10. Elijah Meets and Rebukes Ahab (1 Kings 18:16-19)
The Confrontation on Mount Carmel (Scene 3)
As we move forward in God’s primary purpose in the expression of the gifts and abilities God gives, we each face many smaller events in the circumstances of life. These mini-events are like threads woven into a tapestry that combine to create an elegant and beautiful picture. By themselves, they may not appear significant, but they are all vital to the overall plan of God. In this lesson we view more threads woven into the picture of the great confrontation that takes place on Mount Carmel. This is a confrontation designed to demonstrate the power of God, to reprove the people for their vacillation and idolatry, and to challenge them to choose for the Lord. Part of the picture is that of an evil King who had miserably failed to shepherd God’s people. In this scene we get another glimpse into the character of this leader. It obviously stands as a warning for all who hold positions of leadership and influence, and yet there is a sense in which this applies to all of us because we each have some influence on others.
The great display of the power of God later in this chapter is set against the impotence of Baal. It is designed to teach the people and King Ahab that the three-and-a-half years of drought followed by the coming rain was the work of Yahweh, the only true God. The drought was discipline for disobedience to God’s Word and the rain was the provision of His grace. In the unfolding of this drama, several scenes occur that are important because of the lessons we can learn by pointing out the contrasts between those who walk with God in faith, trusting Him rather than their own plans, and those who do not.
In addition, 1 Kings 18:16-24 presents us with confrontation and conflict. We simply do not like that. Our natural tendency is to avoid confrontation and conflict. It’s so much easier to swim down stream or float with the tide than it is to confront issues, problems, or whatever may be causing conflict.
Confrontation is rarely painless, never easy, often rejected, and always risky. But in some conditions it is commanded by Scripture, illustrated in Scripture, and often essential to spiritual growth, godliness and biblical change. Of course, confrontation needs to be done according to biblical principles, in a biblical way, for biblical reasons, and out of right motives. We usually avoid it for selfish reasons--out of fear of the consequences to ourselves. Such a response is neither faith nor love. It is cowardice. It is pleasing ourselves rather than acting in faith and love. “Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Pro. 27:5-6).
The prophets of old were often confrontational. They regularly faced people with their sins of independent living and called on them to face their need. The Lord Jesus and his apostles did the same. Remember, it was Jesus who called the Pharisees “hypocrites” and “white washed mausoleums.” He confronted the woman at the well with her adultery, Nicodemus with the emptiness of his religion, and Peter with his denials. Paul opposed Peter to his face for his religious duplicity mentioned in Galatians 2:11-14.
The Bible is not only confrontational but comforting. It not only confronts us with our self-centeredness, sin, rebellion, and independent ways, but it offers us grace, reconciliation, power, and many other blessings of the gospel given to bring forgiveness, designed to change us, and designed to lead us into God’s blessing and protection. Nevertheless, because of the hardness of our hearts, because we love darkness rather than light and are so committed to living by our self-protective solutions, we are sometimes faced with the need of confrontation, resistance and conflict.
Still, confrontation that challenges our commitment, our sources of happiness, significance, and security is essential and basic to the nature of the Word of God and the condition of men and women. Certainly, confrontation can be sinful depending on the method, the manner, and the motivation. When confrontation is biblical, however, it is a great act of love that demonstrates obedience to God and faith in Him regardless of the consequences.
1 Kings 18:16 is a verse of transition. In it we see Obadiah, having responded to the ministry and encouragement of Elijah, leave to tell Ahab about Elijah who then goes to meet the prophet. This verse also moves us from Elijah’s ministry and method with Obadiah to his ministry and method with Ahab. In one we have encouragement. In the other confrontation and conflict. There is also a difference of needs. Obadiah needed only to be focused and encouraged. Ahab, who was caught up in the idolatry of Baalism, needed to be confronted with his sin that he rationalized by blaming others.
Obviously we must deal with people differently and one of our tasks in ministering to others is to be discerning, to listen, and seek to understand the needs of the other person.
Elijah Meets Ahab and Is Accused by the King
Ahab’s reaction and accusation illustrate a fundamental truth: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Pr. 23:7). Or as our Lord put it in Matthew, “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil” (Matt. 12:34-35).
A heart filled with resentment or any kind of “stinking thinking” is like a volcano ready to erupt. All it needs is the right situation--and bang! The mouth speaks out the corruption that has been smoldering and festering within. This picture of treasure used by the Lord in the Matthew passage suggests the following:
(1) The Lord compares the thoughts we harbor in our hearts to treasure. We store and keep them in our minds because we value them and put our trust in them. We keep them because we think they will provide us with our needs and wants. We think they will solve our problems. We think they will handle our pain or meet our needs as we perceive them.
(2) It is obvious some treasures of the heart or mind are evil. “Evil” is the Greek poneros which refers to what is toilsome or worthless like bad or spoiled fruit, or dangerous animals. It is that which is opposed to God. This is the word used of the Devil as “the evil one.” It is never passive. It refers to an active evil that is malignant like cancer.
(3) Such thoughts are equivalent to “vain thinking” which rises up like a fortress against the knowledge of God. It is against who and what He is to us and needs to be torn down, destroyed like a condemned building. As a treasure of the heart, it needs to be devalued, condemned, and thrown away as worthless (2 Cor. 10:4-5). These evil treasures represent our human strategies by which we seek to handle life independently of faith in God and His principles of life. “Vain thinking” is faith in ourselves and unbelief in God and His solutions. And that which is without faith in the right object, God, is sin (Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6).
(4) On the other hand, the treasure of the heart can be good. “Good” is agathos which is used of intrinsic good, of that which is truly valuable like good fruit, or gold that gives purchasing power or brings blessing (cf. Phil. 4:8).
Ahab’s heart was filled with evil treasure--with resentment, hatred, the desire for revenge, and with his solutions for dealing with Elijah. So, immediately, when he saw Elijah, his volcano of corruption erupted in accusations, name calling, maligning, criticism, and blame. We need to keep a close check on our hearts, our focus, and on the nature of what we store up as treasure. In Matthew 15:19 the Lord teaches us that murders, adulteries, thefts, false witness, and slanders come from the heart. Solomon warns us of this in Proverbs 4:23. Literally, the Hebrew text is “above all keeping, keep, guard the heart.” The NIV translates, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
“Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” With this question, you can see the agitation, anger, and hurt to King Ahab’s pride over his inability to find Elijah during the preceding three-and-half-years. Though he was the King of Israel, he had been helpless. This illustrates the presence of evil treasures. His futile searches for Elijah hurt his pride and that fueled the anger and resentment stored in his heart. His pride was so easily hurt because he was living a life of futility and unbelief. He was seeking his security and significance in things other than in the Lord and God’s calling. Out of his evil treasure, therefore, came the maligning accusation, “you troubler of Israel.” The Hebrew verb means “to disturb, stir up, cause trouble.” It was used of stirring up water. Elijah had been making waves! He was confronting the people with their sin, idolatry, vacillation and indifference to God’s Word and their calling as the people of God. Rather than having a witness to the nations, they had been conformed by the nations (Ex. 19:4-6).
Oh how this scene has been repeated throughout history. Whenever people disturb our comfort zones, challenge our opinions, values, and sources of trust with the truth of God’s Word and His calling, we often react in resentment and self-denial. Then, as a protective mechanism, we label them as “troublers” rather than dealing with our own hearts.
The great pity of this scene is that there was no confession or repentance. Even after three-and-a-half years of famine, which was declared to be God’s judgment by the Word of the Prophet, there was still only cold rebellion and hostility. These years had demonstrated the impotence of Baal and the Baal prophets, yet Ahab still refused to turn to the Lord. He refused to confess his sin and instead used another strategy from his evil treasure or bag of tricks. He turned to the old game of casting blame, hoping to cover his own tracks and guilt.
(1) How typical of people in religious and cultic apostasy, or of people as a whole when they pursue a course contrary to God’s plan. Even when faced with the impotence of the way they have chosen, people typically refuse to face the music and tenaciously cling to their own ways of handling life.
(2) When we are confronted by godly examples and biblical truth, rather than responding with repentance and belief, do we react with conflict and unbelief? Do we resort to our protective solutions and attack the messenger God has sent to protect and bless us? (cf. Heb. 13:17).
(3) And who are these messengers? God’s messenger may be a close friend, a parent, a husband or wife, an elder or deacon. But to the unrepentant and hard of heart, the messenger becomes a “troubler,” a disrupter of families and tradition. He is one who disturbs our comfort zones and as a result is often maligned, shunned, criticized and more.
How did Elijah respond to King Ahab’s accusation? What should be our response when facing such blame and accusations? Do we compromise the truth? Do we run and hide? Do we react or retaliate or do we level with people? Do we communicate the truth in love?
Elijah Answers the King
Though outnumbered and facing the King of Israel, Elijah confronted him with the biblical facts and issues. This was not retaliation, but an act of courageous love for King Ahab and all concerned.
Elijah Denies the Charge
“I have not troubled Israel.” Note the boldness here. Elijah was standing before a king who was without any moral integrity. King Ahab hated him and Jezebel wanted him dead, yet there is no fear in Elijah’s words, only bold proclamation of the truth. How could he be so bold? What can we learn from this so we too can handle the false accusations of those to whom God has called us to minister?
Elijah had the boldness to confront because his confidence was in the Lord. He was an ambassador and servant of the King of Kings, the Sovereign of the universe, Yahweh Elohim, the One who holds all kings in His hand. Elijah was one who stood boldly aware of this as his comment in 18:15 demonstrates. As God’s ambassador and servant, he knew the truth of Psalm 118:6, “The Lord is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Or as Hebrews 13:6 puts it, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid, what shall man do to me?”
Elijah was counting on the fact no one could touch his life unless the Lord willed it and then, his loss would really be his gain (Phil. 1:21-23). Like David, he knew his glory, reputation and significance likewise had to come from God, not people. “On God my salvation and my glory rest; The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God” (Psalm 62:7).
This gave the prophet boldness and courage. But there was another reason for his boldness and confidence--he was a man with a conscience void of offense. Though not sinless (as none of us are), he knew he had not compromised with Baalism. He had stood boldly against it and had been faithful to pray for the people. Faithfulness to the Lord gives us courage to minister and to confront from right motives. Remember Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1 “You who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness . . .”
Elijah’s answer shows us it is not wrong to answer false accusations for the sake of protecting one’s ministry and promoting the truth. But by this denial, he was not simply trying to protect his ego or meet some need for praise and applause to feel good about himself. (Cf. 1 Cor. 4:1-5.)
Elijah Confronts the King with the Issues
“But you and your father’s house have, . . .” Elijah could have said, you are the real troubler of Israel because of your licentious wife, because of your drunken, perverted, sexual orgies, because of your lack of justice and equity, and so on. All of these things were true. All were evil and often the prophets did preach against such evils, but they did so primarily as evidence or symptoms of a deeper spiritual problem. Elijah indicted Ahab and his father’s house for two things that stand to each other as root and fruit or cause and effect.
“You have forsaken the commandments of the Lord.” In other words, you have ignored and rejected the Word of God. You have sought to live independently of God’s wisdom. This is always the root problem, the cause of all else--trusting in one’s own resources. King Ahab was living independently of God and His principles for life. This began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Let’s compare some other passages:
(1) Hosea said to Israel, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hos. 4:6).
(2) Isaiah wrote to Judah, whom he described as a “sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity,” and said: “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:10).
(3) Jeremiah had the same message for Judah (cf. Jer. 2:4-13).
The effect of turning away from the Word is seen in the next clause of Elijah’s indictment of Ahab, “and you have followed the Baals.” Remember Baalism was an idolatrous cult that was popular, in part at least, because it included gross immorality. It appealed to the flesh and the sexual appetites. But above all, idolatry represents the substitutes of man’s empty imagination when he attempts to live apart from God.
When we turn away from following the Lord through fellowship with Him in the Word, we experience what we can call the vacuum action of the soul, or the pursuit of life through our own devices and the substitutes offered in the world around us. When we turn away from a personal relationship with the Lord, from depending on Him through His Word, we naturally turn to what we think will make us happy, secure, and significant. The Bible defines this as vain imaginations or futile speculations of the heart (Rom. 1:21; Eph. 4:17; Jer. 2:4-5).
When we turn away from the Word and its careful application, we turn to our (or the world’s) solutions in an attempt to handle our fears, our loneliness, and our pain. Some people turn to materialism, some to the occult. Others turn to religion and ritualism. Some become workaholics and pursue the corporate ladder in search of position, power, and prestige. In the midst of all of this, people use their own defense and escape mechanisms to deal with rejection, fear, personality conflicts, family problems, and even our national problems.
All these futile attempts to handle life constitute independent living, living apart from faith in the Lord and His principles for life given to us in the Scripture.
All false routes to joy, . . . have one thing in common: they represent strategies for living that in some measure we can control. They do not require us to yield our core commitment to dependence. God’s message is consistent: utter dependency is the route to satisfaction.20
In James 1:21-27, we are warned about the subtle self-deception of our religious practices. We can be very religious. We can be Bible-believing, Bible-toting, Bible-talking believers who rigidly hold to the Bible, who talk about trusting the Lord and even admonish others to do so, while still living by our own protective inventions in self-willed independence. Note what James says in 1:26 about the self-deceived person. He “thinks himself to be religious.” He goes to church, believes the Bible, uses the right terminology, prays, etc. “and yet does not bridle his tongue.” The tongue is a good barometer of the heart and its treasures. When we do not control our tongue, when we complain, murmur, whine, blame others by focusing on their faults (to avoid seeing our own), when we criticize and malign, or lose control, scream and cry, or do any of the things we do when we are out of control, we do so in the belief that these actions will get us our way. We think they will protect us in some way against hurt, or build up our own self-esteem.
What’s the point? These are self-protective inventions of our mind in which we trust, but like a person leaning on a pointed stick, they damage rather than support. They are strategies of independent living. These are not actions of faith and God dependence. So James quickly adds: “. . . but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” In such cases, our religious activities have only deceived us. Why? Because we are not really walking by faith in God’s presence and supply. We are living by faith in our schemes.
First Kings 18:19-20 not only contrasts two very different personalities, but two different ways of life.
(1) One was a man of the world. One was a man of the Word.
(2) One walked independently of God in open rebellion. One walked dependently on the Lord in humble submission.
(3) One depended on the substitutes of the world, the inventions of his own mind. One trusted in the principles and promises of Scripture.
(4) One was resentful, bitter, angry, fearful, frustrated, and failing in his responsibility. One was bold and effective for the Lord.
Applicational questions we might each ask ourselves:
(1) Does my life resemble Ahab’s or Elijah’s?
(2) Am I willing, in faith and love and for the right reasons, to confront others whom God has brought into my life with the truth of God?
(3) Are the treasures of my heart good or evil?
(4) Is my heart filled with the good treasures of God’s solutions, or does it reveal an evil treasure of human solutions and strategies?
20 Larry J. Crabb, Understanding People, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1987, p. 109.
Related Topics: Character Study