1 Kings 17
Two Opposing Figures
From 1 Kings 16:29 to almost the end of 1 Kings two figures dominant the landscape: King Ahab and Elijah the prophet; one for his evil influence, the other as the mouthpiece of God.
We met Ahab at the end of the last chapter; here we are introduced to Elijah. Indeed historically, Ahab is the reason for Elijah’s appearance.
Ahab is said in 16:30 to have done more evil than any of those who came before him. In addition, he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal the priest-king of Tyre and Sidon “to ratify an alliance between Tyre and Israel”. Jezebel was a fanatical devotee of Melqart the Tyrian Baal and introduced the worship of her god into the capital of the Northern Kingdom.
Here in chapter 17 we are introduced the man whom God called to oppose Ahab and his Baal worshiping wife in the struggle for the spiritual heart of Israel.
Verses 1-7 give the first account of Elijah’s prophetic ministry and of God’s initial provision to protect and sustain his valiant spokesman. Verses 8-16 relate the subsequent method provided by God for his maintenance, while verses 17-24 tell the story of the action that prompts the poor widow to declare what the account wishes to confirm “that you are a man of God, and that the Lord truly speaks through you” (17:24)
There are a number of things that we might take from this account for our own edification.
We can note first that the Lord Jesus obviously knew the story well and drew upon it when his hearers in the Nazareth synagogue were dismissive because of his local origins (Luke 4:14-30). It was his eternal origins and mission, not his earthly home that dictated his significance. In a lesser way we ought not to discount people whom God has called to His service, even if their origins are humble. Who would have believed that a unremarkable farm boy,Billy Graham, would become the greatest public evangelist of the 20th century .
Secondly, we might note that God has multiple ways of preserving and sustaining his servants when he has sent them on a task of his choosing. Here both provisions made for Elijah were unusual to say the least. However, God, if we may say it reverently, is never short on inventiveness and fascinating means to accomplish His purposes: just look at creation.
Thirdly, we can note how gracious and faithful God is. He does not give up on His covenant promises even in the face of great provocation.. He will maintain his cause in loyalty to his promises to have a people who are his, and will vindicate his Name in the eyes of all. Thus we wait for the final fulfilment of his promised salvation when the One whom He raised from the dead returns finally as the Judge of the world and the Saviour of his people and of God’s good but enslaved creation.
Finally, perhaps a thought about King and Prophet, that is, about Institution and Inspiration. King/Institution is the element that provides order and continuity while Prophet/Inspiration provides the dynamic element for new beginnings, reformation and revival. Both are important in the life of the Church. The institutional element provides the structures that preserve values, maintains memory and provides stability. The charismatic element injects life into structures and renews enthusiasm. We need to make room for both in our life together. We should pray for our institutional church life and for the constantly renewing breath of God’s Holy Spirit.
The Heart of an Adulterer
We have been watching the outworking of spiritual adultery in the accounts of Israel’s life in the book of Kings. Kings and people loved other deities, power, influence, and material advancement rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They found their reason for living in something other than Him. Here in James the same principle is at work. People are desirous of things other than God and his friendship.
In 1 Timothy 6:17 Paul counsels his younger colleague to instruct the believers in Ephesus:“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
I recall from my days as a young believer a saying that carried a great truth. People spoke of “the expulsive power of a great affection”. They meant that true love for God was a positive power that drove out all other inappropriate loves. God is generous and kind and has given, and goes on giving, us so much to enjoy. It is sad and wicked when we prefer the gifts to the Giver, greedily pursuing the former and carelessly disregarding the Latter.
Our daily prayer ought then to be the response in the Service of Holy Communion to the reading of the two great commandments (Matthew 22:34 – 40): “Lord, have mercy on us: and write your law in our hearts by your Holy Spirit”. The expulsive power of true affection for God is the antidote to the inordinate love of other things