Bible Focus: 1 Kings 17-22
Now Elijah the Tishbite, from the Gilead settlers, said to Ahab, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, in whose presence I stand, there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!”1 Kings 17:1 CSB
A little over two months ago, I resolved once again to get back into running. My running routine was one of the things I pushed aside this year to publish my book on schedule. I missed running, and I really missed feeling fit.
One of my favorite Louisville running races, the Throo the Zoo 5K, was coming up in November. So I signed up for the race, made a two-month training plan, and worked through those training runs in September and October.
That morning–despite the show showers that blew into Louisville–I ran that 5K and felt great. And before the day was done, I signed up for the Frostbite 5K in January, to keep up my motivation to run during the holiday season.
The ability to take what we’ve been given and create something meaningful is one of the joys of being human. We can make a plan, take action, move things forward, and cause some things to happen. And we can take satisfaction in the results, knowing that we played a significant part. Achievement is not, in itself, a bad thing.
But we humans do have a problem keeping our power in perspective. We are constantly drawn to people, things, or ideas that promise us more power: more personal freedom, more fulfillment of desire, more control over some aspect of our lives. Such cravings can easily draw us into idolatry, as we pursue a person, product, or philosophy that promises an abundant flow of blessing. Meanwhile, we can push the real God–the One who has given us everything–to the margins of our life.
After the reign of King Solomon, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms. The larger northern kingdom was still called Israel, and its capital was Samaria. The smaller southern kingdom was called Judah, and its capital was Jerusalem.
Elijah the Tishbite was a prophet that God used to proclaim his judgment on Israel and its kings, particularly King Ahab. Ahab had married a foreign woman named Jezebel who served other gods. Ahab himself decided to publicly serve the god Baal and support the god Asherah. Asherah supposedly had the power to bring fertility to the womb, while Baal supposedly had the power to bring rain to the land.
In response, God told Ahab (through Elijah) that no rain would fall on his land unless God said so. For three years, no rain fell. But Ahab refused to repent and acknowledge God. Instead, Ahab was angry with Elijah and kept trying to find out where he was hidden. Finally, God told Elijah it was time for a showdown.
After a long time, the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year: “Go and present yourself to Ahab. I will send rain on the surface of the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. The famine was severe in Samaria.1 Kings 18:1-2,17-19 CSB
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When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one ruining Israel?” He replied, “I have not ruined Israel, but you and your father’s family have, because you have abandoned the LORD’s commands and followed the Baals. Now summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
At Mount Carmel, Elijah spoke to the people of Israel and proposed a contest: the prophets of Baal would set up a sacrifice for Baal, and Elijah would set up a sacrifice for God. “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD,” said Elijah. “The God who answers with fire, he is God” (1 Kings 18:24a CSB). The people agreed.
The prophets of Baal tried first. They set up the sacrifice and worked themselves into a frenzy, asking Baal to light the sacrifice. They tried from morning until evening, but nothing happened. Then Elijah responded. He set up his sacrifice, dug a trench around it, and had the Israelites dowse his sacrifice with water until it was soaking wet and the trench was full of water. Then Elijah prayed a simple prayer, and fire came down and burned up the entire sacrifice, including the water in the trench. The awestruck people declared that the LORD was God, and at Elijah’s direction they seized the prophets of Baal and had them executed. Then God sent a heavy rain on their land.
Idols come in many forms. They can be made of wood, stone, or metal. They can be mechanical, technological, or artistic. They can be relational, vocational, or financial. Whatever their form, they all offer this deal: if we will give them our supreme devotion, then they will give us what we long for. But their promises are false. These idols are powerless. Only God can give us what we truly need.
Here’s the good news. Despite our tendency to chase idols, God still chases after us. He enjoys breaking through our idol-induced haze to show us that only he is truly God and that he truly cares about us. He has proven this once and for all with the sacrifice of his Son Jesus. The cross of Jesus reminds us to lay down our idols and take the hand of the real God.
Featured image from Lerone Pieters on Unsplash.
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