Objective of this lesson: to continue to stress that great men of faith often had a wilderness experience. This week we will focus on Elijah. We will stress that the expectations of a godly person can be used to attack the person's faith.
Sometimes our God-focused expectations take us into the wilderness. At times a person can envision a solution to a spiritual need with such intensity that he/she confuses personal desire with God's will. What the person wants is not bad within itself--it is not dishonest, or arrogantly defiant, or some form of physical indulgence, or a pursuit of an ambition that is anti-God. The person merely makes the mistake of substituting his desires for God's will. If what he/she desires is not ungodly in objective nor anti-God in result, why is it destructive to substitute this human expectation for God's will? Rarely will a human expect results in all he/she personally anticipates. Two problems frequently occur. First, the person arrogantly persists in his/her goal as though he/she has a special commission from God. Or, second, the person gives up when his/her expectations fail to become reality.
Human expectations are not a bad thing if those human expectations acknowledge all God's purposes. However, our expectations can deceive us if (1) we are not mindful of all of God's purposes; (2) we substitute our expectations for God's purposes; (3) we demand God "do things the way we want them done;" (4) we put faith in our expectations ahead of faith in God's priorities. Devotion to God's will is good. Confusing our expectations with God's will is bad.
Because of great wickedness and idolatry under the leadership of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, northern Israel [the ten tribes who separated themselves from Judah and Jerusalem] suffered an severe drought. The prophet Elijah asked God to withhold rain from Northern Israel The drought was so severe that even King Ahab experienced grave difficulty finding water and pasture for his horses, mules, and cattle.
King Ahab and Queen Jezebel ruled over the northern 10 tribes of Israel [those tribes were called Israel at that time] during a period of great idolatry. Queen Jezebel supported a large group of Baal priests. She was not an Israelite [she was from the area of Tyre and Sidon] and felt no allegiance to the God of the Israelite people. She was a domineering, strong-willed person.
Elijah created an opportunity when he ended the drought. God directed him to reveal himself to King Ahab. King Ahab greeted Elijah by calling him the troubler of Israel. Elijah declared King Ahab was the troubler of Israel because the king led the ten tribes deeper into idolatry. Elijah asked King Ahab to summon the men of the 10 tribes, 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of the Asherah [all 850 of whom were supported by Queen Jezebel] to Mount Carmel. King Ahab did as Elijah requested.
Elijah was God's prophet and representative in the northern 10 tribes. He had a deep desire to reunite the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah into a single people who worshipped God in the temple in Jerusalem. These two kingdoms had been separate since the reign of King Jeroboam who established sites of worship in Dan and Bethel. Jeroboam was afraid for the people of his nation to travel back to the temple in Jerusalem (see 1 Kings 12:26-33). He made a golden calf for each worship site at Dan and Bethel and declared the calves had delivered the people from Egypt (as in Exodus 32:1-5).
Elijah proposed a contest. He declared these 10 tribes needed to bring spiritual things to a conclusion. If the Lord was God, they needed to follow him. If Baal was God, they needed to follow him. He observed he was only one man representing God, but Baal was represented by 450 prophets. He proposed a sacrificial contest. God clearly, unquestionably won the contest! As a result, the 450 prophets of Baal were executed at Elijah's instruction. Shortly after that, rain returned to the region.
Cover the details/facts of the contest quickly. Keep the focus on Elijah's trip into the wilderness instead of the contest.
Elijah felt God's decisive victory at Mount Carmel would reunite northern Israel and Judah in worshipping God at Jerusalem. Elijah's expectation would become reality, and God would be glorified! Doubtlessly, he felt victorious in God's vindication! The purpose of the sacrificial contest was to establish the ten tribes' God!
The purpose of the contest was to lead those 10 tribes to a final decision to determine Who was the true God, and to follow Him only (see 1 Kings 18:21). If northern Israel recognized Jehovah God as the only God, Elijah's desire became reality.
King Ahab gave a complete report of the events at Mount Carmel to Queen Jezebel. She was extremely angry! She was so angry she vowed Elijah would be dead in 24 hours!
Elijah did not take Queen Jezebel's threat lightly. Though he was not afraid to talk to King Ahab who hated him, he feared the resolve of Jezebel. See 1 Kings 18:7-19 and 19:1-3 to observe the difference in Elijah's attitude toward the king and the queen.
When Elijah heard Queen Jezebel's vow/threat, he was afraid! This man who revealed himself to an angry king, this man who all alone had a contest with 450 prophets of Baal, this man who moved idolatrous men to execute the 450 prophets of Baal, this man was afraid! He revealed himself to King Ahab to comply with God's instruction. With great expectation for the 10 tribes repentance and return to God, he faced the 450 prophets of Baal and had them executed.
Our fears are often hard to understand. We may be very courageous in one situation and very fearful in another--though the dangers to us personally in both situations are quite similar.
There is no way to know how Elijah expected Queen Jezebel to react, but it is evident that her reaction was not what he expected. The 10 tribes abandoning idolatry for God was not going to happen! When it was obvious to Elijah that his expectations were dead, his faith shattered. He was motivated by self-pity! He fled to the wilderness, and God helped him get there! He wanted to die, and was so depressed that he asked God to let him die. Instead, God sustained Elijah for a 40 day trip even further into the wilderness to Mount Horeb (Mount Sinai). When Elijah came to Sinai, he lived in a cave.
Elijah allowed Jezebel's threat to be bigger to him than God's act on Mount Carmel. Too often we allow the threat of the moment to be bigger than God's acts in Jesus' cross or Jesus' resurrection.
God spoke to Elijah and asked, "What are you doing here?" Elijah responded, "I have been very zealous for God. The ten tribes have abandoned Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets. I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me."
Self-pity advances Satan's purposes, not God's purposes. From the first sin until today, if Satan succeeds in getting people to focus on self, he can deceive and control them.
Before you condemn Elijah, think about this man. Elijah responded to the extreme wickedness of northern Israel by evoking a drought. At the Lord's instruction, he lived in isolation by the brook Cherith. No human companionship or association! All alone in the middle of nowhere! His diet: brook water to drink, and the bread and meat ravens brought him! This was not an exciting vacation! When the brook dried up, Elijah was directed to the home of a gentile widow for care. The woman was preparing her last bit of food for herself and her son--hardly a visit to a resort! Still, this man had the faith and courage to appear to an angry king, and to face 450 prophets of Baal all alone! Most of us would have been seriously depressed before those two things occurred!
Elijah was a person of enormous faith and courage most of the time. His actions of faith were demanding! Regardless of what we did for God in the past, if we focus on ourselves rather than on God, we immediately display human weakness. Were it not for salvation by God's grace [which gives us responsibility], no human could have hope. It is God's lovingkindness, not our perfection, that allows us to be saved.
Note what God did. (1) He asked Elijah, "Why are you here?" (2) He revealed Himself to Elijah in an unexpected way. (3) He told Elijah to return and do the Lord's work. (4) He said He had faithful people Elijah did not even know about. Paraphrased: "Stop feeling sorry for yourself and involve yourself again in serving Me." Because our expectations do not produce the results we expect does not mean God's purposes have failed.
God could refocus Elijah on Him only by making Elijah recall that God is vastly bigger than human expectations. God is not predictable. God's acts are not confined to human imagination or understanding. God's ways and human ways are not similar. Read Isaiah 55:6-9 and Romans 11:33-36. One constantly must be willing to grow and develop in his/her view/understanding of God if he/she is to grow spiritually.
Thought and Discussion Questions
We can substitute our expectations for God's purposes, OR we can lose faith when our expectations fail to become reality.
Water and pasture for livestock was difficult to find. Since wealth was often measured in terms of the livestock one owned, anything that threatened the well being of one's livestock threatened his wealth. That would make a king extremely angry!
He suggested a contest between himself and the prophets of Baal to determine Who was truly God.
He thought the people of northern Israel would return to Jehovah God as the only God.
He was afraid and fled.
Yes, Elijah was a man of faith and courage. Use the drought, his survival during the time of the drought, his willingness to face Ahab, and the contest on Mount Carmel as evidences.
He felt utterly defeated and alone. He wanted to die.
His reasons were: (1) "I have been devoted to You;" (2) "Northern Israel has forsaken your covenant;" (3) They have torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets;" (4) "I am alone;" (5) They are intent on killing me." In our words, "There is no reason for me to keep on trying--I have been rejected."
God did not reveal Himself in a wind storm, an earthquake, or a fire, but in the sound of a gentle blowing.
God had 7000 people in northern Israel still loyal to Him who had not worshipped Baal.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 8
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