Expository Sermon on 1 Kings 17 and 19
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 11/9/2019
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
To watch the YouTube of this worship service, click the white triangular “play” button on the line below. The sermon starts at the 1:32:33 mark.
Please open your Bibles to First Kings chapter 17.
This is still another sermon in the series I’ve been doing the past few months, called “Jesus’ Bible Footprints.” Jesus Himself clearly teaches us that He was present and active throughout the entire Old Testament, and we’ve been doing our best to discover His footprints in each of these books.
This morning we’ll be looking at the life of the prophet Elijah. If you know anything about Elijah, you probably remember that he stood on top of Mount Carmel and prepared a sacrifice which God ignited by a fire-bolt from heaven. Then, toward the end of Elijah’s earthly life, God sent a blindingly bright chariot down from heaven to transport him up there. And 800 or so years later, Elijah came back down from heaven along with Moses, and had what must’ve been an intriguing conversation with Jesus on top of another mountain in Palestine. And Elijah’s footprints, along with those of Moses and Jesus, may have existed for a time on that mountain top.
Elijah is really a familiar Bible figure to me, because several years ago Shelley created some narration for a two-part sermon series on Elijah’s life, and I wrote a few songs for it. So it was a pleasure to settle back and read this story again.
And while I was reading, I asked myself, “What was there in Elijah’s life which entitled him to a ticket to ride on that blazing heaven-bound chariot?”
I mean, why did the Lord take Elijah to heaven in a fiery chariot and not Elisha? Elisha performed more miracles than Elijah did. Elisha was more of a people person than Elijah seemed to have been. And after all, as Elijah was leaving for heaven, Elisha specifically asked him for a double portion of his Spirit, and Elijah granted that request. So why did Elijah get the chariot right and not Elisha?
And why did Elijah get the invitation to join Jesus and Moses on Transfiguration Mountain?
Anyway, as I was reading through the Elijah story again, I wondered if we could find out from this great prophet’s life some qualities he had which made him a deeply appreciated friend of God. Because he had several qualities which Jesus Himself also had, as He later made footprints in Palestine. I can find at least four of the qualities Elijah had which made him God’s faithful and powerful servant. Jesus possessed these four qualities, and I believe that anybody who wants to stay faithful to the Lord in these times of crisis needs to have these qualities too.
Let’s find out what the first of these qualities is. But before that, we have to set the stage. The year is somewhere around 870 BC, and King Ahab rules the nation of Israel. He is one of Israel’s most wicked kings, and his wife Queen Jezebel has absolutely no good effect on Ahab’s morals. Because of her, and because of his own sinfulness, Ahab worships the god Baal, and has led his nation into idolatry.
Meanwhile, the Lord has decided to take steps to bring Ahab and the rest of the nation to the point where they realize how useless the god Baal is. And for the very first time, we are introduced to Elijah.
1 Kings 17:1 [NKJV]: And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”
You see, Baal was supposed to be the god of storm and thunder. If your crops needed rain, you prayed to Baal. So it’s like God was saying through Elijah, “Okay, let’s just see how much rain your storm god can produce when the Creator turns off the irrigation system.”
And as soon as Elijah delivers his message, the Lord has some orders for him.
Verses 2 – 5: Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan.
If you’re taking notes, here comes Sermon Point One. What’s the first quality Elijah had, which I think you and I need to develop?
Elijah’s first quality is instant obedience to God.
The word of the Lord came to Elijah, and Elijah immediately obeyed it.
Earlier this week I checked out the new documentary on the Apollo 11 moon flight, and watched it. It’s a wonderful documentary. There’s nothing from Hollywood in it. The films are from actual footage taken back in 1969, and the voices are the real radio voices of those involved. I was a teenager when I watched the that first moon landing in the living room of the pastor of the Redfield, South Dakota Adventist church.
It was very clear to me, watching this new documentary, that the success of that first flight and moon landing depended not only on careful calculations, but also on instant obedience to commands. The astronauts were not freewheeling freelancers. They kept a careful ear on the transmissions from Houston. Even the splashdown at the end of the trip back to earth had to be moved roughly 250 miles away from the original landing site because of the storm. And because the astronauts instantly followed directions and made course corrections, they all three got back home safely.
Instant obedience to God–that’s what Moses had, that’s what Jesus Himself had. Philippians 2 talks about how Jesus humbled himself and became obedient even to death. In the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed to His Father, “Your will, not My will, be done.”
The Bible’s familiar names – the names we use for our children – are names of people who didn’t compromise with the word of the Lord. If God said it, they did it. If God said to avoid it, they avoided it. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Samuel, David, Daniel, Elijah–these people practiced instant obedience to God.
How about you? How about me? Have we mentally scanned through the 10 Commandments recently, to see if our behavior is in full obedience to them? And if we find something a little off-kilter, we need to instantly start obeying.
Now let’s look at the next quality I can see in the character of Elijah.
Verses 5 – 14: So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” So she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’ ”
And sure enough, that’s what happened. I don’t know whether the Lord actually told Elijah in so many words to give this challenge to the woman, or maybe Elijah was so in touch with God’s way of doing things that he could just go right ahead and plan for that, and God would cooperate. We don’t know.
But I am sure of Elijah’s second powerful quality, one I need to have more and more as our planet spins toward its destiny.
If Elijah’s first quality is instant obedience to God, I believe that his second quality is total faith in God.
The Saturday night of our church’s Rosario retreat a few weeks back, several people were in the lodge playing table games. I wanted to get something back in our cabin, so I stepped outside and started walking across the parking lot. The sky was dark, but there was still a lingering sunset glow in the west.
But then my eye was caught by something bright, way out there in the water, maybe 2 miles away. It was a huge ship, probably a ferry, although it might’ve been a cruise ship. But it was brightly lit from stem to stern. It was slowly churning along from south to north, like a dazzling diamond against the blackness.
I paused and watched for a moment. I wondered what it must’ve been like to be on that ship. I wondered what the passengers were doing. Some of them were probably standing at the rail on the far side of the boat gazing into the sunset. Others were probably reading, or talking on their cell phones, or maybe playing table games with their kids.
But I have a feeling that not a single one of them was worrying about the journey. I’m sure that they had total faith in the boat, that it wouldn’t sink, and total faith in the pilot, that he knew the way to the ferry dock at the end of their journey.
Elijah had total faith in God. So did Moses – his future mountaintop partner – and so did Jesus. Elijah’s faith wobbled once – when Jezebel threatened to kill him – and Moses’ faith wobbled at the beginning of his ministry. But these men developed solid faith in God.
They didn’t have a false faith, which blindly believed that God would do anything they wanted Him to. Instead, they had faith that God would do what was best in any situation, and they studied and prayed that they would be on His same page.
How do we develop total faith in God? Again, we need to turn back to the Bible. Read Hebrews chapter 11, the great “faith Hall of Fame.” And then, like father with the demon-possessed boy, we should cry out to God, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
For Elijah’s third important quality, let’s turn to chapter 19. By now, the Mount Carmel experience has already happened. God’s fire came down on Elijah’s altar, burning up not only the sacrifice and the wood, but also the stones and the water that Elijah had poured over it.
But now, with the victory so sweet, the exhausted Elijah receives a shock.
1 Kings 19:1 – 4: And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”
We’ll hear Elijah to do some more talking with God in a few seconds, but let’s lay down the third crucially important quality I can find in the life of Elijah. Again, this is a quality we need to develop.
If Elijah’s first quality is instant obedience to God, and his second quality is total faith in God, I believe that his third quality is absolute honesty with God.
If you’re somebody who reads your Bible thoroughly, you have already discovered that it’s okay to be honest in your prayers to God. And God is okay with that. God works with that. If you are honest with God – and not merely stubborn with God – God will work with you.
Moses was honest with God, not only as he was trying to convince God that no, he was not a public speaker, no, he was not qualified to lead the nation, but Moses was also honest with God on several later occasions when the people simply became too rebellious for Moses to consider continuing to lead them.
But in these situations, God let Moses talk about his feelings, and He comforted Moses. He gave Moses what he needed.
And here, as Elijah cowers in the fetal position beside that tree, trying to get some sleep, but dreadfully fearful that assassins from Queen Jezebel will leap from the shadows and pounce on him, God doesn’t rebuke Elijah for his fears. Watch what happens.
Verses 5 – 8: Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
Interesting – Horeb the mountain of God is Mount Sinai. This mountain was where Moses left his footprints hundreds of years before. Anyway, as Elijah hides in one of the caves of the mountain, he keeps being honest with God.
Verses 9 – 10: And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
And God could have said so much back to this discouraged prophet. He could’ve said, “Elijah, remember what happened on Mount Carmel. Remember the famine, then remember the rain. Remember the woman with the never-empty flour bin. Remember how you raised her son to life. And remember all of the faithful people in the past who have seen My power.”
Instead, the Lord decides to put on a demonstration.
Verses 11 – 14: Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
Notice that Elijah hasn’t changed his response. He’s probably been rehearsing this grievance-speech all the way down from Samaria to Sinai. He knows it well, and he’ll probably keep repeating it if he gets a chance.
And that’s okay, because he is been absolutely honest with God. What God wants from us first of all is our honesty. If you have a gripe against God, gripe it out at Him. Just don’t be stubborn. Talk honestly, but listen carefully. Keep your heart open to the Holy Spirit.
As I mentioned, Moses was honest with God. Jesus was honest with God. In Gethsemane, He shared His hope that the cup of death and suffering could be taken away from Him. On the cross He called out in agony, saying that God had forsaken Him.
But watch what happens now. God knows that Elijah doesn’t need careful theological refutation. Elijah needs to stop stewing in his discouragement and get back to work. Because Elijah already possesses a truly important fourth quality.
Verses 15 – 18: Then the LORD said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
What is Elijah’s fourth quality, which I believe qualified him for the chariot ride and the Transfiguration Mountain summit meeting as much as the first three qualities?
I believe that Elijah’s first quality is instant obedience to God, his second quality is total faith in God, and his third quality is absolute honesty with God. And I believe his fourth quality is a long-term contract with God.
What do I mean by that? Well, when you think of it, when God reeled off this new to-do list, Elijah could have said, “Wait. Hold on. I’m retired. I’m going back to my home village and watch TV and maybe just do odd jobs for people once in a while. I’m done with this high-profile work. It’s not good for my health.”
But he doesn’t do this. He didn’t even say “thank you” for the new assignments. He just packs up his things and heads north. And now, rather than preparing a protest speech to God as he did on the way down, he’s probably contemplating a couple of bright spots. First of all, he’s getting an assistant, who he can eventually mentor into his own role. And second, there are evidently an astounding 7000 people who are still absolutely faithful to God. So he’s not alone after all!
And as he trudges north, Elisha is probably feeling within himself a revival of those qualities which have made him such a valuable servant of the Lord – instant obedience to God, total faith in God, absolute honesty with God. And maybe these are strengthening is resolved to continue his long-term contract God.
Because he does have more work to do. He casts his mantle over the shoulders of Elisha, and takes the young man under his wing. When King Ahab and Queen Jezebel have a man murdered because they want his vineyard, Elijah confronts Ahab. As the book of Second Kings begins, Elijah confronts another king about his idolatry.
And finally, a chariot of fire arrives for him, and he steps aboard, and he leaves his mantle in the very capable hands of Elisha.
Because after the fear, after the exhaustion, after the depression, Elijah still has hope—hope in a God who is faithful.
And we can have this hope as well—hope that prompts us to instant obedience, total faith, absolute honesty, and long-term service to our Creator and Savior.