Last time we looked at the character of seven of the Kings of Israel; those who had been chosen to lead God’s people. And those who had failed so badly, leading the people further and further away from God. Then we were introduced to Elijah – a nobody from the other side of the Jordan.
But look at 1 Kings 19v10 He was very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. What does that tell us? How had he been brought up? We can only imagine – possibly by Godly parents who taught him the scriptures.
Elijah longed passionately that God should receive the honour due to his Holy name. When he heard what had happened on the other side of the Jordan, that Jezebel had broken down God's altars, and killed his prophets, replacing them with the evil rites of her own gods, indignation and frustration welled up within him.
We asked what our response has been as we’ve seen our nation turning its back on God and effectively running after the Baals. How we have reacted when we’ve seen churches closing from lack of interest.
What was our response? (Written on the board last time) 'Well what could I do about it?'
What could Elijah do? What did he do? What should we do? Pray (James 5:17).
But when the problems are so big, what should we pray? How about asking God that first!
Are there things that trouble us which are just too big or too difficult? Nationally or internationally, or locally, or in our own family or church?
What specifically? Is there something that is particularly concerning you now? More importantly has the Lord directed your interest to something? You don’t have to tell me – it’s between you and the Lord.
The first stage is to take on board the prompting of the Lord.
And the next stage is to pray.
But do we even know how to pray for that situation?
Perhaps we should first of all make sure we know the facts. There is a lot of misinformation around which can cloud the issue. It may then become very apparent what to pray, but if not we must first pray that the Lord will show us how to pray.
Elijah knew that the country was in a desperate state, and that the honour of God was at stake. There was only one thing he could do, only one place to go: the thing that all frustrated saints eventually do! James 5v17 says: he prayed.
More than that, ‘He prayed earnestly’. I think that, like us, his first prayer was probably ‘Lord what should I pray for?’ Actually (Show the board from last time) we are asking the right question, but we are asking the wrong person. We need to turn our question into a prayer (Rub out ‘well’ and insert ‘Lord’), and ask the Lord – ‘Lord, what do you expect me to do about it?’ And, if we are truly concerned, like Elijah, we need to pray earnestly.
I doubt that Elijah would have had access to the scriptures, but he may well have been taught them. As a minimum, he would have known Deuteronomy 11v13-
v18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the door-
Most parents would teach these words to their children. This passage is contained in the Tefillin or Phylacteries worn today by some Jews as a constant reminder.
A reminder of what? What particular ‘words of mine’? Look at the verses that come before, v13-
13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.
16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you.
As Elijah prayed, perhaps he was led back to the passage taught to him as a child – that very warning given through Moses to the people years before: v16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD'S anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce.
Now we can imagine him having some disturbing thoughts. 'If God doesn’t carry out his threat, it will reinforce in the people’s minds that God has lost interest in us, or become impotent, or perhaps even that God is dead. This can’t be allowed to happen’. However it came about, he was led to pray that God’s threat might be carried out.
James 5v17 He prayed earnestly that it would not rain.
Was that a terrible thing to pray?
It meant that the land would suffer the horrors of famine, and the people experience the dreadful agonies of thirst. Would that really be any worse than the alternative – to allow the people to completely forget the God of their fathers, and to surrender themselves to the evil and corrupting worship of Baal and Astarte?
What’s worse – physical suffering or moral decline?
Sometimes in extreme cases it might be necessary to smack a child in order to demonstrate that what you are saying is important and must be obeyed. To cause pain to the one you love to save them from a danger that they don’t understand.
If we are going to be serious about our praying, how can we tell that we are praying in line with God’s will? Check that our prayers are in line with God’s word.
Something we could try for homework:
Elijah prayed and the rain stopped. Or had it? How long should he wait to be sure? A week? A Month? In 1 Kings 18v1 it says that the drought lasted three years, but Jesus says in Luke 4v25 (and James repeats it in 5v17) that it lasted three and a half years. Personally I think that Elijah waited until it was obvious to everyone that the rain had stopped.
He knew the cause, but stronger and stronger came the conviction that both King and people must be told why the drought had come. Whatever the danger might be to himself, the conviction that he must go was too much for him to ignore. So:-
1 Kings 17:1
1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
Where did he find Ahab? Apparently he had two palaces, a summer palace at Jezreel, and the main palace at Samaria – the capital city built by his father Omri, where he would have been surrounded by all the high officers of state.
Wherever it was, it would have been a most dramatic moment: the prophet in his rough clothes meeting the King amongst all his finery; the old religion confronting the new, moral strength against immoral weakness.
And this confrontation needed moral strength. It wasn’t easy for a nobody like Elijah to presume that he could present himself at the royal palace and demand to see the king.
Knowing what had happened to the other prophets, who hadn’t dared to do as much as he had, what chance was there of him escaping with his life? Yet Elijah went and came away unhurt, protected by a shield that seemed impenetrable.
What was the secret of that strength? It didn’t come from Elijah himself or his surroundings. He had had a humble birth and no special training. We saw in James that he was a man just like us. And later, when his faith failed him, he ran from Jezebel, sat down under a broom tree and asked to die.
Contained in the first verse of 1 Kings 17 are three pointers to the sources of his strength.
As we live our lives day-
Do we believe we have the same authority? (Wait for reply)
When did we last exercise that authority? (Wait for reply!)
Is it possible that we could make a habit of recognising the presence of God with us at all times? (Wait for reply)
If we could do that how would it affect our natural fear in difficult situations? (Wait for reply)
There is a third thing we are going to find in this first verse, but we will need to work up to it, so we’ll do that next time.
ELIJAH 2 1 Kings 17:1 Prayer of Elijah. Confronting Ahab. Sources of Elijah’s strength(1)
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