by Frank Luke
When we read the Bible, we must do so with eyes of faith. What God considers to be important often differs from what we consider to be most important. For example, in the eyes of politicians and historians, King Omri of the northern kingdom deserves more than the eight verses we read of him in 1 Kings 16. Omri was a powerful ruler. He commanded the armies well, leading a revolt against Zimri and then fighting against his rival Tibnah for four years. He reigned for 12 years. Omri moved the capital of the northern kingdom to Samaria, a city he built for this purpose. His rule ended 50 years of almost constant civil war. He began a dynasty that lasted 48 years in Israel and had impact on Judah. He is mentioned outside the Bible with great respect from foreign kings. For years afterwards, Israel was called “the land of Omri.”
On the other hand, Omri’s son Ahab ruled for 22 years, not nearly as effectively as his father. Politically, Ahab was a wash. He neither did anything great or terrible. He did not extend the territory, but he didn’t shrink it either. He enjoyed an alliance that was also strained by his actions later. He encouraged learning, and that is why he ruled for 22 years, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. However, he also carved upon the doors of Samaria, “Ahab has renounced the living God of Israel.” An interesting phrase we’ll see below.
He is mentioned outside the Bible as being in an alliance of 12 kings who were defeated by the king of Assyria in 853 BC. Israel was weaker under his rule than under his father’s. Yet, Ahab has six entire chapters in 1 Kings for his reign. Why? Because God sees things differently. Ahab’s time had something that Omri’s did not: a very vocal prophet in the land named Elijah.
Kings and queens come and go. But we can depend on God. When the rulers lead the people astray, God will provide a prophet to call them back.
As you turn to 1 Kings 17, let me tell you about Elijah and his times. Elijah comes on the scene 58 years after Solomon’s death divided the kingdom. Since then, the northern kingdom had already seen 7 kings. All of them were wicked.
Ahab is best known for who he married, Jezebel, princess of the King of Sidon. Jezebel was a Baal worshiper and enticed Ahab to build an asherah pole in Israel. That one event did more to anger God against the north than all the actions of the prior kings.
Ahab’s day was the most wicked the northern kingdom had seen. Who was Elijah? Just a simple man who loved God more than his own life. His name means “My God is Yahweh,” which summarizes his ministry. Like we do, Elijah lived in a time when it was easy to tolerate evil. The people not only allowed Canaanite religion but assimilated it into right worship. Now, we don’t take our children to the temple of Molech and come out one child poorer, but our land is awash in blood from the unborn children murdered every day.
1 Kings 17:1-24 Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 2 The word of the LORD came to him, saying, 3 “Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 “It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and lived by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook. 7 It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
We Can Depend on God Even When the King Does Not
Verse 1. Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
The ten northern tribes abandoned God and took part in Baal worship. Into this firestorm, strode the man of God, Elijah. When he comes on the scene, he simply is God’s prophet. Unlike Samuel, Daniel, or Isaiah, we know nothing about his life before the call. When we first see him in verse 1, he is delivering a message to King Ahab. Another spokesman of God came with no introduction in the book of Matthew. In 3:1, we read how John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea. John the Baptist would be linked to Elijah, even coming in the spirit and power of Elijah. The two prophets even dress similarly, both wearing camel-hair garments.
Like John the Baptist, Elijah dressed like a rural bumpkin. He wore nothing to impress the rulers. Elijah simply announced to Ahab and Jezebel that God would send a drought and with it a famine. This is only one verse, but it is packed with meaning. Elijah tells us three important things in his announcement to the king and queen.
First, he reminds them that God is of the living and lives. He is not an idol made of stone, metal, or wood. He lives, moves, and acts. Jezebel had grown up around idols, always bowing to them, and had brought Ahab into idolatry. They knew the comparison Elijah made. I wonder if this statement came before or after Ahab carved his apostasy upon the city doors. Think about what that also means. In his day, faithful Israelites would hang a reminder on their doors that they served Yahweh. Ahab carves on all the doors that he renounced his faith.
Second, he reminds them that the prophet comes from God, “In whose presence I stand.” God had sent a worker, but not one who had just before been selected for this time and place. Like Jonah, he has a ministry we know nothing about. And the prophet reminds them that God is Elijah’s boss. Elijah fears nothing King Ahab can do him. He knows that God has sent him. Later, Elijah will be frightened of Jezebel, but not now.
Finally, he proclaims that God will remove the blessing of rain, without which there can be no crops and no food, until the people return to the Lord.
Each statement slaps the king and queen in the face! God is greater than their idols. He is the living God! Elijah stands in God’s presence and knows he must answer for his actions just as Christians will answer to Jesus for our action (2 Cor 5:10). Without rain, the people will remember that they had turned from God.
This was Elijah’s mission for the day. Afterwards, he went out of the king’s presence. It was up to the king and queen to lead the people in repentance.
The people had fallen because their king had fallen. Honestly, considering his father, Ahab started out behind the eight ball. Yet, you can’t blame Omri for Ahab’s decisions. Omri put Ahab on the wrong path, sure. He did not raise up the child in the right ways, but Ahab had the final choice in his sins. Ahab chose the wicked things he did. Ahab acted on Jezebel’s suggestion to have Naboth executed. Ahab rejected God and carved it on the doors.
In such a time, a time when the king and queen openly rebelled against God, Elijah came. God provided what the people needed. They needed someone to call them back to holiness. They needed someone to stand up to the king.
Elijah the Tishbite, a character who later has a reputation. People know him by his unique dress of a camel hair robe and a leather belt.
We Can Depend on God to Grant Rest
2 The word of the LORD came to him, saying, 3 “Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 “It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and lived by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook. 7 It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
Elijah was then sent away from the people. God wanted them to hear no more from this prophet. The people needed to decide their devotion based on Elijah’s ministry so far.
God has sent away the prophets at other times. In 1 Samuel 3:1, “[a] word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.” Samuel was still a boy. Eli had fared poorly as a priest and judge; his sons were unholy terrors. Sometimes, God calls for a refreshing period before the prophet’s next push. For example, David prepared for his ministry in the sheep fields. Moses, likewise spent time in the desert, becoming the shepherd God wanted for the mission. Joseph spent 13 years in prison before being made Grand Vizier.
In the New Testament, Paul spends three years away from everyone between his conversion and being sent into ministry. This method prepares the prophet for the next phase of ministry.
However, there’s another reason that prophets are sent away: the people do not deserve the message of God. That’s right. God says in Isaiah 30:20 that the teachers will be hidden no more. And in Amos 8:11, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.”
The silence of God was a warning. In the centuries before Christ, no prophet wrote down his messages from God. When the prophets go silent, God’s judgment is coming.
In the meantime, God sent Elijah to the brook Kerith to be fed by the ravens. Ravens had been used before by God. Nearing the end of Noah’s time on the ark, he released a raven. Ravens don’t appear many other times in Scripture, but they are listed specifically as unclean. God used these unclean birds to feed the prophet. Now, Elijah didn’t need to eat the unclean birds, he just had to accept the food they brought him.
We might wonder why God used ravens here. Later on, angels will minister to Elijah. Shortly after this event, one of Ahab’s officials will feed 100 prophets of God hiding in caves. Why use ravens for Elijah here?
It isn’t just the people who learn from God’s messages. Prophets also learn from God. Elijah needed to learn that all would be provided by God. Elijah will show that he needs refreshers in the lesson later in his ministry. When Jezebel threatens him, he runs. Following his biggest victory for God, he feared one woman. But this lesson isn’t about that time.
Right now, Elijah was seeing that God is in control at all times.
Finally, in verses 7, we see that God allows his prophets to experience what the people experience. Ministers need to know first hand what their congregation is going through, but thye must keep faith. The brook dries up from the lack of rain in the land. Elijah, however, will be provided for as long as he serves God.
In his first recorded act of prophecy, Elijah delivered a three-fold rebuke to the king and queen. He then withdrew for a time of refreshing and preparing for an even more important push.
What is God calling you to do? You may be surprised by the answer. I give you this time to seek God and find out where he wants you working.
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