(27) How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him – 1 Kings 18:21

Ahab, the worst king of Israel, had no regard for God and his law. But that didn’t stop God regarding what Ahab was doing and intervening in his life. The king of Israel was supposed to be the shepherd of God’s people with a responsibility to care for them both physically and spiritually. For physical security he had an army and a civil service; for spiritual security he had the priests. Their job was to lead the people in worship of God and to teach his laws, as well as being the judges who administered justice. It was up to them to maintain good social order as well as promote spiritual health in the country. But under evil kings like Ahab, the priests were corrupted and led the people into worship of idols and away from the teachings of God’s law.

1 Kings gives us an example of how life operated without God’s law. Ahab’s wife Jezebel was a princess from a foreign country where kings had absolute power. So, when Ahab told her that a local farmer called Naboth had refused to sell him a vineyard he wanted she arranged for Naboth to be executed on trumped up charges and then told her husband to take possession of his vineyard. The priests did nothing.

When both kings and priests failed, God sent prophets, his spokesmen and women, who brought God’s challenge to the king and priests as well as to the people.

The greatest of the prophets came to Israel in its darkest hour. Elijah emerges from nowhere at the beginning of 1 Kings 17 to confront the wicked Ahab. We are given no details of his background or family; he just appears and tells Ahab that it wouldn’t rain without his permission.

Ahab probably thought that he was a madman and so ignored him. A year passed without rain, but this was not unusual in Israel. However, after a second and third year of drought Ahab was getting desperate and was scouring the land for water for his horses and mules – an indication of his priorities as king. When Elijah and Ahab meet again Elijah has the upper hand and tells Ahab to arrange a public showdown between him as the prophet of the Lord and the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah who ate “at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:19), meaning that they were officially employed by the palace.

This confrontation is one of the most dramatic events in the Bible. Elijah sets up two stone altars with wood and sacrifices on them in front of the people and asks them to literally stop dancing between two opinions and make their minds up. “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). The pagan prophets then spend most of the day in a frenzied dance around their altar calling on Baal to send fire. The writer notes that “there was no response; no one answered” (1 Kings 18:26). Elijah then called the people near to him and prayed for God to send fire and “the fire of the Lord fell” (1 Kings 18:38) consuming the whole altar. This dramatic turn of events results in the people turning back to God and Elijah slaughters the prophets of Baal. He then tells Ahab to get back to his palace before the rain comes.

How did Elijah know that it wouldn’t rain? The prophets didn’t just make up their own ideas but knew the law. In Deuteronomy 28 there are lists of blessings and curses that will come on the people according to whether they obey or disobey God’s commands. One of the curses for disobedience is that there will be times of drought (see Deuteronomy 28:23-24). Elijah knew God’s word and he listened to God for his timing.

Later God sent him to Naboth’s vineyard to let the king know that his actions, which clearly violated the law, had not gone unnoticed by God and that both he and his wife would be punished for their flagrant abuse of their power. That’s what prophets do: they take God’s word and prayerfully apply it to the situation they see around them. That’s what we are called to do as well.

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