The King of Kings in the Books of Kings
July 24, 2016 :: 1 Kings 18:1-46
Last week, we entered into a new section of the books of Kings. You might call it “The Days of Elijah.”
Because right now, we aren’t learning about all of the kings in the North and the South. We’ve already met 13 of them as the book has progressed (most of them thumbs-down guys), but now we’re concentrating just on the northern kingdom of Israel and not so much on its no-good-very-wicked king Ahab, as on the prophet who has burst onto the scene and fired this first salvo in the war against Baal.
“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.”
The LORD was turning off the faucet. Because King Ahab and wicked queen Jezebel had “considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat” and began to serve Baal and worship him setting “up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.”
So Elijah declared that it was not going to rain.
And remember, that was a direct attack against the glory of Baal.
Because supposedly Baal was the god of rain. The god of fertility and successful crops.
But there was no fertility and no successful crops.
For three years.
Just think about that. We’ve gone, what three weeks without any real rain here to speak of. And how dry it is.
The good side is that you don’t have to mow.
The bad side is that the grass is all brown and dying.
Imagine going three years.
That whole time Elijah is hiding out from Ahab and Jezebel. They have a contract out on him and any other prophets of Yahweh.
Last week, we saw how the LORD provided for Elijah from unlikely sources like dirty ravens and Gentile widows.
Three years the widow’s flour and her oil don’t run out.
And Elijah lies low under the radar. Actually living in Sidon, Baal-territory.
But now, the LORD has a new mission for Elijah. He’s going to send some rain.
Chapter 18, verse 1.
“After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: ‘Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’”
Ok. I’m going to tell you the title of this sermon now.
And after you hear it, you’ll know the whole point of the story.
So, you can go home after you get this title.
Now, I recommend sticking around to see how it plays out.
And if you already know this story, which probably most of you do (it’s one of the only stories most of us all know from the books of Kings, if you know this story already), I encourage you to pretend that you don’t.
Try to read it and listen to it verse by verse as if you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Because it’s a doozy!
Ok. Are you ready for the title? It’s a doozy, too.
“The LORD Is God!”
Okay. It doesn’t sound that exciting, but it is. It’s one of the most important sentences in the whole history of sentences.
“The LORD [Yahweh] is God!”
“Yahweh is God!”
Now, my guess is that everyone here already believes that. Or why else would you have come to church today?
Maybe somebody dragged you here. Or maybe you’re checking it all out.
If so, I’m glad you’re here.
But most of already know this fact, “The LORD Is God!”
But it’s, strangely enough, easy to forget.
Easy to ignore.
That’s what had happened in Israel. The whole northern kingdom had turned to false worship, even Baal worship.
And the LORD will not stand for it.
Yahweh must demonstrate that He is God alone.
So, He shut off the rain.
And now, He’s told Elijah that He’s going to turn it back on again.
But He wants credit for that. He doesn’t want Baal, the supposed rain god, to get credit for the merciful return of the rain. So, He calls a press conference. V.2
“...the word of the LORD came to Elijah: ‘Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’ So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria, and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the LORD. While Jezebel was killing off the LORD's prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.) Ahab had said to Obadiah, ‘Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.’ So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another.”
This gives us a little picture of what these three years have been like.
There are still followers of Yahweh, but they have to be sneaky.
Even the guy in the charge of the palace, Obadiah (not the prophet), is a closet follower of Yahweh and he’s been hiding a 100 prophets and supplying them with food and water.
But Ahab doesn’t care about these prophets. He doesn’t mind them dying at the hands of his wife. What he really cares about is his livestock. You can tell what his priorities are.
And everything around him is dying. Baal is not coming through.
So he sends Obadiah out and they separate and scour the countryside looking for water.
But instead, Obadiah finds a prophet. V.7
“As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, ‘Is it really you, my lord Elijah?’ [Where you been?] ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Go tell your master, 'Elijah is here.'’
‘What have I done wrong,’ asked Obadiah, ‘that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? As surely as the LORD your God lives [that phrase should make a little bell go off in your head! After last week’s sermon...], there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you. But now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.'
[He’s scared. Not of telling the truth, but that the Elijah may not stick around so that it seems like he’s lying. V.12]
I don't know where the Spirit of the LORD may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn't find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the LORD since my youth.
Haven't you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the LORD? I hid a hundred of the LORD's prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. And now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' He will kill me!’”
This is what it’s been like to live in Israel for the last three years. V.15
“Elijah said, ‘As the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.’”
Yes, I’m coming, and you’re really going to see something now.
“So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. When he saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel?’
‘I have not made trouble for Israel,’ Elijah replied. ‘But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the LORD's commands and have followed the Baals.”
Do you see the face-off here?
Ahab fires the first volley. “You’re the troubler of Israel.”
Look at the death and destruction everywhere around you.
Israel is dying of thirst!
And it’s all your fault.
But Elijah says, “I didn’t bring this trouble on Israel. You did. You brought in Baal. And this is what happens when you serve a dead god. People die.”
That’s one of the major messages of the books of Kings. When you worship false gods, there is trouble and cursing and danger and death.
Idolatry hurts people.
But the LORD lives. The LORD is God.
And He wants to show you this. V.19
“Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.’ So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel.”
It’s time for a showdown.
And you probably already know the story.
You know how it ends.
But humor me for a few minutes and pretend that you don’t.
Mount Carmel was apparently Baal territory at this point.
So there was home court advantage to the followers of Baal.
And at this location, Elijah stands up in front of everybody, all these prophets and all of this Israelites and calls them out. V.21
“Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.”
Here’s point number one this morning, of three.
And it’s just what Elijah says here. If the LORD is God, then–
#1. CHOOSE TO FOLLOW HIM ALONE.
Elijah really gets in their faces, doesn’t he?
“How long will you waver between two opinions?”
The word “waver” means to hobble or limp.
How long are you going hobble around choosing what side you’re on?
You know the craziest thing about this contest? It shouldn’t be happening!
This is Israel! They should have decided who was God a long time ago.
And even here they won’t say anything.
What is wrong with you?
“If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
Pretty simple, isn’t it?
Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.”
You gotta choose.
Wade Nolan, when he was here back in February, said that a lot of guys like to hang around on the fence and eventually decide to whether or not to follow Jesus.
But Wade says, “The truth is that there is no fence.”
“If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
Now, I’m guessing that this is not a hard choice for anyone here today.
Anyone here tempted to follow Baal with your life?
If so, meet me in my office after the service. We’ve got to talk.
But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a problem with idolatry.
The Apostle John ended his first New Testament letter with these words, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
And I doubt that he meant the ones made of wood, iron, and stone.
What is like Baal for you?
What false gods are you tempted to worship?
Baal may not be tempting, but I’m guessing there is a false deity or two that is actually appealing.
I’ll give you two of mine. They’re ones I’ve said before.
You probably know mine better than I do because our idols are often more obvious to others than they are to ourselves.
I tend to worship the gods of popularity and comfort.
I love to be liked and approved of by others. The Facebook “like” button can be a drug for me.
And I have an extra plate addiction. My gluttony tends to come not from just enjoying the pleasure of eating too much but looking for satisfaction and comfort in the act of eating.
And when you put the two together, like getting approval for how much I eat, then I can really get into trouble.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with liking to be liked or enjoying comfort.
But good things can become god things when we allow them to take a place they do not deserve in our lives.
And even though I am a declared follower of the LORD, I can be tempted to waver between the two.
Elijah says, “Choose to follow the LORD alone.”
“You shall have no other gods before Yahweh.”
Decide. And then act.
That’s what follow means.
Don’t just say that you believe in God, live like it.
You can’t serve two masters. Stop trying!
Does that make sense?
This applies to other religions, too, of course.
If the LORD is god, follow him; but if Allah is God, follow Him.
If the LORD is god, follow him; but if the god of the Mormons or the Jehovah Witnesses, or the Hindus or whatever is god, then follow them.
But choose. There is no fence.
What is like Baal for you?
Choose to follow the LORD alone.
So, Elijah, sets up this famous contest. V.22
“Then Elijah said to them, ‘I am the only one of the LORD's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it.
Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire–he is God.’ Then all the people said, ‘What you say is good.’”
They like it.
Oh, by the way. Have I mentioned that Baal was the god of lightning?
He was the storm god. So supposedly, he not only brought the rain but also the fire from heaven.
So, you can see why they like it.
Who goes first? Elijah declines the first possession. V.25
“Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.’
So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. ‘O Baal, answer us!’ they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. [Crickets.] And they danced around the altar they had made.”
They’re starting to get worried that their god isn’t going to show up.
The shot clock is ticking down.
And their god is silent. V.27
“At noon Elijah began to taunt them. ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.’”
I love it when Elijah does this trash-talking.
“Get out your megaphone.
Try that line again.
What do you mean nobody’s home?
Maybe Baal is busy. He’s ‘occupied.’
Did you think of that?
You know, he might be sleeping.
Now, catch this. Why doesn’t Baal respond?
Because Baal is not real.
In the words of last week’s message, “Baal does not live.”
They don’t get a busy signal when they call.
It just rings and rings and rings.
Because nobody is home.
Do you know why? Baal is not God.
Yahweh is God.
I almost titled last week’s message and this week’s message and the next message, “The battle of Baal.”
But it’s not really a battle with Baal.
There is no contest.
Baal never shows up.
And the same thing is true of all of the other religions in the world and all of the counterfeit gods that you and I are tempted to give some portion of our lives to.
Popularity or comfort or money or possessions or pleasure or politics or sports or some other person.
End the end, they do no show up. They are not God.
Baal is not God.
But you’d have a hard time convincing these people. They try so hard.
They do whatever they think it will take to get their god’s attention.
That’s religion for you. Beware of religion. V.28
“So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. [Please, Baal, please! We’ll give you our blood!] Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.”
That’s the reward for idolatry.
Now, see the contrast with Elijah’s god. V.30
“Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come here to me.’ They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, ‘Your name shall be Israel.’ [Isn’t that dramatic? And symbolic. He reminds them that they should be one unified nation.]
With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed.
He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, [Okay! Let’s make it harder!] Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.’ ‘Do it again,’ he said, and they did it again. ‘Do it a third time,’ he ordered, and they did it the third time. [How many jars is that? Four jars three times. That’s twelve again.] The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.”
You got the picture?
Where did they get the water?
There’s been a drought for 3 years, and Elijah wants to pour water over this sacrifice.
So they get this water and they make sure that there is no way on Earth that fire could break out on its own.
And the priest of Baal are limping around, exhausted, and bleeding. V.36
“At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.
Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’
Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God!’”
They got the point, didn’t they?
Yahweh is God.
And no one else.
You know, I never noticed the rocks and the soil before.
I always thought they were scorched (and that might be all it means), and I was amazed that all that water was licked up.
But if I’m reading it right, the rocks and the soil burned up, too.
My dad has a farmer friend named, Ronnie, who has a saying, “Dirt don’t burn.”
Dirt’s really hard to burn, right? V.38 again.
“Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice [which is amazing], the wood [there goes that altar!], the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
That was some really hot fire from heaven.
The LORD is God.
And that has consequences. V.40
“Then Elijah commanded them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal. Don't let anyone get away!’ They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.”
They will not trouble Israel any longer.
The LORD is God.
Choose to follow Him alone.
#2. CHOOSE TO PRAY TO HIM ALONE.
Did you notice how calm and collected Elijah was when he prayed?
He prayed earnestly and passionately, but there was no jumping around and cutting himself and putting on a big show.
He just prayed a simple heartfelt prayer and the fire fell.
That’s because the LORD is God.
So, now it’s time to pray for something else to fall.
Three years and no rain because of the prayers of Elijah.
Time to pray again. V.41
“And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.’ So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.”
It’s time for Ahab to make a decision.
King Ahab has a chance here to make everything right. To turn the nation back to Yahweh.
He’s told to eat and drink and watch and see what the LORD is going to do.
Elijah prays. And he prays. And he really prays.
He’s praying based on the promise from verse 1 and what Solomon said back in chapter 8.
He knows that LORD is God, so he prays a big prayer request.
He prays for rain. And then he watches to see. V.43
“‘Go and look toward the sea,’ he told his servant. And he went up and looked. ‘There is nothing there,’ he said. Seven times Elijah said, ‘Go back.’
The seventh time the servant reported, ‘A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea.’ So Elijah said, ‘Go and tell Ahab, 'Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'’ Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.”
Now, that’s as far as we’re going to read today.
We’re not going to find out what happens with Ahab. He’s got “the Flash” out in front of him.
Maybe Elijah is a forerunner, and Ahab is going to repent and lead the nation into revival.
We don’t know.
But we know one thing. It’s raining.
And raining and raining.
Why? Because Elijah prayed.
And he prayed, not just to any old deity, but to Yahweh.
The LORD is God.
That’s the point that the Apostle James makes in his letter. Chapter 5, verses 16-18?
“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. [Why because the man is so special? No, James says...] Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”
Why is the prayer of a righteous person power and effective?
Because the LORD is God.
How’s your prayer life?
Don’t forget that you are praying to the God of fire and rain.
You’re praying to the same God as Elijah was.
We’re just like Elijah. We’re just people.
But we know Yahweh! So bring your big prayers to Him.
There’s a song by John Newton that very few people know. It’s not like Amazing Grace, but I think we need to bring it back.
It’s called “Thou Art Coming to a King.”
Listen to this verse.
“Thou art coming to a King.
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.”
The LORD is God. Choose to pray to Him alone.
#3. CHOOSE TO CONFESS HIM ALONE.
We don’t really have time to develop this thought, but what I want to leave ringing in our ears is the cry of verse 39.
“When all the people saw this [when they saw it with their own eyes, when they “got it,”] they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God!’”
That needs to be our confession, as well.
Yahweh is God.
And He is our God.
And Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh.
When Jesus was born, it wasn’t just fire and rain that came down.
The LORD Himself came down and gave us the perfect sacrifice.
Not just a bull on an altar, but a Savior on a Cross.
And then a risen Savior, an exalted Savior, and one day a returning Savior.
Jesus is God! Jesus is God!
Is that your confession?
The Bible says “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
And so many people need to hear it all around the world.
The LORD. He is God.
Jesus. He is the LORD.
Messages in this Series:
01. Who Will Be King?
02. The Wisdom of the King
03. The Temple of the King
04. The Incomparable King of the Temple
05. A Breathtaking King
06. The Turned King and the Torn Kingdom
07. The Two Kings and the Tearing of the Kingdom
08. The Word of the LORD
09. In the Eyes of the LORD