God's Love Despite Apostasy
What hope is there?
What hope is there?
Well a week has passed since we saw another one of those crazy weeks in Canberra. For the fourth time in as many terms of Government, we’ve seen the sitting Prime Minister not see the end of term. Pretty much everyone in the nation collective shook their heads and asked ‘what is going on?’
Now it’s not my intention to add commentary to what happened, but you have to wonder what is going on. You might think it is for the better, or maybe for the worse, I’ll leave that judgment up to you, but I think for many, the question of whether Scott Morrison will be a better Prime Minister or not is almost beside the point - the fact that this changing can happen on such a frequent basis seems to suggest there is something wrong with the system.
And so our question - ‘what’s going on?’, quickly changes to ‘is there any hope for our political system?’
We can vote for a particular party, expecting that comes with a particular leader, but there is no hope that he will stay.
Finding God in the mess
Finding God in the mess
Now the question I want to explore today is - when things go haywire, how does God operate?
You see, the change in leadership might be one thing, but if I stick to politics for a moment, there is quite a bit in recent times that can make us shake our heads as Christians and wonder whether God has completely been forsaken.
One example might be the change in marriage laws. What was clear in that debate was that God’s design for us did not feature in the decision.
A similar thing happens with debates on abortion and euthanasia. Now just to be clear, I recognise in all of these debates, there can be a lot of complexities, and even amongst Christians there can be a variety of opinions, what I want to highlight at this particular point is not which decision was made, but rather the sad reality that what God wants, is irrelevant to the debate.
From my observations, the rejection of God in our society is becoming more pronounced over time.
But it’s not just in what you might call these moral issues. Sadly, God’s ways are also becoming absent when it comes to matters such as having compassion on the vulnerable, looking after the poor and caring for the sick.
And so I bring back the question I asked before. As things go off the track like this, how does God operate?
Link with passage
Link with passage
Well, I’m going to explore this question by looking at the last six verses of . Often we just tack these verses onto the end of the story we looked at last week, however I wanted to treat them separately because in them we get a good insight into how God operates.
So, given that they follow so closely on the heels of the previous section, we better re-cap and position ourselves in this passage.
Well, as I discussed last week, we are at a pivotal point in the history of Israel.
The kingdom has been divided, and there has been a general drift away from Yahweh, the one true God. But under King Ahab, he marries a foreign princess, namely Jezebel, who proves a massive thorn in this nation. No longer are they just flirting with foreign gods, now these foreign gods are the most prominent, and those still loyal to Yahweh are being persecuted.
Last week we looked at the first 40 verses, where Elijah is bold and confronts King Ahab directly about the problem, offering a show down. It was a very dramatic show down in which Elijah, as the lone representative for Yahweh, is up against 450 prophets of Baal, with the challenge being to offer a sacrifice to their respective god, but requiring their god to supernaturally light the fire.
The result was a resounding affirmation for Yahweh. Despite all odds stacked against him, he succeeded in a way that left no doubt who is in control.
So now we’ve got a situation where God has proved himself, but the reality is, proving yourself is only half the battle.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’re arguing with somebody, only to realise half way through the argument that actually you’re wrong and they are right. It can be hard to have the humility to stop and admit you’re wrong.
Well, as we’ll see with King Ahab, he saw what happened. He knows that Yahweh won the contest fair and square, but he’s going to get in a very awkward position, particularly as he goes back to his wife at the start of chapter 19.
Now, before I dig into the six verses before us today, it’s important to briefly go back to the start of chapter 17 when Elijah was first introduced to us.
It was in the first verse of chapter 17 where Elijah declares to King Ahab that there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at the word of Elijah.
When I looked at that chapter two weeks ago I explored the connection between a literal drought of no rain with the drought of God’s word that Ahab reign represented.
Well, those few years have passed, and we’re now about to see the end of that drought.
So let’s now come to where Yahweh’s victory has been completed.
Well, I actually find verse 41 very interesting. You see, you would well expect that after the way Ahab has behaved, and after such a resounding affirmation of Yahweh’s power, that Elijah would be entitled to rip into Ahab. But he doesn’t.
Instead, he tells him to go, eat and drink. And in verse 42, we’re told that that is exactly what Ahab did. He went off to eat and drink.
What!?! Shouldn’t God be smiting him or something right about now?
But this is actually very typical of God, and I think it is something that most people don’t see.
What we do tend to see, is when things go wrong, and it is at that time that we love to blame God. Curiously, even people who don’t normally acknowledge God, are happy to attribute bad things to Him when the tie arises.
But if you actually look a little closer, what you will find is that rather than God making the bad things happen, he is instead holding out his hand, offering a way forward out of the mess.
At youth group, I’ve had some young people really struggle with this. For some, life has been tough and so they readily blame God for that. I try to explain to them that in fact, God is not there actively punishing you. Rather we live in a world corrupted by sin, and God’s standing there, holding his hand out and wants to lift them out.
They don’t always get it, but it is true, and it is exactly what we see here. What has happened in Israel is a result of a corrupt people, but despite their corruption, God wants to lift them out of it - and so Ahab eats and drinks.
I said that the question I want to explore today is how God operates in the midst of apostasy, and I want to suggest that the first part of my answer is: to show mercy.
For God’s people, mercy can sometimes seem really unfair. If you think of the story of Jonah when God had mercy of Nineveh, he certainly thought it unfair. And in the parable of the prodigal son, the older son certainly thought it unfair when the younger rebellious son was accepted back.
But this is how God operates.
We do need to remember however that mercy is not because we deserve it. In fact, by very definition, if we deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy, rather it’s because of who God is. A God who loves us so very deeply.
Applied to our world today - God has every right to completely destroy us. Actually that is what he did do in the day of Noah, and we now have the rainbow as a reminder of his great mercy in that he has promised never to destroy the world like that again.
Now I know that our current Prime Minister acknowledges God, but we have had leaders who haven’t, and as I’ve discussed in the introduction, even made decision contrary to God’s way, yet God chooses to bless us. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what God does.
So the first part of the answer to how God operates in the midst of apostasy, we find mercy.
And that mercy is also powerfully shown in the way God allows the drought to be broken.
But as we read the next few verses we see another curious thing. You see, the curious thing is that God has already made up his mind that he will bring rain again - but yet the process in which it happens is through sustained prayer.
This gets to the heart of this mysterious relationship between us and God.
You see, God is in control, and yet not only does he allow us to participate in the process, he in fact wants us to.
Prayer in many ways is a mysterious thing. If you think about it, why do we need to pray? If God is in perfect control, if he knows everything, what is best and what is needed, then why does he need us to pray. Why doesn’t he just do it?
In the base of this Elijah story - why does Elijah need to pray when God already said it would happen. In part we can put it down to God’s love for us that he wants us part of the process, but it also shows us how God operates.
You see, when the world grows wicked, God works through the sustained prayer of his chosen ones.
Let’s just look at the text before I come back to this point.
Interestingly, if you read verse 42, the verb ‘pray’ actually is not there, but it is very evident that that is what is happening.
While Ahab goes off and eats, Elijah something entirely different. Interestingly, if you read verse 42, the verb ‘pray’ actually is not there, but it is very evident that that is what is happening.
We’re told that after climbing to the top of Mount Carmel, he bends down to the ground and puts his face between his knees.
This is the posture of intense, concentrated prayer.
Now, it’s interesting to note the difference between this prayer and the prayer that the prophets of Baal offered earlier in the chapter.
Last week I described their prayer as frenzied, and I made the suggestion that we need to avoid the thinking that we need to work ourselves into some sort of frenzy if we want God to hear us.
Well look at this by comparison. Rather than flapping around like some sort of goose, it’s almost the exact opposite. His posture recognises that this is not about himself but about God.
An odd occurence
An odd occurence
But then we get this odd little episode.
In fact, there is a series of rather odd little things in this passage.
This time, he tells his servant to go and look to the sea and tell him what he sees.
His servant goes, and reports back that he sees nothing.
And so Elijah repeats it.
He repeats it seven times, and it is on the seventh occasion that finally the servant reports on something different.
This time he sees a cloud - but it’s only a very tiny cloud.
But it’s enough. Elijah knows that God has answered.
But what do we make of this odd little episode?
Well, I actually think it helps to put my first point into perspective.
You see, the first point I made was that God is merciful even when we act wickedly. But despite this mercy, we shouldn’t expect God to act in a particular way.
This is actually evident right throughout the bible. At times, God acts very swiftly, other times slowly. Sometimes he acts in a very dramatic way, othertimes very subtly. Sometimes he acts through human intervention, other times he acts by himself.
God is not someone that you can easily pigeon hole. God is the ‘I AM WHO I AM’ - which is literally his name, Yaweh.
We see this in just this chapter. Last week when Elijah prayed - the response was immediate and it was dramatic. Fire came out of the sky and the sacrifice taken.
This time Elijah prays and it doesn’t happen quickly, rather very slowly.
What we learn
What we learn
So coming back to my main question of how God operates in the midst of a wicked world, we can see that his preferred method of operation is through the prayers of the faithful, but the precise means of his operation will be as unique as the situation.
Knowing that God wants to work through the prayers of the faithful, this should bring us to our knees. God doesn’t want us to sit back in the knowledge that he has it in control. Rather he wants us to be a part of the process of moving forward. He will be in control, and he will help us, but we still become involved through our prayers.
So when we see the world start acting in more and more wicked ways, rather than become despaired, fall to your knees and pray.
What happens to Ahab
What happens to Ahab
But there is one more little odd episode which I believe sheds light on how God operates in such situations.
This final odd account in this chapter I’ve always tended to dismiss as just one of those quirky things in the Bible, but the reality is, the quirky things in the Bible are usually there for a reason.
So first, let’s look at the incident.
Verse 45 tells us that the little cloud that was originally spotted by Elijah’s servant has now become a big dark storm cloud, and with it the winds came up and with that a heavy rainstorm.
And so in the rain Ahab rides off the Jezreel, here he will be able to tell his wife what has happened.
Now the odd part comes in verse 46, and it states it in a very matter of fact kind of way that you can almost gloss over it. But it tells us that the power of the Lord came on Elijah and after tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab managing to get to Jezreel before Ahab.
And for a bit of context, Mount Carmel to Jezreel is about 27km which is the equivalent of running from here to Raymond Terrace.
So with the power of God, Elijah gains temporary super powers that allow him to outrun a chariot.
As I said before, I’ve always just dismissed this as one of those quirky things - but does it actually tell us more.
Well, one thing to note is that kings during this time would often have their servants run ahead of them. This however doesn’t quite explain what’s going on, because it would be wrong to assume that this represent somehow that Elijah is now Ahab’s servant.
Now I should put a disclaimer in before I give an explanation. We always have to tread very carefully when we extrapolate a explanation that goes beyond what the Bible describes. It can be useful to look at patterns beyond what’s explicitly spelled out for us, but we just need to be careful.
So with that being said, I want to suggest that Elijah’s supernatural means of staying in front of Ahab’s chariot represents how God is going to lead even when God’s guidance has been rejected.
You see, Ahab has been rejecting Yahweh, most notably by persecuting his followers, and instead has taken to following the advice of Baal’s prophets. Despite this, Yahweh is saying, I’m going to lead you anyway, and I’m suggesting that Elijah staying in front is the way he is making this statement.
This is actually very encouraging. You see, our nations leaders are going to come and go - probably a bit more frequently than we would like. Some are going to be good. Some are going to be bad.
But what we can know is that God is always going to be in control. At times it might not feel like it. In fact, that feeling might last a long time. But that doesn’t change the fact that God remains in control.
It’s a mysterious thing - the way God interacts with humanity.
As we’ve seen with prayer, there is this mysterious interaction between us and God, but we also see this mysterious interaction even with those who don’t acknowledge God.
As we look at these six verses, 6 verses which are normally just glossed over in the excitement of the earlier part of the chapter, we can learn a bit about how God operates.
What we see is that even when people reject God, God still will show mercy.
But in the process of showing this mercy we see some mysterious interactions, both with believers and non-believers.
With believers, we see this mysterious interaction play out in prayer.
With non-believers, perhaps this interaction is even more mysterious, but some how God remains in front.
The big lesson in all of this for us is trust. We need to trust God in this process and let him lead.
We can see from this passage that God will lead anyway. And so we can either try do it our way, or do the far smarter thing, which is to submit to God and all of his ways.