Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 45. The Lord Encourages Elijah

Prophets And Kings
Day 45
The Lord Encourages Elijah

When we left off yesserday, Elijah weres strengthened by the food the angel brought him after him fled from Jezebel and hers murderous plot. After reachin Mount Horeb him spent the night in a cave and now the Lord appears to encourage him. 

1 KINGS 19:9b-18
Elijah has spent the night in a cave, possibly the same cave or cleft in the rock where Moses made the bold request of the Lord, "Now show me Your glory." (Exodus 33:18) Yesterday in the wilderness he was nourished under the broom bush by an angel who brought him two meals, then he found the strength to make it to Horeb, and now as morning breaks the Lord sees Elijah is in the proper frame of mind for counseling. "And the word of the Lord came to him: 'What are you doing here, Elijah?" As I said in Tuesday's study, I don't feel inclined to criticize Elijah for running from Jezebel. I don't necessarily believe Elijah suffered a crisis of faith so much as he suffered a crisis of complete exhaustion. Now that he is revived somewhat, the Lord poses a very important question to him and the implication is this, "Why are you in the cave, Elijah? I have gifted you to be a mighty preacher of My word and I have called You to stand up for My name." Elijah is thinking about giving up. He feels his preaching has been ineffective. The people didn't throw out their idols and convert when he called fire down from heaven. King Ahab didn't renounce the state-sponsored worship of Baal when Elijah spoke the word to make it rain again. It seems he's on the verge of changing his mind about continuing on down the prophet path. But God hasn't given up on Elijah, "For God's gifts and His call are irrevocable." (Romans 11:29) The Lord knows exactly what He's doing when He bestows gifts and talents on each of us, and the Lord knows exactly what He's doing when He places a call on each of our lives. He picked the right man when he picked Elijah; Elijah just needs to be reminded of that.

"He replied, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.'" (1 Kings 19:10) We know that Obadiah hid one hundred of the Lord's prophets, fifty in one cave and fifty in another. But they remain in hiding and have stopped prophesying. They have stopped telling the people the truth out of fear for their lives. Elijah is now in the same boat, or so he thinks. He made a courageous stand for the Lord on Mount Carmel but he's disappointed with the outcome. No revival broke out. No national turning back to the Lord took place. 

I imagine it's very discouraging to be a church pastor and to preach God's holy word week after week and see few, if any, conversions. It would cause a person to question whether they are gifted enough to do the work. It would tempt a person to wonder whether they are really called to preach. But the calling is to preach the word and let God be responsible for the outcome. As far as I know, nobody has been converted by reading mine and Belinda's book or by following the blog, but I'm not called to keep track of such things. The Lord, for whatever reason, has called me to write about Him, and that's all I need to be concerned with. He is responsible for the outcome. Maybe Elijah is disappointed because he expected too much of himself but as the Apostle Paul humbly pointed out, one of us may plant the seed of the word of God, another may come along and water the seed, but it's only God who makes it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) I listened to a particular radio preacher on a daily basis for over a year before I was persuaded by his words to come to Christ. If he and I had been meeting face to face every day, I imagine he might have felt pretty down that nothing seemed to be changing in my life. But the seed was planted. That same year God placed me in a job where there were more devout Christians than I'd ever seen outside of a church, and they watered the seed. One day, when I had come to the end of myself and to what felt like the end of the road, the Lord spoke to me in the still small voice He uses to speak to Elijah later in today's passage. He whispered to the seed, "Grow!", and the seed sprouted and my Gardener has been caring for it ever since. 

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.'" (1 Kings 19:11a) When the Lord said this, I bet the first thing Elijah thought of was the encounter Moses had with God on the mountain. Moses too was deeply discouraged. He had come down off the mountain with the ten commandments only to find the people had cast a golden calf and were worshiping it and engaging in pagan revelry. In his anger and despair, Moses broke the tablets. But the Lord called him back up on the mountain and gave him the ten commandments again and then said, "There is a place near Me where you may stand on a rock. When My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen." (Exodus 33:21-23) God is too holy for weak and sinful humans to look Him in the face and be able to live. But He knew Moses needed an extraordinary encounter before he could go on and so God let Moses get a glimpse of Him. I think Elijah may have expected to see the back of the Lord as He passed by just as Moses did. But the Lord specifically tailors His encounters with us to our personal needs. He is going to use a different method with Elijah than with Moses.

"Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'" (1 Kings 19:11b-13) If we are not careful we will believe, as Elijah did on Mount Carmel, that it takes dramatic miracles and fiery preaching to win souls to Christ. But always, always, always it's the still small voice of the Holy Spirit dealing with each individual heart. We can preach til we lose our voices. We can write Christian blogs til our fingers go numb. We can serve in the church and in the community until we collapse in exhaustion. Preaching and teaching and helping are all worthy things that we should be doing, but God is the One who saves. We are called to spread the good news of the gospel, to plant the seed of God's word, to water the seed by continued exhortation and expressions of love toward our fellow man, but God makes the seed grow. Without that still small voice the seed will lie dead and unfruitful in the ground. Elijah made the mistake of believing it took awesome displays to turn the hearts of the people back to God and he made the mistake of believing if he just worked hard enough and preached long enough and performed enough miracles, people would repent. He forgot that his only responsibility was to obey his calling in God and let God be responsible for the rest. 

A second time the Lord asks what Elijah is doing in the cave. "He replied, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.'" (1 Kings 19:14) God asks the same question twice and Elijah answers the same way twice. He's stuck in a groove, unable to think about anything other than the fact that his ministry hasn't converted anyone and the people still don't respect the Lord and Jezebel still wants him dead. He believes nothing has changed since he sat under the broom bush asking the Lord to take him on home to heaven. His problems are still there. We will all find ourselves in this same kind of groove at some time or another. We will go to church with heavy spirits, burdened down by the troubles in our lives, and we will still have the same problems when we leave church. It's the encounter with the living God that makes the difference. It's coming into His presence and knowing He loves us and is for us (Romans 8:31), that no weapon formed against us shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17), that He is with us and will strengthen us and uphold us (Isaiah 41:10). We may have the same problems when we walk out the church door as we had when we walked in. We may have the same problems when we get up off our knees at home as we did when we knelt in prayer by the bedside. But what makes the difference is knowing that the Lord God Almighty fights for us and that His calling on our lives is still there and His covenant with us is still secure. He's not finished with us and He's not finished with Elijah.

"The Lord said to him, 'Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel---all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.'" (1 Kings 19:15-18) Elijah's words have not fallen on deaf ears and his ministry is not finished. Israel is not irredeemably fallen and her favor in the eyes of God has not come to an end. Something new is about to begin. There are still men and women in Israel who worship the God of Abraham, seven thousand people who have never bowed down before an idol. There is more work for Elijah to do and God is sending him a helper to encourage him, just as God sent help to Moses to encourage him. All is not lost. Elijah is to keep planting the seeds and is to appoint a man to water the seeds after him. After having done all that, Elijah is to remember that God is the one whose still small voice will then whisper to the seeds, "Grow!" 

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