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Archive for July 20th, 2019

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Elijah in the cave

The prophet Elijah, whose name means “My God is Yahweh [the LORD],” prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel primarily during the reign of Ahab (874-853 BC).Ahab, under the influence of his pagan wife Jezebel, had encouraged the worship of Baal throughout his kingdom, even as Jezebel sought to get rid of the worship of Yahweh. Elijah was called by God to denounce this  idolatry and to call the people of Israel, to the worship of Yahweh as the only true God (as he did in 1 Kings 18:20-40). Elilia., was a rugged and imposing figure, living the wilderness and dressing in a garment of  camel’s hair and a leather belt (1 Kings 18:20-40).He was a prophet mighty in word and deed. Many miracles were done through Elijah, including the raising of the dead (1 Kings 17.17-24) and the effecting of a long drought in Israel (1 Kings 17:1). At the end of his ministry, he was taken up into heaven while Elisha, his successor, looked on (2 Kings 2:11). Later, the prophet Malachi proclaimed that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6), a prophecy that was fulfilled in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14). (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

The narrative of Elijah begins at 1 Kings 17: 1 and ends with Elijah’s assumption into heaven, II Kings 2: 12.  

Elijah had a tumultuous ministry because it was a tumultuous time.  The Kingdom of Israel, after the death of Solomon, was divided into two kingdoms in 922 BC: Israel (Northern Kingdom or Ephraim) and Judah (Southern Kingdom) by the Lord due to the sin of Solomon and his son.  There were nineteen kings in the Northern Kingdom, of which seven were killed by their successors.

 In the Northern Kingdom, the Lord sent His prophets to proclaim His Word to a wayward Israel for 2 centuries.  Elijah was one of the greatest. The worse of the kings of the north was Ahab  with the power behind the throne,  his wife Jezebel, an idolater, a Sidonian. Jezebel brought her false gods into the Northern Kingdom and the King allowed it. Elijah is introduced into the narrative without explanation and my guess is that his reputation preceded him.  In a confrontation, Elijah challenged the false prophets of Baal that Ahab had allowed into the Lord’s Temple at the behest of his pagan wife, Jezebel. Here was the King’s response: 

17When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals.  (1 Kings 18)

Ahab was right that Elijah was troubling Israel.  Elijah was bringing the good fight of faith to the world of politics and religion. Ahab and Jezebel actions were not unexpected, but…

 “(They) are not really actions.  They are reactions.  Elijah is the aggressor, and so is the Church, if we do not forget ourselves.  The Church does mean to do harm to unbelief, injustice, and wickedness.  We mean to cast down every vain imagination and every thought that exalts itself against Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 10: 1-5), to proclaim the Gospel until all knees bow down and every tongue confess Jesus is the Christ.” (1 and 2 Kings, commentary by Peter Leithart)

Sexual immorality and violence go hand-in-hand with idolatry because idolatry focuses everything upon the Old Adam and our lust to power.  “…all man’s Babylons strive but to impart/The grandeurs of his Babylonian heart” (Francis Thompson, +1907).  Spoiler alert:  The Assyrian Empire conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC. The Babylonian Empire would do the same to Judah in 586 BC.   Before Israel and Judah were destroyed from the outside, they had destroyed themselves from the inside.

Elijah spoke the Truth to power and power did not like it:  read again the Gospels on John the Baptizer and King Herod Antipas. In our day, political and religious leaders have, “…abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals”, usually the Baals of their own fallen hearts.

When  Elijah finds out that Jezebel has sworn to kill him, he goes on a long journey to Mt. Sinai, the very mountain of God of the 10 Commandments.  He desires to die for Israel as Moses did. Elijah goes into a cave.  The Lord knows where he is.  And after,  a great wind, an earthquake and fire, the Lord’s voice, His Word is heard in “a small still voice” (1 Kings 19: 12, KJV).  The next time we hear of Elijah is when he and Moses are speaking with the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration about His “departure”, in Luke’s Gospel, literally, His exodus: not to flee from slavery but to free all those in slavery (Luke 9:29-31).

We too follow the Baals of our fallen hearts. Jesus has come to save us from ourselves.  You can’t whitewash Old Adam, only the Lord can make us clean. All come to faith, not by the powerful deeds of Jesus, His miracles,  but by the small still anguished voice from the Cross, mercy’s greatest deed in world history,  which cries over the wastes and wrath of our times:  “It is finished”.  Finished are the idolatries over the  hearts of men resulting in sin and death. The King upon the Cross did what no earthly kingly would ever do or could ever do:  die for His subjects and bearing their sins to set us free, so we can be His sons and daughters.  Freed from sin and death, to take the fight of the Lord and His eternal life in our day and time to the principalities and powers. This thought frightens me, but as the Lord pointed out to Elijah that there were others with and for Elijah and the Lord: the 7,000 who have not knelt to Baal. The Lord has put us into His Church. The Lord’s weakness is greater than man’s greatest strengths for His encouragement and strength in the good fight of faith: 

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.(1 Corinthians 1;  emphasis my own)

Prayer of the Day

Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elijah, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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