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Elijah And Prayer (1 Kings 18)

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CHAPTER 18 Aug. 23 
Elijah and Obadiah
It happened after many days, that the word of Yahweh came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, show yourself to Ahab; and I will send rain on the earth. 2Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. The famine was severe in Samaria. 3Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared Yahweh greatly: 4for it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of Yahweh, that Obadiah took one hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water). 5Ahab said to Obadiah, Go through the land, to all the springs of water, and to all the brooks. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, so that we don’t lose all the animals. 6So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself. 7As Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he recognized him and fell on his face and said, Is it you, my lord Elijah? 8He answered him, It is I. Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here!’. 9He said, Wherein have I sinned, that you would deliver your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? 10As Yahweh your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent to seek you. When they said, ‘He is not here’, he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they didn’t find you. 11Now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah is here’. 12It will happen, as soon as I am gone from you, that the spirit of Yahweh will carry you I don’t know where; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he can’t find you, he will kill me. But I, your servant, have feared Yahweh from my youth. 13Wasn’t it told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of Yahweh, how I hid one hundred men of Yahweh’s prophets with fifty to a cave, and fed them with bread and water? 14Now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah is here!’- and he will kill me. 15Elijah said, As Yahweh of Armies lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today. 16So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah. 
The Contest on Mount Carmel
17It happened that when Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, Is that you, you troubler of Israel? 18He answered, I have not troubled Israel; but you, and your father’s house, in that you have forsaken the commandments of Yahweh, and you have followed the Baals. 19Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel to Mount Carmel, and four hundred and fifty of the prophets of Baal, and four hundred of the prophets of the Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table. 20So Ahab sent to all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together to Mount Carmel. 21Elijah came near to all the people and said, How long will you waver between the two sides? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. The people answered him not a word. 22Then Elijah said to the people, I, even I only, am left a prophet of Yahweh; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. 23Let them therefore give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under it; and I will dress the other bull, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under it. 24You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Yahweh. The God who answers by fire, let him be God. All the people answered, It is well said. 25Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, Choose one bull for yourselves, and dress it first; for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it. 26They took the bull which was given to them and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, Baal, hear us! But there was no voice, nor any who answered. They leaped about the altar which was made. 27It happened at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, Cry louder; for he is a god! Either he is musing, or he has gone aside to the toilet, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he sleeps and must be awakened. 28They cried aloud, and cut themselves in their way with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. 29It was so, when midday was past, that they prophesied until the time of the offering of the offering; but there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any who responded. 30Elijah said to all the people, Come near to me; and all the people came near to him. He repaired the altar of Yahweh that was thrown down. 31Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of Yahweh came, saying, Israel shall be your name. 32With the stones he built an altar in the name of Yahweh. He made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33He put the wood in order, and cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood. 34He said, Do it a second time; and they did it the second time. He said, Do it a third time; and they did it the third time. 35The water ran around the altar; and he also filled the trench with water. 36It happened at the time of the offering of the offering, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and of 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. 37Answer me, Yahweh, answer me, that this people may know that You, Yahweh, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again. 38Then the fire of Yahweh fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood, the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces. They said, Yahweh, he is God! Yahweh, He is God! 40Elijah said to them, Seize the prophets of Baal! Don’t let one of them escape! They seized them. Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and killed them there. 
Elijah Prays for Rain
41Elijah said to Ahab, Get up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain. 42So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down on the earth, and put his face between his knees. 43He said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. He went up and looked, and said, There is nothing. He said seven times, Go again. 44It happened at the seventh time that he said, Behold, a small cloud, like a man’s hand, is rising out of the sea. He said, Go up, tell Ahab, ‘Get ready and go down, so that the rain doesn’t stop you’. 45It happened in a little while, that the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. 46The hand of Yahweh was on Elijah; and he tucked his cloak into his belt and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.


18:4 God tried to correct Elijah’s despising of the other prophets of the Lord. Elijah was in a cave, and was also fed bread and water- just as the other prophets were. And yet Elijah didn’t see, or didn’t want to see, that connection- after having been reminded of this experience of the other prophets, he claims that he alone was a true prophet of Yahweh (:22)- he wrongly believed that all other valid prophets had been slain (19:10). But the record shows how that during Elijah’s lifetime there were other prophets of Yahweh active in His service (20:13,35). And yet the lesson is that God still works through the conceited, the spiritually superior, those who despise their brethren. God didn’t give up on Elijah because he was like this, and neither should we give up in our relationship with such brethren.
18:8 Go, tell your lord- Elijah didn’t have too positive a view of anyone apart from himself- and that included faithful Obadiah. Obadiah repeatedly calls Elijah “my Lord” and describes himself as “your servant”; but Elijah responds to this by calling Obadiah the servant of Ahab- he tells him to go and tell “your Lord”, i.e. Ahab. Elijah is insisting that he and Obadiah have nothing in common- Obadiah serves Ahab, and he is nothing to do with Elijah. ‘Obadiah’ means ‘servant of Yahweh’- the name surely reflects very faithful parents to have called him that at the time of the Baal cult. But Elijah insists that Obadiah is really a servant of Ahab, not of Yahweh. The fact Elijah was hidden by God meant that he was forced into fellowship with the prophets of Yahweh whom Obadiah hid in a cave (:4). Elijah was thus intended to see a link between Obadiah and God, and himself and the other prophets of Yahweh. But Elijah’s pride didn’t let himself make the connection, just as ours often doesn’t. For he continued doubtful of Obadiah’s sincerity, and still insisted that he alone remained a faithful prophet of Yahweh- even though Obadiah had hidden one hundred other prophets from Jezebel’s persecution. Those one hundred prophets were presumably part of the 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And maybe they weren’t that strong- they are set up as representative of those who will only be saved by grace, not their works (Rom. 11:4-6). But, by implication, Elijah, for all his love of Israel, did not look upon them through the eyes of grace. Elijah insisted that he alone was “left”; yet God says that He has “left” Himself the 7,000 (19:18). The preservation of the people of God, or ‘the truth’ isdone by God Himself; yet the likes of Elijah consider that it is theywho ‘preserve the truth’. Again, Elijah had to learn that we are all saved by grace. God will leave for and to Himself His people, without requiring the help of man. Elijah struggled with this issue of accepting others and not thinking he was the only one who could do the job right up to the end of his ministry; for he ascends to Heaven clutching his mantle, the sign of his prophetic ministry. It seems he took it with him because he felt that not even Elisha was really fit to do the job and take his place; but perhaps in what were possibly the last seconds of his mortal life, he learnt his lesson and let go of it, allowing it to fall to the earth to let another man take it up.  
18:15 Elijah assured Obadiah that he was really telling him the truth, because Yahweh of Hosts (Angels) is real, and he stood before those Angels. A sense of Angelic presence and observation will likewise inspire us to transparent lives (1 Cor. 11:10; 1 Tim. 5:21).
18:21 The inertia of indecision is a huge problem. Your own example of making clear choices, doing what is right before God rather than what is wise and smart in human eyes, will reveal a sense of clarity about you which will become inspirational to your brethren. Yours will not be one of those many lives that is paralyzed by constantly postponing the choices, by indecision, like Israel on Carmel, hopping backwards and forwards between two opinions. When Elijah demands that the people chose which lord they will serve- Baal [=’lord’] or Yahweh, he is really getting to the very crux of spirituality- for truly, there can be no halting between the two opinions of serving Baal and serving Yahweh. Jesus based His words of Lk. 16:13 on those of Elijah here- we can’t serve two masters. Note that although on one hand the Lord Jesus Himself quotes Elijah’s ‘truth’ approvingly, there is evidence galore that at the very same time, Elijah’s attitudes were far from Christ-like
18:26-29 The idea of prophets was well known in the world around ancient Israel. The idea of a prophet was that a person was caught up in some kind of ecstasy, transported into some ‘other’ world, leaving behind their humanity. The true prophets were different. Their inspiration was about being attuned to the mind of God, they remained very much in the flesh and in the world, and the subjects of their prophecy related to very real, human things- injustice, a guy building an extension on his house without paying the labourers. Not flashing lights and ethereal coasting through space. The pagan prophets (e.g. the prophets of Baal here) worked themselves into a frenzy in order to reach a state of depersonalization and loss of consciousness, in the hope that then they would be filled with Divine consciousness. True prophets were absolutely different; the inspiration process required them to be fully in touch with their own consciousness and personality, and it was exactly through their humanity that the personality of God came through in the inspired words they spoke and wrote. This is why at times the prophets give God’s word but then interrupt, as it were, in full consciousness, to plead or even protest (e.g. Am. 7:2). Whereas the false prophets aimed to lose consciousness in order to receive something from God’s consciousness, the true prophets received heightened sensitivity and conscience / consciousness in order to receive God’s word and to know His mind. The message which the true prophets received wasn’t some vague abstraction or personal transport into an unreal world. What they received from God was the sense that this world and its fate are very dear to its creator. It was because the true prophets entered into the mind of God, that this issued in the experience of words. The false prophets tended to experience something happening; whereas the true prophets experienced the thoughts of God, which issued in words. Their experience had form, but no content. The Pentecostal ‘Holy Spirit’ experiences appear to be the form of ecstasy claimed by the false prophets. Receipt of God’s true revelation involved dialogue with God, even disagreement with Him for a moment, response, pleading, speech and counterspeech. It wasn’t a case of merely passively hearing a voice and writing it down.

18:27 To the toilet- This kind of mockery and crudeness is surely not how the Father and Son would have us act. We aren’t to mock false beliefs in this way. Yet Elijah did this whilst at the same time deeply believing the fire would come down, and bringing it down by his faith. Elijah’s mocking attitude is also shown by the way in which he demands they find him four barrels of water- on the top of a mountain, after a major three and a half year drought (:33). Presumably they took the water from the sea at the bottom of the mountain- and thus Elijah’s sacrifice would be offered with salt. He was strictly obedient to the requirements for sacrifice- yet amidst an abusive, self-justifying mindset. The very possession of truth can take our attention away from our need for self-examination and right attitudes towards others. In this lies one of our most subtle temptations.
18:36 Elijah “prayed in his prayer” (James 5:17 Gk.)- there was a deep prayer going on within his prayer, words and feelings within words- the prayer of the very inner soul. This was how much he sought their repentance. The James passage sets Elijah up as a pattern for our prayer for our wayward brethren. He really is our pattern here. He clearly saw prayer as requiring much effort; and the way he prays at the time of the evening sacrifice on Horeb suggests that he saw prayer as a sacrifice.
18:37 Answer me- Elijah appears utterly certain that God will answer by a bolt of fire, without having asked Him first. He asks God to “answer me” without specifically requesting for fire to be sent down; he brings the situation before God and asks Him to ‘answer’ that situation. Prayer is often answered in ways we do not perceive, or by an answer which will only much later be revealed. Elijah's prayer here will only be finally answered when Elijah comes in the last days (Mal. 4:6).
You have turned their heart back- God appeals for people to respond by pointing out that in prospect, He has already forgiven them. Thus Elijah wanted Israel to know that God had already in prospect turned their hearts back to Him (see too Is. 44:22). We preach the cross of Christ, and that through that forgiveness has been enabled for all men; but they need to respond by repentance in order to access it. God has potentially enabled their conversion (see Jn. 1:7). Hence the tragedy of human lack of response; so much has been enabled, the world has been reconciled, but all this is in vain if they will not respond.
18:40-44 Believe that you really will receive; avoid the temptation of asking for things as a child asks for birthday presents, with the vague hope that something might turn up. Remember how Elijah heard, by faith, the noise of rain even before he had formally prayed for it, and when there was no hint of rain.