Monday, February 24, 2020

Elijah's big showdown and the aftermath

1 Kings chapters 18-19 continue Elijah's story and his ministry against Ahab's idolatry.  He had a refreshing three years living with a widow in Zarephath.  The Lord took care of them while famine raged in northern Israel.  Now, it was time to go on the offensive.  Elijah had to face Ahab.

On the way, he meets Obadiah, an official of Ahab who had secretly hid 700 prophets in caves to protect them from Ahab.  It shows that even when wicked people take over a country, God still rules over them and has his followers in strange places carrying out his will.  He meets with Elijah who tells him to tell Ahab that he is here.  Obadiah fears for his life, but Elijah assures him that God will protect him.

Then, we have the famous showdown between Elijah and Baal's prophets.  They set up altars, and whoever's God answers with fire is the real god.  Baal's prophets slash themselves and cry out to him all day long.  Elijah taunts them saying that perhaps Baal is asleep or he went to the bathroom.  Finally, it's Elijah's turn, and God answers immediately.  It is very obvious that Elijah won because by himself, he had enough power to kill all of Baal's prophets down by the river.

Then queen Jezebel hears about this and threatens to kill Elijah.  He runs away to mount Horeb and wants to kill himself.  It shows that when we succeed in brave things, we still get tired and anxious, ready to give up.  God graciously gave him a timeout with food, sleep and a good pep talk.  He said to stop navel-gazing and go anoint three men.

Notice, two of these three men are not friends of God.  One is Hazael.  He will assassinate the king of Syria, replace him, and kill king Ahab in battle.  God is going to judge Ahab for his continued Baal worship even after the pyrotechnics he saw on Mount Carmel.  The next is Jehu who will kill Jezebel and all of Ahab's descendants including the king of Judah because king Jehoshaphat unwisely gave his son in marriage to on of his daughters.  Then, Jehu will end Baal worship but still continue using the golden calves. 

Finally, he anoints Elisha.  Elisha will succeed Elijah.  Another version of his name is Elishua.  It is the same name as Joshua/Jesus.  Just like Joshua succeeded Moses and led Israel into the promised land and conquered the inhabitants there, and just like John the Baptist gave way to Jesus who is our messiah and will make it possible for us to enter God's kingdom and he will defeat all God's enemies who never repent, Elisha will succeed Elijah.  Northern Israel had become so bankrupt of any true religion that God graciously gave them this ministry to usher them back into the true worship still going on in Jerusalem.  Elisha's ministry reach out to gentiles such as Naaman, bringing them to worship the true God.  And he healed people and at one point even multiplied bread to a crowd.  He was not the Messiah, and one day God did judge the north who never returned to God's true worship.  But he gave them one last chance.

If we are discouraged by our enemies even when we do the best to show them God's love, we have to look to God.  We cannot find encouragement from people who found peace without knowing Christ because there is no true peace.  Their hope is only for this world.  We must look to people like William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon, or Martin Luther who suffered great depression but still clung to the hope of our Lord even in their darkest nights of the soul.  In many cases, their anxiety was not healed.  Even Cowper died doubting God's love.  But God's eternal love carried them all the way home and it can do that for you, too.