(I Kings 16:29 - 19:18)

A common, challenging difficulty that we all experience on a continual basis is the challenge of getting someone's attention. At no time is this challenge more demanding or more complicated than at those times when the person is certain that he or she already knows what you want.

"You don't need my attention. You just think you need my attention. You don't need to tell me anything. I already know what you want. I'll take care of it. Don't annoy me. Don't force me to stand here and act like I am listening to you. I don't need to listen because I already understand. What I do not know is not important."

It deeply frustrates us when we attempt to get the attention of someone who will not listen. Refusing to give attention to things that deserve attention is a human problem. We all are a part of the problem. Nowhere do we create that problem more often than in our relationship with God.

We make it extremely difficult for God to get our attention.

This evening I want us to examine some important lessons to be learned from Elijah's wilderness experience. We will study from 1 Kings 16:29 through 1 Kings 19.

  1. First, we need to set the context of Elijah's wilderness experience.
    1. In all of this, carefully note Elijah's faith, commitment, and sacrifice.
    2. Elijah was God's prophet in northern Israel approximately 250 years after the nation of Israel divided.
      1. These events occurred during the reign of King Ahab, who ruled in northern Israel for twenty-two years (1 Kings 16:29).
        1. All the kings of northern Israel were extremely wicked men.
        2. But Ahab was more wicked than all the previous kings (1 Kings 16:30).
        3. He considered it trivial to live in all the sins of the previous kings (1 Kings 16:31).
          1. He married and made queen a non-Israelite, pagan woman named Jezebel.
          2. Through her influence, he built a temple and sacrificial altar for Baal who became the official god of northern Israel.
        4. He did more to provoke God than all the previous kings of Israel (1 Kings 16:33).
    3. Northern Israel was so evil that Elijah pronounced a public curse on the nation: it would not rain for a long, indefinite period; there would not even be dew, not until he asked God for the rain to return (1 Kings 17:1).
      1. After that pronouncement, God commanded Elijah to go into hiding and told him where to go.
        1. He hid in the wilderness and at the brook Cherith.
        2. God sent ravens with meat and bread to feed Elijah twice a day.
        3. Can you imagine how lonely that was? Can you imagine his diet? How would you like to eat food that birds brought you as you lived in isolation?
        4. He hid at the brook until the drought dried it up.
        5. Note: Elijah's pronouncement created suffering for himself.
      2. When the brook dried up, God sent Elijah north to the town of Zeraphath in Sidon where a non-Jewish widow was to care for him.
        1. I find it interesting that Jezebel who killed the Lord's prophets, and this widow who took care of Elijah, came from the same region.
        2. Elijah saw her as he approached the gate of the city and asked for water.
        3. As she left to get him water, he asked for bread also.
        4. She explained that all she had was a little flour and oil; she was preparing to bake it for her and her child to be their last meal before death.
        5. Elijah asked her to make him a small cake of bread first, and then make one for herself and her child.
        6. He urged her not to fear, because the flour and oil would last until the rain returned.
        7. She did as he requested, and the flour and oil lasted.
        8. Later, her son became ill suddenly and died.
          1. She believed her child died because a holy man lived in her house.
          2. Elijah saw it as an injustice falling on the person who took care of him.
          3. Elijah asked God to restore the child's life, and God did.
          4. Her response, "I know that you are a man of God, and that God's word in your mouth is truth."

  2. After a long period (James 5:17 in the New Testament says it did not rain for three years and six months) God instructed Elijah to go to Ahab to inform him that the rain would return.
    1. There were several reasons for Elijah speaking to Ahab.
      1. Ahab searched everywhere for Elijah; he wanted to kill him.
        1. Elijah's curse stopped the rain.
        2. Ahab believed he could end the curse by killing Elijah.
        3. Ahab needed to know that he had not frightened nor intimidated Elijah.
      2. Ahab also needed to know that it was the Lord of Israel, not Baal, who sent the rain.
      3. This was also to create an occasion for Elijah to challenge Israel to a unique contest.
    2. Ahab and his chief servant, Obadiah, divided the territory up to search for water in order to spare Ahab's livestock.
      1. Though Obadiah was Ahab's chief servant, Obadiah was totally devoted to the Lord of Israel.
      2. Elijah met Obadiah, and Obadiah greeted him with great respect.
      3. Elijah told Obadiah to bring Ahab to him.
        1. Obadiah knew how desperate Ahab was in his search for Elijah.
        2. He also knew that Elijah appeared and disappeared without a trace.
        3. If he told Ahab that Elijah was there, and if they did not find Elijah when they came, Ahab would be so furious that he would kill Obadiah.
      4. Elijah took an oath that vowed he would be there when Ahab came.
    3. Elijah had a contest with four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel.
      1. When Ahab and Elijah met, Elijah said the indecision about who was God in Israel had gone on long enough.
        1. He asked Ahab to gather the heads of the Israelite families and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal (male cult god) and the four hundred prophets of the Asherah (the female cult goddess) at Carmel so the matter could be settled.
        2. Ahab did.
        3. Elijah proposed a contest.
          1. Let them prepare a sacrifice for Baal and he one for the Lord.
          2. Let them ask Baal to consume their sacrifice with fire, and let him ask the Lord to consume his sacrifice with fire.
          3. The fire would prove who was the God of Israel.
          4. The prophets of Baal would have first choice of the sacrificial bulls and first opportunity to call for fire.
        4. They agreed--everything about the contest favored them and their beliefs.
          1. They prepared the sacrifice and went to extreme measures to convince Baal to send fire.
          2. Though they spent most of the day calling to Baal, nothing happened.
          3. Elijah drenched his sacrifice in water, asked God to act, and with one request God sent fire that consumed the sacrifice, the altar, and the water.
          4. Elijah expected this to turn the hearts of Israel back to God (1 Kings 18:37).
          5. The representatives of Israel confessed, "The Lord [they called God by his Israelite name] is God."
          6. The four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal were executed. (Nothing indicates that the four hundred prophets of the Asherah came.)
        5. Elijah then informed Ahab that rain was coming, and urged Ahab to return to Jezereel quickly before the road became impassable for the chariot.
          1. Elijah ran cross country, and Ahab took the road.
          2. God was with Elijah, and he arrived in Jezreel before Ahab did.
    4. When Ahab told Jezebel about what happened at Carmel, she sent word to Elijah that he would die before the next day ended.
      1. Jezebel institutionalized the worship of Baal in northern Israel.
        1. She personally supported the prophets.
        2. They ate at her table.
        3. She was furious.
      2. Elijah was demoralized, defeated, and depressed.
        1. In fear he fled south out of the territory of northern Israel.
        2. He left his servant at Beersheba in Judah.
        3. Then he fled over twenty miles into the wilderness south of Beersheba.
        4. He stopped to sit down under a broom tree, a desert bush that can grow 12 feet high, and asked God to let him die.
        5. He felt like a total failure; he believed that he had accomplished nothing; life had lost its meaning.
        6. He went to sleep.
      3. An angel awakened him to eat food and water prepared for him.
        1. He ate and went back to sleep.
        2. The angel woke him a second time to eat more because he had a long journey, and this is all the food that he would have to sustain him.
      4. After eating the second time, he began a journey of forty days that took him all the way back to Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai.
        1. Moses fled to this same area when he left Egypt (Exodus 3:1).
        2. Israel later camped in this same area to receive the ten commandments (Exodus 18:5).
    5. Elijah entered a cave in the mountain.
      1. God asked, "What are you doing here?"
      2. He explained, "I have been zealous for the Lord; the sons of Israel have rejected your covenant; they have torn down your altars; they have executed the prophets; I am the only one left; and they are trying to kill me."
      3. God told him to go stand at the entrance to the cave; when he did, it was obvious that the Lord was passing by.
        1. Elijah listened for God's voice as He passed by.
        2. There was an unbelievably strong wind that broke rocks, but God's voice was not in the wind.
        3. There was an earthquake, but God's voice was not in the earthquake.
        4. There was fire, but God's voice was not in the fire.
        5. Then there was a quiet sound of gentle blowing, and God's voice was there.
        6. And God asked again, "What are you doing here?"
        7. Elijah gave the same answer.
      4. And the voice of God said, "Go back and do the jobs I have for you to do."
        1. "You are not the only one in northern Israel loyal to me."
        2. "There are seven thousand there who have not worshipped Baal."

  3. Please consider several things.
    1. Elijah's dream was to turn northern Israel back to God.
      1. He thought that he had accomplished his dream when he won at Carmel.
      2. When the contest at Carmel changed nothing, he felt like a failure.
      3. He felt like he failed, not because he failed God, but because he did not achieve his expectations.
    2. Elijah was a man of incredible faith and sacrifice.
      1. But when he failed to achieve his expectations, his faith turned to fear.
      2. In fear, he became the exact opposite of what he had been in faith.
    3. Elijah expected God to cause things to happen that God had not promised.
      1. The evil situation in northern Israel was not as simple as Elijah pictured it.
      2. It was not as simple as proving that God was alive, or as simple as changing worship.
      3. It was not a matter of dramatically demonstrating the power of God.
      4. The problem was created by wicked people with wicked hearts, and that is a very complex matter.
      5. It took far more than facts and power to change hearts.
    4. Elijah's fear exaggerated his false sense of failure.
      1. He was afraid of Jezebel (not four hundred and fifty prophets, Ahab, and the heads of the families of Israel) because he realized nothing had changed.
      2. Because he could not change people, he believed that he had failed.
      3. So with feelings of total defeat, he quit.
    5. We are like Elijah--we are convinced that the powerful and dramatic would cause people to accept the facts and worship, and everything would change.
      1. God made it quite clear to Elijah that God's voice is not found in the dramatic.
      2. In fact, God's most powerful expressions are not in the dramatic, but in the quiet voice.
      3. It is he who hears the quiet voice that lets God be God.
    6. Were I to paraphrase God's conversation with Elijah, it would be this: "Elijah, what are you doing way out here where it all began with Moses and the rescued slaves of Egypt? I did not ask you to take care of Me. I don't need you to take care of Me. I am in control of the situation. All I asked you to do is serve me. That is all I want you to do. I will take care of the rest. You are exaggerating the situation. You are not the only one who is loyal to me. Now, go back and do the work I give you to do."

God got the attention of this dedicated, devout, faith-filled man of God. The only thing Elijah failed was his own agenda, his own expectations.

God meets us in our wilderness to teach us, to get our attention, and to tell us to stop exaggerating. God meets us to tell us that we must stop making our expectations His agenda.

We need to be very careful about being more concerned about accomplishing our agendas as the church than we are about being Christians who serve God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 6 September 1998

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