Sunday, March 13, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 42. Showdown On Mount Carmel, Part 1

Prophets And Kings
Day 42
Showdown On Mount Carmel
Part 1

For three years the Lord haves been preparin Elijah to face down the pagan prophets of Israel. The drought is now severe enough for the people to know its not just a normal fluke of the weather. Elijahs faith haves been strengthened by being first fed by the Lord in the wilderness, then by performing the miracle of the flour and oil at the widows house, then by performing the miracle of raising the son of the widow from the dead. Only now is he ready to go back and stand before King Ahab and the wicked prophets of Baal.

1 KINGS 18:1-21
"After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 'Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.' So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab." (1 Kings 18:1-2a) Elijah waited for the Lord's timing. During the three years of exile in Sidon, Jezebel the wife of King Ahab has had many of the Lord's prophets killed. It was necessary for these three years for Elijah to remain hidden away while the Lord prepared him do to spiritual battle. It's so important for us to stop when the Lord says stop and to move when the Lord says move. I've gotten ahead of Him out of impatience many times and regretted it. Sometimes the wait seems like "a long time" like it was for Elijah, but it's better to wait for the Lord's timing and have success than to go ahead in our own timing and fail. 

"Now the famine was severe in Samaria, and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord's prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.)" (1 Kings 18:2b-4) We don't know whether Ahab was aware of Obadiah's protective harboring of the Lord's prophets or not. It may have been a type of underground railroad movement with a whole secret organization taking supplies out to them in the caves. Ahab may have thought they'd fled the country and would never return. It's also possible Ahab knew these prophets were hidden somewhere in the country but he did nothing about it. They hardly seem a threat to the while shaking in fear in caves. They are a minority now and he likely didn't foresee a comeback in their future. But it's interesting that when trouble comes, a man loyal to the Lord is a man Ahab trusts. In our own times, when trouble comes on the households of those not in the faith, don't they usually appeal to their Christian family and friends to pray? They certainly don't expect spiritual help from unbelievers and, it seems, neither did Ahab. Obadiah is a good employee with the exception of recognizing God's authority as being higher than Ahab's authority. He could not let these prophets perish if it was in his power to prevent it, but at the same time he is obedient in his duties at the palace.

"Ahab had said to Obadiah, 'Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.' So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another." (1 Kings 18:5-6) The drought has gone on so long that no green grass remains for the animals. They will soon begin to face starvation and the people will have to kill the animals out of mercy before they slowly waste away. The wealth of Ahab's kingdom must have been quite great before the famine because mules were imported animals. The Jews were forbidden to breed them because they were hybrids. It wasn't common for regular citizens to own them, but only the royal family and high officials, since they were expensive to import. Ahab's money is doing him little good now in this time of judgment for his idolatry.

"As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, 'Is it really you, my Lord Elijah?' 'Yes,' he replied. 'Go tell your master, 'Elijah is here.'" (1 Kings 18:7-8) Obadiah can't believe his eyes. He's been walking through the dry and weary land, his eyes scanning the ground for green grass, and suddenly he and the missing prophet are face to face. 

Obadiah seems happy to see Elijah but he isn't happy about Elijah's instructions. "'What have I done wrong,' asked Obadiah, 'that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? As surely as the Lord your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you. But now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' I don't know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go to Ahab and he doesn't find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth. Haven't you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord's prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. And now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' He will kill me!'" (1 Kings 18:9-14) A massive manhunt has been underway for three years. Elijah is the man who proclaimed the drought on the land and he's the man who said it would not rain again except at his word. Ahab desperately wanted to find him and force him to bring relief on the land. If attempts to make Elijah bring rain fail, Ahab will likely have him killed. After all, Ahab was consenting to his wife's scheme to kill all the Lord's prophets in Israel, so what's one more dead prophet?.Obadiah fears going to Ahab with news that Elijah is back in town. Ahab will wonder why Obadiah didn't seize him forcefully and bring him to the palace. If the Lord tells Elijah to go to some other place while Obadiah is fetching the king, Ahab will kill Obadiah for letting Elijah get away. Obadiah's words about the prophets in the caves makes me think Ahab is aware of their existence but has chosen not to punish Obadiah for helping them. But this knowledge puts Obadiah on shaky ground. If he lets the most wanted prophet in Israel get away, Ahab won't be merciful.

Elijah promises on oath that he will not disappear but will meet with Ahab today. "Elijah said, 'As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.'" (1 Kings 18:15)

"So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. When he saw Elijah, he said to him, 'Is that you, you troubler of Israel?'" (1 Kings 18:17) Ahab blames Elijah for Israel's troubles. He takes no responsibility for his sins or the sins of the nation. Some commentators think Ahab was so carried away by Baal worship that he thinks it's Baal the storm god and not the Lord who is withholding rain. He thinks Baal will be happy if he captures Elijah and then will bring rain again. 

"'I have not made trouble for Israel,' Elijah replied. 'But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the Lord's commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.'" (1 Kings 18:18-19) Elijah calmly points out that when looking for someone to blame, Ahab needs to look in the mirror. It's his idolatry and the idolatry of his forefathers that has brought the current trouble on Israel. The Lord God of Israel is the only God and He alone is to be worshiped. The people have fallen far from Him, though He is their only hope and their only salvation. Baal can do nothing for them. Asherah can do nothing for them. Elijah is about to show the people whose god is God and he wants all the leaders of the nation and all the pagan prophets to witness it.

"So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, 'How long will you waiver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.' But the people said nothing." (1 Kings 18:20-21) This is a powerful verse. Elijah believed in only one God. All the way back to Abraham, Israel believed in only one God. It was not their heritage to subscribe to polytheism like the nations around them. So that leaves only the God of Israel and Baal to choose from. The people, by and large, retain bits and pieces of their ancient religion but have incorporated Baalism into it. Elijah cries out something very similar the Lord will cry out to the church at Laodicea in the book of Revelation, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm---neither hot nor cold---I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16) In Ahab's time, the people haven't fully renounced the God of Abraham, nor have they fully embraced the god Baal of the Canaanites. They are lukewarm like the church of Laodicea. The Lord says this is disgusting to Him. There's more hope of a cold heart than a lukewarm heart, because the lukewarm heart is comfortable with bits and pieces of religion and ritual. A cold heart can be heated up in the right circumstances because the cold heart knows it's missing something. But a lukewarm heart thinks it's doing just fine.

A couple days ago I went to the sink and ran a small glass of water so I could take some ibuprofen. My husband had just finished rinsing out the water jug he keeps in the refrigerator and he had used hot water to rinse it. When I ran water from the cold side of the tap I ended up with a nasty mouthful of lukewarm water. It was disgusting and I couldn't help thinking about how disgusting the Lord says lukewarm faith is to Him. He wants us to be all in. He's an all or nothing kind of God. Either we are fully sold out to Him or we aren't. This is the challenge Elijah makes to the people in today's passage. He is saying, "There is only one God and you have been taught this from the beginning. So who is He? Is God the God of Abraham? Or is God the Canaanite Baal? It's time to choose and be all in for your God! Stop tinkering around in both religions. You are disrespecting both by refusing to choose. Is Baal God? Then serve him with all your heart! Is the God of our father Abraham God? Then throw away your idols and be on fire for the God of our ancestors! Your lukewarm rituals and refusals to choose are disgusting. Make your choice today and be fully committed to it."

God is making this same invitation to us in our times. Is He our God? Then let's be all in. Let's stop tinkering around with the carnal distractions of this world and serve the One who gave everything up to save us from ourselves. More than ever before, our nation needs men and women who will stand firm in Christ. If we are hot, on fire for Him, others will be drawn to the light and heat. The Lord Jesus said we were to be the light of the world and that a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Let's light it up! Let's be so on fire for Christ that people can't help wanting to have what we have. The cold hearts who know something is missing will find what they need in Him. The lukewarm hearts will envy our passion and purpose in life and will come to warm themselves by the fire. Nobody will be attracted to a cold religion or to a lukewarm religion. But what about a religion that can call down fire from heaven? 

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