************ Sermon on 1 Kings 18:41-46 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 23, 2003
1 Kings 18:41-46
"Showers of Blessing Return to Israel"
I Elijah Can Pray for Covenant Blessings
A Review with me, for a moment, where we are at in the story of Elijah. Elijah blew on the scene like a tornado and announced:
(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."So, for 3.5 years there was no dew and no rain in Israel.
The reason for this announcement, this punishment, was the covenantal disobedience of the people. The people bowed down before and worshiped Baal instead of the Lord God Almighty.
After 3.5 years of suffering the Lord God Almighty took pity on His people and in His grace confronted them on Mount Carmel through the prophet Elijah: "If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him" (1Ki 18:21). The people, if you remember, agreed to follow "the god who answers by fire" (1Ki 18:24). So the prophets and priests of Baal prayed for fire "but there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (1 Ki 18:29). Then Elijah prayed for fire. You know what happened:
(1Ki 18:38) Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.As for the people, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD--he is God! The LORD--he is God!" (1Ki 18:39).
After this, Elijah commanded that the prophets and priests of Baal be slaughtered. So the people seized these false prophets of a false god and slaughtered them.
B You would think, after all of this, that Elijah's work on Mount Carmel was now done. But it wasn't. The covenant relationship had to be kept before the people. The people had to realize there was a connection between covenant breaking and covenant wrath. Because there were two parties to the covenant, the people had to realize it was impossible for one side to act without affecting the other.
The children of Israel did not see this connection, nor did they want to. The people saw only the drought and cried out all day long for rain. They had forgotten that is was their covenant breaking that caused the drought. Therefore, their outlook on their punishment was entirely wrong. They blamed the drought on natural events, or they explained it as a supernatural event caused by the gods, but they did not understand the drought to be the result of God's wrath against their covenantal disobedience.
Anyone who does not see the misery that comes from covenant breaking will never understand the full extent of God's wrath nor the extent of man's fallenness.
C In today's Scripture reading Elijah again brings out the connection between the two parties in a covenant. He shows us that covenant keeping and covenant blessing are ALSO joined together.
It is here that Elijah's work as a prophet of the Lord continues. It is his task to have the Lord answer the confession of His people by restoring dew and rain. To bring this about Elijah prays – seven times he prays!
Perhaps you see the striking parallel between the curse of drought and the blessing of rain. Between Israel's covenant breaking and the Lord's judgment there was a prayer. The book of James tells us:
(James 5:17) Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.Now this servant of the Lord is on his knees again. Between Israel's covenant keeping and the Lord's blessings there also was prayer. The book of James tells us:
(James 5:18) Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.Elijah's prayer forms a chain between covenant keeping and covenant blessing.
D You need to realize that in praying for drought and in praying for rain Elijah was doing nothing more and nothing less than what is to be found in the Word of the Lord. Through His servant Moses, God had clearly announced that drought would be one of the results of covenant unfaithfulness and rain in season would be one of the results of covenant obedience (Deut 28:12-13; 15-18; 22-24). So, in praying for drought and in praying for rain Elijah was submitting himself and his ministry to the living Word of God.
When the people repented and the covenant relationship was restored Elijah was able to pray for rain. He couldn't pray for rain before this because then he would be asking for covenant blessings upon those who were covenant breakers. Elijah's prayer for rain could be made only after the people had repented.
II Ahab's Failure to Pray
A The people of Israel headed home after the priests of Baal had been slaughtered. But Elijah and Ahab stayed behind. We have to assume that King Ahab was but a silent observer on that fateful day. Scripture does not indicate whether he joined with the people in confessing that the Lord is God. On the other hand, the Bible also does not indicate that Ahab in any way resisted the slaughter of the priests of Baal even though they were Queen Jezebel's favorites.
There they stood on Mount Carmel, the prophet and the king. They faced each other. The sky remained clear – not a cloud anywhere. The rays of the sun continued to beat down mercilessly upon the moisture starved land. And Elijah said something remarkable to Ahab:
(1Ki 18:41) "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain."Elijah told King Ahab he heard the sound of a heavy rain – that means a storm with thunder and lightning and sheets of rain and water rushing down gullies and trees crashing to the ground. He heard this when there was not a cloud in the sky. What was Elijah hearing? What we see is Elijah's faith. Now that the people were no longer covenant breakers Elijah knew showers of blessing could again fall; and in his mind, at least, he heard the approaching storm.
B Here the king and the prophet showed their true colors and went their separate ways.
(1Ki 18:42) So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.Do you see the difference in attitude and posture? Elijah prayed for rain while Ahab ate and drank! Elijah thought of the people while Ahab thought of himself.
The king and the prophet should have stood together and worked together and prayed together as God-appointed officers. Instead, they continued to be opposed to each other.
C Compare Ahab here to King David. The Lord punished Israel with a plague when David was king. At that point King David did what he was supposed to do as king: he prayed. He loved and cared for the people as a shepherd loves and cares for the sheep entrusted to his care. He said,
(2Sam 24:17) "I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family."But there was neither confession nor prayer on Ahab's part. There was no recognition of his failings and his role in causing the drought. So Ahab ate and drank instead of falling on his knees in prayer and confession.
III Elijah's Prayer
A Elijah knew that the king and people were expecting rain. So he bent down to the ground, put his face between his knees, and started praying. He then told his servant "go and look toward the sea." That meant the servant had to climb to the top of the mountain – from up there he could see the Mediterranean Sea which was about 6 miles away. Elijah wanted to hear about the big thunderclouds that were rolling in.
That servant leaves me curious. Who is he? Where did he come from? Was he with Elijah when Elijah first confronted Ahab? Was he also fed by the ravens at the Brook Cherith? Did he stay with Elijah at the home of the widow of Zarephath? Was he there when Elijah raised the widow's son from the grave? Did he see and hear everything that happened on Mount Carmel? We don't know. But we do know that God provided Elijah with a servant so Elijah could better concentrate on spiritual matters and struggles and prayer. God gives His prophets what they need in order to do their calling.
The servant came back. "Elijah," he said, "the sun is shining just as brightly as it was this morning." Earlier on Mt. Carmel Elijah had said a quick 30-second prayer and God immediately answered with fire. What was going on this time? Why didn't God answer?
I'm guessing that Elijah prayed a little longer the second time before sending the servant back up the mountain. The servant came back the second time and again said, "There's not a cloud in the sky."
Elijah bent over and cried out in prayer a third time. He sent his servant up the mountain again. His servant went up again and came back again, "Nope, no change." I wonder if Elijah started to feel the same way the priests of Baal did when there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
If nothing else, we learn from Elijah here the importance of persistence in prayer. How many times do you pray about something before you give up? One time, two times, three times? How many times before you quit?
Consider the Lord Jesus Christ for a moment. He went into the Garden of Gethsemane and He prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26:39, 42, 44). When Jesus finished this prayer He found He lacked the energy and the courage to go through the suffering and shame that soon would befall Him. So he prayed it again. He got up again and found he still was lacking. So He prayed it a third time. After this He received the strength He needed. Then He rose to meet His betrayer.
My brothers and sisters, we are tempted to give up so quickly. Like Elijah, we need to know the mighty God we serve. Don't forget, we have a God Who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us (cf Eph 3:20).
Elijah did not pray just three times, or four times, or five times, or six times. It was not until the poor servant dragged himself up the mountain seven times that he came back with a little bit of good news. "Elijah," he said, "I didn't see much, but I did see a cloud as small as a man's hand rising from the sea."
That was all the answer Elijah needed. He told his servant to warn Ahab to get home before the swollen streams stranded the king on the mountain. The king packed up his chariots and raced home for the city of Jezreel which was about 25 miles away.
So, the first thing we learn from Elijah's prayer is the need for persistence when it comes to prayer.
B But there is also a second lesson. I mentioned earlier that God promised rain to His people if they were faithful to the covenant. So, we see Elijah praying for something God had already promised to give.
Why was Elijah's prayer still necessary?
It is true that the broken covenant was restored and that Israel was again able to receive the covenant blessings. Yet, the rule God has established for covenant blessings is that He gives when the people ask. His people may ask freely, and He will answer generously. God's covenant blessings, in other words, come to us only when we pray for them. We hear this spelled out in the Word of the Lord to Solomon:
(2Chr 7:13-14) "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain ... (14) if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.That's the pathway to covenant blessings. That's what was needed. The people needed to repent and then they needed to pray.
That's the second lesson we learn about prayer from Elijah: God grace and Spirit, His covenant blessings, come only to those who ask for them.
IV Answered Prayer
A You all know the result: "Meanwhile," says Scripture, "the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel" (1Ki 18:45).
Isn't that marvelous? Isn't that wonderful? Isn't God marvelous? Isn't God wonderful? You see, there can be no doubt that the rain came from God. Just as the drought came from the Lord, just as the fire from heaven came from the Lord, so the rain came from the Lord.
We see here that rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, life and death – none of these things come to us by chance but only from the hand of the Father. And, this Father loves us and watches over us in Christ. He goes so far as to number the hairs of our head – whether they be many or few.
B But wait, there is also a second result. Things have changed dramatically from the beginning of this day to the end. In the morning the people stood by the priests of Baal; by evening the people had confessed faith in God and the priests had been slaughtered. In the morning the king had been the great opponent of Elijah; by evening he was following the prophet. Did you catch what our Scripture reading said?
(1Ki 18:46) The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.For a while, at least, Elijah was the world's fastest man. Imagine, the prophet running before the king's chariot with unbelievable strength and speed! And the king was following. Elijah does not follow the king's chariot as though he were a servant or a slave. Rather, he leads the king's chariot and Ahab comes off the mountain being led by the Word of God instead of being surrounded by the prophets of Baal.
How wonderful and beautiful it is when the broken covenant relationship is repaired and covenant blessings are restored. That was God's desire for Israel and that is God's desire for you and me too. God want us all to be covenant keepers who enjoy covenant blessings and not covenant breakers who reap covenant wrath.
For His elect God ensures this through Jesus Christ. It is Christ – our prophet, priest, and king – Who establishes and strengthens the covenant bonds between us and the Lord. And, it is in Christ that we can come to God and make bold and persistent requests for covenant blessings.
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