1 Kings 19

After the great victory and demonstration of God’s power on Mt. Carmel we now see another side of Elijah’s character, a more human, frail and fallible side. When King Ahab arrives in Jezreel he reports to Queen Jezebel all that occurred on Mt. Carmel, including the killing of the prophets of Baal. Jezebel erupts in anger and sends a message to Elijah, “May the gods judge me severely if by this time tomorrow I do not take your life as you did theirs!” Elijah is so terrified by this threat that he immediately runs as far away from Jezebel and Israel that is possible.

It surprises us that Elijah reacts this way, rather than resting in God for His protection as he had for the past three and one-half years, Elijah ran for his life. He ran all the way through the kingdom of Judah to the southernmost town in the land, Beersheba. He leaves his servant in Beersheba and travels another day’s journey out into the desert. There he sits down under a broom tree and says to the LORD, “I’ve had enough! Now, O LORD, take my life. After all, I’m no better than my ancestors.” Elijah is exhausted and discouraged, focused on his circumstances he sees his failure to remove Baal worship rather than the powerful work of God.

After Elijah expresses his despair he lays down and falls asleep, he is gently awakened by an angel who tells him to get up and eat. There by his head is a fresh baked loaf of bread and a jug of water, Elijah eats and drinks and goes right back to sleep. The angel awakens him a second time and tells him to eat and drink again so he will have the energy for his journey. Elijah then leaves that spot and travels for 40 days and nights to the mountain of God, Mt Sinai. Like Moses and the people of Israel, Elijah traveled the desert sustained by the food and drink that God provided.

At Mt Sinai, Elijah finds a cave to spend the night, on Mt Carmel we saw the prophet as a great spiritual leader ready to save Israel by his trust in the LORD; on Mt Sinai we see the prophet as weak and without trust or understanding. In the cave the LORD speaks to Elijah asking, “Why are you here?” Elijah’s answer shows he has not learned from his 40 days of travel in the wilderness, “I have been absolutely loyal to the LORD, the sovereign God, even though the Israelites have abandoned the agreement they made with you, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left and now they want to take my life.”

Elijah’s self-pity strikes us as terribly wrong, what about his servant that he left behind, what about the widow who fed him for years, what about faithful Obediah and the people he hid from Jezebel? In Elijah’s discouragement he has devalued God’s victory over Baal as failure. God in his mercy does not reprimand Elijah for his lack of faith; instead He reveals his power to him. The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD. Look, the LORD is ready to pass by.” Elijah experiences powerful wind storm, an earthquake and fire from heaven – but the LORD was not in any of those demonstrations. Elijah experienced God’s power – but the LORD was not in any of these, that is, they were not His instruments of self-revelation. Elijah returns to his cave then he hears the sound of a gentle whisper, he covers his face and steps out to meet the LORD – God asks again, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

Elijah gives the same answer as before; his answer shows he did not understand the significance of God’s revelation. The God who controls the wind, earthquake and fire is sovereign over Ahab, Jezebel and any others that oppose him. Then the LORD sends Elijah back the way he came, retracing all of his steps taken in fear and doubt, with a specific job to do in Israel that will carry forward the work of purifying the land.

Elijah was to anoint Hazael king over Aram, anoint Jehu king over Israel and anoint Elisha to succeed Elijah as prophet. Through these three men God would complete the purge of Baal worship that Elijah had begun. Then God reveals to Elijah the true status of His people: “I still have left in Israel seven thousand followers who have not bowed their knees to Baal or kissed the images of him.”

Chapter 19 concludes with Elisha’s calling to ministry. Elisha is plowing the fields of his family’s farm with 12 pairs of oxen; this signifies wealth, power and strength. As Elijah is walking by he throws his cloak over Elisha. Throwing a prophet’s cloak around a person symbolized the passing of the power and authority of the office to that individual. Immediately Elisha leaves his work and runs after Elijah, requesting that he be allowed to kiss his parents goodbye, then he will follow. Elisha realized the meaning of receiving Elijah’s cloak and was ready to sever all ties with his former occupation and accept God’s call.

Elisha returned to the field, took his pair of oxen and slaughtered them. He cooked the meat over a fire that he made by burning the harness and yoke. He gave the people meat and they ate. Then he got up and followed Elijah to become his assistant. Elisha is a great example of obedience; he leaves his family with a celebratory meal to follow Elijah to learn from him and to serve him as his assistant.

1 Kings 18

After three years of severe drought, God calls Elijah to return to Israel and make an appearance before Ahab. King Ahab was an enemy of the LORD, with the power to kill Elijah; this would be a confrontation similar to Moses’ confrontation before Pharaoh.

The famine was especially severe in Samaria; God was directing this calamity at the guilty parties, King Ahab and Jezebel. Queen Jezebel has been on a manhunt for Elijah for three years, killing any of the LORD’s prophets she could find. These killing may have been a sacrificial appeasement to Baal, in an attempt to gain favor so he would produce rain. In this deadly environment Obadiah a devout believer in the LORD was King Ahab’s head administrator, a difficult position in Samaria. He used his position to keep safe 100 prophets of the LORD, hiding them from Jezebel. Obadiah is a challenging figure, quietly living out his faith at the heart of the nation’s apostasy.

King Ahab sends Obadiah to search for food for his animals, as he is traveling Elijah finds Obadiah. Elijah commands him to return to Ahab and say, “Elijah is back”. Obadiah is concerned that this will be certain death for him; he was concerned that Elijah would disappear again after his announcement which would turn Jezebel’s wrath to Obadiah. This act will take Obadiah from clandestine support to public alignment with Elijah – a deadly decision. Elijah assures Obadiah, “As certainly as the LORD WHO RULES OVER ALL lives (whom I serve), I will make an appearance before him today.”

King Ahab meets with Elijah and calls him a troublemaker; “the one who brings disaster on Israel”. Ahab still doesn’t get it, Elijah didn’t bring this disaster on Israel; it was Ahab and his father’s dynasty that brought the trouble by abandoning the LORD’s commandments and following Baal. Then Elijah offers a challenge to the Ahab and the prophets of Baal, a showdown on Mt. Carmel, two altars and two sacrifices side by side, call on your god and let’s see whose god answers.

Elijah confronts the people of Israel, how long will they be paralyzed by indecision? Apparently they thought they could worship the LORD and Baal side by side, mixing the pagan worship with the worship of the LORD. If Yahweh is the one true God then serve Him wholeheartedly and reject the impotent false god. This was a showdown between the only prophet of the LORD in Israel and the 450 prophets of Baal; the God who answers by fire is the True God!

Ahab and the people accept the challenge saying this will be a fair test. Baal was a fertility god, the one who sent rain, caused the crops to grow, and provided food for his people. He was the one who sent fire (lightning) from heaven. The three-and-one-half-year drought and famine had been a great embarrassment to the worshipers of Baal. It seemed as if Elijah and his God rather than Baal were in control of the fertility of Israel. So Elijah’s test to Baal’s followers seemed like a good opportunity to vindicate their god and they readily agreed to it. When the preparations were completed, the test began.

The prophets of Baal go first, they prepare their sacrifice, invoked the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal, answer us.” But there was no sound and no answer. They jumped around on the altar they had made. No god answered. Then Elijah mocks the prophets, “Yell Louder!” maybe he is asleep, or has taken a trip or is busy relieving himself. Surprisingly Baal’s prophets responded by increasing the fervor of their appeals, working themselves into a frenzy. To appease their god they mutilated their own bodies as the custom of pagan worshipers has been for centuries. This continued for three hours, but still there was no response. Baal did not respond to their six-hour chanting for lightning, though rain and lightning often come readily to the Carmel mountain range near the Mediterranean Sea. There is no sound, no answer and no response – this is a dead unresponsive god.

Elijah calls all the people to watch; first he repairs the altar of the LORD that was in ruins. “Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of tribes that descended from Jacob, to whom the LORD had said, “Israel will be your new name.” With the stones he constructed an altar for the LORD. Around the altar he made a trench large enough to contain two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut up the bull, and placed it on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four water jars and pour the water on the offering and the wood.” When they had done so, he said, “Do it again.” So they did it again. Then he said, “Do it a third time.” So they did it a third time. The water flowed down all sides of the altar and filled the trench. Since water would have been a rare commodity after three years of drought, the emptying of the jars over the sacrifice was a double act of faith. Elijah was trusting God for rain as well as fire. This miracle is for the strengthening benefit of all Israel and Judah. These divided kingdoms are still one people in God’s purposes, one LORD, one Covenant, one destiny.

In contrast to frenzied activity of the prophets of Baal, Elijah approached the altar and prayed. “O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are the true God and that you are winning back their allegiance.” Then fire immediately fell from the sky. It consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, and the dirt, and licked up the water in the trench. Remember Baal is the god of thunder and lightning –Baal is defeated with his own tools. Like the gods of Egypt that tormented Pharaoh and the Egyptians rather than blessing them. Notice that this was lightning from a sky without clouds; the prophets of Baal were exposed as promoters of a lie. Spontaneously the crowd cried out in amazement. Since the LORD had answered by fire; they acknowledged that He is the true God.

Elijah tells the people to seize the prophets of Baal, don’t let any escape! The prophets of Baal were executed in the Kishon Valley. Then Elijah tells Ahab to go eat and drink and wait for the coming rain. Elijah climbs up to the top of Mt Carmel, bows to the ground with his face between his knees to pray for rain, he prays seven times. Elijah instructs his servant to look in the direction of the sea for the rainstorm. On the seventh time, the servant reports a small cloud is forming from the sea. Elijah returns to Ahab, tells him to get going with his chariots before the rain overtakes him and become stuck in the mud.

Meanwhile the sky was covered with dark clouds, the wind blew, and there was a heavy rainstorm. Ahab races toward Jezreel. Now the LORD energized Elijah with power; he tucked his robe into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel. This paints a dramatic picture, God in the black cloud chasing behind Ahab fleeing before the storm and Elijah in mighty power running faster that the storm and the chariots the 25 miles from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel. All Israel sees the dramatic power of the LORD side by side to the powerless Ahab and his false religion.

1 Kings 15-17

From this point on the writer of Kings presents us with two parallel histories, the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Chapter 15 begins in the south when Abijah, the son of Rehoboam became King of Judah. He followed all the sinful practices of his father and he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD like his ancestor King David. Nonetheless for David’s sake God kept Judah safe for the three years of his reign while they were continually at war with the north. During this time Abijah goes to war against Jeroboam of Israel, which results in decisive victories over greater numbers because he puts his trust in the LORD.

After Abijah’s death, his son Asa became king; Asa is the 1st good king of Judah and leads the southern kingdom in religious reforms. Asa did what the LORD approved like his ancestor David had done. He removed the idols his ancestors had made, he removed the male cultic prostitutes from Judah, he also removed his grandmother Maacah, who used her position to set up Asherah poles and promote pagan worship. Asa instituted reforms but did not completely eliminate pagan worship in Judah; he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD throughout his lifetime. It was during the period of reforms that Judah experienced 10 years of peace and the LORD protected them when they were attacked by the Egyptians. Asa proved to be faithful to the LORD, he renewed God’s Covenant with Judah and Benjamin and removed the idols from the hills of Ephraim, and they promised “to seek the LORD with all their heart and soul” and thus had two more years of peace.

However later in life Asa devises schemes and plans without inquiring of the LORD. When Baasha king of the northern tribes blocked Judah’s trade routes, he decides to get help from the king of Syria. Asa takes the treasure from the temple and palace to bribe Syria to break their peace with Israel. Ben Hadad of Syria agrees he attacks Israel’s northern border forcing Baasha to retreat from his southern defenses. Asa moves into the border territories and dismantles all of Israel’s fortresses and uses the stones to reinforce his defenses. Although Asa’s plan was clever and successful, it demonstrated his lack of trust in God when he relied on help from Syria’s king.

It was at this time that God sent the prophet Hanani to visit King Asa of Judah to deliver an unwanted message. Because you relied on the King of Syria and did not rely on the LORD your God from now on you will have war, you acted foolishly. The LORD watches over the whole earth and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him. Asa was so angry at this pronouncement that he jailed the prophet and reacted by oppressing of some of the people. Asa ends his life as a bitter man, with a severe disease of his feet, yet in his stubborn pride he did not seek help from the LORD.

Now back to the Northern Kingdom, Jeroboam dies and Nadab his son becomes king he will rule for two years. He did evil in the sight of the LORD; he followed in his father’s evil footsteps and encouraged Israel to sin. Kings records an increasing level of sin and violence in Israel. While Israel was at war with the Philistines, Baasha from the tribe of Issachar assassinated him and named himself King of Israel. He then executed Jeroboam’s entire family; this fulfilled the prophecy of Ahijah at the altar when Jeroboam offered sacrifices to the idols he set up in Bethel and Dan. Note the increasing death count; the prophet said that every male from his lineage would die; now Baasha killed everyone that breathed from his entire family. Baasha will rule for 24 years, he followed in Jeroboam’s footsteps and encouraged Israel to sin. Now God sent another prophet, Jehu son of Hanani with a message for Baasha. It was God who raised up Baasha to rule over Israel, yet he continued to sin like Jeroboam and encouraged Israel to sin. Therefore Baasha’s family will be like Jeroboam’s family, all will die in the city. Baasha died and his son Elah became King of Israel.

Elah ruled for two years, while Israel is once again fighting the Philistines, Elah is drinking heavily and carousing in Tirzah. Zimri, the commander of half of his chariot force came in to the party and killed him. Then he killed Baasha’s entire family, his relatives and his friends. Zimri will rule for seven days, when the army heard what Zimri had done they made Omri the commander of the army king over Israel that very day in the camp. They immediately went to Tirzah, captured the city and palace. Zimri, set the palace on fire and died in the flames. This began 4 years of civil war, between the factions that supported Tibni and those that supported Omri. Omri eventually prevailed and was made King over Israel for12 years.

King Omri made a hill of Samaria his royal city, building magnificent structures like Solomon. He set up governmental structures for the northern kingdom and had many military and political accomplishments that are recorded by other nations, but these accomplishments are not of importance in God’s record of the Kings. Kings states the Omri did more evil in the sight of the LORD than all who were before him. Omri’s dynasty will be the focus of 1 Kings 16 through 2 Kings 10. From now on prophets will refer to the Northern Kingdom by its capital city, Samaria and the southern kingdom by its capital Jerusalem. Omri died, he was buried in Samaria and his son Ahab replaced him as king, he will rule for 22 years and he did more evil in the sight of the LORD than all who were before him.

Ahab married Jezebel the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians. He worshiped and bowed down to Baal, he set up an altar to Baal in Samaria and he made an Asherah pole. Ahab did more to anger the LORD God of Israel than all the kings who went before him. Evil became progressively worse in the royal house of Israel, Ahab even ignored the prophecy against Jericho pronounced by Joshua when Jericho’s walls fell and the city was burned. 1 Kings 17-22 will focus on the evil King Ahab and his even more evil Queen Jezebel.

In this very dark and evil time God sends Elijah the Tishbite to speak God’s truth to Ahab: “As certainly as the LORD God of Israel lives (whom I serve), there will be no dew or rain in the years ahead unless I give the command.” This phrase “whom I serve” literally is translated “before whom I stand”: This is an expression for someone who stands and waits for the King’s commands. Ahab bows before and serves Baal; the king and queen are Baal’s representatives in Israel, Elijah is one of Ahab’s subjects, expected to serve the king. But Elijah stands before the LORD God, waiting for His instructions and serving only God, he is the LORD God’s representative in Israel. This pronouncement of no rain is a divine judgement against the worship of Baal, the god of fertility and the rain clouds. The LORD made clear to Israel the consequences of serving other gods: “Make sure you do not turn away to serve and worship other gods! Then the anger of the LORD will erupt against you and he will close up the sky so that it does not rain. The land will not yield its produce, and you will soon be removed from the good land that the Lord is about to give you.”

Kings records three miracles that confirm that God’s hand was on Elijah and that the LORD has command over the natural world. Elijah is immediately sent to a desert canyon to drink from the stream and have his food provided by ravens. Ravens are unclean animals, yet God sustains Elijah by them. God is not dependent on people to accomplish his plans. God’s command for Elijah to leave intensifies the judgment of no rain, since Elijah was not present to plead with the LORD for mercy.

After the stream dries up, God send Elijah to a widow in Zarephath, this was in Sidon ruled by Jezebel’s father in the heart of Baal worship. The widow is starving, ready to make her last meal for her son, and then prepare to die. Elijah says, “Don’t be afraid. Go and do as you planned. But first make a small cake for me and bring it to me; then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour will not be empty and the jug of oil will not run out until the day the LORD makes it rain on the surface of the ground.’” It is amazing that this pagan woman did just as Elijah told her and there was always enough food for Elijah and her family. First Elijah is sustained by unclean animals and now by Baal worshippers – enemies of the Lord God.
After being faithful the woman’s son becomes sick and could no longer breathe. She complains to Elijah that he has killed her son. Elijah takes the boy to the upper room and calls out to the LORD. “O LORD, my God, are you also bringing disaster on this widow I am staying with by killing her son?” He stretched out over the boy three times and called out to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, please let this boy’s breath return to him.” We are told simply that the LORD answered Elijah’s prayer and the boy lived. Elijah then said, “See, your son is alive!” The woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a prophet and that the LORD really does speak through you.” Three miracles, the LORD confirms the prophecy of Elijah to Ahab using unclean animals and a pagan woman. What the LORD says He will do…..He will do!