Elijah–Ordinary to Extraordinary ~ Message 4 “Courage in Conviction” 1 Kings 18:1-40

Click on audio player to download mp3 or to change listening speed

Ordinary to Extraordinary

4 – Courage in Conviction

1 Kings 18:1-40

Bruce A. Hess

If you would, open up the word of God and turn in it, in the Old Testament, to the book of 1 Kings and chapter number 18. If you don’t know have a Bible, there is one under a chair in front of you and you could take that Bible and turn to page 266 and you would be at 1 Kings 18.

You know, you don’t have to be a student of the Old Testament for very long to find out that when certain characters are mentioned, that we automatically associate them with a particular event.

For example, if I were to mention the name of Noah, we would immediately associate him with the Great Flood.

If I were to mention Joshua, you might think about the walls of Jericho coming tumbling down.

If I were to mention David, you probably would associate most frequently with him the slaying of the giant, Goliath.

If I were to mention Daniel, you would probably think about the event of the lion’s den.

And, if we talk about Elijah, most frequently we connect him back to the confrontation that he had with the prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel.

That is what we are going to look at today and truly it is one of the high points of the Old Testament. This is a very striking and spell binding story. But I want to say that it is a little bit difficult, from a sermon standpoint, because it really covers forty verses. That is a lot of verses to read in the allotted sermon time and then to go back and study it. But you know what? I believe we can do it. So, let’s do that today.

We are continuing our series entitled, “Ordinary to Extraordinary,” on the life of Elijah and the title I have given to today’s message is “Courage in Conviction.” It is the fourth message in the series and if you missed the first three, I would invite you to go to our web page and you could download or listen to them there.

Basically, we are just going to do two things today. We are going to first look at The Great Event itself. Then, we are going to take some time to draw some Key Life Lessons from it. Now, as we begin to approach the key event, I’ve laid out a little bit of an outline so it can help us to understand it.

So, first of all we have The Setting in the first eighteen verses of chapter 18.

Then, we have The Proposal that Elijah gives, in verses 19 and 20.

Then, we have The Confrontation itself, in verses 21-39.

We can break that down more fully as The Challenge that is given in 21-25.

Baal’s four hundred and fifty, in verses 26-29.

And Elijah’s Turn in verses 30-39.

Then, it is all really concluded with The Resolution in verse 40.

Let’s begin by looking at The Setting, which is the first eighteen verses. Look at verse 1 of chapter 18. It says, “Now it happened after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year,” it had been three years, “Saying, ‘Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.’ So, Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria,” or in the northern kingdom.

If you have been with us in our study you know that God has been taking Elijah through some times of preparation, some times of spiritual deepening, and some times of spiritual development. What he is really saying to him now is, ‘That period of preparation to go and meet Ahab is over, it is time to go see King Ahab again.’

In verse 3 we run into a third character here by the name of Obadiah. Now, Obadiah was a very popular name in Israel, but this is not the same Obadiah as the book of Obadiah or the prophet Obadiah. It is a different Obadiah. We do learn, regarding this Obadiah, that he was first of all highly gifted. Look at verse 3, it says that Obadiah was over the household of King Ahab. He was Ahab’s chief of staff if you will. You have to be gifted to be the chief of staff to the king of Israel. But we also learn that he was highly principled. Notice verse 3, regarding Obadiah, it says that Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. That is a very strong statement. He didn’t just fear the Lord, he feared Him greatly.

Then, we know, as he talks with our key character, Elijah, later on in verse 12, at the end of the verse, he remembers that he had feared the Lord from his youth. This was someone who walked with God from a very young age, highly principled.

Then, we saw this verse earlier in our study, in verse 4, when Jezebel gave the order to kill all the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them by fifties in a cave and he provided them with bread and water, very much like hiding the Jews in the Nazi era in Germany. So, he was on a daily basis risking discovery by King Ahab for not only hiding the prophets of the Lord, but also providing for them on a regular basis.

Now, the drought was so severe in the land, in verses 5 and 6, here is what is happening; King Ahab and his chief of staff, Obadiah, are going to lead some survey teams, they are going to go through the land, they are looking for water anywhere. They are looking for some green grass to feed the animals. So, Ahab goes in one direction and Obadiah goes in another direction and then what happens, in verse 7 is, Obadiah bumps into Elijah. He recognizes Elijah and he falls on his face before Elijah and he says, “Is this you, Elijah, my master?” Now, remember, he has been gone for three years. And probably some people had even said maybe he had died some place. So, when they greet one another here, Elijah says to Obadiah, ‘Go tell Ahab, Elijah is here.’

What I found interesting is that there are some commentators, and some very good commentators, who are highly critical of this character, Obadiah. Here is part of what they tend to say about him: ‘How could any godly person ever work with King Ahab? How could he even be King Ahab’s chief of staff? I mean, that is fraternizing with the world! That tells you something about Obadiah they would say.’ Also, they would say that when Elijah comes to him and says, ‘I want you to go to Ahab and tell him I am here,’ they say, ‘Well, he starts making excuses, he doesn’t immediately follow what Elijah has instructed him to do, he starts making excuses.’ Some of them even would call Obadiah a coward and some would say, in verse 13, when he is filling Elijah in on the fact that he has been hiding some of the prophets of the Lord and providing for them, they say, ‘There’s a guy just bragging. He is just bragging to Elijah about what he’s been doing.’ There are actually a number of commentators who say that. I just want you to know, personally,  I have a hard time buying that perspective about Obadiah.

There are several reasons why I say that. The first one is the one that we saw in verse 3 when it says that Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. Not just feared the Lord but feared the Lord greatly. This isn’t his own words; this is the perspective of God on it. His heart was right before the Lord. He feared the Lord greatly.

The second reason why I have a hard time buying this scenario is the proof of the strength of his faith, which we saw in verse 4. Remember, he hid the prophets of the Lord, then he is providing on a daily basis, risking his life on a daily basis to provide sustenance to them in the cave. That’s not something that cowards do.  That is someone who has a lot of strength.

Then, the third reason why I don’t really buy that perspective is Elijah never gives any kind of a rebuke to Obadiah for being a chief of staff of King Ahab. He doesn’t do that. In fact, having godly people heading up the staff of a secular leader is not an unprecedented thing in the Bible. You remember that you had Joseph who was the right arm to Pharaoh. Then, you have Daniel who was really one of the right arms to King Nebuchadnezzar. By the way, King Nebuchadnezzar was far from a choir boy [slang term for morally upright person]. So, I don’t really buy that perspective.

In fact, I think both Elijah and Obadiah were functioning as salt and light in the nation of Israel. They were just doing it in different ways. They just have different personalities. Elijah is very bold. He is focused. He is confrontational. Obadiah is on the other hand a cautious, detailed, but highly practical guy. Different personalities being used in different ways, but both being salt and light in the nation. And that is how God works it. He uses all types of people. He uses me and He uses you no matter who you may be. That is the way God works.

Now, in verses 9-12, we have an interesting interchange as Obadiah runs into Elijah and Elijah says, ‘Hey, go make an announcement would you to King Ahab, that I am here?’ And, Obadiah says, ‘Wait a minute now, are you trying to put me into the hands of Ahab to put me to death?’ Look at verse 10, he says, “There is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent to search for you; and when they said, ‘He is not here,’ he made the kingdom or nation swear that they could not find you. And now you are saying, ‘Go, say to your master, ‘Elijah is here.’”

In verse 12 he says, ‘Part of my concern is that the Spirit of the Lord will carry you away to some place that I don’t know so when I come tell Ahab, and then he can’t find you, that he is going to kill me. He will wipe me out.’ I mean, this is a guy who had seen Ahab operate up close. He knew that there had been this multi-nation manhunt for Elijah. He knew that there had been this all-points bulletin with Interpol trying to find Elijah. He knew that Ahab was exasperated for not being able to track him down. And he also knew that he had been on the run for three years. He said, ‘Listen, if I tell Ahab that you are here and God takes you away again, I am a dead man.’

Then, Obadiah goes on to add, in verse 13, ‘And while you have been gone for those three years, I just want you to be aware, did you know that I’ve been walking a tight rope here? I am the chief of staff, but when Jezebel wanted to wipe out all the prophets, I hid a hundred of them and I have been feeding them on a daily basis. Did you know that’s all been going on, Elijah?’ What happens in verse 15 is Elijah gives him assurance. He says, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him (Ahab) today.” You can count on it; I’m not going anywhere.

I always wonder, at times like this, what was the rest of the conversation that they had? To allay his fears did Elijah tell him, ‘Let me just tell you what’s been going on. God sent me to the brook, the wadi at Cherith, and He had the ravens feeding me two times a day. Then, He directed me to Zeraphath, right in the middle of Baal country. I got this relationship going with this widow and God supernaturally provided for her and her son and me there, then the son died and then God raised him up from the dead. I want you to know that God has had me hidden for all these years, but now He has told me that now is the time for me to go and see Ahab.’ I figure that probably they had that conversation. That would give Obadiah great confidence.

So, he does what Elijah requested. He goes and he tells King Ahab, ‘Elijah is here.’ Now, remember, King Ahab had been ticked off for three plus years. For three plus years he had been watching the weather channel report. It was monotonous: sun, sun, more sun. No clouds. No rain coming at all. Three plus years and he had been exasperated, he had been trying to track this guy down. Finally, they come face-to-face, in verse 17. It says that when Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” Are you the guy who is causing all the problems around here?

We have a very Elijah-like retort, extremely direct, in verse 18. Elijah says, “I have not troubled Israel, but you,” kind of poking him in the chest, “and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals.” Hey, don’t talk about me bringing trouble, you are the one who brought trouble by convincing the nation to go after the god Baal.

That leads us to The Proposal, in verses 19 and 20. He says to him, ‘You know what? I think we need to have this out. Would you gather the whole nation to Mount Carmel, “Together with 450 prophets of Baal,” verse 19, “and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”  Let’s just get this done, let’s have it out once and for all. We are going to let the people decide. We’re going to bring it out all in the open. So, that is exactly what Ahab does, in verse 20. They all get together at Mount Carmel, which then leads us to The Confrontation, which begins with a challenge, in verses 21-25.

Look at verse 21. “Elijah came near to all the people (of Israel) and said, ‘how long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” That little phrase, ‘how long will you hesitate,’ in the New American Standard Bible, if you have an ESV, it says, ‘how long will you limp between two opinions?’ This is an idiom in Hebrew for ‘indecision.’ The NET Bible translates it this way, ‘how long will you be paralyzed by indecision?’

See, what had happened to the people of Israel is they had become totally wishy-washy [completely lacking decisiveness]. They were squishy, spiritually. That is where relative truth ultimately leads. We are seeing that being embraced by our whole culture. See, if your truth is as good as my truth, then anything can be truth. If everything is right to somebody, then nothing will be wrong. Really what he is saying to the nation is, ‘Stop embracing everything. Stop being wishy-washy and squishy, spiritually.’

I just want to remind you because we are talking about Baal, remember that Baal is the god of thunder and storms and rain. He was said to control and direct the seasons. He is the one who brought the rain and he is the one who withholds the rain.

Also connected with the worship of Baal was this sensual activity that occurred with the priests and the priestesses of Baal. You say, ‘Why would people do that?’ Well, part of the idea was that when you got involved in this sensual activity with a priest or a priestess, part of the power of Baal was being transferred into your life. You could see how this had a strong appeal to people’s flesh. The sensual scale of it all, the prosperity scale of it all. You want to experience sensuality? You want to experience prosperity? You worship Baal. So, basically, what he is saying to the nation is, ‘It is time to stop; stop being wishy-washy and squishy, spiritually.’

So, you have what occurs then. It is interesting to me at the end of verse 21 he mentions this statement to them and they don’t say anything. They don’t even have a response to that. Then he talks about how what we want to do is, we want to get out here on Mount Carmel and have a little test.

I want to remind you something about Mount Carmel, just to give you a little bit of background on it. Mount Carmel is a mountain by the Mediterranean Sea coast. It is west of the Sea of Galilee. You see a picture of it there. It has a very long bluff at the top and Mount Carmel was very strategic militarily. You say, ‘Why?’ Well, if you look at the view from Mount Carmel you can see in all directions from the mountain. That is why it is was strategic militarily.

But it was also strategic religiously. They tell us that very strong thunder would emanate from the top of Mount Carmel. In fact, some historical writings tell us that Mount Carmel at this time developed the nickname, Baal’s Bluff. This is the bluff where Baal lived.

We are going to see a little later that the altar to Yahweh had been torn down on the top of Mount Carmel. But here is the point of all of this: to the prophets of Baal, this was home field advantage being on Mount Carmel.  This was their home turf. This is where Baal really lived.

So, the whole idea, we’re going to take some animals, some oxen. We are going to cut them up, place them on the wood, there will be no fire there. Elijah prepares one, the 450 prophets of Baal prepare the other. Then, we are going to call on the name of God and the one that is really God is going to bring fire down. First, we have Baal’s 450, who take their turn at it, in verses 26-29.

Let me ask you this question. Have you ever heard anyone share this notion with you? It goes something like this:  it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. Anyone ever heard that one before? I remember first hearing that when I was in college. It doesn’t really make any difference what you believe, it’s all about being sincere. Well, I want you to know that the 450 prophets of Baal, men and women, were among the most sincere people who ever lived on this planet. We are going to see that. Extremely sincere, but utterly wrong.

Notice in verse 26 it says that “They took the ox given to them and they prepare it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, ‘Baal, answer us.’ But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they had made.” From morning until noon they are pleading, they are dancing around and beating drums. They are performing all these sexualized antics, ‘Oh, if we could just get the attention of Baal!’

Then, there is an interesting response by Elijah about noon. Verse 27, it says, “Elijah mocked them and said, ‘Call out with a loud voice.’” Basically, what he is saying is, ‘Hey guys, it’s been three hours, you need to get louder. Get louder!’ He said maybe Baal has been occupied, maybe he is in some sort of a deep meditation, maybe he is reading an incredible novel and he’s all tied up in that. You need to get louder. Or, he says, “Maybe he has gone aside,” as it says in the New American Standard. The ESV and others say, “Maybe he is relieving himself.” Yeah, he is actually saying this: maybe Baal is in the celestial outhouse and he’s not just doing the “small business” there, he is doing the “big business” there and you need to be louder to get his attention. Or maybe he is out on a journey, you know, he is traveling somewhere, he’s out on the beach. Maybe he is out on a hunting trip. Get louder. Or, maybe he is asleep, you know, his iPhone alarm has malfunctioned and you need to get louder so that he can hear you.

In verse 28, “They cried with a loud voice,” they get louder and then they go further than that, they start, look at how sincere they are: “They cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them.” I mean, try to picture this, they are cutting themselves enough so that blood is just gushing all over their body. For three more hours this goes on and they are approaching 3:00 pm in the afternoon.

Just stop for a moment. You might say, ‘Why was this all really necessary? Was it really necessary to do this? Can’t you just have Elijah say, ‘It’s not going to rain for three years and then he comes back and says, ‘Okay, now it’s going to rain again?’ Isn’t that enough?’ What do you think the people’s response would have been in all likelihood? You know, no rain for three years, it’s raining again, Baal’s back! This is great! No. God knew that there needed to be a public decisive discrediting of Baal.

Men and women, we have the equivalence of a prime-time telecast going on here. The whole nation was there. Everybody is watching. So, then we come to Elijah’s turn in this process, in verses 30-39. If you were there that day, and by the way, the 400 prophets or prophetesses of Asherah, they don’t even apparently show up. But, the 450 prophets of Baal do, so it’s 450 to 1. They are probably thinking, ‘This is going to be a slam dunk. 450 of us to 1 of him. Here is what they forgot: one plus God is a majority. One plus God, you are outnumbered, even if there are 450 of you.

What does he do? In verse 30, “He repaired the altar of the Lord Yahweh which had been torn down.” In fact, in chapter 19, in verse 10, we find out that all throughout Israel all of the altars of the Lord had been torn down. So, Elijah repairs it, he grabs twelve stones [symbolic of the 12 tribes] just to remind them that they are a nation that had been called by Yahweh. He builds a trench around the sacrifice, he arranges the items, in verse 33, on the sacrifice. Then, in verse 34 he says, ‘I want you to take four containers of water and I want you to drench the whole thing. And I want you to not only do that once, I want you to do that twice and I want you to do it a third time.’

Here is what is interesting, people who are trying to prove that the Bible has errors, they like to step up at this point and go, ‘Can you believe how stupid this is? I mean what was going on in the nation? A drought. It hadn’t rained for three years. We have teams out searching, can we find any water anywhere? How did you get water to put on a sacrifice? How silly!’ I just wish they would look at a map. Right at the bottom of Mount Carmel is the Mediterranean Sea. It wasn’t dry. It had sea water, so there is plenty of water available.

So, that is what they do, they take the water, four containers, three times they totally soak everything. Then, notice verse 36, it says, “At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice,” which was at 3:00 pm, which by the way was the normal time for the daily sacrifice to God, which had been ceased throughout the land. Remember, they had torn down all of the altars. Right at the rightly prescribed  time we are going to have a sacrifice.

You think about the eight to nine hours of gyrations by the prophets of Baal, then what do we get out of Elijah? Some sixty words in English. Not a lot of dancing or anything else. Nobody cutting themselves. Just sixty words. There is a trifold prayer that he gives. He says, ‘God, I want you to send fire. Answer that they may know that You, Lord, are the real God. I want You to answer and send fire that they will know that I am Your prophet and doing Your will. I want You to answer and send fire so that the hearts of the people will be turned back to You.’ That is the prayer. Sixty words in English.

What happens? Verse 38, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and stones and the dust and licked up the water that was in the trench.” Even the rocks are completely consumed by the heat of the fire that God sends down! Notice verse 39, “When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God; The LORD, He is God.’” In the original, “Yahweh, He is Elohim; Yahweh, He is Elohim; Yahweh, He is Elohim.” Over and over again they shouted. What a magnificent event that must have been!

Then, you have The Resolution of it all in verse 40. Elijah says to them, ‘Here is what we are going to do; I want you to seize the prophets of Baal, don’t let one of them escape.’ So, they seized them and they were brought down to the brook Kishon. They were driven down the steep sides of the mountain, down to the brook near there and that is where they were slain.

Some people look at that and say, ‘That’s kind of extreme, isn’t it? You just “take out” 450 people?’ But remember, the prophets of Baal were a malignant tumor in the spiritual heart of the people of Israel. They were a spiritual malignancy and if undealt with, could lead to eternal destruction and certainly judgment on the nation. So, when he told them to do this he was just following God’s directives. God said, in Deuteronomy 13 and Deuteronomy 17, that is how you deal with them, that’s what you do.

We come to this point in the story and here is where I like to use the word from the Psalms, Selah, S-e-l-a-h. You see it in the Psalms and it basically just means, ‘take a pause and reflect on what you have just heard.’ What an amazing event!

But let’s look at some Key Life Lessons I think we can draw from this. These are just some. Here is the first one: Stop Limping—Choices have Consequences. I mean, it is a choice we all have to face. Are we going to live for this world or are we going to live for His kingdom? Are we going to choose Christ or are we going to reject Christ? You see, our culture is growing more and more wishy-washy, more squishy, spiritually. When we have people who are trying to walk both sides of the street the Bible calls them “double-minded.” It says in James 1:8 that someone who is double-minded is unstable in all of their ways. We need to stop limping and remember that choices have consequences.

Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 6:24. He says you can’t serve two masters. You cannot do it. Oh, but people, even in the church, try to do it. No, He said you can’t do it. You can’t serve God and serve wealth at the same time. They lead in opposite directions.

In Hebrews 11, it tells us that Moses chose—here’s that idea of choosing—to align himself with the people of God rather than engaging in the passing pleasures of sin. Every week people have to make that choice on a Saturday and a Sunday. Am I going to choose engaging in the passing pleasures of sin, or am I going to align myself with the people of God? Stop limping, choices have consequences.

Remember Joshua, when they were coming into the land, in Joshua chapter 24, in verse 15? He said, “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.” It is a choice that we have to make. And he says there, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” So, where do you stand today? Not just up here in your head, but in the practice in your life?

The second thing we can learn by way of a key life lesson is that God Uses All Types of Personalities. I absolutely love this. You know, Elijah was bold and focused and confrontational. He was a front-and-center guy. Obadiah was cautious and detailed and practical. He was a behind-the-scenes guy.

All types of people are valuable! God uses all types of personalities. I mean, without Elijah there would have been no Mount Carmel. Without Obadiah all the prophets of Israel, short of Elijah, would have been killed off. God uses all types of personalities. Sometimes we don’t think that way. We think, ‘I’m not a John MacArthur; I’m not a Matt Chandler; or I’m not a Bruce or I’m not a Mark. I don’t know, is God really going to want to use me?’ And the answer is yes, yes!

Remember the picture of the body of Christ from 1 Corinthians chapter 12? If you haven’t been there, you ought to go back there. Look at that, study that chapter. All parts of the body of Christ are valuable and God loves to use all kinds of personalities. Here is what I would say: be who God called you and gifted you to be. That is who you need to be.

Then, the third thing we can learn by way of a life lesson is: As Salt and Light We Should Cultivate Integrity Wherever God has us. That is what Joseph did; that is what Daniel did; that is what Obadiah did; and that is what Elijah did. That is what we need to do—you and me as salt and light—to cultivate integrity wherever God has us.

Peter writes this in 1 Peter, chapter 2, verses 11 and 12, “I urge you,” he is talking to us, “as aliens and strangers to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul.” He is basically saying:  Cultivate integrity. ‘Live such a good life among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good works and glorify God on the day that He visits us.’ As salt and light let’s cultivate integrity wherever God has us.

Let’s pray together. Father, we thank You again for this living book, this transforming book…for the story of Elijah and even the story of Obadiah. Lord, we would pray that You would just help us to avoid being squeezed in the mold of the world, acting like they are, squishy, spiritually, as they are. That You use us, no matter who we are, in a great way. May all of us be committed to cultivating integrity wherever You have us, Father. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1 Kings 18:1-40

1. What stands out the most to you from the account of Elijah’s “battle of the prophets” on Mount Carmel?

2. What is your opinion?  Was Obadiah guilty of fraternizing with the world?  Why, or why not?

3. How would you define the concept of a worldly lifestyle?  Is it primarily about actions or attitudes?  How can we best avoid falling into the trap of a worldly lifestyle?

3. Bruce made the point that God uses all types of personalities.  Elijah was bold, focused, confrontational, a front-and-center type.  Obadiah was a cautious, detailed, highly practical, behind-the-scenes type.  Which type do you most identify with and why?

4. The people of Israel had become wishy washy and spiritually squishy, they were open to readily embracing everything and anything.  In what specific ways do you see the church today also suffering from being wishy-washy and spiritually squishy?  What is the remedy?

5. How prominent in our world today is the notion: It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere?  Biblically, how would you counter that idea?

6. What are some keys to consistently cultivating integrity wherever God has placed you?

7. Have you ever reached the point where you have openly stated to your friends and family: As for me and my house (family, group, friends), we will serve the Lord?

Take some moments and make a fresh commitment to the Lord by praying Romans 12:1 before Him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *