************ Sermon on 1 Kings 18:7-20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 31, 2003
1 Kings 18:1-2,7-20
"The Troubler of Israel"
I The Word Commanded to Return
A Israel had been without the Word of the Lord for some time now. Elijah was now in his fourth year away from Israel. At least 3.5 years had passed since Elijah's proclamation that "there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word" (1Ki 17:1). After Elijah said this, God commanded Elijah to leave the land – first by staying at the brook Cherith and then by staying with the widow of Zarephath. All this time, for more than 3.5 years, Israel had to do without the servant of the Word, and therefore without the Word itself.
God, however, is a merciful God. He knows that His people need His Word and cannot function without it. So once again He gave a command to Elijah: "Go and present yourself to Ahab ..."
When Elijah is commanded to return to Israel it is God's Word that is commanded to return. The absence of that Word in Israel meant the absence of God's favor and grace. This is why Israel continued to reel under the effect of the drought and why Ahab himself went looking for water and grass (1Ki 18:5-6).
Notice, it was God Who decided when the Word should return to Israel. The initiative came from the Lord. It was not Ahab who determined the time of the return. Ahab was not even asked whether he wanted to see Elijah again.
B In this command to Elijah we are also given the reason why the prophet had to present himself to Ahab: "I will send rain on the land."
Elijah was sent back because the Lord wanted to end the drought. The drought could not end without some sort of announcement from Elijah. Remember what Elijah had said to Ahab? He said, "there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word" (1Ki 17:1). Elijah had to speak for the drought to end. God's grace and favour would once again return upon the land, but only by the Word of the Lord which is the Word given by Elijah.
C The Lord's command for Elijah to return to Israel presents us with a problem: why should God return to His people in blessing when they refused to repent? Why should the Word return to Israel when Israel was not yet obedient to that Word? In the Bible we are shown repeatedly that the punishment of God's people can only be ended if the people repent.
We see this, for instance, when Israel made the golden calf while Moses was on the mountain. At that time, God punished Israel with a plague. Only when Israel repented did God stop the plague. In the days of the Judges we read that God punished the peoples' sins by putting them under the control of foreign powers. When the people confessed their guilt and repented of their sin God once again granted them victory in battle.
But when Elijah received the command to return the Lord's Word to Israel there was no sign of repentance to be seen in Israel, either on the part of the king or of the people.
When the people first sinned Elijah prayed for a drought and there was drought. But what could Elijah pray for now? The people had not repented. They still stubbornly refused to turn from their ways and bow before the Lord. Elijah had no right to pray for a blessing. He could not pray for a blessing. God's Word did not allow him to do that.
How then can we explain God's command for the Word to return to Israel? It can only be explained on the basis of Jesus Christ. He is greater than Elijah. He is the Word become flesh. He can pray and plead in situations that Elijah cannot. Christ's basis is not the repentance and faith of the people. No, not at all! The basis for Christ's plea was His own work, through which He made satisfaction for the sins of His people. On that basis He could plead for a people stuck in sin. On that basis God could command the return of His Word to Israel's land and people. The work of Jesus Christ was the reason why Elijah could return to an unrepentant Israel and once again announce God's favor and blessing.
Jesus, the Word become flesh, is God's most powerful Word. He can break through the most sinful and hardened hearts. He is not stopped by disobedience. He can conquer even the worst of sinners.
II Ahab's Perspective
A On his way back into Israel, Elijah met Obadiah. Obadiah, remember, was the right-hand man of King Ahab. Obadiah had been sent by Ahab to look for grass and water. Elijah said to Obadiah, "Go tell your master, 'Elijah is here.'" After Obadiah delivered this message, Ahab went to meet Elijah.
The first time Elijah and Ahab met it was Elijah who looked up Ahab. It was the prophet who looked up the king. This time things are different. It was Ahab who went to meet Elijah. It was the king who looked up the prophet. Here we see how the Word of God always ends up prevailing.
B Ahab went to meet Elijah. When he saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?" These words give us Ahab's perspective on the situation in Israel. These words were his confession of faith.
To understand what King Ahab was saying we need to backtrack a little. Ahab, you need to realize, tried to bring prosperity and happiness to the land of Israel. To achieve this he started trade with Tyre and Sidon. He made Israel part of the busy world trade that flourished at that time. It didn't bother him that these ties also brought Baal and Baal worship to Israel. It didn't bother him that his economic, political, and military ties to the surrounding nations corrupted the worship of God in Israel. If that was the price to pay for prosperity and happiness, he was willing to pay it.
But then along came Elijah with his announcement: "there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word" (1Ki 17:1). This destroyed all of Ahab's well laid plans for prosperity and happiness. The drought devastated the land. There no longer was enough food and produce for Israel, let alone for trade. Poverty, nor prosperity, ruled the land. Hunger, not plenty, stalked the countryside. It was Elijah who had caused the streams of Israel, the streams of prosperity, to run dry. No wonder Ahab called Elijah "the troubler of Israel."
You know what Ahab did? He adopted the faith and perspective of the heathen nations surrounding Israel. He accepted their definition of happiness – namely, prosperity and wealth. As the king of God's people, Ahab should have defined happiness in terms of the Lord. But he didn't. That's why he called Elijah the "troubler of Israel."
Elijah's word, its dramatic results, the miracles associated with him, all spoke of one thing: that Elijah was a prophet of the Lord. Ahab refused to recognize that Elijah spoke for the Lord. From Ahab's perspective, Elijah was first of all the "troubler of Israel" who destroyed prosperity and happiness.
C Now, I want you to observe the same thing happened with Jesus that happened with Elijah. The members of the Sanhedrin saw powerful signs and wonders, they witnessed miracles, they heard a man Who spoke with authority and wisdom, and they faced a revelation of powers that went far beyond human capacity: the blind were given sight, the lame could walk, the sick were healed, the dead were raised.
So what did they do? Did they recognize Jesus as coming from God? No! They proceeded to do what Ahab did to Elijah. They argued that Jesus brought "trouble" to His people and was a threat to the nation's welfare. They summed Him up in a single phrase – the "troubler of Israel."
Along this line, do you remember what was said by the chief priests and the Pharisees at a meeting of the Jewish Sanhedrin right after Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave?
(John 11:47-48) "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. (48) If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."Do you hear what they were saying? Jesus was wrecking their cozy little arrangement with the Romans. Jesus was a threat to the political alliances they had made. Jesus was a threat to their security and to the balance of power. Jesus was a threat to Israel's continued existence as a nation. Jesus was the "troubler of Israel."
Remember, too, what was said before Pilate? Pilate came to the conclusion that there was no guilt in Jesus. Stubbornly, the chief priests replied,
(Luke 23:5) "He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.""He stirs up the people." He is the "troubler of Israel."
The chief priests and Pharisees were like Ahab. They stubbornly refused to consider the possibility that Jesus, like Elijah, spoke for God and came from God.
D When we think about it, we see that there was progress in Ahab's life.
When Elijah had first spoken to him, Scripture records no response from Ahab. Elijah said,
(1 Ki 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."Why no response? Because Ahab could not care less what God said. He was indifferent to God and to God's Word because it made no impact on him, because it made no difference in his life.
Ahab had been neutral towards the Word of the Lord. While Jezebel, his wife, was busy killing the prophets of the Lord, Ahab honored Obadiah, a servant of the Lord, with an exalted position. While Jezebel fought for Baal and tried to lure Israel away from God, Ahab included the name of the Lord in the names of his children.
But now Elijah was approached by Ahab and was called the "troubler of Israel." This represented a change in Ahab's attitude. Ahab was no longer neutral or indifferent to the Word of God or the prophet of God. His neutrality has been destroyed. Ahab's greeting left nothing to be desired as far as clarity was concerned. Here we see that Ahab hated the Word of God.
We are reminded here that the Word of God never lets people remain neutral or indifferent. It always demands a response. It always reveals the inner thoughts of the heart. For a while we might get away with pretending to be neutral, but when God's Word goes to work in our lives, it eventually calls forth either a "Yes" or a "No."
III Elijah's Perspective
A After this less than friendly greeting from Ahab, we hear an answer from Elijah: "I have not made trouble for Israel" (1 Ki 18:18). Elijah rejected any accusation that it was he who had plunged the land and people into misery.
We see that Elijah's perspective was totally different from that of the king. Elijah saw himself, quite rightly, not as the "troubler of Israel," but as the savior. Elijah prayed for a drought and pronounced the curse because he wanted to save the land from the evil that Ahab had introduced within it.
B How come Elijah and Ahab had such a different perspective on the drought? The difference laid in their relation to the Word of God. Ahab ignored God's Word. He saw his standard for life not in God's Word but in the practices and customs of the heathen nations surrounding Israel. As I already said, Ahab equated happiness with material prosperity.
Elijah, on the other hand, rooted himself in God's Word. That was his standard for life. Elijah knew the demands of that Word. He knew God's promises:
(Deu 11:13-15) So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul-- (14) then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. (15) I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.But he also knew God's threats:
(Deu 11:16-17) Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. (17) Then the Lord's anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.It was passages like this from which Elijah received his bearings. It was God's Word which made him pray for a drought and pronounce the curse.
It is so important, congregation, that our perspective, our standards, our bearings, comes from God's Word. Like Ahab we can adopt the standards of the world as our standards. Our god will then be the god of money and materialism. The most important thing in life will be material prosperity. Or, we can make the Word of God our standard. And then the most important thing in life will be, like Elijah, to serve and love the Lord.
C From God's Word Elijah pointed out the real "troubler of Israel."
(1 Ki 18:18) "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."The "troubler of Israel" was not Elijah – even though he condemned sin and pronounced judgment and caused the streams to run dry. The "troubler of Israel" was he who did the sin and lived in disobedience to God and His Word.
Today, the person or persons – like Elijah – who dare to point out sin and pronounce judgment are labeled as trouble makers. When we dare to say something against women in church office or homosexual practice we are accused of rocking the boat and stirring up the pot and creating trouble. But, I ask you, who are the real troublers of Israel? Aren't they the ones, like Ahab, who choose to ignore and disobey the Word of the Lord?
"The troubler of Israel." "The troubler of the church." It is never the person who stands in a right relationship to God and His Word. It is never the person who submits to the Word of God. It is never the person who keeps in step with God. Rather, it is the person or persons who want God and His Word to submit to them.
My hope and my prayer is that – like Elijah – we will cling to the Word as our final standard, that we will keep covenant with God, and that our highest goal in life is to love and serve the Lord.
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