Friday, 9 May 2014

(130) May 10: 1 Kings 19-20 & John 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider what God is teaching Elijah.

To ponder:
Elijah’s attitude changes markedly. Having run in God’s power ahead of Ahab to Jezreel, presumably confident things would now be better in Israel (18v46), days later he is running for his life from Jezreel because of Jezebel’s threat. He leaves Israel and enters the desert on the farthest border of Judah. Resonating with the worn out minister or persecuted Christian, he prays he might die, saying he has “had enough.” Seeing himself no better than his ancestors suggests he may be considering giving up on God altogether. But God has not given up on him. Twice his angel (or just messenger) gives food and water, reminding Elijah of God’s previous care for him (17v1-6) and strengthening him for his “journey.”
Here Elijah is like Moses, travelling through the desert to Horeb (Sinai) where he witnesses God pass by (as Ex 33v18-34v7). However, God’s repeated question: “why are you here,” suggests this was Elijah’s idea. He could speak with God elsewhere. So perhaps, like Moses, he sought a particularly rejuvenating vision of God’s glory. God’s question also helps us understand why he passes by only in silence. Elijah’s response to it implies he is there because he sees himself as the only zealous one left in Israel. Despite meeting Obadiah and hearing of the prophets he saved (18v1-15), Elijah assumes God is not at work in the northern kingdom. God’s point may therefore be that he is, but by quiet rather than dramatic means. By covering his face (so that he doesn’t die, Ex 33v20), Elijah actually acknowledges that God’s awesome glory is manifest at these times too. It’s an encouragement to Christians today when few are converted and the church seems in decline. We should not despair or exaggerate the problem, but trust God is still present and active.
By repeating his answer, Elijah suggests he hasn’t fully learnt the lesson, which may explain why he we don’t see him properly fulfilling God’s commands of 19v15-16. Nevertheless, God’s continued commitment to Israel is seen by his promise of absolute destruction on those who stood against him, whilst stressing he has “reserved,” and so kept for himself, 7000 who have remained faithful. The number signifies completion and so God’s intention, and the fact that he still has many who are for him. We should be grateful he has graciously “reserved” us for himself too.
Rather than properly anoint Elisha, Elijah passes him his cloak, signifying transference of authority, and speaks rather grumpily. By contrast, Elisha comes with enthusiasm, again “running.” Indeed, his return to kiss his parents and cook his oxen on his ploughing equipment shows he intends not to return to his former way of life. Alluding to this, Jesus calls us to an even greater commitment (Lk 9v61-62).
Ben-Hadad’s bullying confrontation with Ahab is God’s means of once more fighting for Israel so they will know he “is the LORD” (20v13, 28). Having gained fearful acceptance of his first demands, Ben-Hadad increases them bringing a bold rebuff from Ahab. The similarity between Ben-Hadad’s oath over Samaria to Jezebel’s over Elijah (20v10, 19v2) shows he is no more able to fulfil his threat before his gods, than she has been hers. Rather, by following God’s commands through a prophet, Ahab’s commanders and 7000 men defeat their complacent enemies. The warning and then defeat of the second attack proves that God is not a limited local god, but the true God of all (20v23, 28). So despite being hugely outnumbered (20v27), Israel defeat her enemy, and God follows it up by causing a wall to collapse on the survivors.
This all meant Ahab’s subsequent treaty with Ben-Hadad was wrong. He had just been shown that he didn’t need it as God would act for him, and whereas God’s law urged the offer of peace to prevent battle with nations beyond Israel’s borders, it required destruction of those who chose to fight (Deut 20v10-15). The seriousness of Ahab’s refusal to “strike” was graphically illustrated by the prophet’s actions (20v35-36) and message (20v42-43).

Praying it home:
Praise God that he continues to be at work even in the quiet times. Pray for his energy and strength for Christians and ministers feeling worn out and despondent.

Thinking further: The still small voice
The translation of the Hebrew in 19v12 as “gentle whisper” or “still small voice” has often be taken as justification for seeing inner impressions or feelings as potential words from God. The problem with his interpretation is that God has already been speaking to Elijah (19v9-11) and with such clarity that he can have a conversation with him. It is this same voice that we read of in 19v13-18 giving quite specific instructions as was the usual experience of prophets. What Elijah actually hears in the cave is a quiet hint at God’s presence in more literally “a barely audible whisper.” This communicates nothing other than that God is there in the quietness not the noise, drawing Elijah out to then be addressed by him. A modern equivalent might be God giving the despairing Christian a quiet reminder or sense of his presence that moves them to turn to the scriptures where they are strengthened by his word.

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