Our Old Testament reading begins, as it were, in the middle of the story: Then Ahab told Jezebel everything that Elijah had done, including the fact that he had killed all their prophets with the sword. Here we are brought to the time after the kings David and Solomon. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom split into two--there was the southern kingdom of Judah, with its line kings from David and with Jerusalem as its capital and the temple as its center of worship; and there was the northern kingdom with its lines of kings and its own capital and its own places of worship. While the southern kingdom had both good and faithful kings and wicked and idolatrous kings, all the northern kingdom kings were wicked and idolatrous. And chief among them was Ahab, whom we meet in our text. Not only was he wicked and idolatrous but his wife Jezebel was even worse, importing the worship and priests of the false god Baal from her homeland.
And we are introduced in our text to the Lord’s prophet, Elijah. Right before our text was the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The people of Israel, the northern kingdom, were at times worshipping the true God and at times the false god, Baal. Elijah challenged the people with a test of strength between the Lord and Baal [18.21]: If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him. A sacrifice was to decide--the one answering with fire would be the true God. The prophets of Baal took a bull for sacrifice, called on their god, made a big show, cut themselves, etc., from morning to noon, all the while Elijah is mocking them. When their god doesn’t answer, Elijah, too, prepared a bull for sacrifice, having made an altar of 12 stones and placing wood on it. To make it even more obvious he 3 times poured water on the offering and filled a ditch around the altar with water. Elijah then prayed to the Lord and the Lord’s fire came down and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, stones, dust and the water in the ditch. [18.39-40] When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord! He is God” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!”so they seized them; and Eljah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there. With the land free of the false prophets, Elijah prayed for the end of the more than 3 years drought and the rain came. And now our text begins: Then Ahab told Jezebel everything that Elijah had done, including the fact that he had killed all their prophets with the sword.
Was there repentance and faith in the palace or with the people with the Lord showing that He is God alone and that He sent fruitful rain ending the drought? Hardly! That generation had hardened itself so completely and made themselves so unreceptive that neither earnest calls to repent nor God’s goodness could penetrate. So Jezebel sent a messenger to say to Elijah, “May the gods punish me severely and even double it, if by this time tomorrow I have not made your life like one of theirs” --that is, like the priests of Baal--dead. Wicked Queen Jezebel was probably trying to get Elijah out of the country. If she had really wanted to kill him, she wouldn’t have tipped him off like this. And her plan succeeded--Elijah got out of the country: Elijah [saw that], and he ran for his life. He went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and he left his servant there. Beersheba was the southernmost city in Judah, about 75 miles from his home.
Certainly Elijah was discouraged. Here he had faithfully carried out his office as prophet, faithfully did all the Lord had given him to do, and yet it seemed like it was all for nothing. Not only was there no great conversions back to the true God, but Elijah was forced to flee for his life. It was bad enough before, but now after his work and the Lord’s mighty working--showing both His power and His grace-- it was worse. That’s a powerful lesson for us. Even with great signs and miracles the sinful world will continue on its way of sin. We should not expect any different. In fact, it should make us rejoice all the more and treasure each conversion, seeing how precious it is. The reality is, just as Jesus tells the disciples right before His own betrayal and arrest [Jn 16.2,3]: They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. As Christians, we always see what Jesus tells us: the devil is the ruler/ prince of this world [Jn 12.31]. And we see a great similarity between Elijah’s people and us in the western world today. Both had been taught the true faith; both have the true faith as the foundation and bedrock of their culture--don’t forget, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: without Christianity, there would be no western world as we know it; but what passes itself off as “the West” today is really the debris of a formerly Christian culture. We see remnants of Christianity; but most have no idea what Christianity truly is and live that way--just like the people in Elijah’s day needed to be called away from going back and forth between the true God and the false gods: If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him. Today, for most, their god is themselves; there is no room for even the notion of truth. Like Elijah experienced, so too do we: the world is increasingly hostile to the Lord and His word. Elijah [saw that], and he ran for his life. He went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. There he sat down under a broom tree, where he prayed that he would die.
Who can fault Elijah for his thinking? He was truly discouraged--he looked at the facts. He saw the condition in Israel, the northern kingdom; he saw and experienced the hatred of the queen. He knew any further attempts would be in vain/ worthless. But Elijah’s sin was this: he withdrew from the conflict because looking at the outward reality, he lost his confidence in the triumph of God’s kingdom. We, too, face the same danger of losing confidence in the triumph of God’s kingdom. We see and experience everywhere sin and evil on the rise. Who would have thought, even 10 years ago, of the moral deviancy that surrounds us and is being forced on us--even by our government? Yes, it is easy to give up and think that evil and not God has and will triumph. But that is still sin; it is a rejection of God’s word in which He promises His triumph and it is a rejection of the graces and works that God has shown to us already. Think of Elijah--he experienced this great triumph over the false prophets; and remember earlier in that drought that God had fed him by having ravens bring him food. Elijah of all people should have known God’s work, power and triumph.
Haven’t all of us, too, have experienced God’s grace, power and working? Of course! It does us well to think of and ponder these things and refresh ourselves in them--and to think of all the mighty ways that we read in the bible of how God mightily and powerfully rescued His people from dangers far greater! The reality is that we live in a world that is hostile to the Lord and His word and His Christians--but He is greater than it all! His word and promise stand. That’s why, no matter what, we can have hope even in the midst of our discouragement.
Really, it is good for us when we see the ugly reality that the world is hostile to the Lord and the things of the Lord and to His Christian. A bit of discouragement is good-- as long as we do not lose our confidence in the Lord. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. There he sat down under a broom tree, where he prayed that he would die. He said, “I’ve had enough, LOrd. Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” The Lord allowed His servant, Elijah, to go through this time of conflict and turmoil so Elijah would not get high on himself. Would Elijah have become proud and boastful had king and queen and people of Israel all heartily repented? Here we are reminded of another saint of God, St. Paul who went through some similar times [2 Cor 12. 8-9]: Concerning this [messenger of Satan that buffeted me] I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. When we suffer/ go through difficult times on account of the faith, when we are at our end, then we see/ rely/ experience the grace of God and His power.
So as we live in an increasingly hostile world, yes, we will get discouraged but we dare never lose hope in the Lord. He is God almighty! The more we get discouraged, let us rely all the more on Him and His grace. So what are we to do as we live in this increasingly hostile world? The simple and short answer is: live out our faith and care for our soul.
Our text ends this way: So [Elijah] got up and ate and drank. Then, with the strength gained from that food he walked for 40 days and 40 nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. So what did Elijah do? He went where the Lord led him; he lived out his faith; he followed the footsteps of divine grace further into the desert--about 200 miles to Horeb, known as Mt. Sinai where God gave the Israelites the commandments. That’s what we are also called on to do--live out of faith, do the work of our calling, live out our lives as Christians even though we face and are surrounded by all types of opposition and hostility. Be a Christian and let the chips fall where they may--the Lord will be with us with His grace and mercy. Let our lives always be a little further, further to where the Lord is leading us. Yes, we will at times get discouraged as we turn our focus from the Lord’s will and word and see the reality of a world that is opposed to Him, but we dare never lose hope but keep looking to the Lord and remembering He is God almighty and His is the victory.
The thing to remember is that, yes, we are living in a world that is increasingly hostile to the holy Christian faith and as such--as basic as it may sound, it bears repeating--we need to care for our soul. We need to be especially watchful and on guard. Elijah [saw that], and he ran for his life. He went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and he left his servant there. But Elijah himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. There he sat down under a broom tree, where he prayed that he would die. Although Elijah had given up and deemed further work in the northern kingdom to be futile, we can learn from his example of going into the wilderness. He left his servant behind so that he could go further into the wilderness to be alone with God and pour out His heart before God alone in the desert and seek the Lord’s guidance. The lesson for us is clear--withdrawing to be alone with God in Scripture reading, meditation and prayer. Here God speaks to us in His word and we speak back to Him in prayer. We daily flee the world to be alone with the Lord and hear His still, quiet voice in the midst of the cacophony of the world and its allures and enticements we are constantly surrounded with.
An angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” Then he looked around, and near his head there was a loaf of bread baking on coals and a jar of water, so he ate and drank, and then he lay down again. Then the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, because the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank.
Elijah received nourishment from the Lord. That, too, is how we care for our soul --regular nourishment from our Lord’s word and sacrament in Church. Here we receive the forgiveness of sin. Here we feast on Jesus, the Bread of Life. Here we receive HIs body and blood. The journey is too much for us--but the Lord miraculously strengthens us for it by His word and sacrament, just as He miraculously strengthened Elijah for that 40 day/ night journey. The Lord strengthening us by word and sacrament for our journey through this hostile world is no less miraculous. INJ