Elijah's Testimony Against Ahab

Rev. Miersma is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church of Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.

And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.

I Kings 17:1

As we stand in the first month of a new year we tend to look ahead and try to anticipate somewhat what lies in store for us in the future. We know what we have just experienced in the previous year. We saw the world around us become increasingly more wicked, its cup of iniquity filling up ever so quickly. Looking ahead we know that it will not get any better. Man in his sin will only sin more. Ever more quickly all the laws which were based on biblical principles will be replaced by those which will please the heart of man.

Elijah, God's prophet to Israel, was also faced with much wickedness. On the throne was King Ahab, who along with his wife Jezebel had introduced the worship of Baal. In the darkness of idolatry the true prophets of God were being slain. In this darkness Elijah, like a lightning flash in a storm-darkened sky, appears unto Ahab. He whose name means "My God is Jehovah" was grieved that Israel had turned from Jehovah to Baal.

Even his appearance directed one to the true God. His upper garment was of black camel's hair, and about his loins he wore a leathern girdle. His apparel spoke of poverty, a renunciation of the world, a mourning and almost stern judgment. What a contrast to his surroundings as he came down the streets of Samaria to King Ahab. The terraced streets of the city spoke of luxury. Over against the effeminate, decrepit priests of Baal in their white linen clothes and pointed hats appeared this no nonsense prophet of the Lord. Indeed, a wild, bold man amongst a cultured people.

It was during the darkest period of Israel's history that Elijah made his appearance. The kingdom of Israel was the kingdom of the ten tribes who had separated from the kingdom of Judah and the house of David. Jeroboam, their leader and first king, had erected golden calves through which the people were to worship Jehovah. From that point on, it was a rapid descent, for all the kings of Israel departed not from "the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin." Of Ahab we read, "And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him," and "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him" (I Kings 16:30, 33).

To make matters worse, Ahab had gone to the heathen king of Tyre and Sidon, Ethbaal, to ask for the hand of his wicked daughter Jezebel that she might be his wife. A more wicked wife he could not have found. If there were evil deeds to be done, she would be the one to introduce them. Thus, Baal worship was not only introduced in Israel, but it was enforced as the state religion. In order to root out of Israel the worship of God, she ordered that the prophets of the Lord be killed.

At her table in Samaria she fed four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred more at her summer palace in Jezreel. Baal was supposed to be the cause and sustainer of life, the god of all generative and reproductive powers in nature. A temple and altar had been built for him in the capital city of Samaria. Apostasy was now complete; the powers of darkness were in control of every phase of life. A darker picture one cannot imagine.

Into the midst of this horrible darkness, there appears Elijah with his sharp, short, crisp message. Truly it was a flash of light in the midst of utter darkness.

All of Israel as a nation stood before Baal, but here was a man who by his own confession stood before Jehovah. As we mentioned, even his name was a clear confession and a loud protest. My God is Jehovah, over against Baal and all the forces of darkness. The name pictures this prophet of God as standing before God in opposition to the wickedness of his day.

He swears an oath: "As the Lord God of Israel liveth." An oath, of course, is not to be taken lightly. To swear by Jehovah indicates that one stands in His presence and speaks before His face. It further indicates that one calls upon Jehovah as witness to the truth of one's words. That is a serious matter, to call upon the God of heaven and earth, the God of truth, the God that cannot lie, as your personal witness to the truth of what you are about to say. That is why perjury is such a serious offense, punishable by law. How many people today have the fear of God in their hearts when they swear an oath?

Ahab heard on that day both an emphatic and an antithetical announcement. He heard a sermon that was, in a few short words, a strong confession, a powerful protest and condemnation of the powers of darkness. Elijah's God is Jehovah, the I AM. Baal is not God. Moreover, Jehovah is the God of Israel, a relation which has its source and eternal ground in God's free and sovereign election. Baal can never be Israel's God, despite the efforts of a wicked king and a cruel queen to enthrone him as lord over God's heritage.

This Jehovah, the God of Israel, is the living God. He acts; He sees and hears; He knows and speaks; He is mighty in all His works. On the other hand, Baal is dead — nothing but a dumb idol. Jehovah has life within Himself, and all life has its source in him. Baal, who claimed these powers, is nothing but an impostor and a usurper. Fearlessly Elijah, in a short staccato speech, declared to Ahab that he stood as the servant of this living God, Jehovah.

Elijah's message was short and to the point: "there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." This message, although bold and blunt, was entirely in harmony with the word of God as recorded in Deuteronomy 11:13-17: "And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the Lord's wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord giveth you." We find this same warning a little later, in Deuteronomy 28:23, 24: "And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. The Lord shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed."

This was the law of the Lord for His people Israel. They had sinned; they had turned to another god, Baal. Now this same Jehovah would reveal His power and bring to nought the powers of darkness as represented in Baal. Just as Elijah had said, this would be "according to my word." Ahab and the people had to know that the shut heavens, and the drought and the cracked earth that would soon follow, could not be attributed to any natural phenomenon. They would not be able to say that the drought was due to certain atmospheric conditions, or to the unusual position of the stars, or to an El Niño. Nor would they be able attribute it to the displeasure and wrath of Baal. No, everyone would know that the terrible drought was of the Lord. It was His chastising them for their sin.

Furthermore, the Lord wanted Ahab and the people to know that His judgment upon them was connected with the servant of Jehovah, Elijah, with the word of him that standeth before God. Elijah must bring the announcement of Jehovah's judgment to the king. He shall have the power to shut and to open the heavens. It was exactly for this that Elijah had prayed. Concerning the prayer of the righteous, we read in James 5:17, 18: "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit." Indeed, his soul had been sorely grieved at the sight of Israel's apostasy and the reign of the wicked in the land of the covenant. Thus, in harmony with the law of God he prayed earnestly that it might not rain. And his prayer was heard.

The Lord had a definite purpose in mind when He sent His servant with this testimony. There was a question that had to be decided in the minds of Israel. It is a question that is often raised in the minds of those in the power of iniquity: Who is God? Ahab, Jezebel, and apostatizing Israel answered: Baal is God. It is Baal who is the cause of life; it is Baal who gives rain and fertility, crops and prosperity. Therefore, the heavens and the earth must bear witness that Jehovah is God, and that He alone is Lord over all. There will be no rain. That is a terrible judgment. No rain means no crops. No crops means no food. No food means hunger and starvation for both man and beast. Witness Ahab later on as he and his servant Obadiah search the length and the breadth of the land for a little bit of grass so that what animals they had left would not die. Or Elijah when he was sent to the widow at Zarephath. She was gathering two sticks that she might take the little bit of oil and meal that was left and bake a cake for herself and her son. Then there would be no more; they would soon die. This drought from the Lord would be absolute. There would not even be any dew. One would expect that at least a morning dew would give refreshment to some degree, but there would not even be that little bit.

Where do we fit into this picture? What is the significance of this account for the church of today? Elijah, as the servant of God, stood before Him. We must do likewise. The Lord has established His covenant with us, that beautiful relationship of friendship and fellowship. We are servants of the Lord while at the same time His friends, friend-servants. That means that we are to be conscious of standing before His face, conscious of being the objects of His grace. As such we will taste His goodness.

We began by saying that the world is becoming more and more corrupt, that we face a future that will see this only get worse. As God's children we must speak and act, fight and suffer. However, we will receive all the power and authority to do so from Him who is the Almighty. When we act and speak we will do so in His name and in His behalf. That was the secret of Elijah's power. Really, he had assumed a dangerous and apparently impossible stand. On the one hand, there is Baal, who was worshiped as God by thousands in Israel. If these thousands consisted merely of the ordinary people, that would be one thing, but Baal has control of the sword power, the government as it resided in Ahab the king. The mighty and the noble are all in the camp of this idol-god, Baal.

Then on the other hand there is Elijah, a lonely, solitary figure. Does this make him afraid? Does this stop him from coming to the king with this message of terrible judgment? Would not King Ahab erupt in anger when confronted with his sin, when told that the terrible drought would occur because of his departure from Jehovah? It matters not to Elijah if Ahab is angry. He is afraid neither of the king nor of all his host behind him. Elijah knows that he has the victory because he stands before Jehovah.

We must take that same stand. We are called to be lights in the midst of darkness. This will not be easy. Constantly we will be brought face to face with the question of whom we shall choose? Will it be God or mammon? If we choose for God, will we not incur the wrath of all those who have chosen for darkness? Yes, that will happen. The forces of darkness hated the Lord Jesus and nailed him to the cross. They hated him; they will hate those that belong to him. However, instead of that being a liability, that is our comfort, that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He stands before God eternally. He has already won the victory for us. Our strength is in him. Let us go forward in that confidence, walking boldly as children of the light.