After the timeline of judges, where the Israel had spread out upon the land but were not cleanly united behind a single government, they institute a kingdom, rules in succession by Saul, David and Solomon. Solomon rules for nearly forty years, known for his wisdom and over the course of his reign becomes extravagantly wealthy. That wealth and power leads him into sin, forgetting his people, imposing burdens on them. On his death, his son Rehoboam reigns. The people plead with him to ease their burdens. Instead he doubles down, increasing the burdens provoking a rebellion already fermenting, splitting Israel into two. Rehoboam rules the south, populated by Judah Benjamin, Jeroboam rules the north, populated by the remaining ten tribes.
The Northern kingdom is much more volatile than the south. Jeroboam leaves the kingdom to Nadab, his son. Baasha overthrows Nadab to gain the kingdom and then passes it on to his son Elah. Zimri overthrows Elah to gain the kingdom only to lose it to Omri who eventually passes it on to Ahab. It’s here the confrontation between Ahab and Elijah begin.
1 King 17 – Drought
None of the kings in the northern kingdom are righteous, but according to Kings 16:30, Ahab was the worse of them all. He marries Jezebel, the daughter of the Ethbaal king of the Zidonians (31) and brought Baal worship into the Northern kingdom, building altars and groves dedicated to the worship of Baal.
The story kicks off abruptly. Elijah (whose name means My God is Yahweh) confronts Ahab, promising an extended drought in response to his wicked reign, ironic because Baal is a god of fertility and rain. Immediately after this briefly described encounter, Elijah flees, finding sustenance in isolation by the brook Cherith where he is fed by crows. After some time, the creek dries up and he’s told to seek sustenance from a widow in Zarephath. This detail is also interesting because this city is near Sidon where Jezebel is from and outside of Israel. He finds the widow gathering sticks, asks her first for water then for a morsel of bread. The widow tells Elijah, she has just a handful of meal and a little oil and she, at that moment, was preparing a final meal for her and her son before they would die. Eljiah promises her that if she feeds him first, that barrel of meal and cruse of oil shall not fail until the rain comes again. The widow believes and provides and receives the blessing promised.
This is an interesting story that leads to all sorts of questions, here are mine:
- Why does Elijah transition from being sustained by birds and a river to a widow? What do we learn from isolation in nature? What do we learn from connection?
- Why do you think Elijah goes all the way to Zarephath? Why do we sometimes need to learn from outsiders?
- Why does Elijah choose a poor widow to sustain him? Why is it in the moments of our weakness we are asked to serve others?
- What does the widow have to teach Elijah? What about us?
1 King 17 – The Widows Boy Dies
Some time later, out of the blue, the widow’s son dies. The widow understandably questions this turn of events. Why would God save them at the moment when their food is about to run out only to later allow her son to die? Elijah has a similar question. He takes the boy and prays to God that the boy revives. The prayer is answered, the boy revives, and the widow declares her testimony to Elijah’s God.
- Why does tragedy descend upon us even when we are in Gods’ service?
- Here the son is revived, but this doesn’t happen. How can we recognize God’s hand in the face of tragedy? How can we move forward when it doesn’t seem God answers are prayers?
- How does this experience prepare Elijah for his confrontation with Ahab?
1 Kings 18 – Elijah’s confrontation with Ahab
Three years into the drought, God tells Elijah its time for rain, but first, Elijah must confront Ahab, the cause of the drought. Elijah’s travels to Samaria. At this moment, Obadiah, a governor of Ahab’s house but a dedicated servant of God and protector of prophets whose life Jezebel sought, was asked by Ahab to help him find land for their flocks to feed, since water and grass were scarce. They went different directions in this search and it’s here Obadiah meets Elijah. Elijah asks Obadaih to tell Ahab he is here and would like to meet. Obadiah fears for his life. If he tells Ahab Elijah is here but Elijah does not present himself, Obadiah would die. Elijah promises he will follow through.
Elijah meets with Ahab who immediately accuses him of causing the drought. Elijah responds saying, no, Ahab was the cause. And then challenges Ahab’s prophets to a contest. Whoever’s God can reign fire upon an altar will be proven to be the true God. Ahab gathers 450 of Baal’s prophets. They kill a bullok, dress it and lay it upon wood. They spent the day crying out to Baal, leaping upon the altar, cutting themselves. Elijah mocks them, perhaps Baal is on a journey or sleeping, perhaps they need to cry louder. Still, their best efforts are unsuccessful.
Now, Elijah’s turn. He builds an alter on twelve stones to remind the people of the twelve tribes of Israel. He builds a trench around the alter, and drenches the wood with water three times, filling the trench. At the time of the evening sacrifice, he offers a quiet prayer, asking for God’s intervention that the people might turn their hearts to God. Immediately a fire drops down on the altar consuming it. Elijah kills the prophets of Baal by the brook Kishon, gets on the top of Carmel and predicts rain. After looking seven times, the clouds form, the rain comes and the drought is over. Questions
- How do we halt between two opinions in ways that lead us from God?
- What can we learn from Elijah’s method of making the sacrifice (full of symbols), prayer and the nature of prophets?
- In the face of suffering (drought in this case) what can we do proactively to address the causes of that suffering in ways that are effective?
1 Kings 19 – Elijah’s Sorrow
When Jezebel hears of this encounter, she vows to take Elijah’s life. Elijah flees for his life down to Beer-sheba, leaving his servant there, and he continues on into the wilderness. He prostrates himself by a tree and wants to die. An angel comes and gives him cake and water, strengthening him. He goes into Horeb into a cave and continues to wonder of the futility of his efforts, sorrowing. Elijah experiences strong wind, an earthquake, a fire, but God was in neither. He finally feels God in a still, small voice.
God tells Elijah, first, that he’s not alone, that there are 7000 others in Israel that have not bowed to Baal. Further, he tells Elijah he has more for him to do, to anoint Hazael king over Syra and Jehu king over Israel, and Elisha shall be anointed prophet.
- How can we turn to God when we feel isolated, alone, frustrated or otherwise depressed?
- How does it help to know we are not alone?
- What does God’s intervention teach us? How can we feel God’s spirit? How can being called into service help with depression?