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The Sovereign Lord

1 Kings 18:1-19.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 26, 2017.

For three and a half years Israel and the surrounding area suffered under a drought and famine that the prophet Elijah had warned would come.  However, he also added that the famine would not quit until he said that it would.  Thus everyone in the area, whether righteous or wicked, had to live through this difficult event.  Yet, we see in Elijah’s life and the widow of Zarephath, that God was taking care of people who put their trust in Him.  Today’s story begins God’s confrontation of King Ahab, his queen Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal.  In this we will see that God doesn’t just send difficulty to make us pay.  Rather, He works in such a way as to get our attention and soften us up to what He has to say.

In ancient times and in modern times, nations and people ignore the God of Israel and could care less what He has to say, but they do so in error.  God is sovereign of the entire universe, both in heaven and on Earth.  Even though He gives mankind room to recognize their own, wicked heart, He is faithful to force the point and bring us to a place of decision.  It is His mercy that forces us to face our sin and make a choice to stand on our own merits, or fall upon His mercy.

God is sovereign over the timing of events

In verse one we see that God is ready to end the famine.  It has lasted over three years and we are not told why God had it last so long.  It is probable that Elijah was not worried about the length.  He trusted God and was receiving supernatural care.  However, other believers who were trying to be faithful to God would find themselves becoming more and more desperate over time.  “God, what are you doing?  When will you end this famine?”  It is precisely in such times that we must recognize that God is not asleep.  Thus in His sovereignty, God makes the choice over the timing of events that happen in our lives, or the life of a nation.  Yet, the Bible also makes the point that God is all-wise, in regard to such decisions.  He is not accountable to us, but He has the good of all involved in mind in His decisions.

So I would point us to the phrase in verse one, “after many days.”  In some ways we can be guilty of reading the Bible and hoping in God only for the amazing events.  When we have such an attitude, we lose sight of the “many days” that come between such huge events.  Whether at the personal level, national level, or global level, there are always “many days” between big events.  To us the centuries of time between the rebuilding of the temple in the 6th century BC and the coming of Jesus, 500 years later, can seem immaterial.  But, the truth is this.  Big events are intended to help us live out the many days in between.  Sometimes they come precisely because we haven’t been obeying in those “many days.”  The famine in this story came because King Ahab had walked away from God and was now leading God’s people into idolatry with the foreign god, Baal.  The flood came to pass, not because God wanted to spice things up, but because of the violence and immorality that was going on before it.  How we live in the “many days” between big events in our life are more important than the big events themselves.  God’s people must wake up every day and commit themselves to living it for the honor of God.  Whether the times are filled with plenty, or they are filled with lack, we must be faithful to the instructions that God has given us already.  Christ died so that we can live for Him in the now, not just for the purpose of us sitting around waiting for His next coming.  Yes, the Second Coming, is a great hope of believers.  But true hope, living hope, enables us to be faithful during those many days.  To us, it may seem that it is easy for Elijah.  He was in direct communication with God, but neither did God give him all the answers.  This story goes on to introduce a new character, Obadiah.  Obadiah was not a prophet, but a righteous man within a wicked administration.  He was trying to do his best to serve God in a dangerous time, both physically and spiritually.  Yes, he hopes for God to intervene by stopping the famine and stopping Ahab’s wicked actions.  But until that happens, he keeps faithful during the many days in between.

God tells Elijah to go to Ahab.  This is not a safe thing.  Ahab is like a bear robbed of its cubs.  He will not see reason, and wants to kill Elijah.  Yet, Elijah does not question and go right away to speak to Ahab.  I would remind us that it is not just prophets who are called to be faithful in dangerous times.  Jesus warned His disciples in Mark 13:13, “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”  Yes, he was clearly speaking to his immediate disciples.  But the same dynamics of those days are true today.  In Revelation 2:3 Jesus told the Ephesian church, “You have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”  Thus the promise that Jesus would be with us even when we are undergoing difficulty for Him, is not just to the disciples who heard Jesus that day.  Rather, it was to all who would hear his words from others and choose to be faithful regardless of the risk.  Jesus promised to be with His disciples even unto the end of the age, and that means He is with us today.

We do not know what our society will become tomorrow.  Will events get worse or get better?  Only God knows.  What about the world?  Things seem to be ratcheting up to huge, watershed, global events.  But for the believer the focus is not on those big events.  The focus is on today and serving God regardless of the risks.  We do not know what will happen specifically, but we do know that we will need to persevere and be faithful in it, no matter what direction it goes.  As we follow this story further we see that Obadiah has had to do just that very thing.

It is interesting to me that Elijah happens to run into Obadiah first and not Ahab.  Sure, there is a 50-50 chance that it would be Obadiah, but I think God had a hand in this.  We are told that Obadiah has been taking on great risk during Ahab’s reign.  Jezebel had instigated Ahab to have all the prophets of the Lord killed.  They couldn’t find Elijah, but they were able to find many others.  In the midst of this, Obadiah secretly hides 100 prophets in two different caves.  He then takes care of this with food and water.  This was a great risk.  Now Elijah shows up and gives him another risk.  Go tell Ahab that I am here.  Obadiah’s fear stems from the recognition that prophets don’t always cooperate with the “agenda” of men.  He is afraid that if he tells Ahab that he found Elijah, and then Elijah takes off, Ahab will have him killed.  Elijah mercifully promises to wait for Ahab.  It is not always easy to follow God’s purpose for us.  Even when we have been successful in the past at being faithful in risky situations, new situations can put us to a deeper test.

Now we are told that Elijah had searched all over the place for Elijah.  He even made the nations around him swear that Elijah wasn’t in their territories.  Little did he know, Elijah was in the territory of his father-in-law.  I bring this up because Ahab thinks that he can just deal with Yahweh and His prophets on his own terms.  But, the lack of communication between Elijah and Ahab during the drought demonstrates that God speaks on His own terms, and not ours.  We are warned in the Bible to seek the Lord while He may be found, and to call upon Him when He is near.  This implies there are times when God cannot be found and He is afar off.  We cannot force God to change the events of our lives or times.  We must patiently wait upon Him for His timing.  In fact, it only seems fair that our insolent desire to pursue wickedness be met with silence from God.  However, this is true even when we are serving God in righteousness.  He is silent at times and waits to see if we will trust Him.  He will speak in due time, it is ours to simply be faithful until He does speak again.  Ahab does not deserve a word from the Lord, much less an end to the famine.  But here it comes anyways because God is the One who is in control.  Ahab in his pride had rejected God’s word, but God uses three and a half years of famine to get his attention.  God has been building a door of repentance through which Ahab can walk through, if he will humble himself.  Of course, we know that he won’t humble himself.  He will only double down on his wickedness.  But think of this the next time you complain to the Lord that He must do something to get you out of a tough time.  In tough times, God is busy building in us and around the things we will need for the next stage.  We must simply be ready to obey and say, “Yes, Lord,” when the time comes.

God confronts Ahab through Elijah

In verses 17 through 19 we see the clash between Ahab and Elijah.  However, next week we will see that this clash has other layers.  There is also the religious clash between those who promote the worship of the Canaanite God Baal, and those who promote the worship of the God of Israel (the One, True God).  But even deeper than that is a spiritual clash between the God of heaven and those wicked spirits that are leading people away from Him.

For King Ahab the days of forsaking God are far behind him.  He is now in a state of hardness towards the things of God.  Even the rebukes of life itself are not enough to get his attention.   Perhaps Jezebel has told him that the real purpose of the famine was because Baal was displeased with Ahab’s inability to capture Elijah.  Somehow he has rationalized that he is on the right path and Elijah is the problem.  Ahab is not the only one to persist in a bad path over the top of the rebukes of life.  God in His mercy often confronts us with a human being because it is easier to ignore natural events and general principles of God’s word than to ignore a human who is now in our face.  Ahab could ignore God, but he couldn’t ignore Elijah.  God has always been faithful to send humans who are in relationship with Him to rebuke those who are persisting in rejecting Him.  In fact, Jesus Himself was the ultimate prophet of God who spoke a word to all mankind.  He has challenged all men everywhere to turn to Him for salvation and not to ignore it.  Some even tell themselves that they are okay with God as they reject His truth in the Bible.  Just know that we are capable of being blinded to the truth, but God in His mercy always sends a human along to challenge us.

Ahab accuses Elijah of being a troubler of Israel.  But Elijah throws it back in his face.  Ahab is the true troubler of Israel.  He has forsaken the worship of God and has taught the people to worship Baal, a foreign, false god.  If we stop and think about it the situation is somewhat humorous.  Who is Elijah?  He is just a mortal, and is not able to control rain clouds with some kind of anti-rain technology.  As I said Ahab probably believes Baal is causing the punishment for some reason.  That is the only thing that makes sense.  Yet, it is Ahab who is the changing dynamic.  Elijah has always served the God of Israel in that sense has done nothing different.  It is Ahab and those who listened to him who have abandoned the God of Israel and begun worshipping a foreign god.  Thus the problem must lie there.  How could God let this attempt to hijack His people go without a response?  He couldn’t and He didn’t. 

What about our own land today?  Or, what about the whole earth today?  It is easy to focus on the bearer of bad news and try to crush them as if they are the ones causing trouble.  All around this world there are people blaming Christians as the problem in their society.  It is nothing new.  Hitler did the same thing with the Jews during the Holocaust.   Christians who are faithful to call the world back from false religions and false ideologies will be hated for Christ’s sake.  Yet, it is not true Christians who are causing the problem in the earth today.  It is those who reject the Son of God and His ultimate message of God’s love and forgiveness.  It is those leaders who love to lead people astray towards everything, but the One, True God and His Son Jesus.  God is calling us all back to Him through Jesus.  Let us cling to Jesus and remember the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 (NKJV). 

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

Sovereign Lord audio