Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 22, 1958

Studies From Elijah -- (II.)

Connie W. Adams, Bergen, Norway First Prophetic Utterance To Ahab

The apostasy of Israel had developed to an extreme degree when Elijah stood before Ahab and said: "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." 1 Kings 17:1. The prophet came to Ahab with a definite purpose — to deliver the oracle of God — and when he had made this brief statement he was gone. If other words were uttered, they are not recorded, but these were sufficient, and Ahab understood them. We shall now consider their implications.

1. God is presented as "the Lord God of Israel," and is described as he that "liveth." The very existence of Israel as a nation was attributable only to God who first announced his purposes dimly to Abraham, and then through a series of providential events and circumstances developed those promises until the descendants of Jacob, who came through the Red Sea and ultimately gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai, had truly become a great nation. This nation then sustained a particular and peculiar relationship to God as shown in the statement addressed to them at Sinai: "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation . . .7 Exodus 19:4-6. He was "the Lord God of Israel" in that their present occupation of the land of Canaan was the result of Divine intervention and in fulfillment of God's promises. God had promised the land to Abraham for his seed, renewed the promise to Isaac and Jacob and fulfilled it when Joshua and his troops marched triumphantly against the Canaanite tribes. Subsequently, the land was divided among the tribes of Israel, and Joshua declared that God had given it to them. "When ye have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you." Joshua 23:16. When Elijah spoke of the "Lord God of Israel" he stated a relationship which Ahab had ignored and spoke of a covenant he had broken.

God is presented as he that "liveth." This immediately elevated him above Baal to whom so many bowed at this period. As the "living" God he had blessed them and punished them when they rebelled. He was even at this time sensible to their apostasies and a reckoning was in order. If Ahab thought he would ignore the relationship between Israel and God and trample under his feet the covenant between them, it was time to remind him that Jehovah "liveth."

2. When Elijah said "before whom I stand," he made known both the author and the judge of his prophetic utterance. Elijah was not some crank preacher bent on gaining notice by predicting doom to a king; he was especially commissioned of God to say this. This statement further involved a comparison which could only discomfort Ahab. Elijah also "stood" before Ahab, the king of Israel. Kings were accustomed to hearing words uttered in honor to their authority and from respectful subjects. Elijah indicated no subjection to this wicked monarch, no statement of honor to his "majesty" came. Elijah honored God, and him alone by his words. These words, though they may not have been spoken for that particular purpose, summarized the life and work of the prophet. He walked with God, was trained and bettered by his personal communion with his maker. Uprightness of character is a necessary element for those who would serve God acceptable. It was this "standing before God" from which Elijah not only received his oracles, but the strength as well, and the courage, to carry out every commission. And it was this that caused God to seek him out, when filled with despondency he wandered in the wilderness, and to teach him a lesson about the ways of God in accomplishing his purposes. Though the element of direct inspiration is changed, yet every preacher, who stands before others to proclaim eternal truth, should first seek the pleasure of the author of that truth and not the praises of those who listen. They stand before God. He shall bring the preacher to account for his words. Is it possible that many of our time have forgotten that which Elijah kept before him in the presence of Ahab?

3. When Elijah said, "There shall not be dew nor rain these years," he stated that which had been promised as a result of disobedience. The promised land was described thusly: "For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills." Deuteronomy 8:7. Then followed a promise of the fruitfulness of the land. In Deuteronomy 11:11 it was called a land that "drinketh water of the rain of heaven." But such blessings were conditioned upon faithfulness. Unfaithfulness would have the opposite effect. "And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and then the Lord's wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which %he Lord giveth you." Deuteronomy 11:13-17. For more than fifty years Israel had followed this trail of wickedness. The promise had been made, and would be kept. There was nothing arbitrary in these terrible words of Elijah. This short statement not only warned Ahab of what was to come, it likewise involved the cause of the punishment. They had turned aside to other gods.

4. Although God had promised such punishment in the event of disobedience, he employed human agency to affect his work. Elijah said there would not be rain "but according to my word." Human instrumentality has often been employed by Jehovah. God led Israel out of Egypt, yet he used Moses. God gave Jericho to Israel, but Joshua led the marching troops around the city the specified number of times. God shut up the heaven that it rained not, yet James said that Elijah "prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit." James 5:17,18. God could have spoken directly to Ahab, but he sent Elijah. Even yet, God employs human agency to accomplish his will." "It pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." He could speak directly to the sinner, but he does not. If Elijah's prophecy sounded doom, it also contained an element of mercy and hope. The rain would cease "according" to his word, but it would also come again "according" to it.

His work for this time done, the prophet departed. Nor did he tarry to view the results. Too often men become overly anxious for immediate results. How many times have prophets of old and gospel preachers of the present looked expectantly to see immediate results from the scattering of the seed, and seeing none become despondent. Do we not at times become guilty of trying to add people to the church ourselves? We may plant as Paul, or water as Apollos, but it is still God that gives the increase. We may instruct, encourage and assist where possible, but in the final analysis the issue must be left with God. His word will not return void. It may not always accomplish what we expect it to, but the sowing will not be in vain. W do not imply a parallel in every respect between the work of prophets and preachers. The prophets were divinely and directly inspired, while preachers now set forth the faith one time for all time delivered to the saints. Yet, the principle of sowing and reaping remains the same.

Who cannot fail to be given added courage and strength from Elijah's forth-rightness in discharging his duty. Here was a concise message stripped of the enticing trappings and tinsels that so many of our day are wont to employ. It had a sting in it for the guilty heart of Ahab. Effective preaching has always pierced the hearts of the wicked. The 3,000 on Pentecost were "pricked in their hearts." Those thus pierced do not always respond to the will of God, but the sincere do. The writer was once admonished by an elder to "preach the gospel and let everyone alone." He replied that preaching which "let everyone alone" would not be gospel preaching. The demand for change in the life of a sinner "bothers" him. And though the indications are clear that Ahab did not repent at this time, who can deny that these pointed words of the prophet were like piercing daggers to his sinful heart.

Amos well stated the compelling force that moved within the prophets. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" Amos 3:7,8.

The next article will concern Elijah's stay by the brook Cherith and with the widow at Zarenhath.