We all know the damage one person can do. We have seen the stories of Columbine and other schools where children killed their classmates. We have witnessed what terrorists can do by crashing airplanes into buildings or strapping bomb to their bodies. We saw the damage one person did when they messed with the levy near Quincy several years back. We’ve read about serial killers and the horrors of Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. One person can do a great deal of damage.
At the same time one person can make a positive difference. Think about Oprah Winfrey and many others who have made an incredible impact in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; consider all the stories of heroic rescue workers in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Think about Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Billy Graham and many others.
Over the last couple of years we have worked our way through the book of Acts and the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. This morning we begin something quite different. This morning we are going to begin looking at one of the most interesting characters in the Old Testament. We are going to study a man who made a difference. We are going to spend several weeks looking at the life of the prophet Elijah.
Elijah was a prophet, a preacher, a miracle-worker, and a political reformer. One of the things I love about Elijah is that you never really had to guess how he was feeling or what he was thinking. It was obvious. This man has a passion for God that stands as a stark contrast to our own lives. I’m hoping this study of Elijah will light a fire under all of us.
Before we can understand the importance of Elijah, we have to understand a little about his times. The King at the time was Ahab. Let’s do a little history. After Solomon died Israel split. One part of Israel (called Judah) followed Solomon’s son, Rheoboam. The other part of Israel (called Israel or the 10 tribes or later the 10 lost tribes) followed a man by the name of Jeroboam.
Jeroboam wanted to solidify his hold on the people so he created his own places of worship. In other words he instituted idol worship. King Ahab was the seventh King following Jeroboam (the 8th King of the Northern Tribes). This quick succession of Kings grew increasingly wicked. The Bible tells us in 1 Kings 16: 30-33,
Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.
Ahab was evil; he encouraged idolatry, and he married a pagan wife, Jezebel, who was a real piece of work. Together they built temples to idolatrous gods in Samaria. It is said that they boasted that the God of Israel, known as Yahweh, was dead.
Who Is This Guy?
It is in this historical situation that Elijah appears on the scene. This is the very first reference we have to Elijah in the Bible. He is from a place we can no longer identify. We don’t know anything about him or how he gained access to King Ahab.
What we do know is that his name means, “Yahweh is God.” The name perfectly describes Elijah’s mission and message. A.W. Pink gives us this insight,
The fact that we are told Elijah “was of the inhabitants of Gilead” is no doubt recorded as a sidelight upon his natural training. The people of those hills were rough and rugged, solemn and stern, dwelling in rude villages and subsisting by keeping flocks of sheep. Hardened by an open-air life, dressed in a cloak of camel’s hair, accustomed to spending most of his time in solitude, possessed of sinewy strength which enabled him to endure great physical strain, Elijah would present a marked contrast with the town dwellers in the lowland valleys, and more especially would he be distinguished from the pampered courtiers of the palace. [Life of Elijah p. 20]
So Elijah, it appears, is kind of a backwoods kind of guy. Today he might wear flannel, drive an old pick-up with a gun rack, have long hair and perhaps be missing a few teeth. He was not the kind of guy you would expect to gain an audience with the king.
Why a Drought?
Elijah’s message is pretty simple: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” Elijah boldly declares a drought that will continue until he prays for it to stop.
We understand the idea of a minor drought. This was no minor drought. In chapter 18 we discover that the drought had been going on for three years. In the book of James we are told that Elijah prayed that it would not rain and it didn’t rain for 3 ½ years! But why would he pray for a drought? Didn’t he understand the repercussions of such an action? Of course he did.
Perhaps Elijah had Deuteronomy 11: 16,17 in mind as he prayed,
16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you.
Elijah was concerned that Israel was drifting from God. Elijah understood that spiritual death was much worse than any physical discomfort. Perhaps a drought would awaken the people.
Think about 9/11. After the tragic events of that day, what happened? People returned to the church. When there is a national tragedy, people are confronted with the temporary nature of life. When times are rough we need a strength that is beyond ourselves. This is what Elijah wanted for Israel.
Do you wonder if the tsunami and sequence of hurricanes is designed to wake people up? Do you wonder, like I do, what would happen if we prayed for America and the nations of the world with the same passion Elijah had for Israel?
There is a second reason why Elijah prayed for a drought. Baal worshipers believed their storm God made rain. Elijah was declaring that the Lord God is the true God and He had the power to withhold rain and it was only He who could send it. What we have here is a classic match-up like a major league fastball pitcher facing a great fastball hitter. It’s strength against strength. In this case it was the Storm God versus Yahweh, the Almighty God of Creation.
God’s Care for His Prophet
Elijah Delivered his message and then God told him to get out of town.
2 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 3 “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. [1 Kings 17:2-6]
Elijah was told exactly where to go. God didn’t send him on a preaching tour, he sent him to a secure and isolated location. In addition to the drought of water, there would also be a drought of the Word of God.
Elijah is told that he would be cared for by the ravens. I don’t know about you, but I would have a bunch of questions. I’d like to know what they were going to feed me (I’d like to choose my own menu, please), I’d want to know how they were going to get it to me (would it be safe to eat?). I’d have a million questions, but Elijah doesn’t appear to have any.
I can’t help but wish that God would communicate this way and with this kind of clarity to us. Even as I say this I wonder, has God stopped talking, or have we stopped listening? God gives us all kinds of counsel in His Word, that we ignore.
Do you have anyone in your life that resists everything you tell him or her? You ask them to do something and they want to know, “Why”? “For how long”? “Why can’t someone else do it”? What eventually happens? If you constantly meet resistance, you stop talking. Is that is what has happened with God? Have we so often resisted and qualified His directions that He has stopped talking?
Elijah trusted God. He was confident of God’s love and God’s care. The God who could stop the rain was also the God who could cause the ravens to do His work. He is the Almighty God! Elijah understood this….why don’t we?
As time went on, Elijah saw the water in the brook get lower and lower. He knew that the water would not last forever. He waited. He waited for God to give him further instruction. God told Elijah that the next thing he was to do was go to Zarephath. If you look at a map you will see that this is at least a hundred mile trip. We are told simply that he got up and went. Don’t you wonder how God provided for him during the trip? Maybe He didn’t. Was he hungry and thirsty during this journey? In what physical shape was he when he arrived at the city gate of Zarephath.
When Elijah arrived in Zarephath he saw a woman at the gate (how did he know she was the one?) We are told she was picking up a few sticks (to make a small fire). Elijah asked her for water and as she turned to get it (perhaps she could see how thirsty Elijah was), he also asked if she would bring him a little dinner roll also.
The woman stopped in her tracks. She told Elijah that she barely had enough flour and oil to make a small meal for her and her son. She believed it would be their last meal. Elijah pushed the widow. He promised that God would make sure that she never ran out of flour and oil.
Put yourself in this widow’s shoes. Suppose you were stranded because of Hurricance Katrina. You had used up all your provisions. You and your child had rationed things carefully but now you were down to one bag of peanuts. You and your child ached from hunger. Weakness was begging to overwhelm you. As a parent you would be tempted to divide the peanuts in half and give part to your child now and part later. Your goal would be to save your child.
Now a stranger comes up to you and promises that if you share part of your bag of peanuts with him, God will rescue you and provide every subsequent meal for you. What would you do?
That’s what I thought. Me too. And because of that we would miss the rich blessing of seeing God do the impossible. If we are honest we would have to admit that most of the time we choose
- Comfort over holiness
- Indifference over confrontation
- Whining over prayer
- Amusements over service
- Compromise over sacrifice
- Indulgence over generosity
This woman chose to share. There is a real good chance that she had no idea who Elijah was. Yet, she chose to be generous. She chose to believe the promise. As a result both Elijah, the woman and her son never ran out of flour or oil during the entire time of the drought.
Take Home Thoughts from Elijah
There are several things we can learn from this introduction to the story of the drought (It continues through all of 1 Kings 18). First, I hope you notice that this really isn’t a story about Elijah, it is a story about God. This account reminds us that our God is the God over all creation. He controls the rain, the animals and the circumstances of life. This passage urges us to trust Him as we seek God’s will for our lives.
Are you facing a major decision? Are you staying awake nights fretting about: a job change; finding a mate; a major purchase; how your present illness will end; how you can present the gospel to a co-worker; what college you should apply to? If so, then this passage reminds us to seek God’s will. You may not hear an audible voice but if you open the Bible and spend time in prayer, you will sense His direction.
Second, we are reminded that God guides us a step at a time. As you seek God’s will for your life God won’t show you the entire plan. He will show you the next step. We must take that next step before we will see the step that follows. We must always do what we know God wants us to do right now.
I wonder how many times I have missed an opportunity because God asked me to do something radical. Maybe he urged me to give a lot of money to a project to honor God. Perhaps it was to reach out to another person in an extreme way. Maybe it was a bold sacrifice. I wonder how many of those times have passed because I wanted more information? God wants us to trust Him. We sing the song: “those who trust him fully, find him wholly true”. It’s a true testimony.
May I be bold? Is it possible that the first decision you need to make is a decision to trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? I know, you like the church, you like learning things about the Bible, and you enjoy Christian people. But have you really trusted Him? Have you ever fully and finally put your hope and confidence in Jesus alone for your salvation and new life?
Until you take that first step with God, there will not be any others. Until you are willing to admit your need and receive the new life that only He can give, you cannot go further. It’s time to stop making excuses. It is time to stop delaying. It is time to trust. It is time to say, “Lord Jesus, I receive the salvation and the new life that is made possible only through your death and resurrection. From this day forward I will (if you help me) follow you . . . because I believe you are the only one who knows the way home.
God has made His will clear in the Bible. If we want His guidance, then we need to do what He has told us to do.
Third, we see the incredible power of prayer. Elijah prayed that it would not rain and it didn’t. The book of James tells us “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. Let me ask you, “Does ‘powerful and effective’ describe your prayer life?”
We spend too much time “doing our prayers”. We need to spend more time talking to God. We need to interact with the Father. We need to pray with passion and heart. If we will grab hold of prayer we will find God grab hold of us.
What would happen if Christians prayed for their countries as Elijah prayed for his? What would happen if we hungered for godliness like he did? What if we were more concerned about the heart of our nation than we are our inflation rate or price of gas? What if we took every tragic happening and viewed it as fuel to keep us praying? You know what would happen . . . we would have a different world.
Finally, God can use anyone who will trust Him. Dwight Moody was captivated one day when a speaker said, “The world has yet to see what God can do through one man or woman who is completely devoted to Him.” Moody decided that that one committed man would be him.
Dwight Moody was a simple man. Elijah was an unknown prophet. The widow of Zarephath isn’t even known by her name. Yet they were greatly used of God. They had one thing in common: they were willing to be used. If you and I would be willing to be used by God in whatever way He wanted to use us, we would be surprised, astonished and ultimately delighted by what God could do through nobodies like you and me.