Elijah vs. the Prophets of Baal—the Mauling on the Mount
If we pick up the history of Israel at the end of King Solomon’s reign in 1 Kings 11:9-43, we find that God spoke to Solomon (probably through a prophet). Solomon had taken many foreign wives, which was a prohibition of the Mosaic Law, and those foreign wives had brought their pagan idol worshipping religions with them to Israel. The land was polluted with idolatry, and even Solomon was partaking in it. Therefore, in Solomon’s final days, the Lord said, “I will tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant (Jeroboam). I will not do it in your days…but I will tear it from your son. I will not tear away all the kingdom…” God was warning that the great kingdom that Solomon had built would be split, ten tribes would become the northern kingdom of Israel, and two tribes would stay with Solomon’s son Rehoboam in Jerusalem to form the kingdom of Judah. Solomon died around 930-931 B.C., and everyone expected his son Rehoboam to be king, but at his coronation Jeroboam led an assembly to demand that he lighten the tax burden. Rehoboam refused the wise counsel of his father’s advisors, and took counsel with his young contemporaries. In all arrogance, Rehoboam answered the people harshly that he would actually increase their taxes and increase their work burden. This made me remember that America went to war as a protest against taxation, and it’s hard to believe from the taxes we pay now that we went to war to avoid taxation. Like the investment advisor said, “Put all your money in taxes, they are sure to go up.”
This incident sparked the rebellion that split the kingdom of Solomon. Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem and assembled an army from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to fight Israel. There was to be no war, because God sent His prophet to tell King Rehoboam that this rebellion was a judgment from God, and He said “return home, for this thing is from me”.
Initially, in the northern kingdom, Jeroboam built his capital in Shechem, and built a fortress at Penuel. Quickly we learn the prospects for Israel when we read in 1 Kings 12:28 that Jeroboam made two golden calves, and said “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” Apparently he had never read all of Exodus 32 about how God judged Israel during the Exodus for making and worshipping the golden calf idol. What is that old saying? Those who forget or don’t learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. For the next 200 years Israel had one evil king after another. Around 885 B.C., Omri became king of Israel, and he moved the capital to Samaria. It was actually the name of a hill that he fortified, and it became a city. Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He made the people of Israel worship idols, and he provoked God to anger, but he was an amateur compared to his son and successor, Ahab who took over about 875 B.C. That is really saying something, because Omri murdered the guy who preceded him.
As if the things his father had done were not bad enough, Ahab took it to another level by marrying Jezebel, the daughter of the King of Sidon. Jezebel brought the idol worship of Baal with her to Samaria, but even worse she attempted to wipe out all the prophets of the God of Israel. In 1 Kings 18:13, it says she killed the prophets of God except those who were hidden. All of Israel either turned away from God or were forced to hide their true belief in God to survive. Ahab truly had done “more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel before him.”
The Weather Report
Into this setting, this trail of murder, intrigue, depravity, and idolatry, and at this crucial time in the history of Israel, God’s prophet Elijah suddenly appears with a weather report for the king. There will be no rain until Elijah says so. Then Elijah disappears into the wilderness. You can imagine the king and his court had a good laugh at this strange character’s expense. When the terrible drought set in, it was no longer funny, so Ahab sent soldiers all over the land searching for Elijah to no avail. God first hid Elijah in the wilderness east of the Jordan River near the brook Cherith. God miraculously fed him by having ravens bring Elijah food until the brook dried up. God then directed him to go and stay with a widow of Zarephath (near the coast in Sidon) where God would continue to provide. In 1 Kings 21, Elijah will announce the doom of Ahab and his family, but first in ch.18 Elijah must tackle the problem of the Baal worship in Israel. Elijah will reveal to all Israel that Baal is no more a god than the golden calves that Jeroboam had made.
In Baal worship, Baal supposedly had authority over rain and the fertility of the crops and herds. The true God that Elijah represented would be proven as the one and only God who controls and has authority over all of creation.
Who Was That Guy?
What do we know about Elijah? He just suddenly appeared on the scene at God’s direction. His name means El I Jah or in English, My God is Yahweh (the covenant name God gave Moses in Exodus 3:14, I Am That I Am). Elijah was born in Tishba, a rough country place. He was an austere coarse fellow. He was not appealing, had no training, no sophistication, and had no entourage. At this point in the story he travels alone. He had a very simple message of “No rain”.
The Samaritan Post
Can you imagine the headlines in the newspaper every day? The leading stories had to be about the devastating consequences of drought: Crops wilted!, Rivers Dry!, Flocks and Herds Die!, Water Rationing Ordered!, Economy Devastated! King on the Lookout for Strange Prophet Blamed for Losses!
After three years of no rain, the situation became desperate. This strange austere prophet now became the leading topic of conversation in Israel. Only we the students can imagine what God was getting ready to do.
Meanwhile Back at Boot Camp
After Elijah left King Ahab in 1 Kings 17:1, God sent him into a sort of boot camp to prepare him for the great showdown recorded in ch.18. God told him to “hide yourself”. For the next three years Elijah did nothing but let God teach him to depend on, trust in God for his every need while he hid from Ahab. We the students get to watch God work in disciplining the country with the drought, and simultaneously protecting and providing for His prophet. Can you imagine the patience and the faith needed to live alone in the wilderness while each day you had to trust God that some really ugly birds would bring you bread and meat to eat? Then in v.7 when the creek dried up, he had to go and live in a pagan land where the hated Jezebel came from, and depended on some goofy woman with a jar of flour and a little jar of oil. That was all she had for herself and her son. Again, Elijah had to learn to live by faith in seemingly impossible circumstances. To make matters worse, the poor woman’s son died and she blamed it on Elijah. Elijah cried out to God for help, and pleaded with God to bring the boy back to life. God gave him this awesome miracle no doubt to prepare Elijah for the bigger need for faith that was coming. The God of Israel has proven to be the God of life and death. The words of the widow, “Now I know that…the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth”, were probably being thought by Elijah as well—God definitely was with him and he could trust God to do what He promised.
The Fight of the Century, the Showdown at Carmel
For three years Elijah was blamed for the drought, and the enemies of God sought after him. Finally at God’s appointed time, Elijah appears again to Ahab in 1 Kings 18. Elijah issued a great challenge to Ahab that would prove who was responsible for the drought. Elijah had been sent by God to prove that the sin of Omri, Ahab, and Jezebel together with the majority of the nation had brought on the discipline of the Lord. Elijah told him to summon all Israel to Mt. Carmel where he alone representing God would have a showdown with all the prophets of Baal. When the people arrived at Carmel, Elijah asked them a question that should be asked to all people even now, “How long will you waffle between two different opinions?” Elijah meant that they were fence sitters without commitment. They went with the momentum. He was saying, “Take a stand for the truth!” You can read about the great confrontation, and great victory of the Lord in 1 Kings 18 verses 22-46. God brought fire down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, the pagan prophets were wiped out, and rain fell in the land again as the people yelled, “Yahweh is God, Yahweh, He is God (alone)”
The Surprising Sequel
When Jezebel hears the news that her prophets of Baal have been wiped out, she sent a vicious message to Elijah that read something like, “By my own life, I vow to have you killed by tomorrow.” Elijah panicked and fled for the hills in fear. This is amazing to me that a great man who just did awesome miracles could suddenly be so afraid, but the truth is there are no great men who are not subject to fear and depression. The difference was that in this case, he did not trust in the Lord. Whenever we face adversity and do not trust in the Lord, we are subject to the same thing. No matter how much men change, or falter, God stays gracious and loving. God sent an angel to provide for a depressed and complaining prophet. We can expect the same when we enter these dark places. Why did Elijah flee? I believe at Mt. Carmel he thought the battle was over, our long struggle with the enemy has been won, and we can now relax. Wrong, the struggle will never be over until Christ comes back. When you think you’ve got it made, and there will be nothing but clear sailing, watch out. He just came off a great victory so he was open to this counter attack by Jezebel. I call this the “false hope” that the world is going to reform and become a better place. Elijah must have thought, “we’ve won, all Israel will repent, and the king will repent. We will have a great revival, and I will be accepted and loved now instead of being a recluse”. Secondly, he put his confidence in people instead of God. He failed to see that God’s plan has a long-range plan and solution. When he got Jezebel’s message he reacted to his emotions instead of God’s Word.
Two Great Heroes–Depressed
Two of my favorite heroes in the Bible are David and Elijah. They were sacrificial servants who loved and served God well. They had great faith and stood up to giants against impossible odds, yet they prevailed. Nevertheless, both men shared a common experience of having a great victory, but soon thereafter finding themselves alone in a dark cave seriously depressed. In 1 Kings 19:9, Elijah had fled all the way down to Mt. Sinai (Horeb), and was living in a cave. David, in 1 Samuel 22, had fled from King Saul who wanted to kill him. David was alone in the cave of Adullam afraid and depressed as we can discover through his Psalms that he wrote about fleeing from Saul, “The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me”. God protected and comforted David by sending his friends and family to be with him, and God comforted Elijah by sending an angel, and then in 1 Kings 19:9 God said something remarkable to Elijah, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Elijah replied by trying to justify his fear and lack of faith. To paraphrase, he said, “I did everything I could do, but the people have forsaken you God, and they have killed all your prophets, and I alone am left, but they are going to kill me too.” In reply, instead of explaining himself or justifying His plan, God repeated, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God never gives explanations or excuses, so this was His way of saying, “You have no reason to doubt Me, I have always taken care of you, and My sovereign plan will always be done even if you don’t understand it, so get up and get back in the game.”
Did God give David or Elijah a self help book or tape to listen to? No, and God did not give up on them either. God led them to self-discovery (conviction). God assured them that they were not alone. God also gave both men a friend to mentor and to minister to them. Clearly both men needed a lot of help.
The journey through life is too great for you. You are going to need a Savior, a helper, and a comforter. Elijah was tough, rugged, and he didn’t need any worldly thing, but he needed God.