God's Powerful Prophets: Elijah

God's Powerful Prophets: Elijah Sermon Notes

Elijah

Pastor Paul L. Davis

1 Kings 18:20–46, Luke 16:13

Key Goals: (Know) Know God in a way that we will display strength and take action. (Feel) Feel confident in God’s ability to overwhelm his foes.  (Do) Attempt great things for God.

Introduction: God’s Powerful Prophets. Over the next four weeks we are going to be exploring four key men in God’s plan for redeeming mankind. They were all prophets. Our first two prophets will be Elijah and Elisha, and our second two will be Jeremiah and Ezekiel. God used each of these men in powerful and unique ways. 

What is a prophet? He was a man chosen by God to bring repentance and change. He did that in four ways:

1.          Revealing to the world who God was and what he was like. (Deut. 5:4-10)

2.          Calling God’s people to love and obey him. (2 Chr. 24:19)

3.          Warning of divine judgment upon sin both on a personal and national level. (Jer. 36:30-31)

4.          Foretelling certain future events, especially as related to the coming of the Messiah. (Jer. 30:1-3, Is. 9:6)

So a prophet was not simply a “fortune teller” or even just a “truth teller.” A prophet’s job was to reveal or tell the difficult truth that God wanted something to change. The Hebrew word for prophet is “naw-bi.” The root of that word means “to be open or hollow” and it described the hollow part of a flute[1]. The idea is that a prophet’s mouth was to be hollow so that it would speak God’s words into the world. A prophet’s job was to tell God’s people the truth about God and their sin: to clearly reveal the sins that needed to be repented of and truths that needed to be remembered. Sometimes, a prophetic word is exactly what we need to hear. People can get forgetful, rebellious, complacent, preoccupied, stubborn, busy, and just plain disobedient. A prophet’s job was to wake people up and turn their hearts away from sin towards God. 

Background Review: This morning we will be looking at Elijah (approx. 875-850 BCE). Turn in your Bible to 1 Kings 18:20–40. While you are turning, let’s set the table for where we are in time. Creation: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and everything was perfect until…The Fall: Where Adam & Eve rebelled against God and sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit… From that original sin, sin grew so evil and violent that God eventually brought a…Great Flood: To destroy all the violence on the earth. But in that flood he saved one family by building a great ark. Noah: was spared because of his righteousness. God told Noah after the flood to spread out over all the earth and replenish the earth… But once again man rebelled and tried to build a tower to heaven…The tower of Babel: Because of man’s refusal to obey, God confused the languages and man spread over the face of the earth.

Then from a city in what is now Iraq, God called a certain man to follow him, Abraham & Sarah: By faith Abraham becomes the seed of God’s chosen people and even though his wife is barren they give birth to…Ishmael & Isaac: Isaac was the promised son through whom Messiah would come. Isaac has two sons…Esau & Jacob: The Messiah will come through one of Jacob’s 12 sons who become the 12 tribes of Israel. One of those sons is Joseph who protects the Israelites in Egypt during a famine. But the people become captives for 400 years, until…Moses leads the people to the Promised Land and introduces God’s law… God’s people live in the Promised Land led by The Judges. Like Sampson, Gideon, Deborah, the last judge being Samuel, because the people wanted a king. So Samuel anointed…

King Saul and after his disobedience then King David. David followed Yahweh, and handed the kingdom to Solomon who did the same for most of his life. But Solomon’s son Rehoboam oppressed the people and the kingdom split into two. Judah and Benjamin to the south and the other 10 tribes to the north. By the time we get to the prophet Elijah, the Northern Kingdom had reached an all time spiritual low. Fifty-eight years had passed since the division. Seven kings had reigned in Israel and all of them were evil. All worshipped idols. The eighth king of Israel was Ahab and under him idolatry reached its lowest, most evil point. All the priests of Yahweh were killed and the altars destroyed. Why? Because Ahab had married Jezebel, a princess of Tyre of the Phoenicians.  It was Jezebel who introduced the idolatrous cult of “Baal-Melqart” into Israel.

Baal Melqart was the god of the Phoenicians and was the focus of a festival of resurrection each year in the months of February-March where a sacrifice was made by fire. This annual sacrifice is where Baal earned his nickname the ‘fire of heaven’.[2] The Phoenicians seem not to have created large sculptural likenesses of Baal, the practice may even have been prohibited. Instead, at his temples Melqart was represented by an eternal fire and during times of war or natural disaster, children—often multiple siblings at a time—were sacrificed in the fire to appease him. [3] (Archeologists have found “tophets”—the places of sacrifice to Baal—with thousands of infant skeletons.[4]) This became the religion of the Northern Kingdom. So God sent Elijah to change all this, to call the people away from Baal-Marqart and back to him. Elijah did this first by praying for a drought. So by the time of our story this morning it had not rained for three years. There is a great famine and King Ahab believes it is all Elijah’s fault.

1 Kings 18:20–40 (ESV)

So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Elijah uses the word “limping.” The word carries the idea of wavering or weaving back and forth. This tells you a lot about where the people’s hearts were. They did not know what to believe. They had forgotten God, so Elijah comes up with a plan to remind them.

 

 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”

 

This is a test that plays right into Baal’s strengths. The test is fire and Baal’s nickname was “fire of heaven.” He was remembered with an “eternal fire,” so if any god could do this, it must be Baal.

 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped (weaved back and forth) around the altar that they had made.

 

For four hours the people watched them cry out to Baal. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Elijah did not just make up these three taunts.[5] These represent three well known stories about Baal: Baal could die and resurrect, he was said to go on journeys, and he was known to fall asleep, awakened only by the best sacrifices.[6] But Baal did not answer. 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.

The self-laceration of this verse is part of a mourning ritual. In Ugaritic literature the gods are portrayed as practicing this when they hear of the death of Baal.[7] Notice the blood “gushed” out. These were not scratches, these priests were giving their lives for this contest. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. The evening oblation was to be done at twilight, so conservatively the prophets of Baal have been at this for 12 hours, all day long. So at twilight as the sun is setting…

 30 …Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed.

Two seahs is about the size of a two liter bottle of pop. The idea here was it was that deep all the way around the altar. 33 And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. 35 And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water. Elijah had four kad (or pails) of water poured three times in succession on the burnt-offering until the trench was filled with water. I am sure Elijah did this to remove even the hint of the possibility of fraud in the burning of the sacrifice. Idolaters were famous for deceiving people with tricks like setting fire to the wood of the sacrifice from hollow spaces hidden beneath altars, so that people would believe that the sacrifice was miraculously set on fire.[8] Elijah wanted everyone to know if fire came, it was Yahweh at work.

 36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

Elijah wanted the people to grasp four truths from this miracle:

1. That Yahweh is the one and only God of Israel

2. That Elijah was his servant

3. That Elijah did this miracle at the Lord’s command.

4. That God wanted their hearts back. 

That was why Elijah was there. To turn the hearts of the people back to God. The fire and the showmanship are not the key to this story. It is God’s desire for people to know him, to remember him. 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

 

Powerful life lessons from Elijah:

1. If God is the Lord, then follow him. Elijah’s challenge to God’s people 2900 years ago is just as needed today. If God is the Lord, follow him. Let’s not be forgetful, rebellious, complacent, preoccupied, stubborn, or too busy for God. If he is the Lord, follow him, serve him, live for him, give to his work, join his church, live his mission!

2. There are people in this world who knowingly or unknowingly will go to great lengths to draw you away from God. The prophets of Baal literally poured out their lives to deceive the people into worshipping a false God. Don’t you believe for a moment that doesn’t happen today. Jesus himself warned us in Matthew 24:4–5 (ESV) “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” 2 Peter 2:1–3 (NLT) says …there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies…2 Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality… 3 In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money.”

2 Peter 2:12–14 (NLT) These false teachers are like unthinking animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed. They scoff at things they do not understand, and like animals, they will be destroyed. 13 Their destruction is their reward for the harm they have done. They love to indulge in evil pleasures in broad daylight…They delight in deception even as they eat with you in your fellowship meals. 14 They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed….”

Greed, power, lust, wealth…there are many reasons why people will steer you away from the Lord. Be wary.

3. The Lord still wants people to know he is God. This message is even found in Elijah’s name. His name is translated “Jah is El” or “Yahweh is God.” Elijah was God‘s messenger. He was the one guy left who knew the truth of who God was and his power to transform lives. You may be the “one guy” someone knows, the only person in their life that can speak the truth. God calls all of us to be his prophets. We are all told to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” People forget, they are preoccupied; it is up to us who know the transforming power of a relationship with Jesus Christ to share this with the lost!

© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

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[1] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 612.

[2] Cartwright, Mark “Melqart” The Ancient History Encyclopedia published on 06 May 2016. http://www.ancient.eu/Melqart/

[3] Miles, Richard Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization Viking Press 2011. Pg 72.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Carthage

[5] The mythology of the ancient world understood the gods to be involved in a variety of activities similar to those that engage human beings. Though Elijah’s words are meant to be taunts, they are not unrealistic depictions of Canaanite beliefs.

[6] Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, vol. 8, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 220.

[7] Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1 Ki 18:29.

[8] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 175.