This portion of the Witnessing Christ from the Old Testament study covers 1 Kings chapters 17–19.
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The house of Israel was in disarray. The unity and prosperity achieved under David and Solomon were long past, and the nation’s covenant relationship with the Lord was, for many people, a distant memory. The Kingdom of Israel had divided, with ten tribes forming the Northern Kingdom of Israel and two tribes forming the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Both kingdoms were unstable spiritually, led by kings who violated their covenants with the Lord and influenced others to do likewise (see 1 Kings 11–16). But the apostasy was especially severe in the Northern Kingdom, where King Ahab encouraged Israel to worship the false god Baal.
It was in this setting that the prophet Elijah was called to preach. The account of his ministry makes clear that personal faith in the Lord can thrive among the righteous even in a wicked environment. Sometimes the Lord responds to such faith with impressive, public miracles, like fire falling from heaven. But He also works quiet, private miracles, like meeting the personal needs of a faithful widow and her son. And most often His miracles are so individual that they are known only to you—for example, when the Lord reveals Himself and His will through “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12).
2 Samuel is a continuation of 1 Samuel, which presented Israel’s transition from a theocracy (God guiding and directing his people) to a monarchy Elijah’s ministry took place during the reign of wicked King Ahab, who had married a Phoenician princess named Jezebel. As Solomon had done before him, Ahab allowed his wife to worship her gods; he built a temple in Samaria to Baal and set up an Asherah pole (1 Kings 12:31–33).
Baal’s followers worshiped him as the storm god who brought rain. However, during the annual dry season, the people believed that he was trapped in the land of the dead, unable to return to restore rainfall without aid from his supplicants and his sister Anat. The people thought that through fertility rites and ritualistic prostitution, they could coax Anat into rescuing Baal from the land of the dead so that he could send rains.
To restore them to himself, the God of Israel deemed to show his straying people who indeed reigned in the heavens. In Elijah’s initial confrontation with Ahab, he prophesied that God would withhold rain for the next several years. This extended drought was to teach the people about Baal’s inability to save himself from death and provide for their needs. At the same time, it would instruct them once again about the true God, his wonders, and his ways.
Over the next several years, God would teach his people and his prophet to trust in him. First, through demonstrations of his power and might with fire and rain sent down on Mount Carmel, but then with the gentle whisper of his Word, God restored his people to himself.
1 Kings 17
Elijah and the Widow
The time of Elijah was a desperate time for God’s people. King Ahab, who was credited with doing more evil than any king before, reigned. His wife, Jezebel, zealously promoted the worship of her gods, Baal and Asherah, to the point of hunting and persecuting believers.
Our jealous God was not willing to ignore Israel’s unfaithfulness. Baal was the god who sent rain, and Asherah, Baal’s sister/wife, was the goddess who caused the crops to grow. The three-year drought was meant to discredit the idols and was a judgment against those who worshiped them. This hardship affected both believers and unbelievers alike.
God provided for Elijah in two miraculous ways. The first way was through his creation as the all-powerful God who cared for a single believer by ordering birds to bring him food. God could have continued to provide for Elijah in isolation, but instead, he chose to include a believing foreign widow so that he could bless her too.
We marvel at the widow’s faith. She agreed to offer the prophet her last bits of food, trusting the promise that more would miraculously appear. LDS resources emphasize the blessings that come from obedience, but you can show them the true source of blessing and even the source of obedience. Note that 1 Kings 17:9 says, “God commanded the widow to feed Elijah.” Yet, when they met, she seemed unaware of the command. The widow obeyed because God had placed faith in her heart. Before she obeyed, God had already given her faith and blessings. Her obedience was a response to God being in her life, not its cause.
The widow’s reaction to her son’s death is significant. “Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:18). She knew that she was a sinner. She knew that sin deserved death. She wasn’t accusing God of being unfair; she was accusing him of being unforgiving. The son was raised from the dead and given back to her as proof of God’s forgiving character.
This story is dripping with Messianic parallels. The guilt of our sin was also placed upon a son. Jesus died because of what we had done. Yet, three days later, God raised him back to life, proving that sin had fully and wholly been forgiven.
- Why is it comforting to know we have a jealous God?
- Does God use natural disasters as a judgment against sin today? What are some other purposes of natural disasters?
- Why did the ravens obey God? Why did the widow obey God? How are they similar? How are they different?
- Name messianic parallels in the death and resurrection story of the widow’s son. How can you be sure your sins are forgiven?
“Did you come to remind me of my sins and kill my son?” said the widow to God’s prophet, Elijah.
The widow in 1 Kings 17 is enraged and confused. This woman, who knew she was a sinner, had put her faith in Elijah’s God, and God proved his forgiveness by rescuing her and her son from starvation.
“So why is my son dead?!”
Elijah cried out to the Lord, and the boy’s life returned. The woman received her son and didn’t just marvel at his miraculous resurrection. She marveled that the words the prophet had spoken to her about God were true. Her sins were indeed forgiven and forgotten.
Do you see how our story is similar? Our sins caused the death of a different Son. But God raised Jesus from the dead, proving that his Word is true and our sins are forgotten.
“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12).
1 Kings 18
The Showdown between God and Baal
What a scene this must have been! There were 450 prophets for Baal gathered around their altar, with the people of Israel watching in anticipation. How weak the lone prophet, Elijah, looked next to the altar of the LORD, which lay in ruins.
Hour after hour, the false prophets begged Baal to be real. But Baal was not; he was nothing, so he was silent. As the prophets shed their blood to gain Baal’s favor, we are reminded that God indeed demands blood (death) as a sin payment. Yet, we have a God who was willing to meet those demands for us.
When the fire from God came down and consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the altar, and even the ground around it, the people were “consumed” with fear for the Lord. They finally acknowledged him as the one true God. They immediately joined Elijah in putting the false prophets to death.
Elijah “running” before Ahab’s chariot is an entertaining scene in an otherwise horrific chapter.
- Elijah even has the nerve to mock the prophets and Baal. For which characteristics of our God does he remind you to be thankful?
- Why did Elijah soak the altar of the LORD with water?
- What do you make of the people’s response to God’s fire from heaven?
How the hearts of Baal’s wicked priests must have melted when fire rained down from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice in 1 Kings 18. Did they remember the stories of God’s wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah? The priests were slaughtered. Their judgment day was here.
Years later, the wicked danced around the altar on Golgotha. If there was ever a time for God to rain down his judgment, surely it was on Good Friday. God took aim…and missed.
Those that hated God survived, and God’s wrath rained down upon Jesus. Unknowingly, the wicked offered up a substitutionary sacrifice to God. Upon the altar of the cross, Jesus suffered the punishment that their sins deserved.
And so, my status is transformed from wicked to righteous.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
1 Kings 19
Elijah Gives Up
After the showdown, the people put the prophets of Baal to death, and the LORD finally sent rain. After such a great victory, we would expect change. We would expect Elijah to be rejoicing. But instead, we see the prophet of the LORD persecuted and on the run. He flees to the wilderness and asks God to take his life.
Elijah’s despair is understandable. The dramatic end to the long drought and the great showdown with Baal seemed to have come to nothing, and Elijah continued to lack fellowship with other believers. From his perspective, his work and his ministry were a failure. It was time to give up and quit.
Initially, the angel of the Lord responded, saying, “The journey is too much for you” (1 Kings 19:7).
Is this God insulting him and kicking him when he is down? Shouldn’t there be a pep talk about how Elijah was made for this; he only needed to keep trying and doing his best?
God’s expectations for Elijah were never about his successes and ability to achieve great things for him. Therefore, Elijah could never be the savior of his people.
Next in the cave, the word of the Lord responds to Elijah. He initiated the cave conversation with a question inviting Elijah into a relational dialogue. Elijah, in prayer, had an opportunity to express and process his troubles and fears in the presence of God himself.
On Mt. Carmel, the Lord was in the fire, but here, he was not. This time, God came in a whisper, a still small voice. Recall John’s first name for the Messiah. “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1).
Many expected a great and powerful king to rescue the world, but God sent a helpless baby, born in scandal and poverty, whose most significant achievement was dying for us. God’s power and might often seem upside-down to us. Yet, his message of grace is gentle.
This section of scripture is not a promise of how God will interact with you through quietness. God does not promise to speak to you in this way. He does, however, promise to talk to you through his Word, his Son, who speaks to us today in his Word, the Bible.
Mormons are encouraged to do all they can to “hear him” to receive special divine revelation. Mormons, therefore, are always looking for “more.” After we have reminded ourselves, we need to remind them that we don’t need more. We have all we need in Christ and his Word.
God also provided Elijah with another kind of support. He told him to go and anoint Jehu King over Israel and Elisha to be his prophet. These two men would serve with and support Elijah throughout the rest of his ministry.
To learn more about how we properly “hear him,” check out the article Can I Really Hear Him? on beyeperfect.org.
- How was Elijah’s despair evidence of his sinful brokenness?
- List the ways God tenderly cared for Elijah.
- How do we hear God’s whispers today?
God, the world is a mess, and it hates you! Why don’t you just do something!
What if God would just send fire on the world’s idol? What if he would just wipe out all of the false teachers?
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah hoped that the dramatic display of God’s power at Mount Carmel would turn the nation around. Or maybe he felt that the radical display of God’s judgment against the priests of Baal would change the nation’s hearts.
Neither worked. Displays of God’s power and judgment may incite a response of fear, but they can’t change hearts. Instead, God gives us the still small voice of his Word. His Word offers mercy, love, and underserved forgiveness in the face of evil.
His strength is made perfect in weakness. (1 Corinthians 12:9)
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