I Kings 17-19:18
I have here a number of manuals for different things that I own. Here is the manual for… Does anyone actually read these things? I don’t know all the reasons why we don’t read them. Sometimes, we do know better. Often we say that we will read them later, but we never get around to it. Sometimes we don’t read them because we can’t understand them. Whatever the reason, a lot of people don’t read manuals.
Here is another manual. Does anyone actually read this thing? A lot of people don’t. Today, I want to tell you a story from this book, which, I hope, will encourage you to listen to God’s Word. It is the story of Elijah.
The story takes place during the reign of Ahab, king of Israel. We are told in I Kings 16:30 that “he did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.” Because of this great evil, God chose to punish him and his people. Through Elijah, he told the people that there would be no more rain for a few years.
During this drought, God came to Elijah and told him to go to Kerith Ravine, where he would feed him through the ravens. When the water in the ravine dried up, God came again and told him to go to Zarephath which was in another country, in Sidon, and a widow would look after him there. The widow had no food, but she offered what she had and it lasted through the whole famine. When her son stopped breathing, she asked Elijah for help and he prayed and God restored him to life again.
After three years, God told Elijah to go to Ahab and told him it was going to rain again. Ahab met Elijah and called him a trouble maker, but Elijah accused Ahab of abandoning God’s word. He suggested a contest in which God would be pitted against Baal. In the contest, they would each make an altar and ask their god to light the fire on it. This should have been easy for Baal, since he was considered to be the god of rain and also of lightening. After a whole day in which the Baal prophets shouted and cut themselves and tried to get their god’s attention, they gave up. Baal had not answered. Then Elijah had them soak the entire altar, wood and all, with water so that it was dripping wet. After a simple prayer, God showed his power in a mighty way and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil. When the people saw this, they agreed that God was indeed God. They killed 400 Baal prophets. Elijah announced that it would rain and after a little while, there was a lot of rain.
When Ahab told his wife, Jezebel, what had happened, she became angry and hated Elijah even more and threatened his life. Elijah became afraid and ran away and began to feel very sorry for himself. God, however, came to him and comforted him and gave him another assignment, and told him that he was not alone in his faith and that he should keep going.
How does this story teach us to listen to God?
How would you feel if the prime minister or the queen phoned and said, “I want to talk to you.” Wouldn’t that be exciting? We don’t always realize that God himself, the creator of the universe, has done just such a thing. God himself has said, “I want to talk to you.”
What is true in this story and also true throughout Scripture is that God has taken the initiative to speak to us. In this story four times we read, “The Word of the Lord came…” In 19:11, 15 we read, the “Lord said.” Throughout this story, it was God who took the initiative to come to Ellijah and to speak to Elijah about what He was doing in the world and about what He was doing in caring for Elijah, his servant.
God still takes the initiative to speak. In II Peter 1:20,21 it says, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The word of God is not a collection of people sayings, it comes to us from God’s initiative. Hebrews 1:1,2 says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” Through God’s initiative, God spoke through the prophets and also has now spoken through Jesus.
What are the implications of God taking the initiative? To me it seems significant that it starts with God not with us. God the creator & sustainer of the universe has something to say to us. It shows that he has an interest in us. It isn’t like the Baal prophets who were trying all kinds of tricks to get the attention of their god. I Kings 18:26-29 says they called, danced, shouted loudly, slashed themselves and engaged in frantic prophesying. Elijah taunted them, suggesting that their god was deep in thought, in the bathroom or sleeping. All these taunts illustrate a world view in which the god is in his own world, doesn’t care about his creation and whose attention people have to try to curry with whatever is attractive to the god. Our God isn’t off in his own world, in fact he isn’t only listening, he is speaking. If the God of the universe wants to speak to us, it must be significant and worthy of response.
When our daughter calls, she often will say, “I’ve got words.” God has words for us. Question: Are we listening?
Often we are not listening to God. Why not? Elijah offers a suggestion when he says in 18:21 “How long will you waver between two opinions?” Is that not the problem? We have confidence in ourselves and we have confidence in the Word of God. If we settled on confidence in ourselves, we would be pagans. If we settled on confidence in God’s word, we would be fully obedient to it, but we don’t fully trust the Word of God.
So we say that we believe that God’s word wants us to tell others about Him, but we are afraid, just in case we would have to live by it. We believe that God’s word says, don’t worry, but we want to be in control and see the answer to all puzzles.
When the widow who lived in Zarephath saw that her son was raised, she said, in 17:24 - “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” It is interesting that she, a woman from an unbelieving nation perceived the Word of God as the truth, when many in Israel didn’t. The contest between Baal and God is proposed to demonstrate that indeed the word of God is true.
When God rains down the fire on the altar, the wood, the stones and even the water, the people are convinced that God is indeed true.
Do we see the Word of God as truth. If we don’t, we won’t follow it. If we do, we will. I have not recently attended a contest like this, but what demonstration of the truth of God’s Word do we have?
Let me tell you what convinces me that God’s word is true. First of all, I believe that it is truth because of the way in which it fulfills prophecy. Throughout the Old Testament, long before Jesus came into this world, God had already spoken about the coming of Jesus. When he came, he perfectly fulfilled the prophecies which were made about him. There are copies of Isaiah that definitely come from the time before Christ, so we know that these things were written before they happened. In particular, Isaiah 53, which comes from before the time of Jesus, is so clearly about Jesus that it cannot be refuted.
The work of Jesus in forgiving sins and giving eternal life is another demonstration of the truth of God’s word. Although we cannot prove eternal life, we can know that our sins have been forgiven. When you are guilty of terrible sins and then are freed of that, you know that God has done a work in your life.
I also believe in the truth of God because as I have tested its principles, I have discovered repeatedly that God’s way makes for life just as it promises.
So if God has spoken and if what He has spoken is true, what should we do about it? In the contest, Elijah says to the people in 18:21, “If the Lord is God, follow him.” If God has spoken His true word to us, shouldn’t we have a similar response?
Elijah, we are saying, was a man who listened to God. God took the initiative to speak His true word to Him. When God spoke, Elijah obeyed. In 17:5 it says, “he did (what he had been told to do).” We read further in 17:10 that “he went.” In 18:2 we also read that “Elijah went.” Particularly this obedience in 18:2 was no small thing because he was being asked to go see Ahab, who was looking for him to kill him according to 18:10.
Obedience is lifted up in 18:18 as well. When Ahab accuses Elijah as being a trouble maker, it is Elijah who responds, “You have abandoned the Lord’s commands…”
Are we obeying God’s word?
If we do obey God’s word, will everything go perfectly?
In this story, we see that it does not. Elijah experienced a huge success. God demonstrated himself powerfully, the people saw fire fall, 400 of the false prophets were killed and the people responded by declaring their allegiance to God. I imagine that a person could easily live with happiness for a long time after such a powerful experience.
What happened instead, however, was that Jezebel became so upset with Elijah that she threatened him with death in 19:2. Instead of remembering all that God had done, Elijah was afraid.” He ran away and complained, “I have had enough,” “I am the only one left.”
Just because God’s word is true and just because we trust in that word, does not mean that everything will go perfectly for us. We live in a world opposed to God’s word and if we follow it, it is very likely that we will experience opposition and trouble.
God, however, did not leave Elijah in that state of depression. He came to Elijah once again.
He came to Elijah and showed Himself to him, not in the impressive - like fire from heaven, a mighty wind, an earthquake or a fire. Rather, God showed himself in 19:12 in a gentle whisper.
That is often how God will come to us. We will be encouraged by him as he quietly speaks to us in our discouragement.
God’s support came in an interesting way in that Elijah was given a new assignment. The assignment was an encouragement to him and got him going again. He was given a pretty major assignment to prophecy to kings of other nations and to once again speak God’s word to the world. He was to prophecy Hazael as king over Aram, Jehu as king over Israel and he was to appoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet.
God also assured Elijah that he was not as alone as he thought he was. In 19:18 we read, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Listening to God is an important part of our Christian life. How do you listen to God? I would like to encourage you to keep on reading his word, to spend some time on a regular basis studying his word. A good way to do that is to journal observations about passages that you study. Write down puzzles & get answers. It is also important to memorize His word. Of course, if you really trust His word, you will also obey it.