Elijah versus Ahab, You versus The World
Since I believe that the whole Bible is God’s word, and profitable for women and men in our twenty-first-century, I seek to know how the Old and New Testament intertwine and how the New Testament reaches back and connects with the story, and reaches forward to connect with your life. I have uncovered something remarkable.
We have here a God-inspired Old Testament story which is picked up in the New Testament and becomes radically relevant for us in our twenty-first-century.
- The point of the story in 1 Kings 18:16–46, and
- How the New Testament picks it up, and
- What difference it will make for you today.
Let’s first go through the story together. I’ll make some comments as we go, and we will see if we can find the story’s main point. If you have been a Bible student, keep your mind open for symbolisms.
God Will Make It Rain
A little bit of setting. It’s been about one hundred years since King David ruled a united Israel. The kingdom is now divided between Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Ahab is king. He has forsaken Yahweh, the true God, and worships the idol, Ba’al. His wife is the infamous Jezebel. She is from the Sumerian culture, worships false gods and the Ba’als. This woman is evil. God’s leading prophet at the time is Elijah. There has been famine in the land for three years, and King Ahab believes Elijah is to blame.
Elijah had said in 1 Kings 17:1, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” But now things are about to change. First Kings 18:1, “After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.’”
That’s going to happen. God says it will. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that, because God says something is surely going to happen, there will not be intervening means to bring it about. If God ordains the end, he ordains the means to get there. And what a showdown is going to take place before this drought ends.
I think the symbolism here is that Israel has turned away from God and God has turned His back on Israel. The sky is like brass without rain and the soil is dead. Nothing is growing.
These stubborn people are in bad physical condition, getting sicker, thinner and poorer each year. They’re running out of food and out of time! If they don’t change their ways soon, they’ll all be dead!
They gave God no communication, no love, no answers but continual insults as they sacrifice animals and even babies to Ba’al and now God gives them no answers, no love, and their only communication comes through Elijah. If they kill him they’re DONE! The end!
Just a Voice
The actual confrontation starts in 1 Kings 18:16–18. Elijah arrives at Ahab’s palace and Ahab is called to see the prophet. Ahab goes to meet Elijah. When Ahab sees Elijah, Ahab’s greeting is ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’
And Elijah answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Ba’als.’”
You think that this famine is trouble, Ahab? You and your prophets of Ba’al are about to see trouble. I’m not your problem. God Almighty, whose word you scorn, whose infinite value you denigrate, with your detestable Ba’al worship, is the cause of your problem. As you’re about to see. I am just a voice.
In 1 Kings 18:19, Elijah continues to Ahab: “Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel.” All Israel! This is going to be one major spectacle! He goes on, “And the 450 prophets of Ba’al and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” She has her own special idol and band of prophets — which is why she has hounded all the prophets of Yahweh into the caves (1 Kings 18:4). The total of false prophets will be 850 to one long Elijah the prophet.
First Kings 18:20–21, “So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Ba’al, then follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word.”
Why didn’t they answer? Obviously, this Ba’al had done nothing for them. They all of them were suffering!
Israel and her false prophets are sickly, injured, infected with chronic wounds and limping from their pains but still they do not call upon the true and living God.
Don’t Limp After Other Gods
A point here is: Stop being indecisive. You can’t live your life halfway between God and idols. You cannot serve two masters, God and Satan or God and Money. Choose this day whom you will serve!
What a tragic waste many women and men make of their lives because they just can’t become radically devoted to God. And they can’t quite give him up. Being indecisive is hopeless. Even the greatest of the 1800’s missionaries said their best decision was to decide to give every day and everything they do to God and just let the rest happen as it does.
But I think more pointedly, the issue is; whom will you worship, follow, learn from, mature with, and emulate? God wants to raise YOU as one of His own children and one day you will mature and BE LIKE HIM. If you want that, you must give up your sins and folly and give yourself whole heartedly to God through Jesus our Christ.
Follow the one who brings you a healthy body, healthy family, healthy community, and healthy country. You have given everything to these detestable false gods and what do you have to show or it?
But let me suggest something else going on here. Why use the word “limp,” or “hobble around” in verse 21. “How long will you go limping or hobbling, like you’re lame?” Look! The entire country is lame. All of the citizens are sinking into filth and squalor. Most of the livestock is dead. The crops are not getting rain and mostly or completely failing. Fresh food is a fond memory! With no rain in the forecast likely no one is even plowing and sowing seeds! They’re just waiting to die.
That word for limping or hobbling occurs again in verse 26b when the prophets of Ba’al are desperately trying to get their god to answer them: “‘O Ba’al, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no answer. And they limped [they hobbled] around the altar that they had made.” These two uses of the word limp or hobble are not accidental. Does a perfect God allow an imperfect scripture to be published? I think “no”! If you try to get your life — your meaning, your worth, your fire — from anything but the true and living God, you will be lame all your life. The world may call it a dance, or just the pleasures of the experience and growing old. God calls it a limp. You are here to gain wisdom. If you gain none, your mission is a failure.
Against All Odds
First Kings 18:22, “Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Ba’al’s prophets are 450 men.’” These are not good odds: 1:450. But that’s the way God likes it. It’s going to get worse.
First Kings 18:23–25, “‘Let two bulls be given to us, (Let translates as Leave, so it might be, “Leave two bulls with us.”) and let them (the false prophets of Ba’al) choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.’ And all the people answered, ‘It is well spoken.’
Then Elijah said to the prophets of Ba’al, ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many.’ Elijah is saying, “You are 450. I’m one. I’ll get the last choice. You give the best to your god..”
First Kings 18:25–26, “‘And call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.’ A night passes. They took the bull that was given them, and they killed and prepared it and called upon the name of Ba’al from morning (like perhaps sunrise) until noon, perhaps 6 and a half hours, calling out, ‘O Ba’al, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped [they hobbled] around the altar that they had made.”
Israel, I beseech you, call upon The LORD God. I am speaking of all the Tribes of Israel. That will include all those who eventually became the most influential people to have landed on British shores, and then whose generations settled South Africa, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia just to name a few of the most notable ones. All of these countries are in trouble. All of them have rejected the true and living God following after their lusts, their desires to worship money and material comforts, living for social media and entertainment and getting nothing of spiritual importance accomplished! They did accomplish much for God, but don’t nowadays.
Sound of One Hand Clapping
First Kings 18:27–28, “And at noon Elijah mocked them. ‘Cry aloud, he called, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.” Gushing! Out of arteries!
After their custom, did you hear? It was their custom to self-sacrifice with blood offerings to this devil’s disguise. It was their custom to give themselves more infectious wounds and make themselves yet sicker and more miserable, but still they won’t see their error! Do we know….can we find any others nowadays unwilling to recognize their errors. They see but will to remain blind!
Biblically and experientially, I think it’s fair to say that mockery is of limited value in the ministry. But there are times and places when, in the Holy Spirit, it may be exactly what is needed when people are destroying their own lives or the lives of others in the service of false gods. This bloody self-mutilation was their custom. No wonder they limped and hobbled! They’ve been lacerating themselves for years in the service of this false God.
Now their arms and legs are covered with their sticky blood, itching, sticking and miserable. And there’s little water for washing! Who can name a greater foolish folly? They are draining away their life force and symbolize all Israel draining away their life force calling after a false god, even killing their children as a ritual for their false god.
First Kings 18:29, “And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation [that’s probably an early-evening sacrifice], but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” No voice. No answer. No attention. Only crushing, bloody silence. And the 450 have had their turn. Nothing. Nothing but self-destruction. And that too will grow worse. Darkness is coming nearer. Darkness over Israel is coming nearer. Choose this day, before the sun sets, Whom You Will Serve!!!
God Works from Disadvantage
First Kings 18:30–32, “Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come near to me.’ And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down.
Mind you, these are big heavy stones and Elijah,perhaps by what it says here, lifted them himself. Could it be, no one helped him? He lifted them and set them aright again as he would lift and set the society of Israel aright again if they would willingly listen to him! Will they? Will You?
Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name,’ and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD.”
Be sure you understand this. This altar is made of twelve stones representing the twelve tribes, all the Israeli people. This really matters, because what’s going to happen to the stones in just a moment is absolutely stunning. They represent Israel, the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with God and prevailed. Those stones will tell a future event if this society remains unwilling to change their wicked ways!
First Kings 18:32–35, “And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.’ And he said, ‘Do it a second time.’ And they did it a second time. And he said, ‘Do it a third time.’ And they did it a third time. And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.”
So not only are the odds 450 false prophets to 1 — it is dry wood versus soaked wood. And dry bull meat versus soaked bull meat. And no trench of water versus a full trench of water.
The LORD God will teach a lesson of his power these onlookers should remember all of their lives.
Remember Joseph in prison just before he rules Egypt? Do you remember Gideon with his three hundred just before he defeated the Midianite hordes? Do you remember Daniel in the lion’s den? Remember Our LORD Jesus on the cross. Think of the church in our community. God delights in being at the apparent disadvantage just before he wins, so that no one can ever say he won because he had overwhelming odds.
Turn Hearts Back
First Kings 18:36–37, “And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’”
This is the most explicit statement of purpose in all the story. God wants to turn our hearts away from modern materialism, the worship of things, money, passionate entertainments with strangers, music and other entertainments, and come back to His Righteous Ways!
I imagine Elijah stepped back and many near him took the cue and stepped away from the alter too.
First Kings 18:38, “Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” Everything! The bull. The wood. The water. The Dust — and even the stones — Israel! Israel is vaporized! Are you getting this?
Israel is consumed. And all that’s left is God. Over there is the altar of Ba’al, the bull, and the limping, bleeding prophets, with their foolish, Godless religiosity.
We are warned. Don’t toy with God. Do not tease The LORD our God! He can take you out in one flash, or give you the promises of his holy word.
Be Dead-Serious About Sin
First Kings 18:39, “And when all the people saw (this) or it, they dropped to their knees and fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.’” Yes, he is. The same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
He is the same. But not all of his ways are the same. The violence we are about to witness was God’s will when it happened. He had the right to execute and to appoint the executioners. He has good reason to do so to those who betrayed an entire society! Later he will pass through Moses that false prophets must be put to death!
These false prophets had lived comfortable lives with high incomes and had many young lovers who gave themselves to the temple service, who might become pregnant “for Ba’al” and then bear the baby for Ba’al and then sacrifice the infant for Ba’al. These men were the ones who were responsible for the ultimate evil, the burning of live infants to death as a sacrifice to Ba’al. They had their punishment due and at last it would come and too easy for them! They deserved worse!
No further mention is made of Jezebel’s 400 but perhaps they were ashamed before all the country thereafter. Perhaps worse.
The holy nature of God’s justice, the deadly seriousness of idolatry, the final suffering that comes from sin — all these realities never change. But with the coming of Jesus the Christ, the people of God are no longer defined by a single, ethnic and political regime. Now they must belong to God and give their will to God and help reeducate their society to follow God!
Much later the apostle Paul said, “What have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). And the nature of that judgment for idolatry is not execution, but excommunication. “God judges those outside. ‘Purge [or remove] the evil person from among you’” (1 Corinthians 5:13).
And He has promised to do it again. When they who come to him with no contrition for what sins they have committed, he will say, “I never knew you. Be gone from me” and into Outer Darkness they will go. Perhaps that is a poetic way of saying they will be deleted from God’s Dream that is The Universe. In any case they’ll be eliminated.
“Beloved friend, never avenge yourself, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the LORD.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him’” (Romans 12:19–20). This is the correction Jesus gave us after centuries of old Testament living.
But for this story, here in Israel, on Mount Carmel, under this regime, revealing these timeless realities of God’s justice and sin’s seriousness, this is what happened:
God Answers Persevering Prayer
First Kings 18:40–42, “And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Ba’al; let not one of them escape.’ And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there. And Elijah said to King Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.’ So Ahab went up to eat and to drink.” God had promised it in verse 1: “I will send rain upon the earth.” Now almost everything was in place. God had shown himself to be God. One more thing remained: God will make the rain an answer to persevering prayer.
First Kings 18:42–46, “And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’ And he went up and looked and said, ‘There is nothing.’ And he said, ‘Go again,’ this went on seven times. And at the seventh time he said, ‘Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.’ It might be the very forgiving hand of God rising from the sea.
And he Elijah said, ‘Go, say to Ahab, “Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.”’ And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.”
He ran before the rain. He didn’t limp and hobble around. He ran. So it says, or perhaps he was suddenly transported. We are left to surmise.
God Rules Every Heart
Where does this story make its point? I think it comes to a head in verse 37. Because Elijah himself says, This is what I want people to know. Verse 37: “Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know.”
That they may know what?
First, “that you, O LORD, are God.” You are not an idea. You are not a memory. You are not tradition. You are not a religion. You are not a projection of our imagination. You are not a force. You are not an archetype. You are not a symbol. You are The Living Creator of Eternity. You Are God — the living, active, fire-sending, sin-hating, idolatry-destroying, prayer-hearing, personal God.
And second, at the end of verse 37, make this people know “that you have turned their hearts back.” Cause your people to know this. The hearts of Israel had gone after the Ba’als. Their hearts had betrayed God. Spurned God. Belittled God. Devalued God, and invalidated God. They like women of ill reputation loved other things more than God. They had thrown away their honor in exchange for material comforts and short term pleasures and now they would know their mistake for the rest of their lives.
This entire event on Mount Carmel is aiming to make God’s people know this: If they turn back to God, it is God who turned them back. It is God who loves them and will forgive them and forgive us of our sins. That’s the point of the story. God wants us to recognize our folly and change our foolish ways. Repent, turn around, go back to God that your lives may be long and good.
When the people cry from the heart (verse 39), “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God,” God has done that. Yes, the LORD rules fire, and flesh and wood and rocks, and tribes, and people, and countries, and false preachers and false religions. The LORD rules all things.
Yes, the LORD rules the rain. Yes, the LORD rules the limping, and the running legs of men and the fools who would wage war that would destroy an entire world.
The story reaches its climax in verse 37: The LORD rules the human heart. “Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (verse 37).
Know this, Israel, for the good of your soul, and the glory of God. When your heart turns back to the LORD, your heart is not sovereign. God is sovereign. Choose today whom you will serve and then serve him with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength.
Turn. Turn your heart and mind and life and behavior and affections. Turn from your secret sins and give yourself back to God.
But open your eyes, Israel, as you stand before the ashes of these stones — your ashes — and before the corpses of these prophets, and before the rushing of this rain — open your eyes and know: God turned you back. Your heart. Your will. Your affections came back to God because He wanted you back. God did that.
God Keeps Every Heart
And you would think that at this high point of Elijah’s confidence, he would never lose sight of God’s sovereign rule over the hearts of men. But look what happens in the next chapter (1 Kings 19:14): “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
“So, God, the hearts of your people have somehow escaped from your sovereign hand and I’m the only one left.” To which God responds in 1 Kings 19:18, “Yet I will leave [literally: I will cause to remain] seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Ba’al, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
No, Elijah. I know those who are mine. I turned their hearts to me. And I cause their hearts to remain mine. Seven thousand of them have not bowed to Ba’al. They are mine. I turned their hearts. I have kept them.
This is where the apostle Paul, in the New Testament, reaches into this story. There is so much unbelief in the chosen people called the tribes of Israel today — so much rejection of the Messiah — just as in Elijah’s day. So Paul asks in Romans 11:1, “Has God rejected his people?” He answers, “By no means!” And he reaches back to the despairing words of Elijah, “I alone am left” (Romans 11:3)
Then Paul puts God’s sovereign words beside Elijah’s despairing words (quoting 1 Kings 19:18 in Romans 11:4): “But what is God’s reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Ba’al.’” I have kept! I have kept them! Their hearts are in my hands.
Chosen by Grace
So Paul draws this lesson in Romans 11:5: “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.” Who and where is that remnant today? Am I speaking to one of them now?…………………………….?
In every generation, among Jews and Gentiles — that’s everyone in The World — there is a remnant chosen by grace. God chooses before your birth whom He will reach and teach and turn. God turns hearts to himself by His grace, and God keeps hearts for himself by His grace.
This is The meaning of God, I am who and what I am. I am your ever present help in time of trouble, your provider, your hope, your future, all you will ever need. I am THE LORD and that is all you’ll ever need. That is what I AM means.
Elijah cries out to The World — I cry out in my community. “Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:37).
Cause them to know that you are God! And that you rule the hearts of men — their hearts! The hearts of their families! The hearts of their colleagues! The hearts of their political leaders! And as they look out across this nation — whether concerned about secularization or Islamization — cause them to know, God rules the hearts of men. All of them!
God Will Hold You Fast
Beloved Friend, Brothers and Sisters, don’t be the despairing Elijah of 1 Kings 19. Be the God-entranced Elijah of 1 Kings 18.
Do Not say, “They have turned all your churches into shops and theaters and houses of evil, and every street corner into a den of false worship. And Oh God, I alone am left with only my spiritual resilience!”
No. No. Do not believe that for a moment because God knows everything and He is with you who love Him.
You are not the only one. And it was not your spiritual resilience that has kept you from forsaking Christ.
God has his people. Thousands of them. And he means to have more. Because he is OUR LORD. He has bought You by a terrible sacrifice with the blood of his Son. And he will have you and them. He will turn their hearts back. He will keep we who love Him forever.
Stephen Newdell based upon notations of the writings of John Piper at Desiring God.org