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I Kings 16 – 18: Ahab and Elijah

Just as a brief reminder of how we arrived here. Israel split into two after Solomon. In the north, the nation that held onto the name Israel, was the rebellious half. It's first leader, Jeroboam, had a covenant with God; but promptly began to ignore by making idols, adding new worship centers and festivals to keep people from going to Judah. He then went off the deep end and started a full blown false religion.

This was followed by his son, just as wicked, but only ruling for a fraction of the time and replaced by his assassin, Baasha, ending the Jeroboam dynasty with a count of 2. Baasha's dynasty also held a two count, as his drunk son was assassinated, while getting drunk, by one of his military's leaders, Zimri.

Zimri lasts seven days and is replaced by Omri. That brings us up to speed.

Omri 16:21-28

Now Omri is King. But even now, these rebellious people were divided and some of them made a second king in the northern nation of Israel- Tibni.

Omri won out and Tibni died. Omri reigned 12 years. He ruled six years in the previous capital in Tirzah and then he bought land and built a new capital city named Samaria. Eventually, this will become the name of the entire region.

Here's where we start to take things up a notch. Omri is more wicked than all who came before him. And that is saying something. But that's all we really get to know about him. Except one last key fact. He is the father of Ahab.

Ahab 16:29-33

Ahab ruled 22 years.

And he did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who came before him.

The bar is getting set higher and higher and these men keep finding new and worse ways to be evil. As mentioned in a previous post, that's how a seed grows. Roots down, truck and branches up. Taller and deeper every year.

And then, sometimes, something can happen to significantly increase the growth of the tree, multiplying it exponentially. In this case, the multiplier was marrying a Phoenician princess named Jezebel, who brought with her a religious zeal for her own wicked god named Baal. Ahab jumped on board with her religion and Israel begins to transform from a rebellious nation who tried to keep some semblance of their traditional beliefs to a nation under a completely different god.

Here are the words to describe Ahab's relationship with his new god, Baal.

  • He served him
  • he built an altar to him
  • he built a "house" for him

And then, separately, he still made the Asherah. This was a sematic goddess who was regularly worshipped by the unfaithful within the tribes of Judah. Supposedly the wife or consort of EL, the real God. This enraged the Lord and her statues had to be regularly torn down. My NASB Ryrie Study Bible footnotes describes her as the chief goddess of Tyre, and Baal's mother. Which would explain why she was allowed to be honored while all other Jewish traditions were stamped out. But this makes her a Phoenician goddess. So, there is some conflicting info on who she is. (On a side note, it reminds me of the Catholic worship of Mary, Mother of God. There seems to be tendency, in rebellion, to add a woman to equal God in some way...)

So Ahab is now in full blown war against God. Verse 33 actually says that Ahab did more to provoke God than all of the previous kings.

Prophet Elijah of Tishbite

Chapter 17

The Lord sent a prophet to Elijah and proclaimed that there would be no rain, or even dew, except by the word of Elijah.

My Ryrie footnotes point out that "Elijah" means "Yahweh is God". That significant as Ahab and Jezebel are trying to stamp out any worship or remembrance of the true God.

Wiersbe points out in his commentary on this section that Baal is a fertility god who brings rain and bountiful crops. So it becomes clear why God would take the rain. He often times will give us what we think we want so that we can see reality more clearly. "You want Baal to bring the rain...then I won't have to?...good luck with his rain...seeing as he is the enemy and can destroy, but never create." God might be saying. Wiersbe also notes that the acts of worship required of Baal were unspeakably immoral. Also, Wiersbe pouts out the covenant in Deuteronomy specified the rains as a condition of obedience.

Then the Lord sent Elijah away to hide. He sends Elijah to a brook for water and promises that ravens will provide for him. Elijah complied and went to live there.

The raven brought him bread and meat twice per day until the brook dried up because of the drought Elijah had prophesied. Then the Lord sent him to a town and told him that a widow would provide to him.

He arrived and a widow was collecting wood to start a cooking fire. Elijah asks for water and a piece of bread and she tells him she's using her last flour and oil to make bread before she and her son die.

This town is near Tyre, so Elijah was leaving or nearly leaving the country to be safe. And the Lord sent him to a Gentile woman who seems to honor the real Lord God by the way she starts her answer to Elijah in verse 12. This foreign gentile woman has more respect for God than the tribes He saved and upheld!

Elijah tells her not to fear; but to make the food and bring to him some of it. He promises that she will nt run out of flour or oil until the drought ends. This then happend.

Sadly, next we learn that her son grows ill and dies. She lashes out at Elijah, claiming that him being there brought her sins to light and brought the judgment of her son's illness and death.

That's interesting. She didn't think her sin was the problem; but his presence, probably as a prophet or holy man, brought to her mind all of her unholiness. Which occurred as her son was struck down.

Sin is like that. It helps you grow comfortable with what you do and what you did. But when holiness is nearby...it won't let you be comfortable with sin. Holiness demands holiness and suddenly we are very aware of what we did. and we are ashamed because right and wrong are written on our hearts.

Then Elijah risks becoming unclean and he takes the dead body of the boy and carries the boy to his living chamber. Apparently God had not warned Elijah this was coming because Elijah cried out in distress that maybe he had brought this calamity about.

Next Elijah performs a ceremony or an attempt to revive the boy or something...and then he cries to the Lord to return life to the boy.

The Lord heard the cry and returned life to the boy. Elijah presents the living son to the mother and it confirms to her that Elijah is a true prophet and God's words are in his mouth.

I would have thought that endless flour and oil would have signaled a miracle, but we don't learn her reaction to that portion of the story.

Wiersbe: Seven Miracles

Wiersbe frames this section into seven miracles, these include miracles that he performed and miracles that he experienced personally.

Wiersbe also describes Elijah in the New Testament and the power and status he seems to hold. It makes me think that God assigns people such as this this when things are most wicked. For example, Moses, Sampson, Samuel, Daniel...some live up to the gifting and some squander it except for the bare minimum God uses to accomplish His purposes.

Elijah goes all in and see the power of God over and over again.

Miracle 1: The Drought

While it's a negative thing, it is a part of God's covenant and He is faithful. The weather being controlled by a prophet of God is most certainly a miracle.

Miracle 2: Unclean birds provide

Birds bringing meat and bread twice a day is an amazing miracle. Wiersbe points out the ravens were unclean to eat, but they were bring carrion and manna, which is clean.

Another note from Wiersbe here is that God did not give Elijah the full 3 and a half year plan from the start. He got what he needed as he needed it. Growing his faith in God as he went. When the brook dried up, he could have seen it as a bad thing. But that's what was required to get him to the widow. We have to thank God for everything and reach to Him first for guidance.

Miracle 3: Food from Empty Vessels

Watchman Nee said that we look at the bucket instead of the source. So we shouldn't be surprised when God changes the vessels to keep our eyes on the source.

Having the small measure of oil and flour stay full for up to two years is an astonishing miracle.

But Wiersbe pints out that every meal we take should be considered an astonishing miracle as it is all provided by Him. The pandemic has shown us how close we are to starvation at the hands of a bad government or bad weather or bad workers. Every single thing that grows takes it's life from God, and everything else is under His sovereignty as well.

Miracle 4: The Resurrection of the Boy

Wiersbe says this is the first recorded resurrections in the Bible. He also points out that Elijah performed this miracle in the land of Baal- showing that His power was not limited to the land of His people, as the rest of the world believed about their Gods. Meanwhile Baal was impotent. And since Israel was Phoenicia's breadbasket..."Baal's" own people probably were not faring well.

Chapter 18

I'll do my own reading of Chapter 18 and then resume with reading the Wiersbe commentary and the remaining miracles.

Obadiah

So three and half years previous (three years with the widow and 6 months by the brook) Elijah was told to go into hiding, taking the rain and dew with him for a whole nation. That's just remarkable.

Now, the Lord has given the opposite command. Make an appearance to Ahab and the rain will make an appearance with you. And Elijah obeyed.

Verse 2 describes the famine in Samaria as severe. And Samaria fed many lands around it, so if it was severe there...it had to be absolutely deadly elsewhere.

In verse 3 the story diverts directly to Ahab and what he was doing before Elijah arrived.

Ahab's head of household, Obadiah, who feared the Lord greatly. When Ahab and Jezebel were purging the true prophets of the Lord, Obadiah his 100 of them, fifty in two different caves. He provided them bread and water.

Ahab directed Obadiah to survey the land with him looking for any small springs and batches of grass to feed the horses and mules, and keep from killing the cattle. Ahab surveyed one side and Obadiah the other.

Two persona thoughts on this passage. This must have been quite embarrassing for Ahab. The sign of that being that the king would be willing to use his own labor and that of his head of household. This is menial work. There's no way such a wicked king would lower himself...unless it was that important that no one find out how desperate he was.

It should have humbled him. But sometimes we will take on embarrassment and still miss the humbleness God is looking for in the lesson.

I'm guessing that Ahab truly knew the cause of the drought. Otherwise...why go to such great lengths to address the problem himself?

Back to the story in verse 7. Obadiah is surveying his half and comes upon Elijah as he journeys back to Samaria. Obadiah recognizes him and falls to his face before Elijah. He called Elijah his master.

Elijah directed Obadiah to go announce him to Ahab.

Obadiah did not take this directive well. He claimed Elijah must hate him because they looked everywhere for Elijah and no one could find him. If he told Ahab about Elijah and the Holy Spirit carried him off...Ahab would kill Obadiah.

Obadiah thought this particularly unfair as he had feared the Lord since his youth (v. 12). In verse 13, he backs this up with the information about what he did to save the 100 prophets.

Elijah swears to appear that day before Ahab. (v. 15)

Ahab and Elijah

Obadiah sets up the meeting between Ahab and Elijah. Ahab immediately accuses Elijah of being the cause of the troubles. Elijah corrects him that it was his and his fathers' forsaking God's commandments and worshipping Baal that brought on the troubles.

Elijah commands Ahab to assemble at Mount Carmel all of Israel and 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah. Ahab did so.

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people did not answer him a word.

I Kings 18:21

Wow.

I think I could camp here on this verse for a long time. How. Very. Convicting.

My first thought is how that silence must have torn at God's heart. And probably enraged Him. I want to rail against how stupid these people are for following a false god when they know what their real God has done for them. But I won't because I am also these stupid people. I've catalogued in previous posts all of the worldly things in which I have placed my faith and worship. Not intentionally; but still my choice each time.

I know these people must have feared Jezebel and her murder squads, but if we fear Go in the proper light of His character, there is nothing Jezebel can do. Fear the Lord and you'll never fear anything else.

So, at this moment, it seems like there isn't one faithful follower of the Lord in Israel who fears Him more than Jezebel.

On the other hand, it does indicate that Israel did still worship the Lord. Just bouncing back and forth.

In verse 22 Elijah points out that the contest is between him against 450 of Baal's prophets. He proposes that the Baal prophets select two oxen. Baal prophets prep one for sacrifice and Elijah preps the other. No fire is to be placed under the oxen.

Whoever can call down fire on their sacrifice, then He is God. The people liked this idea. (And if I remember correctly; this is also the biblical way to test a prophet...can they do what they say they can?)

The next scene is funny in its description. They build the altar and called on their god all morning, leaping around their altar. They received no voice and no answer. At noon Elijah starts mocking them. They doubled down by crying out and cutting themselves ("according to their customs) until the blood gushed. (that parts not so funny.) Then they raved until the evening time of sacrifice with no response.

Bring the Fire

In verse 30, then Elijah called the people to draw near to him. He repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. He took twelve stone, one for each tribe, he used the stones to build an altar. He then dug a trench around the altar deep enough to hold "two measures of seeds".

Then he laid out the oxen pieces and the wood. Then, in the way the Lord often works...he had them pour water over the wood three times- eliminating any chance that someone would falsely credit anything but the Lord for the fire. So much water that it filled Elijah's trench.

At the time of the evening sacrifice, having given Baal all day to answer his false prophets; Elijah, simply calls to the Lord to bring the fire, showing the people who God was, who Elijah was, and who the people should worship.

And Bam.

Down came the fire. It consumed the offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and all of the water, including the trench!

Wow. Wow. Wow.

God knows how to put on a show! While making a very serious point.

The people finally responded appropriately. They faces and proclaimed the Lord as their God. He then had the Baal prophets rounded up and slain, per the biblical consequence of being proved a false prophet and leading God's people astray. This may seem harsh and brutal; but God has a plan to save humanity and every false prophet tears at that plan and draws people away.

Bring the Rain

In verse 4, Elijah sends Ahab to go eat and drink with the sounds of an approaching storm. Which means rain for the first time in three and a half years. Wile Ahab heading up to eat and drink, Elijah headed up Mount Carmel and crouched down. He now has a servant with him who he commands that they go look to the sea. Then again seven more times, as the servant kept seeing nothing.

Finally a small cloud appeared and Elijah sent his servant to go tell Ahab to get while the getting was good.

The sky clouded up, grew black and windy and down came a heavy shower.

Ahab headed for Jezreel; but the Lord girded Elijah's loins and Elijah outran Ahab on his chariot to Jezreel.

Wiersbe: Seven Miracles continued

Wiersbe had a couple of interesting takes on the early verses of Chapter 18. He points out that Ahab was out, not trying to care for his people, but for the animals in his military. I hadn't made that connection; but that a really good point.

But then Wiersbe contradicts himself by saying that Ahab doing his own foraging was evidence that he was a better man when away from Jezebel. A better man looking after his military and not the people he subjected to this suffering?

I think my interpretation was much closer- he was embarrassed...or he would have someone else doing the work.

Miracle 5: Fire From Heaven

The footnotes in the Ryrie Study Bible and the sidebars in the NIV Chronological Bible, plus Wiersbe point out several things that made Elijah's challenge fair, such as the location being on the border between Phoenicia; and sacrificing a bull Ox, which is standard practice in Baal worship, as it is with Jehovah. Elijah made sure that he couldn't be accused of rigging this in his favor. As a matter of fact, he goes out of his way to rig it in their favor so only Lord God could get credit

Wiersbe also theorizes that the reason why only the 450 Baal prophets are mentioned, and not the 400 Ashura prophets is that the Ashura prophets just didn't show up.

He also explains that he doesn't think Elijah forgot about the 100 hidden prophets and he wasn't lying (as I read it) when he said he was the only prophet of Jehovah. Being holed up in a cave isn't serving the Lord...and Elijah was out in the open...so he was the only one at that moment.

Wiersbe points out that the twelve stones affirm God's view on the nation of Israel...they are still one spiritually, if not politically. I think it was Wiersbe in an earlier chapter, who claims that the ten tribes are not "lost". God knows where they are and will call them to Him in the final days.

Wiersbe, in his own footnotes points out that Stan is a counterfeiter and might have been able to send fire on a different day, under different circumstances. But on this day, God said "no." and Satan was powerless.

Wiersbe confirms my theory that is was biblical to slay the false prophets after they had been given a fair opportunity to prove themselves. however, since I didn't go look up the actual law, Deuteronomy 13 and 17, I missed that he had them slayed by a sword and not stoned...

Miracle 6: The Rains Return

Wiersbe points out that Elijah's position is almost the fetal position, very humbling. I wonder if this was to be sure he wasn't tempted, as Moses was, to strike a pose and forcefully do the miracle in a way that would glorify him instead of the Lord. (Just my theory)

Six time (or seven depending on how you count them), Elijah called fro the rain and the servant didn't see it. So he stayed where he was and stayed faithful, using his servant as a lookout.

We don't get to hear his prayer this time, or at least it is not recorded. I wonder if he was struggling with the temptation to showboat and show off "his" awesome power. I have no evidence of that, except that he doesn't get his answer immediately, like he did with the fire. This time he asked and was told "no." temporarily. (Again, I'm using some supposition here.)

But Elijah remained faithful, stayed where he was, stayed on watch, and stayed in prayer until God brought the victory. Praise Be!

There's a lot to apply here in our own lives. In our own drought, battles, and victories.

Meanwhile...not the drought or the famine, or the fire, nor the storm brought Ahab and Jezebel to repentance or to abandon their false god.

Miracle 7: Strength for the Journey

So the fire and the rains have come. Proving Jehovah as God and Elijah as his servant and true prophet.

On foot and in the rain, the old man, Elijah, ran faster than Ahab and his chariot on the way to meet Jezebel.

So What?

I haven't done one of these in a while, but all scriptutre reading should end with us asking ourselves, "So What?"

Why did God include this scripture in the final Bible? Why this story? Why these characters? It's a living word by His Holy Spirit, so no matter the time or place and how far removed it is from today...there's application for us.

Seven miracles in just a couple of chapters. And the same power that was in this mere man, lives in those of us who have accepted Christ Jesus. His Holy Spirit is our seal and our hope. He lives inside us and can do any of the seven things listed above. Or any of the miracles in the gospel. Or anything He wants. He built the joint...He can run it how He wants.

That doesn't mean we're all a bunch of visible super heroes in the Marvel Universe. It does mean that God will do what He want and what needs to be done to redeem the people and His creation.

We should stand ready to be obedient in the little and the big things He asks of us. Be in prayer. Be in the Word. Listen for the still, quiet Word of the Lord to obey. Be ready.

Amen.

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