The Ministry of Elijah
Open Your Bible
1 Kings 17:1-24, 1 Kings 18:1-46, 1 Kings 19:1-21, Joshua 6:26-27
BY Guest Writer
Cue the following: a wicked king, a brave prophet, provisions delivered by ravens, a showdown between heavenly powers, and divine fire and rain. Oh, and pass the popcorn, please.
No, this is not the plot summary of a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s a battle between idolatry and faithfulness found in 1 Kings. This account certainly doesn’t lack drama. The prophet Elijah has been called by God to confront King Ahab. Idolatry had infiltrated Israel as this unfaithful king promoted the worship of Baal, a pagan god of fertility and rain.
God chose Elijah, whose name means “Yahweh is my God,” to be His mouthpiece to His people. But Elijah’s name was also a heads-up, a signal to His uncompromising message: there is only one God, Yahweh, and only He should be worshiped.
A clear line is drawn as the showdown reaches its climax. Two altars piled high with wood are assembled, and a sacrificial, slaughtered bull is placed atop each altar. One is presented to Baal and the other to Yahweh. Elijah instructs, “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The God who answers by fire, he is God” (1 Kings 18:24). The false prophets of Baal call out to their god, shouting, dancing, and working themselves into a frenzy—but not a peep nor a spark comes from Baal.
Then, to further prove his point, Elijah has his altar drenched with water three times before he humbly prays that God would answer and turn the hearts of the people back to Himself (1 Kings 18:37). Of course, the fire of the Lord does fall, completely incinerating the offering and its altar. But God does more than answer with intense fire; He releases a heavy rain, ending years of drought. The one, true God is revealed. At the same time, the false god of fertility is exposed as impotent, and the false god of storms is all washed up.
What a picture of mercy! After their rejection of Him, God could have brought punishment, but instead He shows compassion. His people had turned from Him, forgotten His love and provision, and abandoned His commands. Yet, God doesn’t turn away, nor is He is silent or indifferent to them. He answers and gathers His people back to Himself.
If I’m honest, I can relate; I, too, can work myself into a frenzy seeking action from false, futile gods. I may not dance for Baal, but how often do I bow down to money, image, achievement, reputation, health, or people pleasing? Any and all things can function as an idol, if we place them ahead of God. But don’t be fooled: every idol demands worship, and in the end delivers nothing. God alone should be our source of identity and worth, safety and hope.
I’m ashamed to admit that in the morning, before my feet even hit the floor, my mind spins with what I think I must accomplish. My anxiety about managing my world revs up. Ignoring God and depending solely on myself is as tempting as hitting the snooze button. I so easily forget God and His commands, promises, and provision. Is it any wonder that my efforts can seem impotent and my plans washed up?
But God doesn’t leave me with my head hanging down in shame. Instead of rejecting or abandoning me, He rains down mercy as He speaks to me through His Word and gently turns my face back toward Him. God is not silent, and He does not turn away.
Patti Sauls lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband Scott and daughters, Abby and Ellie, where they serve alongside the people of Christ Presbyterian Church. Prior to living in Nashville, the Sauls planted churches in Kansas City and Saint Louis and served at New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. A trained speech therapist, Patti also enjoys serving behind the scenes, hiking with friends, and reading good books.