Elijah, The Rain And The Chariot
1 Kings 18:41-46
After most ministers finish their sermons, both preacher and congregation leave to eat a meal. It has often been said that since most Christians don’t drink and smoke, their biggest vice is eating. It is instructive to note the actions of Ahab and Elijah following the confrontation on Carmel. The prophets of Baal had been shown to be false prophets when their god had been deaf to their prayers. They suffered the fate of false prophets when Elijah personally put them to death at the Brook Kishon (cf. Dt. 13:5). “And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook, Kishon, and slew them there” (1 Ki. 18:40). Following this amazing display of God’s power and justice, Ahab goes to eat while Elijah goes to pray. “And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. So Ahab went up to eat and to drink.
And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees” (1 Ki. 18:41-42).
How stark is the contrast between the actions of the wicked king and the prophet. As a matter of fact Elijah actually told Ahab to eat and drink! Evidently Ahab had not joined with the people in acknowledging that the LORD was the true God (v. 39). No doubt he stood by as his hireling prophets were humiliated and then executed. Elijah did not even give him any further exhortation to report. The reason for this is found in the description of the moral character of the king in 1 Kings 21:25, “But there was none like unto Ahab, who did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel, his wife, stirred up.” It is useless to expostulate with an apostate. The prophet understood the character of Ahab very well. He knew the hardness and insensibility of his heart so he told him to do only that which he was capable of doing — fulfilling his physical desires. A parallel to this, command can be found in the words of the Lord Jesus to the traitor Judas in John 13:27, “And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto, him: What thou doest, do quickly.”‘
The contrasting behavior of Elijah is striking.So far from thinking of his own physical needs, which at this point no doubt were great, Elijah gave himself to prayer. A. W. Pink expressed it well when he wrote, “Ahab hastens to his carnal feast, but the Tishbite, like his Lord, has ‘meat to eat’ which others knew not of, John 4:32.” It is good to notice at this point the importance of prayer in the recorded ministry of Elijah. When James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, made his reference to Elijah he noted this example of his prayer life: “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit” (Jas. 5:17-18). He used Elijah’s example to illustrate the truth he had stated, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16b). Tradition records that James prayed so much that his knees were as tough as a camel’s. Evidently he felt a spiritual kinship to his prophetic predecessor. It is mentioned that Elijah prayed to begin the drought (cf. 1 Ki. 17:1 and Jas. 5:17). Elijah later offered a simple yet fervent prayer for the recovery of the widow’s son in Zarephath (1 Ki. 17:20-22). On Mt. Carmel Elijah offered a simple yet bold prayer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel to show Himself as the true God (1 Ki. 18:36-37). Even in his depression he cried out to the Lord under the juniper tree in the wilderness — the only prayer of Elijah which God did not grant (1 Ki. 19:4). The final recorded prayer of Elijah is the calling down of fiery judgment on the messengers of Ahaziah who was seeking the help of the pagan god Baalzebub (2 Ki. 1:2-12). The obvious lesson to the modem servant of God is that our public ministry with men will only be as powerful as our private ministry with God.
In this regard it is instructive to notice the reason Elijah gave for the urgency of his instruction to Ahab,”.. . for there is a sound of abundance of rain” (v. 41 b). It is obvious from the context that there was a cloudless sky at the time. Even after the initial praying of Elijah, his servant told him that there was nothing in the sky (v. 43). The sound that Elijah heard fell on deaf ears to Ahab. The ear of faith hears what the eye of flesh cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 declares, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A legitimate paraphrase of that famous text could be expressed in this way, “Faith looks upon things promised as though they were already fulfilled.” Elijah was so confident that God was going to answer his prayer that the storm was already rumbling in his ears!
The Earnestness Of His Prayer
With his face between his knees on the soil of Mt. Carmel, Elijah sought the Lord. Unlike the other prayers that are mentioned in his ministry, the actual words he expressed to God are not recorded. His silent posture is an eloquent testimony to his earnestness. No specific instruction as to the physical manner of prayer is given in the Bible. There are examples in the Bible of people praying while standing (Neh. 9:5), kneeling (Ezra 9:5), sitting (1 Chr. 17:1 6), bowing (Ex. 34:8), and with uplifted hands (1 Tim. 2:8). All that can be said of Elijah’s posture was that it was outward evidence of his inward earnestness. The physical position of his body was a reflection of the spiritual attitude of his heart.
In taking notice of Elijah’s praying, it is good to ask the question, “Why did Elijah believe that he needed to pray at all?” Had not God given the explicit promise previously in 1 Kings 18:1, “And it came to pass, after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, show thyself unto Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth”? If God had already stated what He would do, why pray? !t is here that we encounter those two seemingly contradictory truths that permeate the Bible — the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. While God is the sovereign planner of events and is not surprised or thwarted by human deeds or misdeeds, man is still a creature endowed with choice and responsibility. These two apparently irreconcilable truths come together in the following proposition: God has ordained the means as well as the ends. Yes, God had ordained the ends, i.e., that rain would be sent, but He also had ordained the means, that the rain would be sent in response to Elijah’s prayer. How much confusion would be avoided if believers could bring themselves to accept both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. How many heated arguments would be cooled! Yes, it is true that God has chosen some to salvation (Eph. 1:3-6). It is also true that those chosen ones will come to salvation through our prayerful preaching of the gospel (Mt 28:19). Both of these truths are balanced in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, Unto which he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The sovereignty of God does not relieve us of the responsibility to pray. It has been said that prayer is the hand of faith that translates promise into performance. As a matter of fact, it was the sovereign purpose of God that enabled Elijah to pray with such earnestness!
The Expectation Of His Prayer
“And [he] said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not” (1 Ki. 18:43-44). Elijah not only prayed earnestly, he prayed expectantly. When the servant initially saw no indication in the sky of a coming rain storm, the prophet simply told him to keep looking — it would eventually appear. When the servant returned again without sighting any indication of rain, Elijah told him to look again. To Elijah, the question was not if, but only when. He prayed expecting God to answer. In regard to prayer it is important to realize that if you expect nothing, you will seldom be disappointed. Jesus said that if we are to be given anything, we must ask for it; if we are to have the door opened to us, we must knock; and if we are to find our answers, we must seek for them (Mt. 7:7). The verb tenses in that precious promise should be noted. Jesus actually said, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking.” How impatient is the Christian who is disappointed when God does not grant his request right away! This same believer is often surprised when God does answer quickly!
The experience of Peter’s deliverance from prison in Acts 12:5-16 illustrates this truth in a humorous way. “Peter, therefore, was kept in prison; but prayer was made without ceasing by the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5). When God miraculously delivered Peter (in response to their prayers) he appeared before the door of the assembled believers even while they were still praying inside. When the young girl told the news to them that Peter was outside waiting to come in, they thought she was mad. When they finally let him in “they were astonished” (Acts 12:16). If they had really been praying expectantly, should they have been astonished? In 1976 I was stricken with viral encephalitis.The congregation of which I was the pastor prayed diligently for my recovery. When I made a quick recovery and appeared the following Sunday, a number expressed surprise that I was back so quickly. My response was, “Why are you surprised? Didn’t you pray expecting my recovery?”
Elijah prayed expectantly. When the little cloud appeared he knew that the time for the answer had arrived. He had never doubted that it would come.
The Effect Of His Prayer
Even though Ahab was wicked, he was still the king. Out of respect to that position, Elijah warned him to get moving before he was overtaken by the raging storm about to burst over the Carmel and the Valley of Jezreel. Elijah knew that the Brook Kishon would be swollen and might endanger Ahab even as had taken place to the soldiers of Sisera (cf. Jud. 5:19-21).
The effect of Elijah’s prayer was twofold: (1) on the land, and (2) on himself. The rain descended in torrents. “And it came to pass in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel” (1 Ki. 18:45). Three and a half years of drought were ended. Rain is often mentioned in the Bible as a blessing of God (e.g., Lev. 26:4; Ps. 147:8). Yet, God had withheld the blessing because of national sin. When the nation acknowledged its sin. God responded with the blessing of rain. It is in this context that the oft misunderstood statement of God to Solomon should be understood. “And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as an house of sacrifice, if I shut up heaven that there is no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, who are called by my name, shall 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” (2 Chr. 7:12-14).
Elijah’s prayer was effective, not because of its language, nor because of its length, nor because of its loudness. His prayer was effective because it was ernest, expectant, and based on God’s promises.
The final effect of the prayer was on Elijah himself. “And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel” (1 Ki. 18:46). God honored His prophet by a supernatural enabling to also escape the torrent. He actually outran Ahab’s chariot the entire eight miles to Jezreel! Elijah would not have hitched a ride with Ahab even if he had been invited. The prophet had horsepower which the king had never dreamed of!
Elijah’s prayer was ernest, expectant, and effective. Pastors bemoan the fact that they can get their people to do almost anything but pray. They will come to socials, banquets, even to hear good preaching, but very rarely will they come to pray! Perhaps it is because they don’t really believe that it works. Perhaps they prayed for something and nothing happened. How thankful I am that my godly grandparents never stopped praying for a wayward grandson. They prayed earnestly and expectantly and their prayer was effective. Keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking.