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Sunday, October 30, 2011

One Praying Man

Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word" (1 Kings 17:1).
So begins a fun and fascinating story of one of Scriptures "All Time Greats" in the area of prophets. So important was this prophet, Elijah, that he is listed with Moses at the top. It was Moses and Elijah who appeared with Jesus in the Transfiguration. Oddly enough, Elijah seems to play a small role in the Old Testament. So what made Elijah stand out?

In the event explained above, there are details missing in the account. One of those is the fact that Elijah, unlike so many other prophets, didn't get a word from God that said something like "Go and tell Ahab ..." From all accounts, this was Elijah coming in here without divine direction. It was "by my word."

The result of this bold move was a drought in Israel that lasted three and a half years. The drought brought about a famine. The famine brought retribution to God's people. Jezebel, Ahab's wife, set out to kill as many of God's prophets as she could. When Elijah prepared to go back to see Ahab after 3 1/2 years, Obadiah warned him not to go. He was quite sure that merely telling Ahab that Elijah was coming would get him executed.

The end of the episode is a fun story. Elijah challenges Ahab's 450 prophets of Baal, the Lord of Rain and Lightning, to a duel. "You guys ask Baal to give you fire and I'll ask God. Whoever answers wins!" These guys did all they could to get a response from their false god. And, let's face it, Elijah didn't help. They're out there dancing around and shouting and cutting themselves and Elijah offers, "Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened" (1 Kings 18:27). Yeah, no help at all. As the time came for the evening sacrifice, Elijah took his place in front of the people. He made a simple altar with 12 stones, dug a moat around it, put the wood on it, put the cut-up ox on top, and then had the people pour water on it (in the middle of the worst drought they'd seen) until everything was soaked. His "fancy" method of getting a response was this:
"O LORD , the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that Thou, O LORD, art God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again." " (1 Kings 18:36-37).
The immediate result to this simple prayer was fire from heaven so intense that it devoured everything at the altar ... including the altar. Baal's 450 prophets died that day because the people got the message, and the drought ended.

Elijah was a stand out. He never actually died. Instead, he ascended into heaven directly on a chariot sent from God. His return to announce the coming of the Messiah was prophesied and fulfilled in John the Baptist. And, as I said before, he made a return visit at Jesus's Transfiguration along with Moses. An important prophet.

I mentioned that a couple of details were missing from the account. One was the fact that he acted without direct instruction from God in telling Ahab that the drought was coming. The other is given in James.
The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit (James 5:16-18).
Did you catch that? What made Elijah one of the top prophets of all time was not his speaking ability or his willing spirit or his calling from God or his excellent nature. What made Elijah a standout among prophets was that "he prayed earnestly." He prayed to stop the rain and it stopped. He prayed to start the rain and it rained. He prayed to save the life of the child of the woman with whom he was staying during the drought and the child came back to life. One praying man.

Do you ever think that you don't make much of a difference? Do you ever wonder what you can do to bring about change? Do you wonder what you can do for God and for His people? One praying man can bring about unbelievable miracles for the cause of God. One praying man can make all the difference.


David said...

If Elijah's senario was at his choosing, why does he say "I have done all these things at Thy word" in 36 & 37? Wouldn't that indicate his instruction? Or is he just saying it happened because it was His plan, but not instruction (word)? Or was it just the competition with the Baal prophets that was commanded?

Prayer is certainly something we tend to forget to do. I pray often, and yet it still feels like its not enough.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that encouragement to pray. It was needed.

Stan said...

David, I would offer two possibilities, given James's assurance that it was prayer and not command that led Elijah to stop the rain. First, as you suggested, that he was talking about the battle with Baal's prophets. Another is that he meant that he did in general what God wanted him to do as indicated, for instance, by the fact that God answered his prayer to stop the rain.