Thursday, January 27, 2011

Things That Puzzle Me

Lately I have been journeying through 1st and 2nd Kings, having realized that I have probably not read these books in their entirety since my freshman year of college (but I have read the book of Acts maybe 8 times since then, go figure).

One of the things that ALWAYS puzzles me is the situation of Elijah.  He calls out the prophets of Baal, tells them to meet him up on Mount Carmel and they would find out whose God/god was real.  Or, in his own words, "The God who answers by fire, he is God," (1 Kings 18:24).  Perhaps you have read this story before, so you know how it goes -

The prophets of Baal make their altar, pray before it, weep before it, cut themselves before it, sacrifice onto it, but there is "no voice; No one answered; no one paid attention," (1 Kings 18:29b).

There acceptable time of offering passes, so Elijah goes up to the altar of God.  He douses it with water several times, puts the sacrifice on the altar, and makes the simple prayer that God would "answer" him.  His time of offering comes, and God consumes the offering with fire.  So much fire, in fact, that it "licked up the water that was in the trench," (1 Kings 18:38).

Rain comes, Elijah is victorious over the prophets of Baal, a group of people realize that God is God, and that a god is NOT God.  Fantastic.  What a victory, right?

This is what puzzles me.

1 Kings 19:2, "Then Jezebel (the wife of King Ahab, whose prophets of Baal had just been defeated) sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 'So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them (the prophets who had just died) by this time tomorrow.'"

So what does our mighty prophet do?  1 Kings 19:3, "Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life."

WHAT?  WHAT?  WHAT?!?!?  Ok, I'll stop.

But seriously.  You just saw your God, who actually is God, lick up even the water that was around the trench of your offering with an all-consuming fire.  He just gave you a HUGE victory over something like 850 false prophets.  And then the woman who is behind it all threatens you with a threat from the gods (lower case "g") who could not even bother to show up, who you mocked, and who ultimately was just proven DON'T EXIST!!!!  You are NOW afraid and you run and flee for your life?

This puzzles me.

It makes me feel hopeless in a way, because if Elijah, a man who was empowered to raise the dead, who was a test-proven prophet, who had great faith to pray to God in front of 850 threatened false prophets, "Answer me," - if he falters, then what hope do I have?

This would probably be the wrong reaction to have to the text.  Which is why I am so very glad that there is a remainder to chapter 19.  Now, I am not saying that if Elijah had not fled that God would not have worked this out in another way.  I find "what if" questions to be kind of silly anyways, because this IS the way it happened, and this IS the course of events.  No alternate version is available.  So, no what ifs.

So, Elijah fled and God went after Him.  He showed him in the still quiet wind (the sound of sheer silence) that he, Elijah, was not alone.  Not only was this God who can come with an all-consuming fire or with the sound of silence with Him, but this God still had 7,000 people back in Israel who loved Him.  Not only that, but Elijah continued his journey, as God instructed him, and found his helper, his replacement, and ultimately someone who would do even more for God, a man named Elisha.

Is it God's plan for Elijah to falter?  For him to run in the face of gods and Jezebel?  I don't know.  What I do know is that even though Elijah falters, his faith wains, he loses focus, God works in his life in spite of this.  He raises up another prophet, one who continues His work on earth; He restores Elijah's faith, and eventually Elijah gets carried off to be with God in a chariot.

This restores my hope.  Because while Elijah's instant lack of faith after an incredible time of victory and evidence of God's reality happened, this story is not about Elijah.  This story is about God working and being faithful when we are faithless.

God will work even when we don't.  God will still be there, even when we forget that He is.  God will still be God, even when we put others and other things before Him.  God never changes who He is, even when we blow like a branch in a hurricane.

Why do we even bother then?  Because Elijah did far greater things when he was faithful to God than when he was not.  A faithful servant will produce much fruit; so much will happen when we actually work with God instead of forgetting about Him and all He can do.

Remain faithful then.  Remain in prayer, remain in the Word, ABIDE in Him.  He will produce fruit, because a part from Him, we can do nothing.

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