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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Word of the LORD: 1 Kings 17.1-24

There are 4 episodes in this chapter (1 Kings 17), and in these 4 scenes, woven together, we see prayer and the Word of the LORD walking hand-in-glove; we see the power of prayer and the potency of the word of the LORD.

The Word of Drought (1). More ominous than a Black-Leather-clad Mad Max walking out of a nuclear-holocaust wasteland or a Clint Eastwood riding out of the desert with a fist-full of dollars, comes the unexpected, unannounced, unexplained Elijah. And where does Elijah stand (like a court counselor)? Before God! Elijah has the ear of God! Elijah has the word of God! Elijah very much pictures for us the Lord Jesus, (1) who is the Father’s perpetual High Priest interceding for us, and therefore saving us to the uttermost! “Before the throne my Surety stands, before the throne my surety stands, my name is written on his hands. He ever lives above, for me to intercede, his all redeeming love, his precious blood to plead;” (2) Elijah pictures the Lord Jesus in the office of prophet (Westminster Shorter Catechism 24: “How does Christ execute the office of a prophet: Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in revealing to us, by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.” ); (3) and Elijah pictures for us the Lord Jesus who stands before God at His right hand when His servant Steven is being stoned to death! The only thing that will make Ahab’s reign memorable is the Prophet of God and the Word of the LORD!

James tells us there is something that went on before v.1 happened. V.1 flows out of righteous Elijah’s effectual, fervent prayer! “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months” (James 5.16b-17). Elijah prayed for an outward drought to mirror the socio-religious drought. Therefore, Elijah’s sermonette in v.1 is quite uncomfortable, intolerant and violent. For you see, Ba’al was supposed to be the god of fertility, of farming, of rain. And Yahweh is going to strip him of all his pretentious pomp. It’s going to be a contest of power, but there’s no contest. Ba’al is as lifeless and impotent as a mannequin in an arm wrestling match with Conan the Barbarian! The real contest is for the heart of Ahab and for the hearts of God’s People!

The Word Withdrawn (2-7). 2 things are going on: (1) Elijah is the pictorial epitome of what Israel was supposed to be: Faithful, obedient to the Word (v.2 then v.5). The LORD supplies the prophet with water from wadi kerith, a seasonal water source; and by unclean birds, scavenging ravens. Elijah is watered and feed by the hand of God, very much like Israel in the wilderness. (2) Elijah is the flesh-and-blood emblem of the Word of the LORD. Ahab (and Israel) rejects the Word of the LORD, and now the Word of the LORD withdraws to the margins to leave Israel in its drought-ridden, famished, barren treason! Amos 8.11-14.

Remember, the Sacraments and the Scripture work in the same way: only by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (89 & 90) is clear - it is the Spirit who makes the reading, and esp. the preaching of the Word “an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.” And what is our part? We’re to read and hear it with diligence, preparation and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts and seek to practice it in our lives!!!! To have 20 copies of the Bible in your home doesn’t mean you “have the Word” so to speak. Think of it, how many people have you known who have and can quote the Bible but live like Ba’alites???????

The Word Abroad (8-16). Time has been given for God’s Israel, God’s Church under the Old Covenant to repent, to call out in heartbroken contrition, while the Word of the LORD was still near. But no cry is mentioned, no call for reconciliation with God is heard. And so, as Israel continues to progress (or rather, digress) into Ahab’s paganism imported from Sidon; the word of the Lord invades pagan Sidon! The word of the Lord rejected by Israel, comes to bring the very livelihood Israel lacks, to a gentile widow in the bowels of Ba’alsville. It is no accident that a Sidonian woman leads Israel astray with her ba’alism; and Elijah leads a Sidonian woman to embrace that very God! Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob shows Himself the sovereign Lord even in Ba’al’s territory! Ahab’s and Jezebel’s Ba’al can’t bring rain or fertility to God’s people, and Ba’al can’t take care of one of his own subjects in Zarepheth! But Yahweh, unbounded by any territories, supplies the very livelihood Ba’al is powerless to give!!!!!

But let’s go even deeper by listening to our Lord Jesus: “But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow... So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,” (Luke 4.25-26, 27). It’s what God promised early on in Deut. 32.21: “They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation” It’s what even John the Witness announced to those who placed their confidence in their racial and genetic connection to Abraham, “bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Luke 3.8). The message is loud and clear, for those who have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the Church -- If Israel goes pagan - rejecting the Word, God will turn pagans into Israel by the invasion of His Word! Here is Romans 9-11 in a short scene! Here is the whole book of Ephesians, Galatians, etc -- this is the mystery hidden in ages past and now made known thru the apostles and prophets -- Jesus (The Word) goes out from His stiff-necked, stubborn covenant people into pagansville and brings converted pagan Gentiles into His covenant people!!!!!

The Word of Life (17-24). She’s a new convert, recently embraced the Lord who gives generously. and now she loses her son! Truly the LORD’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts our thoughts, nor His timing our timing! But even in this, we are surprised by joy by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! And in this episode, we are instructed in the way of prayer and faith. Here is the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man [James 5.16b]. (1) In v.20 Elijah takes the widow’s complaint, identifies with it, and lays it out before God. No fear of insulting God’s sensibilities here! (2) And then in v.21, Elijah heaves his body into his begging. This is not some primitive shaman witch-doctor action. He is throwing his posture into his prayer. Richard Pratt picks up on the body being part of our praying, “… communicating with God entails much more than putting words together. (…) God pays attention to the inflection of our voices, our expressions, our posture, and other forms of body language” (“Pray With Your Eyes Open”, 163). (3) Lastly, Elijah voices what he desires. The life force (soul, nephesh) would be restored to the boy. and the LORD hears and restores.

The result is the glory of God and their good! The effect is firmer faith in the word of the LORD (v.24)! Ahab hears the Word of the LORD and rejects it for Ba’al. The Widow of Sidonian Zarepheth comes to know that “the word of the LORD in” Elijah’s “mouth is the truth.” V.1 and v.24 wrap up this whole chapter with Prayer, and the gift inside is the Word of the LORD.

Mike

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