Today’s post is following on from last week’s post on 1 Kings 17.
If you are a follower of Jesus your whole life is mission. Sometimes there are special times when God works, and your whole life feels like a preparation for this moment. This chapter is like a huge theatrical production: thriller, horror, pantomime but mainly a love story.
First scene: Prelude (v1-15)
This shows us behind the scenes – what has been going on while Elijah was away. Jezebel has killed all the prophets she can find and Ahab has been searching everywhere for Elijah (who was in the land of Jezebel’s own father – see post on 1 Kings 17).
Ahab fails to see the most godly man right under his nose – Obadiah. To hide and feed 100 prophets (v13) Obadiah must have been using the palace groceries and had help, but Ahab never knew. Thank God he always puts people where Satan is working.
Obadiah was a constant man, committed to God but also to his wicked boss. He must have served Ahab faithfully, otherwise he would not have kept his position. He was compassionate and courageous. Then he bows out of the story after bravely fetching Ahab.
Does Obadiah challenge you?
Second scene: Showdown (v16-24)
First we see Ahab and Elijah.
Ahab blamed: “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” (v17)
Elijah confronted: “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” (v18).
Elijah says, “You have abandoned the LORD’s commands.” ‘Abandoned’ is a strong word, meaning deliberate and cold hearted. Elijah speaks boldly.
Then he challenges Ahab and his prophets of Baal to a contest. Why did Ahab agree to the contest? Because Elijah would be in the minority and Ahab could have a great victory in front of all the people. It would have taken time to arrange and assemble the people.
When Elijah challenged the people they said nothing (v21). Were they afraid? Shocked? Weighing up the pros and cons? Life worshipping Baal was probably good. As soon as Elijah made a suggestion they jumped on it because it gave them a breathing space from Elijah’s question and they enjoy a spectacle.
Third scene: Pantomime (v25 – 39)
The prophets of Baal put on quite a performance, and Elijah had great fun mocking them. Then he prayed a simple prayer, and the fire fell with spectacular results. There was pandemonium followed by deafening silence.
Elijah’s prayer quietly reminded them of their covenant (v37). God himself has spoken with immediate effect and the people responded.
Fourth scene: The moral of the story (v40-41)
What kind of world would we live in if there was no justice? The slaughter of the prophets of Baal is a horrible shocking scene we often skip over. We are not called to retribution but God’s justice is perfect. Don’t hold on to those who hurt you but hand them over to God to deal with in his own time.
Ahab still refused to repent, and did the mob stay faithful? Probably not. In the following chapters God continues to give the people every chance to come back to him.
Fifth scene: The closing scene (v42-46)
Baal was the god of fertility and thunderstorms, so it is very appropriate that God, through Elijah, stopped the rain and stopped the fertility of the soil. Baal was usually represented by a bull, so it’s also interesting that it was bulls that were sacrificed in the contest. Once it was all over, God sent the rain that Baal promised but couldn’t deliver.
Just as in the contest, Elijah did not need a song and dance, God answered a simple prayer for rain, but Elijah needed to be persistent.
If this chapter is a theatrical production, what would be the review? As one theatre critic said of another show: It was a lean and dynamic story. But it provokes some important questions.
What fills your mind? What can’t you live without? God gives good things but we make them idols. We sometimes don’t even realise that we have turned away and made something else more important than God, but God loves us too much to let us go.
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” (Abraham Kuyper)
[From a talk by Jane McNabb at the Women’s Bible Study Conference, Hebron Hall 20-22 March 2015]