************ Sermon on 1 Kings 19:9-10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 29, 2004
1 Kings 19:1-18
1 Kings 19:9-10
"Zealous Service OR Covenant Breaking"
Elijah went into the desert to die. He sat under a broom tree and prayed for death: "I have had enough, Lord," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors" (1 Ki 19:4).
God heard this prayer just like He hears all our prayers. And He answered this prayer of Elijah. But not the way Elijah expected. Elijah prayed for death. Did you catch the Lord's answer? God's answer was a cake of bread and a jar of water. Two times that was the answer. In other words, God was saying, "Elijah, I don't want you to die. Elijah, I want you to live. Elijah, I want to strengthen and nourish your body so eat and drink."
I The Lord's Question
A We are told that after this Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night. In the Hebrew there is a definite article in front of the word "cave" – it is specified as "the cave" rather than "a cave." It is almost as if the writer was referring to a specific cave known to his readers. What cave would that be? The only cave on Mount Horeb that the Bible tells us about is the "cleft in the rock" from which Moses was allowed to glimpse God's glory (Exodus 33:21-23).
It is tempting to think Elijah was in the same cave as Moses. As we will hear in a few minutes, there are many parallels between these two great prophets, their ministries, and the messages they gave and received. Yet, we need to realize the Lord is not bound to a particular cave and Scripture gives us no certainty on the matter.
B The voice of the Lord came to Elijah while he was in that cave. "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
The emphasis of this question falls on the word "here." "What are you doing here, Elijah? What are you doing at Horeb, so far outside of Israel's borders?"
To understand this question we must remember the special place and calling Elijah had received. The Lord had called Elijah from the widow's home in Zarephath to take up the struggle against the powers of darkness that, through Jezebel, were threatening God's people. That was the last command the Lord had given Elijah. And now, some 60 days later, the Lord found His servant Elijah far outside the work area assigned to him. Elijah was no longer in the place or among the people God had assigned to him.
Elijah had not been called to Mount Horeb by any command of the Lord; he had gone there on his own. Elijah should have stayed where the Lord had placed him until the Lord gave him a command to leave.
Thus we can see why the Lord asked, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" "What are you doing at Horeb?" Elijah was the shepherd and the people of Israel the sheep; yet, the shepherd was at Horeb and the sheep were a 40 days journey away. Elijah was the Lord's chosen warrior; yet, the warrior was at Horeb while the enemy and the battle were in the land of Canaan.
"What are you doing here, Elijah?"
II Covenant Breaking
A Did you catch Elijah's answer, his defense, to the Lord's question and accusation? He said,
(1Ki 19:10) "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."
Elijah defended himself with two arguments. First, he talked of Israel's covenant breaking.
"The Israelites have rejected your covenant." Covenant breaking is the principal, fundamental sin of the people of the Lord – both in the Old and the New Testament periods. This sin affects all the life of God's people. Through this sin God's people strip themselves of their special position and wipe out the boundaries which the sovereign Lord has drawn between them and unbelievers.
What really is the difference between Israel and the nations? What really is the difference between us and unbelievers? Isn't it that the Lord has made a covenant with us? Take away the covenant, and Israel would be just another nation – one among many. Take away the covenant, and we would have no special standing or status before God – we would be just one more of earth's six billion or so inhabitants.
"The Israelites have rejected your covenant." They have thrown away their privilege as God's chosen people. They have thrown away the riches and glory of fellowship with God. They have broken the solemn promises and oaths they swore more than once to serve God and serve Him only.
B Elijah illustrates Israel's covenant breaking: "The Israelites have ... broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword" (1 Ki 19:10). Their sin is serious and has grim consequences. They have burned the bridges that linked them to God and God to them. Until these bridges are rebuilt, further covenant contact is impossible.
Elijah first says the people of Israel have broken down the Lord's altars. In mind are the altars at Dan, Bethel, and Mount Carmel. Altars used since the days of Abraham in the worship of God.
Altars are important because the way from man to God involves the altar. On behalf of the people, the priest prays and offers sin offerings and thank offerings to God upon the altar. But by breaking the altars the people were saying they no longer wanted to approach God, worship God, speak to God, sacrifice to God, or serve God. Their hearts and lives were closed to the Lord. The path from man to God was sealed off.
Elijah next says the people of Israel have put God's prophets to death with the sword. The prophets were killed in order to silence their voice. A dead prophet can no longer say, "This is what the Lord says ..." In killing the prophets the path that leads from God to man was sealed off.
Here we see how far Israel was willing to go in rejecting the covenant. She cut off traffic in both directions: she tore down God's altars so she couldn't approach God; she killed God's prophets so God couldn't approach her. You know, we do the same thing as Israel when we fail to pray; when we fail to pray we are trying to break the bridge from us to God. And, we do the same thing as Israel when we fail to attend worship or read the Bible; when we fail to attend worship or spend time with the Word we are trying to break the bridge from God to us.
In all of this Israel was especially rejecting the Lord. Notice Elijah's use of the pronoun "your" three times. "The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword." It is God they were rejecting and rebelling against. And, when we break God's laws, it is God we are rejecting and rebelling against.
C By the inspiration of the Spirit the book of Kings is reminding us here of Moses. Moses too sought the Lord on Mount Horeb when the people went astray. At that time of Moses the people broke the covenant by worshiping the golden calf (Ex 32:7-8). At the time of Elijah the people broke the covenant by worshiping Baal, another calf type image. Both Moses and Elijah sought the Lord at a critical moment in the history of God's people. Both sought the Lord with a guilty, sinful people standing in the background.
What a difference, though, in what they say.
Moses came to the Lord at Horeb to plead for the people. He pled with God to spare the people. He was the intercessor who appealed to God for mercy. He asked for forgiveness and struggled in prayer to have the guilt wiped away. He based his appeal on God's forgiving love (Ex 32).
Centuries later Elijah also came to Horeb. Unlike Moses, the theme he wished to stress was punishment. Elijah asked the Lord to show His justice. We see this clearly when we look at what is written in Romans:
(Rom 11:2-3) Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah--how he appealed to God against Israel: (3) "Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me"?We are told Elijah appealed to God against Israel. Elijah not only made a catalogue of Israel's sins but he was also calling for God's righteous judgment. He was demanding punishment for the evil they had committed.
Moses, then, made an appeal to God's love, but he bypassed God's justice. Elijah made an appeal to God's justice, but he bypassed God's grace.
D One cannot speak of Moses and Elijah without also speaking of Christ. You should realize that it was Moses and Elijah who appeared with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration and talked with Him (Mt 17:1-3).
Christ doesn't fall short as did Moses and Elijah. Through His atoning work on the altar of the cross He brings together the two elements that Moses and Elijah were unable to bring together: justice and love, law and gospel, satisfaction and atonement. You see, on Golgotha Hill justice and love, law and gospel, satisfaction and atonement became one in the cross of Christ. There Jesus accepted and fulfilled the demands of God's justice but He did so in our place.
"What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah's first answer is that Israel has rejected the covenant. The covenant that both Moses and Elijah are helpless to restore. The covenant that can be maintained only in and by and through Christ.
III Zeal for the Lord
A "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah's second answer is he is "zealous for the Lord God Almighty." We are meant to see a contrast here between Elijah and the people of Israel. Whereas the people break the covenant Elijah is zealous for the God of the covenant.
If we were to sum up Elijah's ministry as prophet in one word, we would have to use the word "zeal" or "zealous." Elijah was filled with zeal for the Lord and the things of the Lord.
Elijah was filled with zeal for the Lord because he knew something about the Lord – that the Lord was a jealous God. He knew that the Lord tolerated no other gods. He knew that the Lord tolerated no worship of anything or anyone else. He knew that the Lord was a jealous Lover Who demanded that the people give honor, glory, power, and place to no one but Him.
To be filled with zeal for the Lord is to be jealous for the Lord. Elijah was very jealous for the Lord. That's why he fought all alone against the 850 prophets and priests of Baal and Asherah. That's why he dared to confront Kings and Queens with the word of the Lord. That's why he accused Israel of limping between two gods. That's why he called for the destruction and death of those false prophets and priests. Elijah could not tolerate anyone taking the place of the one true God.
B "What are you doing here, Elijah?" "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty." A literal translation of "Lord God Almighty" is "the Lord, the God of hosts."
The Lord Whom Elijah has been zealous for is the God of hosts. His throne is surrounded by thousands upon thousands of cherubim, seraphim, and angels. Gathered before the throne are elders and living creatures and a great multitude in white robes that no one can count and the Lamb. These all are His hosts in heaven. The church on earth is His hosts. Principalities and powers are His hosts. He is the God of hosts.
Now, in this light consider Elijah's complaint: "I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too" (1 Ki 19:10). It seemed to Elijah that all of God's hosts had been reduced to an army of one. It seemed to Elijah that he was the only soldier left on God's side of the battlefield.
I want you to notice how quickly and emphatically God set Elijah straight on this matter:
(1Ki 19:15-18) "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. (16) Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. (17) Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. (18) Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."Do you hear what God was saying to Elijah? He was telling Elijah that He, the Lord, remained the God of hosts. Hazael was part of His host. So was Jehu. So was Elisha. And, so were the 7000 in Israel whose knees had not bowed down to Baal. All of these were at God's beck and call. All of these – willingly or unwillingly – were but servants in His army.
Sometimes, like Elijah, we can make the mistake of thinking we are standing all alone as part of God's army. But the Lord is the God of hosts. His army is never an army of one or an army of a few. His army is a limitless host that numbers thousand upon thousand and ten thousand upon ten thousand. Regardless of what we may think or feel or imagine, He always remains a great and awesome God with a great and awesome army under His control.
"So Elijah went from there ..." says the next verse of Scripture (1 Ki 19:19). That is all Elijah needed to hear in order to continue his zealous service for the Lord.
Zealous service or covenant breaking. That is the choice that always faces the people of God. We can have the zealous service of an Elijah for the God of hosts OR we can reject the covenant and burn the bridges that stand between us and God by neglecting prayer and worship and Bible reading.
Jack, right now you – by the grace of God – have decided to be zealous for the Lord God Almighty. But there are times when you will be tempted to reject the covenant and be like Israel. My hope and my prayer for you – and for all God's people – is that we will always be zealous for the Lord of hosts.
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