Study Notes

1Kings 18:1-46


As you recall from our study last week, we were introduced to the prophet Elijah, who was called by God to confront the wicked King Ahab of Israel. He was told to tell Ahab that there would be a severe drought in the land of Israel, and then told to hide from Ahab. It has now been three years since that word of prophecy, and no rain has fallen.

18:1-2 Elijah Sent Back To Ahab

Because of the three year drought, there was a severe famine in the land, especially in Samaria, which Ahab's father Om-REE had built and had become the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Elijah was commanded by the Lord to go and show himself to Ahab. Now, if you put yourself in Elijah's place, this is not a small thing that the Lord is asking Elijah to do. Ahab's wife Jezebel had slaughtered the prophets of God. Not to mention that he had confronted Ahab about his wickedness, pronounced the judgment of the drought, and said,

1Kgs. 17:1 "...there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."

Elijah as much as told Ahab that he had the power to end the drought. Now, after three years of he and his people suffering, there is probably a murderous hatred for Elijah built up inside of King Ahab, in addition to the simple fact that he was marked for death because he was a prophet of God.

But Elijah doesn't hesitate, he goes to show himself to Ahab. It is true that many of us would not be so bold. Many of us operate in fear. Even when we know God is directing, we are still afraid of the consequences. The proverb says,

Prov. 29:25 The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.

It might be that God calls you to share the gospel with someone big and scary. It might be that He calls you to step out in faith and take a financial risk for the kingdom of God. It may be that He calls you into the uncertain future of missionary work. Whatever it is, simply remember the word of the Lord spoken to Joshua,

Josh. 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

At this point, Elijah is being strong and courageous in the Lord.

18:3-4 Obadiah

Obadiah is an interesting man. One who holds high office in the devil's kingdom, yet fears the Lord. Now, don't think that he is living in compromise, for he used his position to benefit the kingdom of God, at great personal risk. He was over the household of Ahab, meaning that he was the steward, the manager of the house, but when the house's policies meant that God's people were being killed, he did everything in his power to save as many of them as he could.

Obadiah was personally responsible for saving a hundred of the prophets that Queen Jezebel had marked for murder. He hid them in two caves, fifty prophets in each, and provided bread and water for them.

Although few of us as Americans have ever been put in a situation where we had to risk our own lives and well-being to save the lives of other Christians, much of the church throughout the world must do this regularly. Although it very far removed from our American thinking, Christians are regularly and routinely persecuted and executed for their faith in countries like China, Pakistan, Iraq, Indonesia, Haiti, Columbia, Ecuador, and the Sudan. Those who come to their aide, hiding them and helping them, risk their lives just as Obadiah did.

18:5-6 Ahab's Command

Ahab told Obadiah that they were going to split up and search for any pasture land that could support their herds. If they didn't find any, then they would have to kill some of their animals.

18:7-15 Obadiah Sees Elijah

While searching the land, Obadiah runs into Elijah. Elijah tells him to go tell Ahab where he is. But Obadiah was fearful. He knew first-hand how intensely Ahab had searched for Elijah to kill him - even demanding extradition from all of the other nations. He knew that if he were to say to Ahab, "I've seen Elijah, he's over there," that if Ahab couldn't find him, he would certainly kill Obadiah.

18:15-16 I Will Surely Show Myself

Elijah reassures Obadiah that he's going to stick around, that there's no need to worry about him skipping town, so Obadiah tells Ahab.

18:17-18 Troubler Of The Nation

Ahab accuses Elijah of being the troubler of Israel, but Elijah says that it is Ahab that has brought the difficulty upon the nation.

This has become a regular conflict in our own nation's society today. The media and the government point to religious fundamentalists as being what's wrong with our society today. They say, "you trouble our nation with your intolerance, your narrow-mindedness, and resistance to the advance of science, technology, and human evolution."

But in reality, it is their own wickedness that troubles our nation. They have forced God out of our public life, legislated ungodliness, and legalized unrighteousness. As the old saying goes, "Don't shoot the messenger." We are not responsible for the degradation of society. We are not the troublers of our nation.

18:19-20 The Challenge

Elijah issues a challenge to Ahab. "Bring 450 prophets of your false god BAH-al, and 400 prophets of the Asherah over to Mount Carmel. It'll be 850 of them against me."

Ahab sends for them. We know that the 450 prophets of BAH-al showed up, but what is not evident from the text is whether or not the 400 prophets of the Asherah came. It is very possible that Jezebel forbade them to go. It is also possible that they arrived, but are not part of the action to follow.

Many people of Israel also came, to witness this confrontation.

18:21 Between Two Opinions

Elijah confronted the people of Israel. They were guilty of worshipping both God and BAH-al. He asks them, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions?"

Many of us are guilty of having more than one god. We have the Lord and our house, or the Lord and sports, or the Lord and our career, or the Lord and our finances, or the Lord and our addiction.

But God is not content to be one of two gods. He will not stand for it. He said,

Exod. 34:14 shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God

When God has to share your heart with something else, He says that you are committing adultery against Him. God said,

Ezek. 6:9 I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes, which played the harlot after their idols...

To attempt to worship God as well as follow after something else is the same as going to your spouse and saying, "Honey, I love you and I'm going to stick by you, but I'm going to keep another lover on the side as well." Well, none of us would tolerate that either, would we?

In the book of Revelation, Jesus was telling the church of Ephesus that He knew how doctrinally sound they were, and how they had persevered. However, He also said,

Rev. 2:4-5 "But I have {this} against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place —unless you repent."

They had left their first love. That doesn't speak of first in a chronological sense, like your first love was your high school sweetheart. It speaks of first in the sense of placement, rank, or priority. Jesus had this against them, that He had been taken out of first place in their lives, our of first priority in their hearts.

Is Jesus in first place in your life, or just in the top ten? Is He the only God you worship, or are you devoted to something else as well? How long will you hesitate between two opinions? As Joshua said,

Josh. 24:14-15 "Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."

Either serve the Lord completely, or choose something else to follow. As for me and my house, we've chosen to serve the Lord.

18:22-24 The Contest

Elijah proposed this contest to differentiate between God and BA-al. Two identical altars would be set up. On each, an ox would be sacrificed, and wood to burn the sacrifice. The contest very simply would be to leave it to each god to light the fire.

18:25-26 Baal Goes First

The prophets of BAH-al prepared their sacrifice and began to call out to BAH-al. From morning until noon, they cried out, "Oh, BAH-al, answer us." But there was no answer. They leaped and danced about, trying to get his attention.

18:27 Elijah The Heckler

At noon, Elijah began to taunt them, saying, "BAH-al is certainly a god, maybe you should shout louder. Maybe he's busy doing something else. Maybe he's taken a trip. Maybe he's asleep. Maybe he has gone aside." Now, that term "gone aside" can mean many things, including being busy in the bathroom!

They desired to have their god hear, but he could not hear. Psalm 115 says,

Ps. 115:4-8 Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them.

The idols we serve in our own lives are also deaf and dumb, unable to answer. We invest money and time, effort and energy into them. But what do they give us in return? Fleeting moments of pleasure, but they cannot provide for us. They cannot answer our prayers or watch over us. Instead, we watch over them. They cannot care for us, but we care for them. They cannot heal us, be we constantly repair them.

How foolish we must seem from a heavenly perspective, to be so devoted to a boat, a car, a tv, a house, or a career, when God in heaven is earnestly desiring to be our God and provider.

18:28-29 The Prophets Of Baal Try Harder

Instead of repenting, the prophets of BAH-al only tried harder. They screamed and cut themselves, raving on all day long. This was the kind of behavior that God had forbidden the Israelites to do in the Law.

Deut. 14:1 "You are the sons of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead.

Lev. 19:28 ‘You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.

The false religions of the Canaanites involved offering their hair in honor of their gods, and cutting or tattooing themselves to mourn their dead or to draw the attention of their gods. This verse has been used by many to claim that Christians should not have tattoos. I don't believe that interpretation is entirely in context of the text. That being said, I also don't believe that a Christian getting tattoos is necessarily a positive thing. Tattoos for the most part are intended to be shown, to draw attention to ourselves. But as Christians, we should not be prideful in that way, and seeking to attract attention.

But here, the prophets of BAH-al were seeking his attention. And they weren't getting it.

18:30-35 Elijah's Preparation

Elijah wasn't planning on anything so fancy as shrieking and bleeding. He simply constructed the altar, and dug a deep trench all the way around it. He then had the people cover the sacrifice with water three times and filled the trench with water.

Even if you had lighter fluid and matches, you'd have had a hard time setting this sacrifice ablaze.

18:36-38 Elijah's Prayer

While the prophets of BAH-al had appealed to their false God all day long, Elijah's simply prayer took about 15 seconds. God immediately responded, and it was evident to all that God was the victor.

Some have asked, "Why don't we do things like this now? Why can't we set up a stage in the park and appeal to the Lord to do some miraculous sign, making believers out of everyone who sees?" The answer to that question is found in Elijah's prayer. He said,

1Kgs. 18:36 "...I have done all these things at Thy word."

God had directed Elijah to do this. This wasn't some wild plan that Elijah came up with and asked God to jump on board. There is a big difference between being an instrument in the plan of God and making God an instrument in our plans. When we expect God to do tricks like a magician, we could expect an answer like Jesus gave:

Matt. 12:38-39 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign..."

God has certainly proven Himself with miraculous signs and wonders. But it is always at His discretion, not our petition.

18:39-40 The Prophets Of Baal Are Killed

The people knew that God was the true God. Elijah instructed them to grab all 450 prophets of BAH-al, and killed them at the brook Kee-SHONE.

It is interesting to me that the Law of God commanded the penalty of death for idolaters and worshippers of false gods (Deut. 13:13-18; 17:2-5). There is no program instituted for counseling and rehabilitation. If there is not immediate repentance, they are simply killed.

18:41-43 Elijah Prays For Rain

Now Elijah will lift the curse of the drought, and tells Ahab so. He goes to the top of Mount Carmel and prays. And notice how expectantly he prays: he told his servant to go look towards the sea, if there was any indication of rain. When his servant said that there was nothing, he told him to go back and look again. Seven times this happened. Elijah was expecting his prayer to be answered. He knew it was in accordance with the will of God, and was waiting to see it answered.

Do you pray expectantly? Do you anticipate an answer to your prayers? Jesus said,

John 14:13-114 "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do {it.}"

That is a bold statement! When you pray in Jesus' name, do you believe that what you ask will be done? Why not? Experience has taught you differently. Experience has demonstrated to you that not every prayer is answered. Not everything you ask God to do gets done. So, is Jesus wrong when He says this? Not at all. But there is a stipulation to it. The key to answered prayer and expectancy that your prayers will be answered is to pray in Jesus' name.

That does not simply mean ending your prayer with "in Jesus' name." It is that you are coming to God in the name of Jesus just like an ambassador would come to another country in the name of the President. When you say, "in Jesus' name," you are saying, "As an ambassador of Christ on earth, I am making this request." You are doing things in accordance with God's will as God's representative here.

Now, no one can say, "As an ambassador of Christ on earth, I am asking for a Rolex watch, a Mercedes Benz, or something that will selfishly benefit me." That's not praying in Jesus' name. That's why James said,

James 4:3-4 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend {it} on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

So, if you're praying as a faithful representative of Christ on earth, and doing the work of the kingdom of God, praying in accordance with His will, not having selfish motives, then you can rest assured that your prayers will be answered.

Elijah was praying expectantly, knowing that he was praying in accordance with the will of God.

18:44-45 Rain Falls

When they saw that rain was in fact on the way, Elijah told his servant to tell Ahab that he'd best head out for Jezreel or get stuck in the downpour and mud.

18:46 Elijah Runs To Jezreel

Elijah was then supernaturally empowered to outrun the chariot to Jezreel because the hand of the Lord was upon him. But there was something that he himself was responsible for: he had to gird up his loins to run. What does that mean?

The mode of dress in that part of the world was, and for many still is, long flowing robes reaching down between the knees and ankles. If you try to run while wearing something like that, you're going to take quite a few spills and have your progress impeded. So before running, they would gather the extra material up to be the length of shorts, tied up to their belt. This was called "girding your loins." Although God empowered Elijah to run, he had to gird his loins himself in order to run successfully.

There is a spiritual analogy for us as well. God has given us everything that we need to run a victorious Christian race. Yet we still seem to get tripped up and bogged down. Why? Because we haven't girded our loins.

The Scripture tells us,

Eph. 6:14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH...

Hebr. 12:1-2 let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith...

Let us free ourselves from the entanglements of sin and gird ourselves with the belt of truth. If we do that, we will be free to run with God's supernatural empowering.

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