Elijah: A Person Like You
We live in a time when people are conscious of sports heroes. There’s a Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, a Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and a Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
God also has a “Hall of Fame”. Hebrews 11 records the membership in what has been called the “Hall of Fame of Faith”. Certain great individuals like Abel, Noah, Abraham and Moses are enshrined there because they displayed faith in their lives. They were willing to trust God in difficult situations, so God placed them in His “Hall of Fame”.
The prophet Elijah’s name does not appear in that chapter, but he is mentioned in a roundabout way. In Hebrews 11:32 we read, “And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets.” In that word “prophets”, the writer of Hebrews includes all of the prophets of the Old Testament, and Elijah was one of those prophets. So Elijah is also enshrined in God’s “Hall of Fame”.
There is a saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” However, you can give him some salt and make him thirsty. As we study the life of Elijah and the great saints of God in the Old and New Testaments, it ought to make us thirsty. As we see how this man trusted God and God used him, it can make us thirsty and inspire us to live like him and to learn lessons from his life that will help us to live for God in this day and age.
The life and ministry of Elijah is recorded in the First and Second books of Kings. For this introductory study, we will consider the subject, “Elijah: A Person Like You.”
Elijah comes on the scene very quickly. In 1 Kings 17:1, we read, “And Elijah, the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.”
To give us a greater appreciation of this appearance of Elijah on the stage of human history, it will help us to back up and see a few verses at the end of chapter 16.
A Pagan Enthroned
In 1 Kings 16:29 and 30 we read, “And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa, king of Judah, began Ahab [the pagan] , the son of Omri, to reign over Israel [where he was enthroned]; and Ahab, the son of Omri, reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years. And Ahab, the son of Omri, did evil in the sight of the Lord above all who were before him.”
Now, when you stop to think about that statement, you see how amazing it is. He not only did evil; he was worse than all the kings before him! There is a recurring phrase in the books of Kings to describe the wickedness of each king of Israel; “And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father [Jeroboam], and in his sin with which he made Israel to sin” (1 Ki. 15:26, 34; 16:19). Each king of Israel followed in the sinful ways of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, “who made Israel to sin”. You can’t find a good one in the whole bunch. Of Omri, the father of Ahab, it is written, “But Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all who were before him” (1 Ki. 16:25). Omri was worse than all of his predecessors! And then Omri had a son named Ahab, who, when he was enthroned, showed that he was worse than all of the preceding kings including his wicked father. Ahab was, in 20th century terms, “a bad dude”. He was so bad, the Scriptures say, that he sold “himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord. . . ” (1 Ki. 21:25). He was evil incarnate! If the Israelites thought they had something bad with the other kings, they really had it bad with Ahab! It was under this king’s rule that Elijah appeared. What did Ahab do that was so bad? Look at verse 31: “And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, that he took as his wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him.” The former kings were bad, but at least they married other Israelite girls. But Ahab looked to his pagan neighbor to the north, Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians, a Phoenician king who worshiped Baal, and took Jezebel, his daughter, and married her. And when she brought her beauty into the royal palace of Israel, she brought in her pagan worship as well. “And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria” (v. 32). OPEN, UNABASHED IDOLATRY!! Under the sponsorship of the king of Israel, a temple to a pagan god was erected in the midst of the capital city! That’s how bad this guy was. His wife ruled him and was really the power behind the throne. She was doing all that she could to make everyone in Israel worshipers of her god, and she was persecuting those who refused to worship. “And Ahab made an idol; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (v. 33). This is the situation when Elijah comes on the scene – the darkest night of Israel’s history.
There is a parallel in the professing “church” of our day. Just as “the world” crept into the worship of Israel, so there are those voices crying out today that the church should be more “worldly” so that we might better relate to the world. We do need to relate to the world. But the best way for the church to relate to the world is to maintain its sharp edge so the world can tell the difference. The more the church becomes like the world, the less effect it has on the world.
A PROPHECY FULFILLED
Now, notice in verse 34 that during this black hour, a prophecy was fulfilled. Verse 34 states, “in his [i.e., Ahab’s] days did Hiel, the Bethelite, build Jericho; he laid the foundation of it in Abiram, his first-born, and set up the gates of it in his youngest son, Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua, the son of Nun.”
Upon first reading that verse, you may wonder what in the world it has to do with Ahab and Elijah! What’s so bad about a man rebuilding Jericho? After the destruction of Jericho, Joshua pronounced a curse on anyone who would rebuild the city, which is recorded in Joshua 6:26: “At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: Cursed before the Lord is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates” (NIV). It had now been over 500 years since Jericho’s destruction, and the city still lay in ruins. And now during the reign of Ahab, a man said, “I’m going to rebuild Jericho, and I don’t care what the curse says!” He rebuilt Jericho, and the curse actually had its fulfillment. When he laid the foundation of the city, his first son died. He continued to build the city, and finally when he began to construct the city gate, his other son died. The curse was fulfilled. It may have been that this man was so wicked, he actually sacrificed his first son at the foundation, and he sacrificed his second son at the gate. We aren’t sure about that. Or it may have been some unknown tragedy that occurred – a divine judgment upon his sons. But whatever it was, they died.
Now, what does this tell us? This tells us that it was such a dark night in Israel’s history that a man was willing to stand up and mock the Word of God and say, “I don’t care what God says. I don’t care about the curse. I’m going to rebuild Jericho. I’m going to defy the Word of God, and I’m going to do what I want to do.” That was the mood of the day. He paid for it in the loss of his sons, but he had gone so far that such tragedy didn’t really bother him. And in this day and hour, there are the same kind of people who willfully, defiantly reject God’s authority. When you remove the veneer from the so-called “liberation” movements of our day, that is what you find – a willful rejection of authority – a “do your own thing” attitude. One popular singer expressed this philosophy when he sang, “I did it my way.” He may have done it his way, but if he didn’t do it God’s way, he was throwing off God’s authority.
It was into this type of situation that God sent His prophet.
A PROPHET UNVEILED
“And Elijah, the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Ki. 17:1). Out of nowhere, he suddenly appeared on the scene. One commentator said that he who went out of this world in a whirlwind, came in like a tempest.
Let’s notice a couple of truths about this man for this introductory study. Notice some truths about the man and some truths about his motives.
The first thing we want to notice about this man is just that – He was a man. He was “of the inhabitants of Gilead”. Oftentimes, we view the great characters of the Bible – the Abrahams and the Elijahs and the Pauls – as “super saints” with halos around their heads to whom we can’t relate. But Elijah was no “super saint” – he was a man. We will see that truth graphically illustrated throughout these studies. He was a man with feelings. As a matter of fact, James 5:17 says it this way: “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are . . .” One translation states it this way: “Elijah was a man just like us . . .” (NIV). He had problems. I don’t know if he was single or married, but if he was single, he faced the problems of loneliness; if he was married, he faced the problems of providing for a wife and kids. He was a man just like us. And it’s good to keep that in mind at the beginning of this series of studies. Hence, the title of this article, “Elijah: A Person Like You.” The difference in Elijah was not in his genes, but in his faith. He was a man who was sold out to God. He had failings. And you’ll be able to identify with him along the way in some of the things that he did. But even though he was made of the same “stuff” as we, what a challenge he is to us in the way he believed God!
Secondly, he was a man who lived in the presence of God. Look at verse 1 again; “. . . As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand . . . .” Elijah was living in the presence of God. He was standing in His presence and speaking with His authority. As a matter of fact, James 5:17 says, “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed . . . .” You see, that’s the difference between Elijah and us. It’s not that his nature was different than ours; it’s that we have not learned to pray like he prayed. That’s the difference. He was a man, but he was a man who stood in the presence of God.
Now, having noticed some things about this man, I want you to notice some things about his motives. He claimed the promises of God. How could he say, “. . . there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Ki. 17:1b)? What authority did he have to say that? Because he was claiming the promises of God. In Deuteronomy 11 is a passage with which Elijah was familiar. He based his amazing prophecy to Ahab on this promise. In Deuteronomy 11; 16 and 17, God states: “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the Lord’s wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord giveth you.” God promised that as long as they obeyed Him, He would send the rain and they would have crops. But when they turned away from Him, then He would shut up Heaven. So when Elijah appeared before Ahab and pronounced this awful judgment of a drought, he was simply claiming the promise of God. The total period of this drought was three and one-half years (Jas. 5:17). Since three years passed from Elijah’s prophecy until rain fell again (1 Ki. 18:1), we may assume that it had not rained for six months already. In other words, it was probably in the fall of the year – the time for the “former rains” to start falling after the dry summer. The land was already parched and yearning for rain! But Elijah then added something extra. There’s not even going to be dew! Even during the dry season in Israel, there’s dew on the ground in the morning. But this was to be a complete drought, resulting in famine and death – all as a judgment by God for the rampant idolatry brought in by Ahab and Jezebel!
While he claimed the promises of God, he was also concerned about the glory of God. “As the Lord God of Israel liveth. . . ” (1 Ki. 17:1). In other words, if the God of Israel lives, this is going to take place. If the God of Israel does not live, then it will rain as usual. This was a contest. Ahab doubted whether the God of Israel really lived or not. Elijah said, “You want to know if God is really living? Then it is not going to rain. If God is dead, then it will rain.” He was concerned for the glory of God. He said to his Lord, “Oh God, You said this in Deuteronomy 11:16 and 17. I’m concerned about Your glory. I’m willing to put my neck on the chopping block for Your glory. I’m willing to risk my reputation for Your reputation. I’m willing to do that so that You might be glorified.” We are going to see throughout this series how Elijah often did just that.
Are you willing to say, “God, Your reputation is at stake in my life. I am willing to trust You to the point of taking risks and doing things that will make Your reputation depend on me. I am willing to represent You before the world so that when people think about me or talk about me, they are thinking about my Lord. I am willing to put Your reputation at stake in my life before humanity.” Elijah was a person just like you and me. But the way he differed from us was in that he was willing to do what we often are not willing to do – trust God even when it means taking a risk before others.