1 Kings 18 – Week Seven
Think back to elementary school. Do you recall having days when the other kids in your class just wouldn’t behave? Wouldn’t stop talking? The teacher would give out warnings, make threats, etc. to get everyone to do what was right. But, instead, the rambunctiousness kept growing and you could just hear the words before the teacher even uttered them. “Ok! That’s it! No recess today!”
Taking away the recess was punishment, but it was quite effective because it got everyone’s attention. Even at an early age, we were taught that disobedience has consequences and not just for those who disobey, but sometimes, the consequences can affect others.
Our concentration today is on the Northern Kingdom – the Kingdom of Israel and the lineage of evil and wicked rulers. If you recall, God caused His kingdom to split because of Solomon’s disobedience. Two tribes, Judah and Benjamin were left with the family of David. The other ten tribes were given to Jeroboam. He served as king for 22 years, then his son Nadab took over. 1 Kings 15:26 NKJV “And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin by which he had made Israel sin.”
Nadab serves as king for two years until he is killed by Baasha. Baasha then takes over and kills all of the households of Jeroboam according to the word of the Lord. Clean slate, right? Baasha was king for 24 years, but 1 Kings 15:34 NKJV tells us, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin by which he had made Israel sin.”
Elah, Baasha’s son became king. He reigned for two years until his servant, Zimri, “conspired against him as he was in Tirzah drinking himself drunk” (1 Kings 16:9 NKJV). Zimri murders the king. Zimri then kills all of the households of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord. Another clean slate, right? Not so fast. King Zimri hasn’t even had time to order new stationery yet until there’s a problem. One week. He served as king for one week and he was overthrown. The people name Omri, the commander of the army as their new king. Zimri, fearing for his life “went into the palace’s inner fortress, set the palace on fire, and died in the flames. This happened because of his sins against the LORD. Like his predecessor Jeroboam, he displeased the LORD by his own sins and by leading Israel into sin.” (1 Kings 16:18-19 GNT)
Omri serves as king for 12 years. 1 Kings 16:25-26 NIV “But Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him. 26 He followed completely the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat, committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit, so that they aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, by their worthless idols.”
If you’ve been adding up the years as we went along, you know that 62 years (and 1 week) have passed, and each king has been known to do evil in the sight of the Lord. It can’t get any worse, can it? Oh, but it can!
1 Kings 16:29 GNT “In the thirty-eighth year of the reign of King Asa of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he ruled in Samaria for twenty-two years. 30 He sinned against the Lord more than any of his predecessors. 31 It was not enough for him to sin like King Jeroboam; he went further and married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon, and worshiped Baal. 32 He built a temple to Baal in Samaria, made an altar for him, and put it in the temple. 33 He also put up an image of the goddess Asherah. He did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than all the kings of Israel before him.”
There are a few things in these verses that say a lot. King Ahab sinned against the Lord more than any of the other kings before him
-King Jeroboam had the two golden calves built for worship. He also appointed priests from outside the tribe of Levi. Two major no-no’s!
-King Nadab continued with idolatry and led the Kingdom of Israel deeper into sin.
-King Baasha murdered the former king in order to take the crown.
-King Elah, like the others, committed idolatry. His drunkenness provided the opportunity to be killed by his servant.
-King Zimri, the servant of King Elah, was a murderer. Within a week of being king, he committed suicide by means of arson.
-King Omri’s sins aren’t detailed. We are simply told that he committed the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel, so we can assume that idolatry was a big factor. Scripture tells us that he sinned more than those before him. “He may have just taken what was already being done to new extremes.”[i]
“But over the course of eight decades in Israel, spanning the reigns of six different kings, the God-honoring families who once esteemed Him had incrementally relaxed their commitments. They’d departed from the singular worship of Yahweh. They’d welcomed idolatrous activity into their lives as an accepted practice.” [ii]
And yet, King Ahab is labeled worse than all of those before him.
He married Jezebel.
“Many consider Ahab the WORST ruler that ancient Israel ever had. His wife Jezebel was so evil that she has come to symbolize revengeful, malicious, immoral and cruel women throughout history.”[iii]
Even though she’s a minor, side character in this, we continue to use her name as a derogatory term to describe a shameless or immoral woman.
King Ahab worshipped Baal. He built a temple for him, an altar for him.
King Ahab put up an image of the goddess Asherah. Other translations will say he put up an Asherah pole or a wooden image.
Let’s talk about Baal and the Asherah pole together for a moment. “Baal is a Canaanite and Phoenician deity and the son of the chief god El. In artistic depictions and archeological finds, Baal took the shape of a bull or ram and had associations with fertility.
This god also, apparently according to Canaanite lore, defeated El and had associations with the sun and thunder. And of all the foreign gods the Israelites came into contact with, they appeared to struggle the most with worshipping this one.”[iv]
Now, where does the Asherah pole fit in with this? “These poles, or sometimes stylized trees, stood as a sacred monument and tribute to the Canaanite goddess, Asherah.
According to Canaanite myth, this mother goddess created several gods in the Canaanite pantheon with the other creator god, El. The Canaanites often worshipped her via trees (Asherah poles) because of her association with the tree of life. She gives life to 70 other gods in the Canaanite pantheon.
She’s most famously the mother of Baal, another god who shows up throughout the Old Testament when the Israelites stray after other idols. She also has ties to fertility, hence 70 gods emerging from her union with El.”[v]
So far, this is what we know about King Ahab. He was more of a sinner than idolaters, murderers, or arsonists. Scripture tells us that as if that wasn’t enough, he married Jezebel. He was very obvious in his worship of the mother-son tag team known as Baal and Asherah. And he “aroused the anger of the Lord” more so than any of the other kings. This was no ordinary bad guy. King Ahab was the worst of the worst.
And then enters Elijah.
When the name Elijah is said, there are a few things that come to mind. We may think of Elijah and the ravens feeding him. We may recall the story of Elijah with the widow and her son and the never-ending supply of food and water. Of course, the story of Elijah challenging the Baal worshippers is a top story. And then we know that Elijah didn’t die, but rather was escorted off the earth in a chariot of fire. All of these are extraordinary accounts of the life of Elijah.
We are first introduced to Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1 ICB “Now Elijah was a prophet from the town of Tishbe in Gilead. Elijah said to King Ahab, “I serve the Lord, the God of Israel. As surely as the Lord lives, I tell you the truth. No rain or dew will fall during the next few years unless I command it.” Mic drop!
That’s bold! We aren’t told how Elijah was able to make his way before the king. People weren’t just able to walk up to the king; permission usually had to be granted. But Elijah starts off by proclaiming his allegiance to God. He affirms that he’s telling the truth. And then he delivers basically a threat that no rain nor dew will fall until Elijah himself commands it to happen. He’s assigning himself as the drought-maker. Elijah is showing incredible courage; he’s boldly confident; he’s extraordinarily brave as he delivers this message of doom to the king, nonetheless!
This extraordinary man is spoken of by James in James 5:17 NIV “Elijah was a human being, even as we are.” No superpowers, no outstanding gifts or talents, just an ordinary human being like us.
You see, Elijah was an ordinary man who served an extraordinary God. Elijah was just a man who listened to and obeyed God despite the discomfort, the danger, the ridicule, and the ramifications. Elijah was a human being just like us.
But what set him apart was that Elijah tapped into the power of God. He prayed earnestly. The rest of the 17th verse of James 5 tells us that “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.”
This wasn’t a random prayer. This wasn’t some new idea that Elijah came up with for dramatic purposes. Elijah earnestly prayed for a natural disaster that would also affect himself as well as his family and friends. Elijah, we can assume, looked around him, saw the idolatry, the immorality, and prayed for God to make a change. Elijah based his prayer on God’s conditional promise that had been given to the Israelites some 500 plus years earlier.
Deuteronomy 11:13 ERV ““The Lord says, ‘You must listen carefully to the commands I give you today: You must love the Lord your God, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul. If you do that, 14 I will send rain for your land at the right time. I will send the autumn rain and the spring rain. Then you can gather your grain, your new wine, and your oil. 15 And I will make grass grow in your fields for your cattle. You will have plenty to eat.’
16 “He says, ‘Be careful! Don’t be fooled. Don’t turn away from me to serve other gods and to bow down to them.’ 17 If you do that, the Lord will become very angry with you. He will shut the skies, and there will be no rain. The land will not make a harvest, and you will soon die in the good land that the Lord is giving you.”
We often pray for revival in our country and our world but are we willing to pray for revival when it may mean suffering and severe discomfort for ourselves, and our families? Remember, Elijah prayed earnestly for this drought.
Elijah stood before King Ahab and promised the fulfillment of God’s promise from long ago. “Elijah was an instrument whom God used to display His power. God’s past actions assure us of His present and future power.”[vi] Elijah stood up for God and he did so not only courageously but confidently.
When Elijah is finished delivering the message to King Ahab, God tells Elijah he has to go. 1 Kings 17:3 GNT “Leave this place and go east and hide yourself near Cherith Brook, east of the Jordan. 4 The brook will supply you with water to drink, and I have commanded ravens to bring you food there.”
We automatically assume that God instructs Elijah to flee and hide for his safety and there may be something to that, but we also know that God can protect Elijah from King Ahab and any threats that may have been hurled at him. So why did God send Elijah away to live by a brook in Cherith and have birds bring food to him?
Sometimes God needs to separate us from not just the bad influences, but anything that can distract us from Him. We all have experienced those times in our own Cherith; times in which we feel isolated from the world, lonely, solitary as in no one knows what we’re feeling, what we’re experiencing, what we’re going through. Those are the private, one-on-one times with God that He reveals Himself to us in ways that are unlike other times. Elijah experienced God there in Cherith. Elijah’s every need was met in Cherith. God sustained Elijah with an unlikely source. Ravens, known to be predators and scavengers, were used by God to deliver meals to Elijah. God will often provide for us in the most unexpected and unorthodox ways simply to keep us reminded of Who He is and all that He can do. God used Cherith to strengthen and prepare Elijah for what was to come; much like He does with us.
Three years and a bit later, God tells Elijah it’s time to return to Ahab. “After many days, the Lord’s word came to Elijah (it was the third year of the drought): Go! Appear before Ahab. I will then send rain on the earth. 2 So Elijah went to appear before Ahab.” (1 Kings 18:1-2 CEB)
By this time, after three years of no rain, no dew, the drought was severe and there was a great famine. King Ahab had become so desperate that he, along with Obadiah, went out searching for any source of water. Obadiah, who was a God-fearing man, was in charge of the king’s palace. Don’t miss this! The situation is so dire that the two top dogs of the kingdom are out combing the land for sources of moisture. As luck would have it, Obadiah runs into Elijah while he’s out. 1 Kings 18:7 HCSB “While Obadiah was walking along the road, Elijah suddenly met him. When Obadiah recognized him, he fell with his face to the ground and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?””
Obadiah, you may have noticed, refers to Elijah as his lord. Obadiah had found himself in a precarious situation. While Baal-worshipping was the norm and the preferred practice of the kingdom, Obadiah feared the Lord and on his own, had gathered prophets of God and hid them away from the dangers of Jezebel. He had taken 100 prophets, placed them in caves, and made sure that they had food and drink despite the drought and famine that was occurring. This was not a small feat. When Obadiah sees Elijah, it’s as if Obadiah sees the end to his own Cherith because Obadiah had been living a solitary and yes, secretive life in serving the Lord right underneath the king and queen’s noses. What he had been doing would have certainly been his cause of death should it have been discovered by the royal couple.
Elijah, however, doesn’t bask in the title “lord”. Instead, he instructs Obadiah to tell King Ahab that he has returned. As King Ahab lays eyes on Elijah “he said, “Is that really you, the troublemaker of Israel?”
18 Elijah answered, “I have not made trouble for Israel. You and your father’s family caused all the problems when you stopped obeying the Lord’s commands and began following the false gods.” (1 Kings 18:17b-18 ERV)
The rest of the story is not new to us. We know that Elijah had King Ahab summon the people of Israel along with the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Asherah and they were all to meet on top of Mount Carmel.
1 Kings 21-24 MSG “Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!”
Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.
22-24 Then Elijah said, “I’m the only prophet of God left in Israel; and there are 450 prophets of Baal. Let the Baal prophets bring up two oxen; let them pick one, butcher it, and lay it out on an altar on firewood—but don’t ignite it. I’ll take the other ox, cut it up, and lay it on the wood. But neither will I light the fire. Then you pray to your gods and I’ll pray to God. The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.”
All the people agreed: “A good plan—do it!”
Elijah insisted they go first. They chose the ox, prepared it, and began to pray to Baal, you know, the god of the sun. The sun that is a hot boiling ball of heat? And yet, nothing. Not even a spark. As the minutes and hours tick by, they continued to pray. Then they stomped and shouted and jumped. Elijah offers a few suggestions. “Call a little louder—he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?” They prayed louder and louder, cutting themselves with swords and knives—a ritual common to them—until they were covered with blood.
29 This went on until well past noon. They used every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar, but nothing happened—not so much as a whisper, not a flicker of response.” (1 Kings 18:27-29 MSG)
Then Elijah declares it’s his turn; or more accurately, it was God’s turn.
1 Kings 18:30-35 MSG “He then put the altar back together for by now it was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Jacob, the same Jacob to whom God had said, “From now on your name is Israel.” He built the stones into the altar in honor of God. Then Elijah dug a fairly wide trench around the altar. He laid firewood on the altar, cut up the ox, put it on the wood, and said, “Fill four buckets with water and drench both the ox and the firewood.” Then he said, “Do it again,” and they did it. Then he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. The altar was drenched and the trench was filled with water.”
God had proven to Elijah just Who He was. Elijah, three years earlier, had stood before Ahab and confidently proclaimed there would be no rain. Three years later, here stands Elijah before all of the people of Israel, before the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Asherah, and confidently and boldly proclaimed the authority of God.
Elijah, in front of the Israelites, rebuilt the altar and symbolized the unity of the twelve tribes with the stones even though the kingdom was currently divided. Elijah’s purpose was to remind the Israelites of their history, their faith, their unity, and their God. This was not something new; rather, this was to be a revival of what they had forgotten and abandoned.
1 Kings 18:38-39 MSG “Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench.
39 All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, “God is the true God! God is the true God!”
All because one ordinary man prayed earnestly for revival.
There is no question that we need revival in our churches, our communities, our country, and our world. Idolatry has morphed into all kinds of things; some of which are widely accepted even in Christian communities. We idolize celebrities, material possessions, our jobs, our standard of living, our bank account balances, success, fulfillment, comfort, fame, and even the number of friends we have on social media. “Anything, or anyone, can become an idol if we place the value for that thing/person above our value for God.”[vii]
We may not be bowing down to golden calves or looking up at a wooden pole or stylized tree, but that doesn’t mean that our life is free from idols.
“Idol worship today might look different, but it still exists. We shouldn’t let anything, even a good thing, take the place of God in our life.”[viii]
Other than being influential and powerful cities in the world, the following five cities have something in common. London, New York City, Dubai, Florence, Italy, and Washington, D.C.
All five cities have had an arch of Baal erected in their city in recent days. A replica of the arch that stood in front of the temple in which Baal was worshipped is placed in various cities for specified periods of time. When the arch was placed in New York City, this was said. “This arch that led to the Temple of Baal was reproduced down to the smallest detail and erected in New York City,” details Cahn. “It was erected in the park outside City Hall. It sat covered in a giant sheet to keep it cloaked until the time of its unveiling. Seats were set up around the veiled arch so that leaders and dignitaries could watch.” “Before the moment of unveiling, a live band began playing Middle Eastern music. As one listened to the drumbeat, one could imagine similar music being played as worshipers ascended the ancient Temple of Baal.”
That took place in New York City in 2016.
In 2018, it made its way to OUR capital. Washington, D.C.
“A reconstructed Arch of Palmyra, the original of which was the entrance to a temple for Baal in Syria, will reappear in Washington, D.C., as an “improbable” “symbol of peace and resilience,” according to Breaking Israel News.”[ix]
Just four years ago, an idolatrous symbol was placed right under our noses in our nation’s capital. “It is scheduled next to go to The Hague in The Netherlands, which is the seat of the UN’s International Criminal Court. Setting up the Arch of Baal in The Hague is designed to subject the laws of the world to the standards of Baal worship and the lawlessness of paganism. Promoters try to tell us that this is not a “religious” matter but a matter of “culture” and “world heritage.”[x] I can’t help but shake my head.
God used Elijah, an ordinary man to pray for revival in his land. God used Elijah, an ordinary man, to bring people back to God. God used Elijah, an ordinary man, to stand up and make a difference. We’ve got so many opportunities to do the same thing every day. “Are we willing to do what Elijah did to get what Elijah got?”[xi]
[ii] Elijah: Faith and Fire by Priscilla Shirer
[vi] Explore the Bible by Bryan Beyer and Donna McKinney
[xi] Elijah: Faith and Fire by Priscilla Shirer