Elijah is best known as a man of prayer. James, whom tradition tells us was known as “camel knees” because of his own prayer life, uses Elijah as an example of the power of the prayer of a righteous man. James tells us: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months” (James 5:16b-17).
In 1 Kings 17:1b, Elijah boldly declares to King Ahab, “Surely, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” Putting these two passages together we know this was the result of Elijah’s prayers. Elijah forms a fitting example of the power of prayer, but effective and meaningful prayer is never an isolated religious exercise, something unrelated to the rest of a person’s spiritual life and walk with God. The prayer that accomplishes things and gets God’s ear, is the outflow of a vital relationship with God. It is born of one’s burden, concern, and the reality of God in one’s life. It flows from a sense of need, a heart full of faith, and from the desire to see God’s purposes accomplished and His glory manifested.
As we have seen, Elijah lived in a time when the foundations were being destroyed. It was a time of spiritual apostasy and moral decay. The nation had abandoned God’s law and turned to the worship of Baal-Melqart. We saw that Elijah was a common man--a man of like passions as you and me. He was also a man of uncommon courage--a man willing to risk his life for the glory and cause of God. We saw that out of the blue, Ahab was confronted by this rugged prophet dressed in his camel’s hair coat, who stood in striking contrast to the effeminate, perverted Baal priests. I imagine him looking like an Abe Lincoln in contrast to a Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips.
What gave Elijah this uncommon courage? Did the Lord appear to him in a dream, or speak to him from a bush as with Moses? Possibly, but the text doesn’t say that. Rather, I believe his courage came about in a less sensational but even more miraculous way. I believe it came about as the result of a common man being absorbed with the reality of his God. His courage was the product of intimately knowing God and living in close fellowship with the Lord through the Word and prayer. In the process, God’s purposes, burdens, values, and desires became engraved on his heart. Being moved by faith, he prayed for the cessation of rain in accord with the warnings and principles of Deuteronomy (Deut. 11:16-17; 28:23-24). Then, convinced of God’s answer, the prophet went forth to declare his message to King Ahab.
In lesson two we looked at the man Elijah. Now we turn to his short, but powerful message. Elijah’s message also sheds light on his theology and his faith that became the root of his courage and actions. Elijah’s message to Ahab in 1 Kings 17:1b divides into three sections, each of which forms a key that gives us insights into this man’s courage and faith. These words reveal the prophet’s heart. The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. So, if we want to understand this man and learn from his example, we need to examine these powerful, revealing words.
(1) The words, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives,” teach us he was convinced and confident in God’s person.
(2) The words, “Before whom I stand,” teach us he was cognizant of God’s presence and committed as God’s representative.
(3) The words, “Surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word,” reveal the fact he was confident in God’s promises.
“As the Lord, the God of Israel lives,” show us Elijah was convinced and confident in God’s person. “Living” is the first word in the statement of Elijah in the Hebrew text. It is emphatic by its position and stresses his faith in the fact of the reality of God. God was not just a theological idea to him, but a living, and personal God. He did not just know about God, but he knew God in such a personal way that it transformed his life. As Daniel said, “but the people who know God will display strength and take action” (Dan. 11:32).
Actually, in the Hebrew text, the words “living” and “LORD” (Yahweh) are bound together rather than separated as in the English Bible. They are joined by what grammarians call the binding maqqeph and means they are to be pronounced together as one. This combination was a technical device for introducing an oath or a solemn statement of fact. We are to translate it like the NASB with the word “as.” Literally, it is “As living is Yahweh . . . so surely there shall be neither be dew nor rain . . .” The idea is: “Just as sure as Yahweh, the God of Israel is alive and well, so surely there shall be neither dew nor rain . . .”
To grasp the significance of this, let’s focus in on the name, Yahweh. Yahweh means “I Am that I Am.” It is derived from the Hebrew verb hayah, meaning “to be, exist.” This name itself stresses God’s aliveness, His dynamic and active self-existence, but it also brings into view His eternal existence, sovereignty, and independence. Further, it is the name by which God revealed Himself to Israel as their redeemer as seen in Exodus 3. It strongly reminds us that He is the God of special revelation and redemptive love. In summary, this name stands for God’s being, His revelation to Israel, and His redemption of the nation.
Elijah’s appearance, his message, and this oath were all based on the vivid reality of all that God was to him. It was based on the fact that the God who had revealed Himself to the nation, was alive and actively involved in the affairs of the nation and His people. As Psalm 33 reminds us:
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance. 13 The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; . . . 18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness, . . .
Ahab, Jezebel, and the Baal prophets thought they had successfully killed, embalmed, and buried the God of Israel along with His worship, His Word, and His representatives. I am reminded of Psalm 50:21, “These things you have done, and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you, I will reprove you, and state (the case) in order before your eyes.”
Likewise today, the modern world, the humanists, evolutionists, liberal theologians, cults, and New Agers as a whole, think Christianity, the Bible, marriage, and a morality with absolutes are all but dead. Certainly they think moral absolutes have no place having any impact on the political and moral decisions of our society. They say it’s old fashioned, out-dated, obsolete. People living in immorality are often heard saying, “we’re living in the ’90s,” as though society has outgrown such foolish ideas. It is as though God has been proven to no longer be an issue in life and people can ignore God without serious ramifications to themselves and society. But individuals, as well as nations, cannot ignore God’s Holy Word without serious consequences, which, like water breaking through a dam, spill over into every aspect of society. Knowing and believing this was the secret of Elijah’s boldness, his presence before King, Ahab, and the reason for the drought that was to follow. It was a judgment from the living God.
Elijah had not been infected by the mood of his day nor by God’s silence--what people so often mistake as His indifference or unreality. Rather, Elijah was convinced God was not only alive, but immanent--personally and actively involved in the affairs of both Israel and the nations. Being infused with this reality of God and His person, Elijah acted on God’s promises. He prayed and proclaimed his message to King Ahab. God was not only alive and well, but very much operative in human history. This fact transformed Elijah’s life. By the words, “as living is Yahweh, . . .” Elijah was not only declaring the reality of Israel’s God as the only true God, but declaring the fact God was superior over the false ideas of mankind and the pagan idols of the nations. Elijah was declaring it was not just any man’s ideas about God that counted, but the revelation of the God of the Bible--he alone is the true God. Likewise, our responsibility is to know God intimately, and then to proclaim the Christ of the Bible as the true Savior and God.
King after king in the northern kingdom of Israel had openly defied Yahweh and ignored Him with no apparent consequences. The idea so prevalent in the thinking of the people (just as it is today) was either Yahweh God had no real existence, or He was not concerned or involved with Israel. This was a subtle form of deism that had crept in since the people had been infiltrated by the idolatrous thinking of the nations. This is evident in a number of passages like Zephaniah 1:12; Ezekiel 8:12; 9:9; Malachi 3:14. Through Elijah’s life and message, the idea of deism was being challenged and judgment declared and experienced. Ecclesiastes 8:11-12 brings home an important lesson for us:
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. Although a sinner does evil a hundred [times] and may lengthen his [life] still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly.
Likewise, we need to be able to openly demonstrate from the facts how this nation is experiencing the futility of its beliefs. We are experiencing a moral and spiritual drought as a judgment from God because this nation has puts its trust in almost anything but the Lord of the Bible. By the facts I am talking about our past history and heritage as a Christian nation. These are not the figments of someone’s imagination, these are facts of history. But we have jettisoned that foundation and with that change has come the present moral decline and the failure of our society to deal with its problems. Programs developed by secular humanists and big government to improve society simply have not worked and can’t work apart from faith in the living God. The founding fathers of our Constitution knew this and spoke accordingly. On October 11, 1798, President John Adams stated in his address to the military:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.7
God’s Word reminds us of this in Psalm 127. “Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain” (Ps. 127:1b). Societies need what is equivalent to a watchman--the police and the military. However, when that is not first founded on a deep faith in the Lord, as it was when our country began, then, its confidence will be in vain. The first words of Psalm 127, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it,” remind us the same principle applies to the home. By mentioning the home first, we are shown its priority. The character of a nation’s leaders is formed in the home. As goes the home, so goes the society. This means, we need to be living the kind of Christian lives that clearly declare the reality of God, lives that demonstrate the impotence and futility of the false belief systems of the World. Elijah was declaring that their objects of worship were lifeless and had no capacity to save or to meet their needs (provide for rain and good crops, etc.).
The words, “Before whom I stand,” reveal two things about Elijah: He was cognizant of God’s presence and committed as God’s representative. Elijah was not only convinced of the aliveness of his God, but he was aware of God’s personal presence. He knew God was with him and that he was a personal representative of the Lord--one sent by the living and sovereign God of the universe. “Before whom I stand” showed Elijah’s awareness that God was with him, God had sent him. He was under God’s watchful eye, protection, supply, enablement, and orders. This statement also highlights Elijah’s loyalty to the God of Israel in contrast with the disloyalty of the majority in Israel under the false and idolatrous system of Baal. Can people tell we are different because of our relationship with the Lord? Finally, this statement showed that Elijah’s faith was anchored in at least three biblical concepts that were on his mind and in his consciousness, and that motivated and controlled his life. They gave him the courage and motivation to stand before King Ahab. These were:
(1) God’s Person: Elijah had God’s omniscience and omnipresence in mind as he spoke these words. He knew that there was no place where he would be absent from the caring and watchful eye of God (Ps. 139; Josh. 1:8).
(2) God’s Plan: As a believing Israelite under God’s covenant and as a man with the gift of a prophet, Elijah knew he was a personal representative of the living God who had the responsibility to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
(3) God’s Power and Provision: With God’s presence and orders, also came God’s power, protection and provision to do what he was called to do. I am reminded of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 who will go forth in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah, and who will be protected until their ministry is over (cf. Matt. 28:18-19).
Let’s focus on Elijah’s statement as it pertains to God’s omnipresence. As the transcendent God, He transcends all. He is far above and outside of the universe, totally independent of it. He is totally separate from and outside of time and creation, enthroned on high, and exalted above the heavens. He is the sovereign King, the independent and all powerful God of the universe (Ps. 103:19; 113:4-5; 115:3; 123:1). As such, He is the source of all authority, power, and deliverance. While God is that, He is also the immanent God who operated in time and creation. He created it and He sustains it--every atom and molecule is held together by Him (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3). God is also intimately concerned with His creatures--particularly with mankind. Though distinct from His creation, God is immanently present everywhere in creation and in our lives. Proverbs 5:21 says, “For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He watches all his paths.” And Psalm 33:13-14 teaches us, “The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; from His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth.”
There is nothing we can do, no thought we can think, no place we can go without God being there and knowing it completely. This means four things: (a) The whole of God is wholly present everywhere at all times, yet, He is separate and independent from the world and the things and creatures in the world. (b) There is no limit to God’s presence and no place is closer to God than another. (c) He does not need to travel and He can act in all parts of the universe at once with all His authority and power. (d) God is above us, below us, at both sides of everything and within all at the same time in some inexplicable way. Elijah was consciously fortified by this truth as he stood before Ahab. He knew he was not alone. He knew it was Ahab, Jezebel, and over 400 Baal prophets against him--plus one. This meant Elijah was in the majority with God who was above, below and everywhere with him.
Elijah was living in the light of God’s omnipresence and was practicing the presence of God. He was counting on God’s person and promises according to God’s Word. The person who knows the Lord can never be alone. We often may feel like Elijah’s servant, utterly alone, but we are never alone. Our need is to flee to the Lord, to draw near to Him and know His presence, rather than to flee to our strategies for handling life. But God is not only present as the omniscient one, He is present to manifest Himself on our behalf because He loves us, has done the most for us in Christ, and has chosen to use us as his vessels to manifest His love (Josh. 1:9; Deut. 31:6-8; Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5-6).
Consider Elijah’s statement as it pertains to his ministry as a personal representative of the Lord. Here is one of the miracles of the universe, that the infinite, almighty God who is transcendent and completely independent and who can use any means He desires, has nevertheless, created us in His own image that we might be a visible representative of the invisible God. Even after the Fall, He has still chosen to use believers to represent Him to a world fallen in sin (Psalm 8).
Elijah understood as a believer and a prophet, he was not on earth merely to have a good time or seek his own satisfaction and comfort. He knew he was there to represent the Lord boldly and courageously in the battle with Satanic forces for the souls of men and for the glory of God. Further, Elijah lived in a time when many believers were hiding in caves, afraid to speak. They were acting as though God was either dead or had taken a vacation. He could have said, “Well, no one else is taking a stand, so I guess I won’t either.”
Today, we live in a time when the world is challenging Christian beliefs and people are crying for answers. It is a time when the fields are white unto harvest. Many Christians, however, are hiding in their caves of materialism and comfort, afraid to risk their lives or reputations for the Lord. Or, rather than representing the Lord, we are representing ourselves in games of spiritual king of the mountain, defending our own turf, or simply carrying on business as usual without a sense of God’s mission for us in this world. We stutter in fright when confronted with a cultist because we haven’t learned our Bible well enough and aren’t secure enough in our faith. Or, perhaps we are being choked and bound from growth and service by the thorns, thistles, and vines of the details of life--what the Lord called “the deceitfulness of riches.” But God is still looking for men and women who will count on His presence by faith, represent Him and face the challenges and risks of our day with all its various “isms” (cf. Ezek. 22:29-31).
The words, “Surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word,” show he was confident in God’s promises. Elijah stood before King Ahab and made this statement because he was confident in the principles, promises and warnings of God’s Word, and confident of answered prayer when it is based on God’s Word and concerned for God’s glory.
Elijah’s prayer for no rain was not just something he cooked up out of his own imagination or because he was angry at Jezebel. Rather, he was acting on the truth of the Word. He was standing firmly on the promises. His prayer and statement to King Ahab were the result of knowing and believing the promises of Scripture (cf. Deut. 11:8-32; 28:23-24 with 1 Kgs. 18:18. This shows that Elijah was relying on the principles of Deut. 11). Remember, the prophets of Baal claimed Baal-Melqart was the god of thunder, rain, and good crops. Elijah’s declaration in 1 Kings 17:1 strongly challenged the reality of their god and their faith. It showed Baal was false and impotent and that the prophets of Baal were liars. It also showed truth and salvation could only be found in the prophets of Yahweh who alone spoke for God.
Likewise today, we have the responsibility to demonstrate by the way we live (our priorities and values), and by our personal testimony, the truth of John 14:6 and Acts 4:12. “If you know these things you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:17), and “blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:28). It is equivalent to telling people that true happiness and meaning in life come only from the Lord and then demonstrating it by our priorities, faithfulness, integrity, and by biblical pursuits that control and direct our lives.
Earl Nightingale, a motivational expert, has said, “wherever there is danger, there lurks opportunity; wherever there is opportunity, there lurks danger.” Serving and doing what God has called us to do whether it involves seeking and saving souls, taking a stand against the immoral tide of a society, or challenging a brother or sister in Christ, has always been a risky business.
In Kindred Spirit, Larry Dinkins writes:
Sooner or later obedience to the Great Commission will involve risk. The buzz word today is not ‘risk’ but ‘security.’ Risk may be popular as a parlor game but not as a lifestyle. People are interested in social security, home security, secure savings and loans, and especially secure relationships. The problem is that our security-oriented culture tends to insulate us from the real needs around us while at the same time maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.
Recently I heard Chuck Swindoll make this convicting observation. ‘In the process of growing older we lose the desire to risk. It is a tragic loss. We become sophisticated, cautious, careful. We call it wisdom--it is cowardice, that’s all. We are afraid to take giant steps of faith. We’d much rather stay near the shoreline than cast off into the deep. We want to know that our security will be down at the end of the road.’8
Dinkins also writes:
While on furlough I heard Dr. Keith Phillips, head of World Impact, give his testimony of commitment to the urban poor. For a while Dr. Phillips tried to minister in the Watts area of Los Angeles by commuting. But his slum ministry by long distance was not meeting needs. Finally he moved his family into public housing where he was still residing. During the first three months their apartment was robbed so often that they erected a sign: GO RIGHT IN, TAKE WHAT YOU WANT, PLEASE DO NOT BREAK THE LOCK.
Having been robbed repeatedly myself, I immediately identified with the Phillips family and risks they encountered. You may be thinking, ‘That’s fine for missionaries, but I don’t plan to live in a slum, pick up a hitchhiker, or plant a church in hostile soil. How does all of this relate to me?’ Good question. The first thing is to realize that risks are not confined to slum areas, interstates, or foreign fields. A difficult neighbor or recalcitrant relative can be just as threatening as a gang member from Watts or hitchhiker along the road. Building a bridge of friendship to someone of a different race or background in your community may be as big a hurdle as translation is for missionaries in Colombia.9
Again I am reminded of Daniel’s words, “but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.” Obviously, the big question is--how well do we really know our God?