Posts Tagged 'Elijah'

Heaven

Highway-to-Heaven-780x520

What is heaven? Is it a place? Is it an idea? Is it “up there”? Or is it “out there”? Lots of people have lots of ideas about this place known as heaven. All religions speak of a place where “true believers” go to after death. Depending on what religion you are a part of, heaven may be full of angels, clouds, virgins, harps, saints, flowers, and rolling hills. What Christians know about heaven comes from the Bible. But that doesn’t stop them from coming up with sentimental visions of a place that bears little resemblance to Biblical reality.

There’s an old joke about heaven that goes something like this:

Once upon a time, a Christian man died and went up to heaven. Upon arriving at the Pearly Gates, he was ushered into his eternal destination. An angel came up to him and took him on a walking tour around heaven. He was very impressed with the streets of gold and marveled at all the magnificent mansions he passed by. On and on they walked and the man was wondering where his mansion was. The angel told him his home was located on the outskirts of town. As they walked out of town, the angel stopped just in front of a small cabin. Pointing to the very humble structure, he informed the man, “And here is your place.”

The man was taken aback. Why wasn’t his eternal home a palatial palace like all the buildings he passed by. The angel grinned and said, “The engineers did the best they could with all the stuff you sent up before you arrived.”

Of course, this is only a joke. Or is some of it actually true? Let’s put our sentiment aside for a while and consider what the Bible has to say about heaven.

2 Kings 2:9 – 12

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart. (2 Kings 2:11-12 | NIV84)

This is an incident involving Elijah and Elisha. There is a lot of speculation as to precisely what happened to the great prophet Elijah, but one this is certain: he didn’t die. What happened to him? Elijah was a man, but he was a man who walked in the presence of God. That fact is demonstrated by the appearance of a “fiery chariot.” Elijah was transported bodily upward away from the surface of the earth. But where did the prophet go? Jesus gives us a clue:

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. (John 3:13a | NIV84)

According to Jesus, who should know, there is no way that Elijah went to the place He, Jesus, came from. So what did the Chronicler mean when he used the word “heaven”? In the Bible, the word “heaven” can describe any one of three places:

(1) God’s throne room. This is the “third heaven.” See 2 Corinthians 12:2, 3.

(2) The physical universe where the stars and planets and galaxies are. This is the “second heaven.”

(3) Earth’s atmosphere – the sky. This is the “first heaven.”

Elijah could not have gone bodily into the “third heaven,” as Jesus Himself indicated. It’s highly unlikely he was beamed up into the universe someplace since Elisha watched him ascend. Elijah, then, was taken up into our atmosphere, the so-called “first heaven.” Many Bible readers simply assume that at this point, the prophet was somehow made immoral and taken INTO heaven (the “third heaven”), the place where God resides. We know this didn’t happen because Jesus said it didn’t, and the Sons of the Prophets knew it didn’t, too. They knew that Elijah had simply been moved from one place to another.

“Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.”“No,” Elisha replied, “do not send them.” (2 Kings 2:16 | NIV84)

Fifty men searched for days and couldn’t find Elijah, but that doesn’t mean he had vanished. In fact, Elijah was alive and still active long after the fiery chariot took him away. He actually wrote a letter to King Jehoram years after the events recorded here in 2 Kings 2:16. The text of the letter is found in 2 Chronicles 21:12 – 15, and begins like this:

Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet, which said: “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: ‘You have not walked in the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah.’ (2 Chronicles 21:12 | NIV84)

Like a chess piece, the Lord simply plucked Elijah up and moved him to another location in Israel where he lived out the remainder of his years. The Lord graciously moved him out of the way and out of the limelight so that his successor, Elisha, could do the work to which he was called.

So the first thing we learn about heaven is that one must die to get there.

Matthew 6:19 – 21

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 | NIV84)

Jesus is not telling us not to save for our retirement or not to acquire things during our lifetime on earth. For Him, as it should be for us, it was all about keeping life in the proper perspective. It’s fine to be prudent in our investments, but obsessing over them is wrong. It’s nice to have nice things if we can afford them, but to chase after material things at the expense of caring for our spiritual side creates a terrible imbalance. The most important aspect of our lives should be – yet seldom is – the spiritual aspect.

What did Jesus mean when He referred to “treasures in heaven?” Broadly speaking, Jesus is referring to things like holiness of character, obedience to God’s Word, service to God, and to our fellow man. In other words, spiritually speaking, we are preparing for our eternal life in heaven by living right (or righteously) while here on earth.

The life we live here in the flesh should be lived with an eye to our eternal life. Keeping a “heavenly perspective” will serve to keep our lives in balance.

Luke 10:10 – 20

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20 | NIV84)

Jesus had appointed 72 “missionaries” to go and preach His Gospel. They did this and more:

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Luke 10:17 | NIV84)

They, of course, were thrilled with the work they had done in Christ’s Name, and our Lord shared their joy. Then however, He brought them back down to earth with another bit of perspective necessary for living life in balance. These missionaries, and Christians today, ought to rejoice primarily in God’s grace; namely, the fact of salvation by grace. Accomplishing any good work for God is cause to rejoice, but nothing compares to being saved by grace. We ought always to remember and rejoice over the simple fact that our names are written in heaven.

John 14:1 – 4

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

This advice was given to some very troubled disciples, and they had good reasons to be troubled. Jesus had just told them that He would be leaving them soon. He told them that a traitor was in their midst. And Jesus told Peter that he would fail Him before all was said and done. What our Lord told His disciples, and what He is telling us through His Word, is His remedy for anxiety.

When we, like the disciples, feel anxious, according to Jesus we should: Continue in our belief in God and in Him. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in or how bleak the outlook may be, our hearts should never be troubled and our faith shouldn’t waver. Think about these disciples. Their leader was going to be leaving shortly. Trust in God is a sure remedy for anxious feelings.

Furthermore, our Lord talked about the kind of life all believers may expect to enjoy. The future for followers of Jesus will be marked by a reunion (or a joining) with Jesus Christ. He will not forget those who belong to Him, and at the right time He will come back or take them to be with Him.

Jesus indicated to His disciples that there are “many rooms” in heaven. The idea is that there is an infinite number of “dwelling places” in heaven, each one specifically prepared by Jesus for individual believers. These “dwelling places,” or “mansions,” as some translations read, will be permanent; they will be our homes for all of eternity.

This aspect of heaven has both a future aspect but also a present aspect. In the midst of hurried and harried lives, we can think ahead to heaven and our heavenly home and that should calm our nerves and give us a sense serenity.

Acts 1:7 – 11

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7, 8 NIV)

While it is a good idea to pause periodically to think about heaven, Christians do have work to do in the here-and-now. Jesus told His disciples that nobody knows the future; nobody knows what’s going to happen in the days ahead, only God the Father does and He usually doesn’t let us in on His plans. While the disciples, past and present, wait for their Lord to return, their job is a simple one: to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. We are to take Christ’s message of forgiveness of sins and salvation by grace to as many places as we can get to and share it with as many people as will listen.

We know that our Lord will return someday. While we wait we are to busy ourselves with fulfilling the Great Commission. We don’t have the luxury of standing around, looking wistfully into heaven waiting for the Lord to step out on a cloud and call us home. No man knows when that will happen.

Hebrews 12:18 – 25

So see to it that you obey him who is speaking to you. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, how terrible our danger if we refuse to listen to God who speaks to us from heaven! (Hebrews 12:25 TLB)

Thoughts of our heavenly reward and of our heavenly home are useful for encouraging us when we may be tempted to become discouraged. But heaven may also be used as part of an overall admonition. The writer to the Hebrews does this.

So take a new grip with your tired hands, stand firm on your shaky legs, and mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves but become strong. (Hebrews 12:12, 13 TLB)

Christians need to remain strong in their faith, especially in light of the facts of who God is, what He has done, and where He comes from. Previous generations dealt with God, for example, at Mount Sinai, which was all well and good for them at that time, but that’s in the past.

But you have come right up into Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the gathering of countless happy angels; and to the church, composed of all those registered in heaven; and to God who is Judge of all; and to the spirits of the redeemed in heaven, already made perfect (Hebrews 12:22, 23 TLB)

No longer do believers deal with God, symbolically speaking, at Mount Sinai with all its attendant laws and regulations. That old order of things has passed away. Now we are able to approach God on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, where the Temple was built and Jesus crucified. From the hill of that city He ascended to heaven. The “city of the living God” on earth was a mere reflection of the heavenly Jerusalem, the place where saints who have been made perfect and angels dwell. It is also the place from where God judges.

Jesus is the reason why the old order has wasted away. The blood of Jesus, which provided atonement and forgiveness for sins, made this entrance into heaven possible.

So see to it that you obey him who is speaking to you. (Hebrews 12:25 TLB)

Considering, then, what Jesus’ shed blood has wrought, we Christians need to pay attention to what He says and do what He tells us to do. Our eternity in heaven depends upon it, in once sense.

When he spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but, “Next time,” he says, “I will not only shake the earth but the heavens too.” By this he means that he will sift out everything without solid foundations so that only unshakable things will be left. (Hebrews 12:26, 27 TLB)

When God spoke to previous generations of believers at Mount Sinai, the earth moved. But, as Haggai 2:6 says, the next time earth hears His voice, all creation will shake and a sifting – a sorting and reshuffling – of the universe will take place. God as Judge will review the material and spiritual worlds He Himself created, and His creation will either be destroyed or reformed. Anything that can be moved (“shaken”) will be destroyed. This refers to the things made for this present world order. But there are things that cannot be shaken, and these things will remain for all eternity; things like God, Christ, the Church, love and holiness.

It’s a powerful admonition to live right and live righteously. It’s also a powerful reason to not get too attached to the things of this world. They are so temporary in every sense of the word. It’s also a powerful reminder of something else. We are living in a “post-Christian” world where vast numbers of people live as though they have no soul. It would do us well to remember that when men and nations rage against God and seek to take His place on earth, God’s reaction is surprising:

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… (Psalm 2:4 NIV)

In God’s eyes, nothing is more ridiculous than a frail, puny man living in defiance of Him, His people, and His Word. William Arthur Tell wrote, There is a heaven to gain and hell to shun, and it is the Bible that tells us how to do just that. The Bible also tells us something else worth remembering. The Church of Jesus Christ, comprised of God’s saints from all generations, will emerge from the ashes of the old order intact, redeemed, and victorious. It may seem to you as though the Church in America today is weak or impotent and as carnal as can be. But we are not yet what we will be. In the end, as Jesus Himself indicated, the gates of shall not prevail against the true Church (Matthew 16:18).

Elisha and God’s Call

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Here’s a shocking bit of news, courtesy of Forbes:

Right Management ran the online survey between April 16 and May 15, and culled responses from 411 workers in the U.S. and Canada. Only 19% said they were satisfied with their jobs. Another 16% said they were “somewhat satisfied.” But the rest, nearly two-thirds of respondents, said they were not happy at work. Twenty-one percent said they were “somewhat unsatisfied” and 44% said they were “unsatisfied.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/05/18/new-survey-majority-of-employees-dissatisfied/)

That’s a whole lot of dissatisfied employees! No wonder we get stress headaches. No wonder so many of us dream of the day we can retire and do what we enjoy rather than what we have to. Most of these dissatisfied employees will tell you they can’t quit the job they hate so much because of the money. But what if you could quit the job you hate and start the job you dream about having? What would that dream job be? Some of you would love to “work from home.” Others would love to be able to turn your hobby into your occupation. Still others hold onto some childhood ambition that’s just unpractical as an adult; like being an astronaut or a deep sea diver or a stewardess or a famous actor. There are probably as many “dream jobs” as there are people. That’s because we all have different interests, talents, and ambitions. God in His wisdom created us as individuals; all different from each other. And, ideally, as we grow and mature in the Lord, we discover what our interests and talents are and we find a way to use what God has given us to not only glorify Him but benefit ourselves as well.

Such was the case with a man named Elisha. Most of us seem to be familiar with the prophet Elijah, but in some ways his successor, Elisha, had an even greater ministry. Elijah was a great prophet, but God sent him to prepare and anoint Elisha to also be a prophet. We can learn some things from Elisha’s great life and ministry that help us to follow God’s will for our lives.

1 Kings 19:19 – 21

In this brief incident, we read about the call of Elisha to the prophetic ministry.

The Lord said, “Return to the wilderness near Damascus, then enter the city and anoint Hazael as king of Syria; anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. (1 Kings 19:15, 16 GNB)

That’s God giving His busy prophet Elijah a laundry list of things to do, including anointing Elisha to be his successor. We don’t know a lot about Elisha, but he was apparently a man of some means, as he was working next to the twelfth pair of oxen. Elijah approached this man and did a curious thing:

Elijah took off his cloak and put it on Elisha. (1 Kings 19:19b GNB)

Putting one’s cloak or mantle on another was a highly symbolic act of transferring leadership. That symbolic act was Elijah’s way of doing what God told him to do: anoint Elisha to be his successor. Elisha, for his part, did what most of us would do:

“Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and then I will go with you.” (1 Kings 19:20b GNB)

In other words, Elisha wanted to set his affairs in order and provide for a proper farewell. Elijah’s response to Elisha has been translated in various ways, but this one seems to fit his character:

“All right, go back. I’m not stopping you!” (1 Kings 19:20c GNB)

That single statement is important. It shows us Elijah hadn’t called Elisha to be his successor; God had done that. And it also shows us that answering God’s call was something only Elisha himself could do. It was his decision to make.

And that’s the way God works in the lives of His people. He may call, but we must answer. God has a will for our lives, but we must be co-operative participants. God doesn’t force anybody to do anything. He calls, creates the conditions whereby we are able to respond, but ultimately the choice is ours. A lot of times we may be hesitant to step up and answer God’s call. We may be fearful or unsure or too busy, we think. Following the call of God very often entails sacrifice. It always means aligning our wills to His; it requires a new set of priorities. Recall what Jesus said when He called a young man to follow Him:

And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61, 62 NKJV)

If you want to follow the call of God, you can’t be distracted by other things. Following the call of God requires single-minded devotion. Elijah’s response to Elisha seemed to be a little more charitable than that of Jesus. But Elisha’s actions showed that he was ready to follow the call.

Elisha then returned to his oxen, killed them, and used wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the other plowmen, and they all had a great feast. Then he went with Elijah, as his assistant. (1 Kings 19:21 TLB)

2 Kings 2:1 – 15

The historian who wrote 1 and 2 Kings takes a break in his account of the kings to return to the subject of Elisha. It’s been a number of chapters since we last saw Elijah’s successor. By now, Elijah is an old man, beginning the last leg of his journey in this life.

Now the time came for the Lord to take Elijah to heaven—by means of a whirlwind! Elijah said to Elisha as they left Gilgal, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.” (2 Kings 2:1 TLB)

We’re not told why Elijah repeatedly tried to leave his successor behind, but Elisha was determined to stick close to his mentor. Some have suggested it was difficult for Elijah to retreat from public ministry and he just wanted to be alone. Or it could be Elijah was subtly testing his student. Whatever the reason, Elisha’s true character and commitment shone through. He was completely loyal to Elijah and he seemed determined to fulfill his God-given destiny to be there when Elijah was gone. As we look at where the two of them traveled – Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, the Jordan – we can’t help but think of another mentor-student relationship: that of Moses and Joshua. In fact, the similarities don’t stop with their itinerary. Consider this:

Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it; and the river divided and they went across on dry ground! (2 Kings 2:8 TLB)

Not only had Moses parted a body of water before, but Elijah’s destination (the other side of the Jordan River) was also where Moses’ life came to its end.

This exchange between Elijah and Elisha serves to further show just how committed Elisha was and how seriously he took his calling.

When they arrived on the other side Elijah said to Elisha, “What wish shall I grant you before I am taken away?” And Elisha replied, “Please grant me twice as much prophetic power as you have had.” (2 Kings 2:9 TLB)

Elisha was determined to continue Elijah’s ministry, and he innately knew he would need something more than what he had. He needed to be able to lead, but he desired the power to succeed. He needed divine empowerment.

For his part, Elijah knew that what Elisha needed was beyond his ability to give. Elisha needed to see and experience something unquestioningly supernatural. He did.

As they were walking along, talking, suddenly a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire, appeared and drove between them, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11 TLB)

Elisha was understandably upset with what he had seen, but he did receive Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen during Elijah’s ascent. As the young prophet picked it up, it confirmed to him that he had indeed become his master’s successor. As if to prove it, he did a remarkable thing – he parted the waters just as Elijah had done.

When the young prophets of Jericho saw what had happened, they exclaimed, “The spirit of Elijah rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and greeted him respectfully. (2 Kings 2:15 TLB)

Elisha crossed over. He left his Moses behind, just as Joshua had done. The “young prophets of Jericho,” student prophets, witnessed the event and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God’s Spirit did in fact rest on Elisha and they accepted his leadership.

Some lessons

Just before Elisha parted the waters, he asked this question:

Where is the Lord God of Elijah? (2 Kings 2:14b TLB)

That’s not an unimportant question. And it’s one that Christians should be asking. Elisha had Elijah’s cloak, the symbol of the prophet’s office. But what Elisha really needed was the presence of God Himself. As Christians, we may have our confession, but we also need the presence of God. In looking back at the elder prophet’s life, we can see precisely where the Lord was and what He was dong:

* The Lord always cared, 1Kings 17

* The Lord answers in definite, unmistakable ways, 1Kings 18:1 – 40

* The Lord hears prayers, 1 Kings 18:41 – 46

* The Lord is still the Lord even at the “juniper tree,” 1 Kings 19:4 – 18

* The Lord still empowers those who serve Him, 2 Kings 2:9 – 12

In Malachi 3:6, we read this:

For I am the Lord—I do not change. (TLB)

The things that He did for Elijah and Elisha He will do for believers today. Of course, God works in different ways with different people in different dispensations. But He remains the same. What we need to serve Him effectively, He will give us.

 

ELIJAH: THE CONFRONTER

1 Kings 21:15—29

Naboth's Vineyard: King Ahab's Folly

If angels, who had never sinned, were kicked out of Heaven because of their ambition, how can a sinful human being hope to succeed by it?  Since Elijah’s arrival on the scene, Queen Jezebel’s religious ambitions had been cut short.  In this chapter of Elijah’s life and career, we see some startling contrasts.  We see Naboth, an honorable and honest man standing up to King Ahab and Jezebel.  We see Elijah confronting Ahab, boldly, in the power of the Lord.  And we see Ahab actually coming to his senses and turning 180 degrees!  This is a strange chapter, indeed.

1.  An nefarious plot, verses 1—16

Jezebel’s vile and godless religion was in trouble, and this sad plot against poor Naboth may be considered her last-ditch effort to restore it to national prominence in Israel.

(a)  Naboth’s refusal to sell, vs. 1—4

Naboth was an Israelite who lived in Jezreel.  Jezreel, as you recall, was Jezebel’s hometown.  Talk about living in the belly of the beast!  It seems as though Jezebel’s husband, King Ahab, had been coveting a piece of land owned by Naboth—

Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”  (verse 2)

Naboth was well within his rights in refusing to sell.  In fact, according to Mosaic Law, had he sold Ahab this tract of land he would have violated custom.

“The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”  (verse 3)

Ahab knew that Naboth was bound by his faith to maintain possession of this piece of land and that this familial obligation should not be challenged.  In trying get this land, Ahab was trying to do something that went against generations of religious and cultural practice.  It would have been repugnant and highly offensive to Naboth and his family to have been asked.

Verse 4 shows us just how emasculated this king was—

He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.

Judging by what was about to happen, it is clear that Jezebel was more of a man than her husband ever was!

(b)  The plot, verses 5—16

The real Jezebel of history was much more vile than the Hollywood version.

Eventually, the queen found her husband sulking, and we read this—

“Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”  (verse 7)

Ahab, frustrated with religious custom, thought he could never have this land.  Jezebel, on the other hand, was not an Israelite; she was a Tyrian.  She also had no conscience and no respect for other people’s rights, religious or otherwise.  She could not understand why her husband, the King after all, did not just grab the land outright!  This is what she would have done.  So she hatched a diabolical plot—

“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”  (verses 8—10, verses 9, 10 cited)

Given the nature of this plot, Naboth might have been a somewhat of a prominent man in his area and so this meeting apparently wouldn’t have aroused any kind of suspicion.  The charge against Naboth was two-fold:  he had blasphemed both God and the king; the penalty being death by stoning.   So while Jezebel had no thought whatsoever for the religion of her husband, she had no problem using his religion to further her agenda!

Sadly, for Naboth and his family, the plot was successful—

Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death.  (verse 13)

2.  Evil deeds are judged, verses 17—29

(a)  Seeming success, verse 16

Ahab apparently didn’t care how Naboth had died; all he wanted was his land and now that the pesky land owner was gone, Ahab could finally swoop in and take it.  By hook or by crook, some people always get what they lust after.

(b)  The forgotten factor, verses 17, 18

There is nothing anybody can do in secret that God does not see; no plot can be hatched that God does not know all about.  The forgotten factor in the schemes of worldly people is God.  They, like Ahab and especially Jezebel, may not believe in Him or may disregard Him, but God is who He is regardless of what they think about Him.

One more time, Elijah is summoned by God to go and confront Ahab.  The last time these two men had a face-to-face meeting, Ahab referred to the prophet as “the troubler of Israel,” but now Ahab calls Elijah “my enemy.”  A man of God will always be the enemy where a sinner is concerned.

For a time, it may have seemed as though Ahab and Jezebel had succeeded, but anything a mere man may do must first past muster with a righteous God to be a success.  Proverbs 19:21 is a classic observation we should never forget—

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

You can’t “kick against the goad” no matter how hard you may try!  If you are believer and you have respect for the will of God, it would do you well to remember this—

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.  (Proverbs 16:3)

Obviously, the plans of the royal family of Israel were as far from God as they could get.

(c)  A stern command, verses 17 and 19

Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’ ”  (verse 19)

This is a terrible “Word from God!”  Modern Christians love to talk about God as being a “God of love and compassion,” but we do Him a great disservice when we fail to respect His whole character.  While Jehovah does indeed offer mercy to all who call on Him, He is also a God of judgment and a God who is true to His word.  Jezebel had crossed a line and she had to be dealt with accordingly; for God to let this action pass would have been not only a violation of His divine character, it would have sent an horrendous message to the nation of Israel.

(d)  An uncomfortable meeting, verses 20—24

Ahab was wicked, but he seemed to have a clue about why Elijah was there.  In referring to him as his “enemy,” Ahab knew Elijah had not suddenly shown up to congratulate the king on acquiring a nice vineyard!  Ahab knew why Elijah was there!  Numbers 32:23 is one of the scariest verses in all Scripture—

You may be sure that your sin will find you out.

Way down deep in his heart of hearts, Ahab, rebellious Jew that he was, knew he had been caught.

A stray dog eating a corpse in Iraq. In the time of Jezebel, this was seen as a shocking desecration of the dead.

Elijah spoke what God wanted him to say plainly and succinctly.  His message to Ahab was startling and sobering.  Because Ahab had “sold himself” to do evil, God’s judgment would fall on the whole house of Ahab.  The wretched Jezebel would die a horrible death in the very city she perpetrated her vile crimes against God.

What is about to happen to the house of Ahab reminds us of the words of another prophet—

Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin!  (Habakkuk 2:9)

Verses 25 and 26 constitute an awful indictment against a human being—

There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.

3.  Merciful deliverance, verses 27—29

Elijah’s stern message brought fear and conviction to wayward king Ahab.   Repentance and humility before God are the only ways to assuage His wrath and judgment.  The king obviously took to heart the message from God and went around in sackcloth and fasted.  God noticed this—

“Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”  (verse 29)

Apparently, the king’s remorse and repentance was seen by God as being sincere.  Because Ahab humbled himself, the impending punishment would be put off until the days of his son.  Jezebel, however, had no redeeming qualities and her fate was sealed.

When we step back and look at Elijah and Ahab, most of us would like to think that we are more like Elijah; mostly faithful and daring in doing the work of the Lord.  But if we would take an honest assessment of our lives, we probably bear a closer resemblance to Ahab.  We may not be as wicked, but his character faults and flaws can be found in most Christians in abundance.  Ahab, we have seen, was a weak, wishy-washy man, easily influenced by his wife.  Here was a man who would rather make his wife happy than please God.  Paradoxically, Ahab could be moved by the Word of the Lord (see 1 Kings 17 for example) and actually do the right thing.  More often than not, however, Ahab live selfishly.

That could be anyone us!  How many Christians have made a career out of skillfully walking a fine line; trying to make everybody happy, and at the same, trying to save face with God?

We have no record that the king’s character actually changing.  We have no indication that he stopped his idolatrous practices.  We have no record that Ahab ever returned the property to Naboth’s family.  In God’s treatment of Ahab, we see just how gracious and patient our God really is.  He deals with sinful human beings and wishy-washy, thankless and thoughtless Christians in boundless grace and mercy.

Aren’t you thankful for that?

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

ELIJAH: THE DEPRESSED MAN

1 Kings 19:1—8

“May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”  (1 Kings 19:2b)

Of women, Tennyson observed,

Men at most differ as heaven and earth, But women, worst and best, as heaven and hell.

Or, to put it slightly more bluntly,

Woman is unspeakably more wicked than man, also cleverer.

Friedrich Nietzsche is right, and Queen Jezebel proves it.  There is no hate like a woman’s, no anger like hers.  And to quote myself,

Women never do anything half way!

Poor Elijah found this out the hard way.  Despite all the miraculous signs that accompanied this prophet, despite the fire that fell from heaven at Elijah’s request and despite the fact that the rains came after Elijah asked for them to come, Jezebel remained unmoved.

Enraged at what her husband, King Ahab, told her about what happened on Mount Carmel, especially about how all the priests of Baal were rightly slaughtered, Jezebel unleashed all her fury on the one man she blamed for the misfortunes of Israel:  Elijah, the man of God.

Jezebel is a picture of how some sinners react to the truth of the Gospel when they hear it.  Instead of admitting her sinful folly and renouncing her detestable religion, she reacted with a fanatical zeal, determined to take the life of Elijah.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ arouses this kind feeling in some who hear it.  Some respond to it in faith, but others in violent opposition.

But Elijah’s embarrassing response to Jezebel’s threat also proves something; it proves the veracity of what Elihu observed—

Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.  (Job 32:9)

Surely we must consider Elijah a great man who did great things, but at the same time it is good for us to remember that the greatest of God’s servants were people just like we are and men of “like passions.”

Let’s consider some salient points surrounding Elijah’s flight of fear.

1.  A coward on the lamb, verse 3

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there.

Apparently Elijah had hoped Ahab would exercise his authority and influence both as the king and as the husband over Jezebel, but it seems as though Ahab, as evil and wicked as he was, was also a lily livered, pantywaist, milksop, and milquetoast of a man who let his wife run roughshod over him.  As weak a man as Elijah may have been in running away, Ahab was worse because he let his wife call the shots.

For his part, the prophet probably played right into her hands.  She basically gave him 24 hours to “get out of town” or be killed.   Had Jezebel really wanted Elijah dead, should could have easily had him seized and slain on the spot.  What this wicked queen really wanted was to discredit not only God’s man but also God Himself before all the new converts won on Mount Carmel.  Without a leader, they would have fallen away again from Jehovah and back into Baal and Asherah worship, where she wanted them.

We can’t help but wonder why Elijah could not stand up to a woman like Jezebel.  Consider what this man had just been through:  he experienced God’s miraculous divine provision, he performed the most astonishing miracle ever—he raised the dead to life, he single handedly faced down 450 pagan prophets and their king, saw fire come down from heaven and rain come down from heave at his command, yet he cowered before a woman.  Just who was this Jezebel, anyway, that she should provoke such a reaction?

Jezebel was every bit a “queen” in every sense of the word, for royal blood coursed through her veins.  She was determined to get her way whatever the cost (see 21:11—15).  Jezebel’s temperament and personality were so strong that her husband feared her and was utterly corrupted by her (see 16:31 and 21:25).  Because of her ungodly influence, both Israel (see 16:32—33) and Judah to the south, through the marriage of her step daughter Athaliah to Judah’s royal house (see 2 Kings 8:16—19; 11:1—20; 2 Chronicles 21:5—7; Psalm 45), experienced moral and religious degradation unparalleled.

However, while Jezebel was formidable and undoubtedly a real piece of work, Elijah was definitely a man with problems that became evident with push came to shove.

His great successes caused him to have inordinate pride that made him take himself far too seriously.  Elijah had come simply expect success with no great effort expended and nothing to fear.  He had come to bask in the glow of the spectacular.  We might even speculate that Elijah had expected the wicked Jezebel to just surrender to his majesty in the face of all the miracles he wrought.

When that didn’t happen, Elijah’s pride was wounded and his heart broken.  He didn’t know what to do!  He had never experienced this before, so he ran away.  What Elijah needed at this moment was not a miracle, but another kind of divine intervention:  he needed to learn something.  Elijah needed to learn what we all need to remember:  God does not always work in the realm of the spectacular.  Very often, God works in very simple ways and He expects us to do the same.  Too many Christians don’t understand this, so they run around seeking one spectacular, miraculous experience after another.  They fail to realize that most of the time service to God is rendered in obscurity, in quiet, sometimes routine, humble obedience to God’s will.  Elijah forgot this, too, and it depressed him.

2.  Get a grip, man!  Verse 4

He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Elijah’s humanity is showing through under this broom three!  It is a self-centered man who ends up alone.  This tired, weary and depressed man is a stark contrast to the energetic, bold man who stood on top of Mount Carmel defying the prophets of Baal.  He ran about as far as he could, to the far end of the country, to hide from a woman.  But let’s look at Elijah as a man, rather than a super-man.

This man was physically exhausted.  In all, since he left Zarapheth, he traveled hundreds of miles on foot.   Part of that time, he was traveling through desolate land, made all the worse by drought and famine.  He must have been continually looking over his shoulder, on the look-out for Jezebel’s henchmen who were killing all the prophets.  Elijah was overworked and overwrought; he rode an emotional rollercoaster without a break.   He thought he was all alone, he wanted to be alone, and was depressed and dejected.  Taking refuge under that little bit of shade provided by the small broom tree, our mighty man of God just wanted to die.

It is interesting that another prophet, Jonah by name, prayed pretty much the same prayer as Elijah did.  Jonah also wanted to die.  There is a sterling lesson here for those of us with eyes to see it.  When our focus is not on God, it will always be on something negative.  Remember Peter?  Our Lord called him out of the boat to go walking on the water.  Of course he sank, but not before taking a few small steps.  He started to sink when he took his eyes off Christ!  Some of us are literally going down for the third time because we would rather look to ourselves or the circumstances of our lives instead of to God!

There was another man of God who had gotten tired in his work for the Lord.  He was torn between wanting to die so that he could be with God and staying alive a little longer to do more good work.  Here is how Paul saw things—

Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.  (Philippians 1:24)

For the sake of others, Paul would pick up his tired butt and carry on.  He was very different from both Elijah and Jonah.  At the exact moment Elijah was wanting to die, the nation of Israel desperately needed him!  He thought his life was worth nothing; he thought he had accomplished nothing of value.  But he was dead wrong!

3.  A first blessing, verses 5, 6

Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.  All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

God knew better than to answer that crazy prayer for death; God came to Elijah in love and tenderness.  First, God gave the prophet sleep, which he desperately needed.  Then the special touch of God through an angel nourished Elijah supernaturally.  It’s curious that divine provision seems to be a common theme in the prophet’s life; God was always making sure his man had enough to eat!   God could have taken Elijah out to the woodshed or told him to “buck up,” but he Lord knew precisely what His man needed:  rest and food.

Nobody knows our frailties and our weaknesses like God does.  We can put on brave face and fool everybody, sometimes we can even fool ourselves, but God knows what we are made of.

When Elijah woke up and saw the food, notice what he did:  he ate and drank and then went back to bed!  Many of us would have gotten up, walked around to see who left it, wondered if the food was a trick—maybe Jezebel was trying to poison him—and some of us might have been too skittish to eat it.  That cake and water, divinely provided by God, was of no value to Elijah until he ate it and drank it.  God did not spoon feed the prophet; the prophet had to get up and appropriate the food and water.  So it is with all of God’s blessings—they are out there, but we must reach out and lay hold of them.  So it is with salvation—the sinner must reach out in faith embrace God’s saving grace.

4.  A second blessing, verses 7, 8

The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”  So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

As if being fed by God once wasn’t enough, God fed Elijah a second time, but this time there was a very distinct purpose:  Elijah was about to take a trip; once again, the prophet was about to be moved on to a new place by the Spirit of His God.  This time, the trip would be almost 200 miles southward to a place called Horeb.   You may not be familiar with Mount Horeb, but you probably know about Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb’s other name.  God had called Elijah to the exact same place he had called Moses to centuries before.

Two hundred miles is a long way to travel on foot, and it took 40 days and 40 nights for Elijah to get there.  No wonder God touched him a second time and encouraged him to eat!  If we have been the recipients of abundant blessings from the Lord, the chances are good that God wants us to do something; to serve Him in some way, and it may not be easy.  God got Elijah to Mount Horeb in one piece, and God will make sure you prevail when He calls you to service.

Mount Sinai would prove to be a place of revelation to Elijah, just as it was to Moses.  God was about to come to Elijah in a very special and unique way.  Had Elijah stayed put under that broom tree and had he just retired from service because he was tired and worn out and afraid and “at the end of his rope,” he would have missed out on a most amazing supernatural visit from God.

Many Christians miss out on God’s blessings because they give up when it gets hard. They give up when they get tired or frustrated or depressed.  If you are ruled by your feelings instead of faith, you will always miss out on God’s best for you.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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