - but admittedly, it’s because you and I know the rest of the stoy - we know it will all work out.
It doesn’t take courage to read history - it takes courage to make history.
I reread a fable that some of you have probably heard - if so, you’ll enjoy the reminder: As I began my study of Elijah, I remembered this funny story of a certain kind of courage and I dug around in my files until I found it - “It seems that a well-known billionaire bought a huge ranch in Arizona, and he invited some of his closest associates in to see it. After touring some of the 1500 acres of mountains and rivers and grasslands, he took everybody to the house. The house was as spectacular as the scenery, and out back was the largest swimming pool you have ever seen. However, this gigantic swimming pool was filled with alligators. The rich owner explained this way: “I value courage more than anything else. Courage is what made me a billionaire. In fact, I think that courage is such a powerful virtue that if anybody is courageous enough to jump in that pool, swim through those alligators and make it to the other side, I’ll give them anything they want - anything.” Of course, everybody laughed at the absurd challenge and proceeded to follow the owner into the house for lunch . . . when suddenly they heard a splash. Turning around, they saw this guy swimming across the pool, thrashing at the water, as the alligators swarmed after him. Under the water, then thrown into the air, the man never stopped courageously swimming his way to the other side. After several death defying moments, he made it to the other side unharmed and exhausted. The billionaire host was absolutely amazed, but he stuck to his promise, He said, “You are indeed a man of courage and I will stick to my word. What do you want? You can have anything - you name it - houses, money, land - just tell me what you want and it is yours.” The swimmer, breathing heavily, looked up at the host and said, “I just want to know one thing - who pushed me into that pool?”
And the only thing was - Elijah was never pushed - he jumped.
He jumped into the swirling waters of unbelief and immorality; water that churned with Satanic powers, and he faced the forces of hell - he came armed with three things - three things that every ordinary believer needs today if he or she ever hopes to transform his or her times.
1) He stood before Ahab and Jezebel - totally convinced that God was alive. “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives . . .”
He is in effect declaring - “Ahab, your gods are stumps of wood; Jezebel, you’re named after a dead tree - but my God, the God of Israel is alive!”
Elijah was the one lone voice that dared to say, “The emperor has no clothes.” Everyone else is duped into the fabrication of idolatry - and Elijah, suddenly, out of nowhere strides into the palace of the King and Queen and says, “Jezebel, you and your henpecked husband are serving dead gods. I am serving the living God.”
Ladies and gentlemen, if you are going to transform your times, you must first be transformed - stop acting like God’s dead. When trouble comes, and when the chips are down and times are tough - you start questioning God’s power - you start doubting God’s presence - the accuser whispers in your listening ear - “God who?”
Elijah’s times were perfect times where people were wondering, “Maybe we were led astray in this God of Israel stuff . . . only a few thousand still believe the old stories” - but they are silent in fear.
At that moment - Elijah arrives at the palace and says, “The God of Israel is alive.”
Secondly, Elijah jumped into these dangerous waters, certain he was God’s representative.
Notice . . . “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand . . .”
I love this! This is an affront. Elijah is audacious here - there is almost a rudeness about him - He doesn’t start out by saying, “Long live the king.” He doesn’t do a curtsey in his camel robe - in fact, he never mentions Ahab and Jezebel - he has the guts to stand in their royal presence and speak of an awareness of a royalty that exceeds that of Ahab and Jezebel!
This ordinary man was certain that as he lived and breathed he was in the presence of God . . . he was speaking for God . . . and that meant more than all the pageantry, pomp and circumstance of Ahab’s royal palace.
It’s as if he said to them, “The only royalty here that’s worth recognizing is God.”
My friend, remember that, as you enter your world, don’t be intimidated - don’t cower - you happen to be a representative of Almighty God - walk like it - talk like it - live like it.
Third, Elijah was (not only convinced God was alive and that he was God’s representative) he was also impassioned to see God’s word fulfilled.
Last part of verse 1c “...surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
How does Elijah know that - I thought he was like us - some ordinary Christian. How did Elijah have the ability to stand before Ahab and speak like that!
Because of the same two resources that you and I have at our disposal:
1) through his personal contact and confidence in the word of God
Would you hold your finger here and turn to Deut. 11:13. (Moses is delivering the law to the people of Israel) “And it shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, 14, that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain, that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. (skip to 16) Beware, lest your heart be deceived and you turn away and serve other gods and worship them. 17) Or the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will shut up the heavens so that ther will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit.”
Elijah, like every faithful Jew, had this passagae in writing - he knew God’s threats well.
And Elijah was convinced that God was faithful to carry out His threats as well as His promises.
Elijah’s 2nd resource came through his persistent contact and communion with God.
I Kings 19:10 - “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts!” God’s glory was at the heart of his prayers.
James told us that Elijah was fervently praying that it wouldn’t rain - that God would simply carry out His word.
He wasn’t praying for the prophets to come out of hiding - he wasn’t praying for the overthrow of Ahab?
He was praying for God’s glory to be revealed!
Why do we pray for this nation? Why are we so concerned about liberal legislation? Because our freedom might be taken away? Because we might be persecuted? Because times are becoming more wicked and violent and we’re afraid? Lord, please settle things down . . . make things better!
Don’t ever forget that Elijah was praying for things to get worse - he was praying for a famine.
Because Elijah was a man like us in his passions, we can become like him in our prayers - but they must be prayers for God’s glory and not our comfort.
What kind of person does God use?
In the office, the home, the neighborhood,
the classroom, the laboratory, the sales room?
An ordinary person who is totally convinced that God is really alive - that is aware he is, ultimately, His representative, and who has a passion to see His word fulfilled and His glory revealed.
That person will be used by God is small ways and large ways to transform his times.
Closing - jolly rancher!
“Lord, please make me a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true; With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you!”