From the desk of Andrew Burchett...
This fall we will be teaching a series on Elisha, the successor of Elijah. As we prepare for that series, I want to focus on Elijah this week.
Elijah is one of the most important figures in the Old Testament moving into the New Testament era. In Scriptural tradition Elijah has come to occupy a position as a successor to Moses in prophetic authority. He also plays a significant role in modern Judaism. Elijah is mentioned when grace is said after meals, “May God in his mercy send us the prophet Elijah.” He also is mentioned at the time of circumcision for Jews as well as during the Passover meal at the time of the fourth cup and a door is opened to welcome back the prophet.
In our Christian tradition, John the Baptist is identified as Elijah (Luke 1:16-17 & 1:76-77). Jesus affirms John the Baptist as the last prophet, the messenger of Elijah who was to come (Matt. 11:7-15). It is also very fitting that Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8). Moses was the initiator of the covenant with Israel, and Elijah is the messenger who would restore that covenant before the coming of the Lord (Malachi 4).
In 1 Kings 17 Elijah is coming against King Ahab and his wife, the wicked Jezebel. This dastardly couple has turned the hearts of God’s people toward Baal – a false god. Elijah comes against their influence and prophesies that there will be no rain until the Lord declares it through his own word. This is a punishment for worshiping false gods, and a sign that Jehovah God is creator God, and powerful over all nature.
The threat of drought was a direct challenge to the powers of Baal. Baal was “the rider of the clouds,” the god of rain and fertility, and therefore of riches. He is depicted as a bull, which represented productivity and wealth that came through that god. He is depicted standing on a bull with a club of thunder in one hand and a bolt of lightning in the other.
The psalmist in Psalm 104 gives credit to Jehovah God as the one who “makes the clouds his chariot” and the one whose “rebuke the waters fled.” The entire Psalm talks of God’s power and kindness as the God of creation and provision of rain. God was asking Elijah to face off with the prophets of Baal, this false god to demonstrate the power of the one, true God.
So, God shut up the heavens (no rain) for more than two years before Elijah invited a“face-off” with 850 false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). The ground rules were set; each side was to take a bull (ironic choice here) and kill it and offer it to their deity. Whichever side called fire down from heaven to burn up the meat on the altar would prove once and for all which was the true deity.
When Jehovah God triumphed in that moment and proved his power, many people watching turned their hearts back to the one true God. Elijah’s message in all this challenged the divided hearts of the people.
21 Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing. (1 Kings 18:3-21 NIV)
Our culture is filled with people who call themselves a Christian but waver between gods, not unlike the people who were watching the face-off between Baal and Jehovah. There are many who want the benefits of the Christian faith, but when it comes to following the commands of God, they want to ignore what God says.
We feel like we can pick and choose our favorite parts of different religious systems as if we are loading up foods we prefer at the school cafeteria. This approach is often referred to as “syncretism,” a mixing and blending of often conflicting ideologies and beliefs to serve whatever we want to do at the time. This leads to a life of confusion and crisis when we don’t end up with the one we love, we lose the job, the dream dies or things don’t work out in our favor. It’s about that time that many turn to God and blame him for our pain.
It was Joshua who said this, “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)
It is so important to us to be consistent to teach what the Bible says and be consistent in the way we interpret the Bible. We believe that Jesus came to give us life to the fullest, and so we choose to listen to what He has to say in His written Word (the Bible) and to His voice that guides us in the moment.
May God bless you with strength and consistency as you are challenged in your faith by others who want to pick and choose what they want to believe.