Child dedication and Elijah part 2 of 4.
Today, we get to continue our last study in the prophets, and our last study in the Old Testament, with the story of Elijah.
Last week, we took a look at where Elijah falls in the timeline, and here’s that timeline just to give you a quick visual reminder of where we are in the story.
It’s a several hundred year jump backwards in the story from where we’ve been the last few months, and it takes us back to the book of Kings.
We went through 1 Kings chapter 17, where Elijah is first introduced. He just kind of shows up suddenly, out of nowhere, during the time of king Ahab. And we saw in the end of chapter 16 how Ahab was a really bad king! In fact, he was worse than all of his predecessors before him, and that’s really saying something! He did evil things, and turned his back on Yahweh, choosing to instead worship the popular gods of his neighbors with Jezebel his wife. He built a whole temple to Baal, the storm god, and set up an Asherah pole, for the goddess of fertility, and under his watch the city of Jericho got rebuilt. All terrible things, and when Elijah shows up, it’s to confront this bad king and his evil ways.
The confrontation starts with Elijah announcing to Ahab that there’s going to be a drought, no rain and no dew. And no water also means no food, so there’s going to be a famine, and it’s going to last for years, until the rain comes back, which will only happen, Elijah says, by his own command.
In making this proclamation, Elijah is asserting Yahweh’s power over creation, and defying, humiliating the god that Ahab’s been worshiping, Baal, who’s supposed to have power over rain and storms. So the drought serves a specific purpose, not just to punish Israel, but to demonstrate Yahweh’s authority and expose Baal worship as empty and fruitless.
In the meantime, God tells Elijah to run away from Ahab, and sends him to live by a wadi (a seasonal brook), where he has water, and is fed daily by ravens. Then, after the wadi dries up, he goes and lives with a poor widow and her son, and God miraculously provides food for them, not in large amounts, but barely enough to survive, on a daily basis. This hearkens back to how God provided manna to the Israelites on a daily basis in the wilderness, and it’s a great reminder to have faith in God’s provision, but that having what we need doesn’t always mean being comfortable, or having extra. Depending on the season of life, we may have just enough to get by one day at a time. That’s one way in which God may test our faith, and teach us the value in relying on him.
It’s also cool to see the character of God in chapter 17, in his very personal, intimate care for Elijah, and the Widow, and her son, even raising her son back to life when he died! In this, Yahweh demonstrates power not just over forces of nature but over death itself. That’s a powerful foreshadowing of his ultimate defeat of death through Christ. But it’s also cool to see the compassion of God in the context of this story, prior to, and in contrast to the cosmic, fiery vengeance which we’ll see today.
God has already caused a drought and famine, in defiance to Baal, and that theme of Yahweh confronting Baal is going to continue in chapter 18, where we will pick up today. 1 Kings chapter 18.
This chapter has one of the most epic and powerful stories of God overcoming evil. Keep in mind, as we read this, that Baal’s reputation was, at that time, quite grand. He was seen as the giver of prosperity and power in the land. This is very similar to how the gods of Egypt were viewed by the Egyptians in the time of Moses, and how Yahweh methodically prevailed over the gods of Egypt, first with the plagues, and then eventually by destroying the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea. The parting of the Red Sea, and then the collapsing of the sea in on the Egyptians is one of the most climactic encounters in the Old Testament, and the Israelites were supposed to remember that day forever, when Yahweh proved he was more powerful than any other deity, whether real or imagined. HE is the one true Lord of lords and King of kings, and he showed them that on that day.
This story we’re about to enter into is extremely similar in purpose, and message, and I would say it’s nearly on-par with how epic and climactic it is.
Let’s start reading:
1 Kings 18:1–2 (NLT)
1 Later on, in the third year of the drought, the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to King Ahab. Tell him that I will soon send rain!” 2 So Elijah went to appear before Ahab. Meanwhile, the famine had become very severe in Samaria.
So, it’s been three years without rain, and it has resulted in a severe famine. The land, the people, and Ahab, the king himself, are now in a weakened state. Three years without rain is pretty devastating, and it’s all because of Elijah! So, you can imagine he would not have been the most popular guy, not just with Ahab, but probably in society at large! He’s public enemy number one! He’s at the top of Israel’s most wanted list!
Of course, we know it’s really through God’s power, and part of God’s judgment, that this famine is happening, but Elijah is still given credit as the intercessor, the human being responsible for facilitating God’s will. Remember, God chooses to involve humans, and lets them participate in his work and his decision-making process, if you will.
In the New Testament, James acknowledges this when makes a reference to Elijah towards the end of his book. In chapter 5, he uses Elijah as an illustration of the power of prayer:
James 5:17–18 (CSB)
17 Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.
That’s pretty cool! Yes, Elijah was a prophet, but he was a human being as we are, and served the same powerful God we serve today. (Of course, the way God uses us IS and SHOULD be very, very different from how he used Elijah! We’ll get into that more later on).
It is interesting to note though, that although Elijah is going to announce it to everyone else, it’s Yahweh who comes to Elijah and says “OK, it’s time for this to end.” So, God is the one who is described as initiating the decision to bring relief to the land, and to allow it to rain again.
Let’s keep reading and see how this plays out:
1 Kings 18:3–8 (NLT)
3 So Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Obadiah was a devoted follower of the Lord. 4 Once when Jezebel had tried to kill all the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had hidden 100 of them in two caves. He put fifty prophets in each cave and supplied them with food and water.) 5 Ahab said to Obadiah, “We must check every spring and valley in the land to see if we can find enough grass to save at least some of my horses and mules.” 6 So they divided the land between them. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself. 7 As Obadiah was walking along, he suddenly saw Elijah coming toward him. Obadiah recognized him at once and bowed low to the ground before him. “Is it really you, my lord Elijah?” he asked. 8 “Yes, it is,” Elijah replied. “Now go and tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’ ”
This is so cool! We get introduced to Obadiah here, and remember he’s one of the prophets who has his own book! It’s a very short book, just 1 chapter, you can read it all pretty easily in one sitting. And the whole thing is a prophesy against the nation of Edom.
But clearly, his ministry overlaps that of Elijah’s, and it’s cool to see them meet here. This is that cross-over episode I mentioned last week. Everyone loves a good cross-over episode, right?
Obadiah is introduced here with two defining attributes: first, he’s in charge of the palace. Second, he’s a man who greatly fears Yahweh.
This guy is awesome! And I just want to take a moment to appreciate him.
Can you imagine being a prophet who fears Yahweh, but also being IN CHARGE of the palace for the most wicked, evil king in Israel’s history!? A king who has a wicked, evil queen wife besides!?
In fact, we get this little side-note that Jezebel had once tried to completely wipe out all of Yahweh’s prophets, and Obadiah was able to secretly save 100 of them by hiding them in caves and giving them enough food and water to survive! This little story is given, literally, as a parenthetical, but that could be made into a whole movie right there!
I don’t know how, other than by the providence of God, he was able to remain in his position, and yet still remain devoted to Yahweh. He would have had to daily walk the line between being subservient and honoring to king Ahab, while also being honoring to Yahweh, and therefore subversive when necessary.
This guy is awesome!
And right now, he’s on a mission from Ahab to find grass to feed the royal horses. That’s how much Ahab values Obadiah. It’s the two of them on this search, they divided the land between them, it’s the king and his right-hand man, looking desperately for some grass on the parched earth.
And then, “suddenly” Obadiah sees Elijah walking towards him. Elijah just kind of comes out of nowhere and approaches Obadiah.
And Obadiah’s reaction is to fall on his face. Obadiah is not nobody! He’s someone in a powerful position, and yet he shows a profound deference to Elijah. Obadiah would be considered Elijah’s superior politically and socially, but he’s subjecting himself to Elijah because he recognizes Elijah’s significance, not in Ahab’s kingdom, but in Yahweh’s kingdom. It shows where Obadiah’s priorities really were.
That said, Obadiah was still freaked out!
Elijah, Ahab’s worst enemy, appears out of nowhere to Obadiah, and says “hey, go tell Ahab I’m here.”
And here’s how he responds:
1 Kings 18:9–15 (NLT)
9 “Oh, sir,” Obadiah protested, “what harm have I done to you that you are sending me to my death at the hands of Ahab? 10 For I swear by the Lord your God that the king has searched every nation and kingdom on earth from end to end to find you. And each time he was told, ‘Elijah isn’t here,’ King Ahab forced the king of that nation to swear to the truth of his claim. 11 And now you say, ‘Go and tell your master, “Elijah is here.” ’ 12 But as soon as I leave you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you away to who knows where. When Ahab comes and cannot find you, he will kill me. Yet I have been a true servant of the Lord all my life. 13 Has no one told you, my lord, about the time when Jezebel was trying to kill the Lord’s prophets? I hid 100 of them in two caves and supplied them with food and water. 14 And now you say, ‘Go and tell your master, “Elijah is here.” ’ Sir, if I do that, Ahab will certainly kill me.” 15 But Elijah said, “I swear by the Lord Almighty, in whose presence I stand, that I will present myself to Ahab this very day.”
Poor Obadiah! He thinks he’s being punished for some reason! “What did I ever do to you?” He asks! “Ahab’s going to kill me!
I wonder if his first thought was “You’re blowing my cover! I can’t be seen with you!”
He feels the need to inform Elijah about just how wanted of a man he is. He tells him how Ahab has been searching for Elijah, going to the ends of the earth making people swear they haven’t seen him! You get this vivid image of a desperate king Ahab shaking down people in city after city looking for Elijah.
And then Obadiah has this other terrifying thought, which I think is great: he’s afraid that if he DOES go tell Ahab that Elijah is there, then in the meantime the spirit of Yahweh might whisk Elijah away to “who knows where!”
Now, that might seem silly, but as we’ll see later on that fear isn’t totally unfounded. Yahweh’s spirit is known to whisk people away on occasion, and it happens to Elijah at least once. He did get around that map quite a bit, so it could be he had a bit of a reputation for just disappearing and showing up places.
Obadiah says, again, “Ahab’s going to KILL me!”
And then he says “Has no one told you!?!? what I did for those 100 prophets? Surely, you must have heard through the grapevine of faithful Jews that I’m a hero!”
“And you tell me to go say to Ahab ‘Elijah is here’ !?!? SIR, if I do that, he’ll kill me!”
Three times Obadiah expresses this terror, and insists he’ll be a dead man if he does what Elijah asks him to do.
But Elijah swears to him that he’ll be there and that he’ll talk to Ahab. He swears by Yahweh, and uses this phrase again that he used in chapter 17: in whose presence I stand. That’s a profound claim to make. “I stand in the presence of Yahweh. Trust me.”
And Obadiah, despite his fear, does what Elijah says:
1 Kings 18:16–19 (NLT)
16 So Obadiah went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet Elijah. 17 When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?” 18 “I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. 19 Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”
You have to love the boldness of Elijah here! First of all, Elijah doesn’t go to Ahab to meet him. He basically summons Ahab to him. Already a power move. Then, Ahab comes up to him, probably thinking “there’s no way this dude would have the nerve right now, but I’ve just gotta see if it’s really him.” And then, it’s really him!
And Ahab calls Elijah the “troublemaker of Israel.”
To which Elijah doesn’t even hesitate, and says “nope.” “I haven’t caused any trouble, YOU caused all the trouble.” “You and your family have brought this upon Israel by worshiping Baal instead of Yahweh.”
How awesome is that? Elijah just totally turns it around on Ahab and says “It’s not my fault it’s your fault.”
And THEN, he actually gives Ahab a command! He tells Ahab to summon all the people of Israel to Mount Carmel with all the prophets of Baal and Asherah. And he totally throws Jezebel under the bus too, making sure to point out that all those prophets are supported by her.
Elijah is speaking to Ahab with the authority of Yahweh, and Ahab must recognize, this, because rather than just have Elijah arrested or killed on the spot, he does exactly what Elijah says.
Here’s our map again, so you can see where Mount Carmel is in relation to everything else. Notice the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, and the Kishon river valley to the East.
1 Kings 18:20–24 (NLT)
20 So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. 21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent. 22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. 23 Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it. 24 Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.
Elijah proposes this “contest” between him and the prophets of Baal, which is really a contest between Yahweh and Baal, to show which God is worth following.
Each side will get a bull to sacrifice on an altar, but their god has to provide the fire for the offering and thereby prove themselves to be the true God.
And the people say “Ok, that’s fine. Let’s do that.” They agree to his terms.
1 Kings 18:25 (NLT)
25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.”
Elijah gives them the advantage of choosing which bull they want to use for the sacrifice, and lets them go first because there are more of them.
1 Kings 18:26–27 (NLT)
26 So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made. 27 About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
You just have to love Elijah’s personality here. He’s trash-talking his competition, mocking them! Making fun of them, and not just them but making fun of Baal himself! It’s a very sarcastic tone here, and he’s intentionally mocking their idolatry by characterizing their god as being limited by needing sleep, or by not being physically present.
Of course, Elijah knows Yahweh is not limited by any of those things.
And the funny thing is, or really sad thing I guess, is that Elijah’s mockery doesn’t discourage or make them angry, it makes them try even harder!
1 Kings 18:28–29 (NLT)
28 So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. 29 They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.
So, after all this nobody could ever say the prophets of Baal didn’t try hard enough. They were at it all morning long, for hours and hours, and when nothing happened, they just tried harder. They did everything they could possibly do to demonstrate how serious they were and how devoted they were to making Baal look good…to making Baal the victor.
Note that this practice of cutting oneself to show piety, or to awaken the dead, it was a common practice in non-Israelite cultures, and unfortunately we know the Israelites tended to adopt this along with other elements of idolatry.
And it’s not just that it was a bad idea, it was specifically outlawed for the Israelites, along with other similar pagan practices, like cutting their hair specific ways and getting tattoos, all as religious rituals meant to have spiritual significance. It comes up a couple places, in Deuteronomy once and twice in Leviticus, but I really like how it’s worded in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 14:1 (LEB)
1 “You are children of Yahweh your God; therefore you must not gash yourself, and you must not make your forehead bald for the dead.
Yahweh says “You’re my children, don’t do those things the other gods ‘demand’ of you.” And don’t let your appearance indicate that you worship or appeal to any other gods or spirits other than me.
Back to our prophet show-down, these hundreds of prophets have been appealing to Baal for hours and hours. Thy’re delirious and/or ecstatic at this point, and Elijah is going to be the one to have to call it.
But did you notice that it mentions in verse 29 they’ve now gotten to the time of the afternoon or evening sacrifice, or the “sacrifice of the oblation” depending on your translation. This is the second of two daily sacrifices prescribed to the Israelites, so it’s actually great timing for Elijah to step up to the plate. And I’m sure he was well aware of that when he finally speaks up again in verse 30:
1 Kings 18:30–32 (NLT)
30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons.
Alright, so Elijah says “enough is enough” and he speaks to the people. Remember, all the people of Israel had been summoned to the mountains, so there are all these spectators, who have witnessed the failure of all those prophets of Baal. And Elijah is saying to them “my turn!”
Now, they’ve been there all day, from morning until mid-afternoon, and seen nothing happen, so I’m guessing they were happy to move on to the next event. It says the people crowded around him, so I’m just picturing this mob of eager people, bored with the prophets of Baal and ready to see what Elijah is going to do.
And right away, what Elijah does is significant. First of all, he’s using the altar of Yahweh which had been torn down previously, likely because of Jezebel, and he has to repair it. He does so using twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. He’s reminding them of their heritage, their story, of how Yahweh chose Jacob, named him Israel, and created a whole nation from his twelve sons. A nation that was supposed to be a nation of priests, representing Yahweh and bringing his blessing to the whole world. These twelve stones were a physical, visual reminder of their history and how far they had strayed from their calling as a people.
The rebuilding of the altar is a powerful, symbolic moment. He’s reclaimed it and repaired it in the name of Yahweh, and in the very act of doing so he’s called out the people of Israel for abandoning Yahweh.
I think I often miss that when reading the story, because immediately following the altar repair, things start to get weird! In wonderful Elijah fashion.
In verse 32, it says he not only rebuilds the altar, now he builds a four gallon trench around it! The phrase used to describe the size of this moat is literally “two seahs of seed” which is about 12 liters, or 3-4 gallons.
That’s...not normal. A trench around an altar is not part of the prescribed sacrificial rituals! So…where’s he going with this?
1 Kings 18:33–35 (NLT)
33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.” 34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.
He has them drench the entire setup with water! Three times! It’s so much water the trench fills up around it!
They must have thought he was just out of his mind. But, they did it anyway, and with a soaking wet altar, there would be no question if Elijah was successful. There’s no way he could use slight-of-hand or fake his way out of this now.
I’m sure everyone was watching with baited breath. Maybe some were chuckling because they thought he was crazy, maybe others started to get nervous about what might happen. Maybe some were just bored at this point, but I’m sure there was also a lot of suspense, as they waited to see what Elijah would do.
1 Kings 18:36–37 (NLT)
36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
It’s a stark contrast to the frantic, ecstatic, frenzied mayhem of Baal’s prophets. It’s a simple, straightforward prayer, and he appeals to God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And he appeals to the ultimate purpose of people knowing that Yahweh is God. It’s a simple prayer, there’s no ritual or conjuring procedure, he just prays. But it’s powerful.
God responds Immediately.
1 Kings 18:38 (NLT)
38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench!
WHOOSH! Yahweh’s fire just licks it all up. The bull, the wood, the stones, the dust, and the water. It was all consuming and instant. Within seconds, everyone present had convincing proof that Yahweh is God, and the continuing story demonstrates conclusively that Yahweh, not Baal, has control over fire, water, and the weather.
1 Kings 18:39 (NLT)
39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
YUP! There’s a clear winner in this contest! And the people respond in acknowledgement of that.
But Elijah’s not done yet.
1 Kings 18:40 (NLT)
40 Then Elijah commanded, “Seize all the prophets of Baal. Don’t let a single one escape!” So the people seized them all, and Elijah took them down to the Kishon Valley and killed them there.
Elijah executes judgment on the false prophets according to the law in Deuteronomy 13. Death was the penalty for false prophecy, and for inciting others to embrace idolatry. It’s rather gruesome yes, but they brought it on themselves.
And beyond that, it’s the necessary climax in the conflict, like the waters of the red sea collapsing in on the Egyptian army, who would have otherwise never stopped pursuing Israel. And it asserts Yahweh’s victory over Baal.
In the meantime, though, remember we still don’t have any rain! So, that’s the next problem, the next topic the story is going to address.
And apparently, Ahab has been present through this whole thing, because now Elijah turns to him in verse 41 and says:
1 Kings 18:41–42 (NLT)
41 Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!” 42 So Ahab went to eat and drink. But Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees.
Elijah says “go and relax, celebrate even, because the famine is about to be over.” Now, at this point, there’s not even a cloud on the horizon, so when he says “I hear a mighty rainstorm” it’s either because he has supernatural hearing in that moment, or it’s his way of saying “I know Yahweh is going to send rain soon.” And he goes to the top of the mountain and prays.
1 Kings 18:43 (NLT)
43 Then he said to his servant, “Go and look out toward the sea.” The servant went and looked, then returned to Elijah and said, “I didn’t see anything.” Seven times Elijah told him to go and look.
This poor servant has to keep running back and forth saying “nope, still no clouds. absolutely nothing on the horizon Elijah.” But if I were Elijah’s servant at this point, I wouldn’t question him either, I’d just do as he says!
Back and forth, back and forth, seven times!
1 Kings 18:44 (NLT)
44 Finally the seventh time, his servant told him, “I saw a little cloud about the size of a man’s hand rising from the sea.” Then Elijah shouted, “Hurry to Ahab and tell him, ‘Climb into your chariot and go back home. If you don’t hurry, the rain will stop you!’ ”
So, Elijah hears about this tiny, fluffy little cloud, coming up over the horizon, and says “GO GO GO GO!!!! Take your chariot home, as fast as you can, or you’ll get stopped by the rain!”
And sure enough:
1 Kings 18:45 (NLT)
45 And soon the sky was black with clouds. A heavy wind brought a terrific rainstorm, and Ahab left quickly for Jezreel.
So, everybody is high-tailing it home at this point. Ahab has a chariot, so they’re racing home with their horses and chariots. But Elijah doesn’t have a chariot. So he’s going to be in trouble if he gets caught in this storm.
But this is Elijah we’re talking about, so of course that wasn’t a problem!
1 Kings 18:46 (NLT)
46 Then the Lord gave special strength to Elijah. He tucked his cloak into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to the entrance of Jezreel.
So, we end this epic, miraculous chapter with one last supernatural cherry on top. Elijah running with super-speed, faster than all the king’s horses and all the kings’s men.
How cool is that?
I think it’s pretty cool.
Honestly, it seems like God was having some fun that day. It had to have been a pretty satisfying day, to be God, or to be a follower of God like Elijah, or Obadiah, and to finally have your moment of gratification, of affirmation. I think when God was writing this story, he had some fun with it. I think that’s one of the things about Elijah’s story is that you get to see a bit of God’s personality, his humor, his cheekiness, in the way he uses Elijah.
On the other hand, it wasn’t all fun and games. This was a day of reckoning. And whether it’s with the prophets of Baal, or with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, we see that sometimes God had to use a heavy hand to get his message across and to deliver his people.
It’s because of the hardness of people’s hearts, and his own people’s hearts, that such dramatic conflicts had to take place, and in that sense, I don’t think God took any joy in having to prove himself over and over to his people, or keep drawing them back to them over and over again, rather it was a heartbreaking cycle of love and divorce in his relationship with them.
And it’s because that cycle is endless, because ALL have sinned, and don’t live up to God’s glory, that he ultimately took the consequences of humanity’s rebellion on himself, in the person of Jesus, so that whoever believes in him can escape the death we deserve, and have eternal life in relationship with him. And that eternal life is not just in the future, it starts the moment we trust in Christ, and it includes each day we live for him on earth.
I know I just took a hard left into New Testament theology, and I kind of did that last week too when I jumped right into Matthew. I don’t want to go too far down the New Testament rabbit hole just yet, I just want to appreciate the story for what it is, and we’ll continue the story next week.
Like I said last week, part of the value, or the application of the story is simply in reflecting on who God is and how he’s revealed himself. And on the surface, this chapter of the story is really exciting, and satisfying, right!? The “good guy” wins against all odds! God shows up brilliantly and triumphs over evil!
And yes! That is one way in which the story should be perceived!
But if you reflect and ponder on it a bit more, and if you’re completely honest with yourself as you face the reality of who God is, as with many other Old Testament stories, you realize that really you can see yourself on the other side of this conflict, as well. Really, we’re the ones who have betrayed God and pursued worthless idols, and hardened our hearts, and yet God draws us back to him.
This chapter of the story causes me to reflect on the power and holiness and jealousy of God, realize that I have done nothing to deserve a friendship with him, and yet he has mercy on me, has bathed me in forgiveness through Christ, and chooses to walk with me and fill me with his presence, so that I too may boldly claim that I stand in the presence of Yahweh.