The kings and The King
Our Jealous King
In a confrontation on Mt. Carmel, God confirms his power on behalf of his people, showing himself to be their one true God. Understand more about God’s powerful commitment to his people in this message from 1 Kings 18.
Well, we are in week two of a miniseries that will close out this current larger series. This miniseries is called "A Closer Look at the King," and last week we looked at the faithfulness of our King and how he provides for his people, and that generated a good bit of discussion and a number of questions that I received and I answered them somewhat this week in one of our media platforms. I hope you checked it out. I liked the discussion. I like when you guys kind of banter back and forth among yourselves and with me. To make sure there is the most clarity, let me just address that again because some of the questions were about what are our needs, and if God actually promises to provide for them and he doesn't, does that mean he's not keeping his word? And what about starving children and war-torn areas? Those were great questions and I don't know that I have all the answers. One of our deacons leaned into me a little bit this week and it was just a beautiful conversation about, you know, sometimes that's a tricky area to discuss, wouldn't you agree? Like, what our needs and how we see those being met, and yet finding a confident place to stand on God's promises.
Perhaps a story would add to what I shared Monday and might help you understand a little more about how we can approach this. When our son, Brett, was about three, we had to have him in the hospital for some blood drawn, and I don't remember all the reasons why. In fact, I texted Julie last night, she's out of town this week, and I said, "Do you remember what age he was?" She said, "No." And I didn't remember and we realized we were just getting old. You know, that's just kind of what goes with that, right? We didn't remember anything about it except he was at the hospital and they had to draw blood, and so if you are two or three and you see needles, you're just not going to respond. No one sticks their arm out, right? So we are holding him down a little bit and then they couldn't really find the vein that would work well. After three tries, he's screaming and crying and so I'm kind of pretty much just got the bearhug kind of grip on him and holding him down so he doesn't move his arms, and the back of his hand whatever, and he's crying and he's screaming and in his mind, the need of the moment was, "Don't stick me with a needle," correct? His immediate perceived need was, "Get me out of here," but his greater ultimate need was to stay put and endure that. That's actually what he needed. Are you with me?
So I clamped down on him and they found a vein that would work and we got out of there. I think sometimes that's how we think our needs are. We think
So I would just encourage you, remember, our immediate needs are always under the authority of God's ultimate will and so our responsibility is to have a submissive perspective about our needs as well as a confident one about our needs, that you know, God knows and sees larger and more than I do so he knows what I really need. So this is why suffering is part of following Christ, why difficult times do not mean that God is not providing, that he knows we must need something that we're not aware we actually need but yet we want to be confident and say
So just kind of keep that in mind. It's a tough series of hurdles to kind of cross, I realize, talking about this subject but let's not back away from a confident stance in the Gospel which I think is part of 1 Kings 17, that God will meet the needs of his true people. So if 1 Kings 17 points to that end, if those narratives direct us to see God's provision for and through his people, what does 1 Kings 18 teach us? 1 Kings 18 shows our jealous King displaying his power on behalf of his people.
Would you turn there with me, 1 Kings 18, and let's take a look at one of the more powerful chapters of the Old Testament, Elijah confronting Ahab on Mount Carmel. I'm going to narrate for you verses 1 through 19 and then we'll pick up in verse 20 and read the bulk of the story, okay?
Basically what happens is this. The famine does come and Elijah is told by the Lord to go and present himself to Ahab, which means go and call Ahab to repentance again. The famine was severe. It had been in the land for about three years now. So Elijah says, "God, I'm going to go and do that." He's on his way and he meets Obadiah, not the Obadiah who wrote a book of the Old Testament, but another Obadiah who was a ruler in Ahab's house, and why was Obadiah out in the field? Because he and Ahab were looking for water and pasture for their animals. That's how severe the famine was. We've got to save our animals and so they are out looking for kind of land and water. Obadiah, who was a God-fearing Jew and was kind of caught in a weird place working for Ahab and yet fearing the Lord, he sees Elijah and Elijah says, "Obadiah, I want you to go and tell Ahab that I'm ready to meet with him. I'm coming."
Well, Obadiah immediately gets fearful. Here's why: Obadiah had kind of been a double agent. He had taken
So sure enough, Obadiah tells Ahab and Ahab and Elijah meet. When they meet, Ahab says, "Elijah, you're a troubler. You're the problem in Israel. You're the reason that we have this famine." To which Ahab responds quite courageously, "No, Ahab, you're the troubler. It's your disobedience and the disobedience of your family in bringing in false worship and idolatrous practices. You're the problem." So who's right? Is the problem Elijah and his God? Or is the problem Ahab and his wife's gods and, of course, Ahab's idolatrous practices? To decide, Elijah suggests what I call a confrontation at the Carmel corral. He says, "Ahab, why don't we just meet and settle this question? You bring your prophets and we'll have a showdown and we'll see which God shows up and answers the questions."
Let's pick it up in verse 20, can we? "So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, 'How long will you go limping between two different opinions?'" The word there means to waiver; to vacillate; to kind of spring around; to dance around. A modern expression would be, "How long are you going to ride the fence?" You're going to play both sides, so to speak. That's what he means by limping here. You're going back and forth. You say God is God and then you say, no, Baal is
He says, "If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then
So he's saying if God is God, we'll follow him but if Baal, then
So they gathered these 450 of Baal's prophets. Elijah says, "Let's get two bulls. You choose one, I'll choose another. We'll cut it in pieces and laid on the wood. We will put no fire to it, though. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire on it. And you call upon the name of your god," verse 24 says, "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.'" Do you hear that? They spoke up now.
"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 around the altar that they had made." The same word used previously. They just wavered around and danced around, kind of hopped around it, so to speak. By the way, this word "limp" is the verb form of the noun for
No one answered. They limped around the altar. They're dancing. They're kind of wavering, so to speak, moving a lot. "And at noon Elijah mocked them," four things he says, "Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing," meaning thinking about what he should do, "or he is relieving himself," which is really a jab at the false god's divinity, in other words, if he's a god, why would he need to go to the bathroom? He must not be a god at all, right? He is more human than you realize is kind of his poke there. "Or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." By the way, just a sidenote here historically. If you read various historical artifacts about Baal worship, you'll find that they actually said in some of their, I hate to even use the word "teachings" about Baal, but some of their beliefs about Baal, that their gods could go on journeys, their gods could take naps for refreshment. They had these lists of things that their gods could do so when you see Elijah saying this, he's not just making things up. He's actually showing some sense of knowledge about their religion and culture and speaking to them quite accurately. I think it shows he's having a conversation steeped in his ability to speak with them. This is good. He's saying, "Hey, I know your system. I know your beliefs. It's really not working out, is it?"
"And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and
"Then Elijah said to all the people, 'Come near to me.'" And I love that phrase because what he's doing is he's showing an incredible amount of transparency and saying to them, "I don't want you to think in any sense this is a fraudulent showdown. You can get as close as you want and watch everything I'm doing." There is no sleight of hand here. This is not like a magic show. So, "Come near to me."
"And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down." Not the same one used by the prophets of Baal. This is one that had been on the same area, Mount Carmel, a high place, but it had been used previously by the Lord's prophets but had been torn down and so it's not used currently. Well, he finds this old torn down
So he brings them together, and after all, they were bearing his name, correct? So he brings the 12 stones together. "And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. 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.' And he said, 'Do it a second time.' And they did it a second time. And he said, 'Do it a third time.'" This is about 15 or so liters of water in a trench and on the altar. By the way, this is the only thing the Israelites did to help him. I'll say more about this in a moment, but for the most part, other than just bringing obstacles to the sacrifice, i.e. water, they're just watching. They couldn't answer the question at the beginning and now they can't really provide any help. They're just watching. Who is going to win this showdown?
"And at the time of the offering of the oblation," which in the Jewish calendar is about 3 o'clock or so, "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. 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.'" That prayer if it's just all he prayed, is a few seconds, wouldn't you agree? I mean, if you even said it slowly, we'll give it 60. Don't you love the contrast here? Here's Elijah praying a simple, intercessory, God-honoring prayer contrasted with hours of chanting and erotic and frenetic dancing by the false prophets. That's just a beautiful contrast. Elijah's faith and confidence that God would display his power is beautiful.
So he just speaks to God as his servant and says, "God, will you answer?" By the way, 37 sounds a lot like what he prayed over the widow's son. Remember that? "Answer me, O God. Answer me." Verse 38 culminates the narrative, "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." All we were asking for, God, was just a consummation of the offering by fire, but thanks for all the bonuses. Are you with me? Isn't this beautiful? I mean, it's amazing that the fire disintegrated the stones. It just took care of the water. There is nothing left of this altar or the sacrifice. God's power was on full display.
"And when all the people saw it," verse 39 says, "they fell on their faces and said, would you read this with me, church? "'The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.' And Elijah said to them, 'Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.' And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there."
Wow, what a powerful story in 1 Kings 18 showcasing for us God's commitment on behalf of his people. What's going on, Todd? What's happening here? Now, we could spend weeks in some of the details of this. Let me give you a fundamental understanding of what's happening in this text, though, alright? Here's what God is doing. Listen very carefully. I don't want you to miss this. God is answering the question in verse 21. Look back at verse 21 with me. When Elijah says to the people, "How long will you waiver or hesitate or limp, vacillate, how long will you limp between two different opinions?" You see, they couldn't answer. They just didn't say a word, did they? "If God is God, serve him. If Baal it's god, then follow him." But God now answers the question for his people. "I will show you who is God." And he does exactly that. Baal proves impotent, futile, but God proves powerful, and what do the people do? They finally answer the question but only because God propels them that way and moves them that way. They said, "The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God." They worshiped the Lord and this is the result of what verse 37 says is this, that the God now is turning their hearts back. So even in their response, "The LORD, he is God," that was a move of God because he turned their hearts back.
So here is what we see in this passage fundamentally. God is displaying his power on behalf of his people to propel them to worship and protect them from judgment. That's what's happening here. He's moving in them. He's moving around them. He's display his power so that they are propelled to worship and protected from judgment, and this is clear in the text. Verse 39, they shouted, "The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God." Then verse 40 describes the slaughtering of the false prophets. You see, I tend to think had God not caused Elijah at this point to obey Deuteronomy 13, Deuteronomy 15 in which you are to punish with death the false prophets, these false prophets could very well have started a murderous rampage through those who now were turning back to God. They may have killed those at the scene there. They may have gone back to the northern kingdom and tried to take out those who said, "Well, Yahweh..." They could have tried to protect their own territory.
So in one sense you could say in obeying the law, Elijah actually is used by God to protect his people from the enemy. Furthermore, verses 41 to 46 describe the beginning of the rain which is the answer to the famine. So that's a protection because the famine was sent as a judgment from God on their disobedience but now the rain is coming. Do you see that in verse 45? "The heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain." So verse 39, they are worshiping. Verse 40, 45, God is protecting them. All of this is because God has displayed his power and as a result, the people now are propelled to worship and protected from the enemy. This is what's happening in this chapter. God is showcasing his power, his own character, as the one true God.
Now a couple of corollary observations to make with you that relate to this take-home truth in this passage that I want you to kind of think through with me. I want you to ponder these. First of all, God did all of the work. You recall how I mentioned to a few minutes ago that the Israelites really didn't bring anything to the equation except more obstacles. What did they pour around the altar? Water. "Hey, guys, why don't you just make this harder, okay, you do that?" Other than that, they really didn't do anything which is such a symbolic way for us to understand how are our hearts turned to God in the first place, and when we stray and when we are away from God, how are they turned back to God? Can we just be clear on this, church? It is always 100% grace. And this is a good topic to revisit at First Family on a regular basis, and we do quite often, because in the American culture, we love to bring our affect to the table but can I remind you, church, I and you bring nothing but obstacles to the table. We don't bring any help. We bring sin, mistakes, and yet God in his grace is always doing the work to bring us back. Isn't that just great, how God works?
So understand when God went to sacrificial lengths for his people in the story to propel them and protect them, he did all of that work, but he did all of that work for a definite people. In this story, not everyone is rescued, would you agree with that? Factually, historically, some were slaughtered who were part of Israel but had turned away, some were killed later that were not actually part of Israel, just prophets of Asherah. I suspect that as they went back to the northern kingdom, these ones who had made their commitment to God known, now God had turned their hearts. There were still folks in the northern kingdom who were professing to believe in Yahweh but really weren't. So even in the story, God is contacting a definite people. He is propelling a definite people to worship.
I need you to think of this remnant concept again, alright? In fact, some asked me this week, they said, "Well, Todd, I don't understand the whole remnant thing, and besides, isn't that just an Old Testament thing?" That's a legitimate question. I would challenge you to think more correctly about that, however. Even if you're of a dispensational persuasion, you would hold that Israel and its remnant in the Old Testament is actually going to be restored in their land later based on what Romans 9, 10 and 11 say to us. So even dispensationalists would say there is a remnant in the future, so I don't think you can deny the remnant concept in the whole storyline of Scripture, even if you say it's just about Israel. But others who are of a different persuasion in their eschatology, we would see the remnant, notice I said "we" there, we would see the remnant as larger than just the Jewish nation, we would see both Jew and Gentile, and that remnant is representative. It's an example that even amidst a larger crowd of those who say they belong to God, there's really a smaller number who actually do. For instance, Matthew 7, Jesus said that many will say to me in that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not?" He will say, "I don't know you. Depart from me." There is the remnant concept. In 1 John 2, John rehearses for those believers that some of those who went out from them were not really of them. Had they been of us, they would have remained with us, meaning that even in a large group, and I think Hebrews speaks to this exclusively a lot of times, in any large group there are professors and possessors. It's the same idea as a remnant concept. So I just want to ask you boldly here to think more correctly about the remnant concept throughout Scripture because it speaks to this point, that there is a definite people of God to which he has oathed and obligated himself, and to those people he will protect them to the end. He will propel them to worship. He will protect them from judgment. They are his people. He purchased them.
Now, someone said to me last week, I got a lot of comments last week, by the way, as you can tell. Someone said last week to me, "Why do you ask us to ponder this and wrestle with this and grapple with this idea of a definite people of God? Why do you want us to just keep pondering that God does all the work for all of his people? That's not hard to grasp, is it?" And I said to this person, I think you should think about this deeply because if there is a definite people of God, it means there is a definite plan of God. And this isn't the point of this message but I want to ask you to ponder this deeply. Is there a definite people of God that runs through the meta-narrative of Scripture to whom he has oathed himself that goes from the Jewish nation and through them, then, to both Jew and Gentile? Yes, there is, so there must be, then, a definite plan of God. There is. That lets us see God now suddenly as the wise sovereign or deigning, allowing, using Creator over all things that happen in life, and not as someone who is just reacting or kind of set in motion some things and would see how people respond, would see what they do.
You see, this enables us to have a high view of God and consequently a high view of his people in the right sense. I'll just have you ponder more deeply about the subject. At the cross, did God make people savable or did God actually save his people? The Bible says that God actually saved his people at the cross. The angel told Joseph this, "You'll call him Jesus and he will save his people from their sins." Jesus said this in Luke 19, he said, "I am come to seek and to save that which was lost." Now this may cause you consternation, like, "What, Todd? I thought God just made everybody savable?" No, but did something far deeper and larger and bigger and more sovereign and grand than that. God actually purchased his people to himself.
Now, this does not negate the need to consistently and always ask people to respond to Christ. It's the sharing of the Gospel that is the ordained means by which people come to faith. And by the way, you don't know who the definite people of God are, do you? The answer is this, you can shake your head at me, okay? You don't know I don't know but there is a definite people of God to which he has oathed himself that Christ purchased at the cross. So he has promised to bring together from that people from every nation, language, tribe and tongue until that ingathering is complete. What is our responsibility? To proclaim the name of Christ as the only way to be reconciled to God, and so we do that, but by no means do we lessen or minimize the work that Christ did completely for all of his people, though we don't know who all of them are right now.
So I want to encourage you in this story, which is just somewhat of a typological forecasting, we see God doing all of the work for all of his true people which just highlights again our take-home true today, that in this story God went to sacrificial lengths for his remnant people, and his actions, his character propelled them to worship and protected them from the enemy.
Just a side note about their worship here. I was intrigued this week in noticing that when they saw what God did, they proclaimed who he was. It was very character aimed worship, wasn't it? "The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God." I'm convinced that the best worship one can do individually or even corporately is always character aimed at God, who he is.
Now you may say, "Well, Todd, that's understandable in this story. That seems to explain this text but is there an example of God doing that in another situation? I mean, this is how God worked then, is that how he works now?" I'm so glad you asked that question. Can I show you in closing an example of God doing this very thing on an individual level in the New Testament? Can we just step back and see God at work protecting his people, propelling them to worship, providing for them? It will be through the man named Peter and just after the Lord's supper. You might call it the Last Supper. He had made some grandiose statements about how he would never forsake Christ. Jesus says to Peter in Luke 22, he says, "Peter, Satan desires to have you. He demands to have you that he might sift you like wheat. In other words, he wants to put you through a strainer. He wants to filter your faith out of you. He wants to apply so much pressure that he squeezes every bit of faith out of you. He wants to prove that you really don't have it, Peter. That you really don't belong. This is all a game, that you're not really one of mine. Satan has demanded to have you. That's what he wants to do to you." Then Christ says, "But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail." Now if you have somebody pray for you, that's a good person to have pray for you, amen, church? Jesus praying for us is a good thing. But look how confident Jesus is that his prayer would be heard by the Father, "and when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."
Jesus knew Peter was actually genuinely legitimately one of his but he also knew there were some rough days coming in which that would be tested. A few hours later after the betrayal, Peter senses the tension rising and if you belong to Christ, you may pay a price. So he's standing around a fire and someone says, "Hey, aren't you one of those ones that ran around with Jesus?" And what does he do? He denies him. Well, this escalates until he denies Christ three times. The final time he denies him with some sense of like cursing and some kind of like oath, just escalating the whole denial thing, at which point he remembers what Jesus said and the text in Luke 22 says that at some point he caught eyes with Jesus. The text actually says Jesus looked at him. Now, I've been to that place where there is the area of the trial, so it's kind of close quarters, a lot of stairs that go down so I don't know how that would have worked but they did catch eyes and at this moment, Peter realizes something," Yes, you're right. You predicted that I would deny you and you told me that this would be a sifting, that this would be the moment in which Satan would try to squeeze every bit of faith out of me, but you also said you prayed for me," and the Bible says that he went and wept bitterly. What happened in that moment? Peter didn't do anything to return to God, did you know that? Peter only brought more obstacles and sin, three denials, and yet something in the prayers of Jesus to his Father for Peter empowered Peter to be protected in the most difficult faith testing of his life. He went out and he wept bitterly. I think his weeping was more than just regret and sorrow and confession, I think personally it was worship. I think he was saying this in his mind, "Wow, Jesus truly is God. I confessed it earlier. I believe it now. He's the Son of God. He is God. He kept me safe from Satan." So there's a sense of worship and wonder that brings tears, there's also the sense of regret and confession and sorrow. All of that's kind of compacted in this idea that Peter wept bitterly.
But my question for you is this: what protected Peter in that moment? It wasn't anything Peter did. It was the prayers of Jesus to his Father and it propelled Peter to worship and it protected him from the enemy. Isn't that a beautiful picture of the same principle in play in 1 Kings 18 but now on an individual level in the New Testament. So no wonder Peter would write to persecuted Christians in that first century this beautiful phrase in the very opening of his letter. He says, "You are protected by the power of God." Now, why could he write that? Because he had experienced that. Yes, he's inspired by the Holy Spirit, this is theological accuracy, but it's also experiential from Peter's life.
So he says we are by God's power being guarded or kept through faith for salvation ready to be revealed at the last time. Isn't this great? That Peter is now affirming to those who are going through much of the same sifting process, Satan is trying to squeeze it out of them, "You don't really belong. I'll get every bit of faith out of you." But Satan, you can't. "Why?" Because God is protecting me. I truly belong to him and when you truly belong to God, when you're in his remnant people, guess what? God will protect you. He'll propel you to worship. He'll keep you from the enemy all the way to the very end. It was true in the Old Testament to corporate Israel, it's true individually in the New Testament as well as to the church at large. This is our God and I've just got to believe that as Peter is in the middle of this whole faith testing journey, he's anchoring all of God's power in one place, that place where he saw Christ crucified.
So we ask ourselves where is the question answering, evil defeating, people motivating, worship producing, famine ending, all consuming power of God best displayed? At the cross where God propelled you to worship and protected you from the enemy. This is the place where God did his grandest work for his remnant people. So this is why we gather. We preach the word of the cross. You're right, to many of your friends, to many of your acquaintances, it may sound like foolishness and some of you are like, "Man, we repeat this every week." You're right. We're going to stay tethered and close to the Gospel, the cross. Why? Because that's the message of the power of God.
Here's what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18. I close with this verse. It really echoes what Peter said in chapter 1, verse 5. "The word of the cross," yes, "is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." And so, church, man, I just want you to rest this morning and take great comfort in what 1 Kings 18 kind of forecasts for us. Yes, in that moment, God did not forget his remnant people but he turned their hearts back, propelling them to worship and protecting them from the enemy. This is what God did for them and this is what God did for all of his people in the ultimate way when he gave his Son to die on the cross as our substitution. That propels us to worship and protects us from the enemy all the way to the very end.
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Israel's biblical history is more than military conquest in chronological sequence. It is messianic prophecy in narrative form. This is especially and beatifully seen in the books of 1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, and 1–2 Chronicles. Prepare to enjoy the adventure of the Old Testament in our 2017–2018 series, "The kings and the King," and appreciate anew the anticipation of Christ woven throughout each of these historical books.