************ Sermon on 1 Kings 17:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 22, 2003
[For this series of sermons I am deeply indebted to two sources, besides the Bible: "Chariots of Prophetic Fire" by Rousas John Rushdoony AND "My God is Yahweh" by M. B. Van't Veer]
1 Kings 16:29-17:1
"My God is Yahweh"
I Ahab's Sin Against the First Commandment
A Our text marks the start of the struggle between Jezebel and Elijah. In actual fact, though, the struggle was between God and Satan, the church and the world, the Spirit from above and the beast from below. It was a spiritual struggle involving all the powers of the universe. Our text, then, shows the antithesis, the struggle, between good and evil, light and darkness, the kingdom of God and Christ and the dominion of Satan.
We see the universal dimensions to the struggle just by looking at the names of the two human protagonists. Throughout Scripture the name "Jezebel is a symbol for what is evil, wicked, and opposed to God. The name "Jezebel" is reserved for those who try to destroy the church and the people of God through idolatry and godless living. The name "Elijah," by contrast, is a symbol for those who wholeheartedly serve and worship the Lord.
B Jezebel and Ahab represent evil and the forces of darkness because of what happened in Israel during their reign. In Ahab's day there was an important turn in the life of God's covenant people. Before Ahab's reign the glory of David and Solomon existed in Israel. After Ahab's days came the slippery slope leading straight to the dark night of exile and destruction. Before the reign of Ahab, Israel was already turning in the wrong direction. But Ahab made matters much, much worse.
We cannot excuse Ahab by arguing that his sin affected only the northern kingdom of Israel and that the southern kingdom of Judah, the line of David from which would come the Messiah, was spared. We can't argue this way because Ahab's sin went beyond Israel's borders and infected Judah and Jerusalem as well. Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, became a powerful figure in Jerusalem when she married Jehoram, the future king of Judah. With this the sins of Ahab's house crept into David's line. Of Jehoram we read,
(2Chr 21:6) He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD.The disastrous influence of Athaliah continued under the rule of her son Ahaziah:
(2Chr 22:3) He too walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him in doing wrong.
C Ahab's sins came about because of his desire to make of Israel a strong and secure nation. Ahab measured strength and security in terms of walled cities, soldiers, horses, and chariots. Accordingly, the capital city was moved from Tirzah, near the border, to Samaria, on top of a hill and in the middle of the country. Samaria was turned into a virtually impregnable fortress. A foreign policy was developed along the same lines. A treaty was made with Judah so that the southern border would be secure. Damascus, on the north-east border was a threat, so a treaty was made with the Phoenicians on the north-west border. This alliance was sealed by the marriage of Ahab to Jezebel, the daughter of the Phoenician king. This treaty that Ahab made with the Phoenicians had not just political but economic and religious overtones too.
In economic terms the treaty was very desirable. It gave Israel a market for her goods. Moreover, the treasure and culture of the rich Phoenician cities were now open to Israel. Thus the nation entered a period of growth and prosperity under Ahab's rule.
From a religious point of view the treaty was nothing short of disastrous. After she became Ahab's wife, Jezebel wanted to import the Phoenician gods into Israel. She believed that it was because of these gods that her homeland of Phoenicia was so prosperous. Therefore she pressed Ahab to introduce the service of Baal as the state religion of Israel. Of course, the introduction of Baal worship could only mean the abolition of Jehovah worship.
Jezebel was successful in her attempt. Baal worship was introduced into Israel. In fact, Jezebel was so successful that in the whole land there were only 7000 who remained faithful to Yahweh.
Among the pagans it was believed that Baal was the god of the heavens, the sun god, who controlled all the natural forces of sunshine and rain and the processes of growth. Along with Baal came Astarte, the moon goddess of sex and lust. Her worship involved prostitution and every form of sexual perversion.
The introduction of Baal and Astarte into Israel's worship life led the people away from the law and service of God. Now, in the name of religion, the people could follow all the sinful lusts of the flesh.
Do you see what happened? Ahab's lack of trust and faith in God as His security, His fortress, His strength, resulted in covenant unfaithfulness. Ahab's lack of trust and faith resulted in the worship of Baal and Astarte, the abandonment of God, and every sort of sexual perversion.
D This was not the first time that a grievous sin had taken hold of the lives of the people of Israel. In the days of the judges the people repeatedly bowed down to the graven images of the heathen. But in those instances the people always broke the second commandment. The sin of Ahab caused the people to go a step further and break the first commandment. Ahab and Jezebel tried to eliminate God Himself from Israel's life. No other king went that far.
E I am sure that you recognize the parallels between Israel and contemporary American society. There is a push in our society today, like there has never been before, to remove all mention and worship of God. For years now people have objected to a chaplain in the U.S. Senate; they have objected to the words "In God we trust" on our coins; and, they don't want "one nation under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance. By and large, Bible reading and prayer are no longer allowed in our public schools and teachers are forbidden to teach Judaeo-Christian principles or morality. Every year there are struggles about the Christmas scenes that may be displayed on public property. And, the Boy Scouts of America have been in court a couple of times because they require boys to swear an oath of allegiance in the name of God.
Of course, to remove God leaves a vacuum. Many false gods have stepped forward to fill that empty space: secular humanism with its worship of man and man's accomplishments, pleasure, money, sex – these are the gods that beckon us in America today to come and worship at their altars. The only question is, will we be drawn in, are we drawn in, do we too abandon our faith and trust in God and worship another?
II Israel No Longer Separate from the Nations
A When Ahab's sin led Israel to worship Baal and abandon God, God's covenant people became exactly like the people they were supposed to destroy when they possessed the land. In other words, with Ahab's sin Israel's separation from the nations came to an end. The sin which Ahab and Jezebel made Israel to sin erased the boundaries which the Lord Himself established.
God's election of Israel as His covenant people, God's election of Israel as heirs of the kingdom, made Israel different from all other peoples. Israel was holy, Israel was different. And to prove this difference Israel was given circumcision as the mark of the covenant and the Ten Commandments as the law of the covenant. This combination of the Law and circumcision marked out Israel as being God's different and holy people, God's elect and covenant people.
Ahab's sin broke down the wall of separation between Israel and the nations. And, the walls were not broken down because Israel triumphantly entered the world with the message of the Gospel. Instead, the walls were broken down because the world entered and conquered Israel with its pagan ways. As a consequence, Israel was no longer – in practice anyway – God's holy and separate people.
B Like Israel, the church is called to be God's covenant, elect, holy, and different people. In baptism we have received the mark of God and Christ on our foreheads and are called to be separate. Like Israel, we are to be different from the nations and the world. But are we? The walls between us and the world, are they broken down because we triumphantly enter the world with the message of the Gospel of Christ? Or, are they broken down because the world has entered in the church and conquered us with its evil and pagan ways?
I want to tell you, I need to tell you, about the concerns of myself and the elders that we are no longer different, separate, from the world. In our society there are two main places to make and meet friends: in the church and at the bar. I ask you, are we conquering the world or is the world conquering us when Christians make a habit of making and meeting friends at the bar? Are we conquering the world or is the world conquering us when we can have no activity without the presence of alcohol?
We believe that Sunday is to be a day set aside, a day without work, a day without shopping, a day of worship. Now many families skip the second service and even the first service because they are visiting or at the beach; many families see nothing wrong with going out for Sunday dinner; many take jobs that involve unnecessary Sunday work. Again I ask you, are we conquering the world or is the world conquering us?
Many of our weddings – and I want all young couples and young people to listen here – have immoral dancing to godless music mixed with alcohol. Again I ask you, are we conquering the world or is the world conquering us?
Our young people listen to music and lyrics which clearly are non-Christian. Our families watch the same TV programs as their non-Christian neighbors – programs which glorify sex and violence, programs which no Christian should ever watch. Again I ask you, are we conquering the world or is the world conquering us?
Most of you have heard about the First Christian Reformed Church of Toronto. They have adopted a policy that allows them to "consider the nominations of gay and lesbian members, including those living in committed relationships, for all elected offices [in the church]." Again I ask you, are we conquering the world or is the world conquering us?
I ask you again, the walls between us and the world, are they broken down because we triumphantly enter the world with the message of the Gospel of Christ? Or, are they broken down because the world has entered in the church and conquered us with its evil and pagan ways? Too often, I'm afraid, the walls are broken down because the world has come in and we have lost our difference, our separation, from the world.
III Covenant Breaking Results in Covenant Wrath
A Into this scene of covenant breaking appears Elijah with a message from God. Elijah's name in and of itself is a message. It gets right to the heart of the matter. The name "Elijah" means "My God is Yahweh." Over against the Baal worship of Israel Elijah comes with the message "My God is Yahweh." Elijah proclaims that his God is Yahweh – we know Him as the God Who saves us in Christ.
"My God is Yahweh!" That was the mighty message with which Elijah began his prophetic struggle against the sins of Ahab and Jezebel and the apostasy of Israel. It was this truth for which Elijah fought.
B Elijah appeared in Israel with a message from the Lord Himself:
(1Ki 17:1) "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."
Notice what Elijah says about the Lord. He calls Him "the God of Israel." This sums up the whole problem. There is only one God of Israel. He is Yahweh. However, this God is no longer being worshiped, praised, and glorified. He has been forsaken for a false idol.
Notice also what Elijah says about himself. He declares that he serves the Lord. In contrast to Ahab and Israel, he is the Lord's servant. In contrast to Ahab and Israel, he fears and obeys the Lord.
Finally, we notice what Elijah says about Baal: no dew or rain in the next few years. Remember what was said about Baal? It was believed that he was the god of the heavens, the sun god, who controlled all the natural forces of sunshine and rain and the processes of growth. Elijah now shows how false Baal and Astarte really are. They don't have any power. They have no more control over the weather and the processes of growth than do the trees or rocks in my back yard. God, not Baal, reigns supreme. And God is now going to speak from the domain claimed for and by Baal. In sun, in drought, in parched fields, in the splitting of the ground, in the shriveling and dying of the crops, God will show that He alone is the true God and that Baal is no god. The withholding of dew and rain is a direct attack on Baal and his power.
C The drought not only shows how false Baal is but, more importantly, it shows God's covenant wrath for covenant breaking. The land and all the people were made to suffer for breaking the covenant. When the people, any people, fall away from God, God will visit them in covenant wrath.
The message that is given is loud and clear: covenant breaking results in covenant wrath. That was true for Israel. That is true for you and me too. God removes the blessings and promises of the covenant He has made in Christ from those who break the covenant. God punishes those in the church who are no different, separate, from the world. So I say to you, repent and serve the Lord. Say with Elijah, "My God is Yahweh." "My God is the God Who saves us in Christ."
D When you think about it, Elijah's proclamation of judgment is also a proclamation of grace. Because the Lord is faithful to His covenant, He raises up servants of His to oppose Ahab and sin. The Lord can no more forget His people than a mother can forget her little child. As He shows us in Christ, the Lord will not let go of his people. So, He will show Israel through the drought that Baal is false and He is true. He is forcing His people to make a decision – to choose between Him and Baal. In this judgment, then, the Lord was struggling with His people to save them, to make them repent.
"My God is Yahweh." That's what the Lord wants all of us to say. This God we are to serve as His holy, different people.
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