Partial script for the May 4th episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast.
Welcome to the May 4th episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast. I’m Matt Ellis and I’m the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida.
Today’s reading is in 1 Kings 16-18. Hopefully, you’ve already spent time in God’s Word so let’s get started.
1 Kings 16
In verses 1-7, we read of the Lord’s anger toward Israel’s King Baasha. The Lord sent the prophet Jehu to tell Baasha that the Lord had raised him from humble circumstances to be king and yet he had lived in disobedience and wickedness. So, the days were coming when his descendants would be wiped out like Jeroboam’s descendants.
We read in verse 6 that Baasha died and was buried. His son, Elah, became king. But judging by what we heard from the prophet Jehu regarding the descendants of Baasha, we are wondering when the hammer will drop.
In verses 8-14, we read of king Elah who reigned over Israel. In the very first verse, as we observe that he only reigned for 2 years, we immediately suspect that something went wrong. When we read the following verses, we realize that he was assassinated.
1 Kings 16:9-10 (CSB): “9 His servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him while Elah was in Tirzah getting drunk in the house of Arza, who was in charge of the household at Tirzah. 10 In the twenty-seventh year of Judah’s King Asa, Zimri went in and struck Elah down, killing him. Then Zimri became king in his place.”
And then we read, once again, about a man exercising his free will while, in so doing, is unknowingly carrying out God’s will…
1 Kings 16:11-12 (CSB): “11 When he became king, as soon as he was seated on his throne, Zimri struck down the entire house of Baasha. He did not leave a single male, including his kinsmen and his friends. 12 So Zimri destroyed the entire house of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord he had spoken against Baasha through the prophet Jehu.”
In verses 15-22, we’re introduced to the assassin who is now king over Israel. But as we are introduced to Zimri, we observe another biblical principle. It is this: when someone exercises their free will to do evil, even if their actions fulfill God’s plan, they are held responsible for their sin. God determines what will take place. Ephesians 1:11 says that He “works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will.” Yet, the person who chooses to sin will be held responsible.
As a case in point, think about Judas who betrayed Jesus. Listen to how Jesus said that God’s will was being accomplished in Judas’ betrayal but that Judas was also being held responsible for his sinful actions.
Matthew 26:23-24 (CSB): “23 He (Jesus) replied, ‘The one who dipped his hand with me in the bowl—he will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for him if he had not been born.’”
So, when we look back at Zimri in 1 Kings 16, we realize that his choice to engage in willful sin and to kill Baasha’s descendants accomplished God’s will. Yet, God held Zimri responsible for his sin since it was his own wicked choice to do so.
We read in 1 Kings 16:15 that Zimri’s reign only lasted “for seven days in Tirzah…” From a human perspective, this happened when all Israel made Omri king when they “heard that Zimri had not only conspired but had also struck down the king” (v.16). Then, Israel’s army went against Zimri but he committed suicide by burning the royal palace down with him inside. But from God’s side, he brought about Zimri’s death “because of the sin he committed by doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight and by walking in the ways of Jeroboam and the sin he caused Israel to commit” (v.19).
Over and over we see in Scripture how people have the ability to make their choices and are held responsible for those choices. Yet, regardless of what mankind does, God is completely unhindered in accomplishing His purposes. While you and I must be in prayer and exercise good decision-making principles before we act, we need never worry about messing up God’s purposes. We aren’t that powerful.
In verses 23-28, we read that Omri has become king over Israel. According to verse 23, “he reigned twelve years.”
But we learn something else about him. By the time Jesus walked the earth in the 1st century, we realize that Galilee was in the north, Judea was in the south, and Samaria was in the middle. We are very familiar with the story of the Samaritan woman and other stories in the Gospels. But where did Samaria originate?
In 1 Kings 16:24, it tells us that Omri “bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for 150 pounds of silver, and he built up the hill. He named the city he built Samaria based on the name Shemer, the owner of the hill.” Later, during the Assyrian captivity, Israelites would be taken from this land, and exiles from other nations would be forcibly settled in this region. So, when Jesus was later engaged in his 3-year ministry in the 1st century, the Jews looked down their noses at Samaritans because they were a people who had intermarried – they were part Jew and part non-Jew. Pure and simple, it was racism that caused the Samaritans to be despised.
As 1 Kings 16 gives an assessment of king Omri, we are told that he “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (v.25). In fact, verse 26 tells us that he led Israel to commit sins and it “anger(ed) the Lord God of Israel.” Remember, every single king of Israel will have this said of them. It’s no wonder that their captivity came more quickly than the southern tribe of Judah. So he died and his son, Ahab, becomes king of Israel.
In verses 29-34, we realize that king Ahab reigned over Israel for 38 years. But the length of his reign is in now way an affirmation of his life. In fact, listen to what the Bible says about him…
1 Kings 16:30-31 (CSB): “But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight more than all who were before him. 31 Then, as if following the sin of Jeroboam son of Nebat were not enough, he married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, …”
Ahab is so utterly sinful that the writer of 1 Kings is going to say more about him. But the next two chapters will give us a breather from all the evil. The writer will focus our attention on a prophet of God and some wonderful things God did through him before getting back to Ahab.
But, as 1 Kings 16 is coming to a close, we read about a man named Hiel who built Jericho during Ahab’s reign. If you remember the curse that was placed upon Jericho back in the book of Joshua, you remember that rebuilding Jericho was a huge mistake. Listen to Joshua’s curse when the Israelites defeat Jericho about 500 years earlier.
Joshua 6:26-27 (CSB): “At that time Joshua imposed this curse: The man who undertakes the rebuilding of this city, Jericho, is cursed before the Lord. He will lay its foundation at the cost of his firstborn; he will finish its gates at the cost of his youngest.”
So, it’s now been 500 years. Joshua is long gone. Does his curse still apply? Just read the final verses of this chapter…
1 Kings 16:34 (CSB): “During his (Ahab’s) reign, Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho. At the cost of Abiram his firstborn, he laid its foundation, and at the cost of Segub his youngest, he finished its gates, according to the word of the Lord he had spoken through Joshua son of Nun.”
1 Kings 17
The previous chapter was filled with wickedness, divine punishment, and death. So the Lord, through the writer of 1 Kings, gives us an emotional break. Now, we get to read about an incredible Old Testament prophet – Elijah. The first mention of him is when he gives a prophetic word to Ahab and then takes off.
1 Kings 17:1 (CSB): “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from the Gilead settlers, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord God of Israel lives, in whose presence I stand, there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!’”
The Lord then told Elijah to go eastward and hide at a particular stream where it entered the Jordan. He was to drink from the stream and the Lord would provide him food from what the ravens brought him which would have been small morsels at a time.
At some unknown time, the famine even affected Elijah…
1 Kings 17:7 (CSB): “After a while, the wadi (stream) dried up because there had been no rain in the land.”
So what was Elijah to do? What we observe is that the Lord wanted to continue to provide for Elijah but in a way that would continue to require dependence upon the Lord. God wanted to keep Elijah in a position where he wasn’t to work out his own problems. He wanted him to trust and obey, as the wonderful old hymn encourages us to do as well.
The Lord told Elijah to travel to the city of Zarephath and stay there. The Lord said that He would have a woman provide for Elijah there. Elijah may have suspected that he would be taken care of by a very wealthy woman. But that’s not typically how the Lord works. He was going to provide for Elijah with a lady who was a commoner and was also desperately depending upon the Lord to take care of her.
1 Kings 17:10-12 (CSB): “So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the city gate, there was a widow gathering wood. Elijah called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a little water in a cup and let me drink.’ 11 As she went to get it, he called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.’ 12 But she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I don’t have anything baked—only a handful of flour in the jar and a bit of oil in the jug. Just now, I am gathering a couple of sticks in order to go prepare it for myself and my son so we can eat it and die.’”
The Lord made it clear to Elijah that he was going to bless the woman when she stepped out in faith to prepare a meal for Elijah first. But that assurance was given to Elijah. The widow only had his word. Did she trust him? Was the Lord going to honor her sacrifice? If she got it wrong, she and her son wouldn’t even have their final meal as Elijah ate it.
1 Kings 17:15-16 (CSB): “15 So she proceeded to do according to the word of Elijah. Then the woman, Elijah, and her household ate for many days. 16 The flour jar did not become empty, and the oil jug did not run dry, according to the word of the Lord he had spoken through Elijah.”
It’s easy to “trust” the Lord when things are going well. But when we fully trust and surrender to Him when we cannot see how things will work out, He always honors that kind of faith. It may not be that our “oil jug never runs dry.” But we trust Him to bless as He sees fit.
Sometime after this, the widow’s son got sick and died. In her grief, she aimed her sorrow at Elijah. She had apparently done some things that were causing her conscience to slay her and she felt that Elijah’s presence brought her sins to God’s eyes and He killed her son for it.
Of course, this wasn’t true. She was simply grieving as only a mother could over a dead child and was trying to make sense of why God had allowed it.
In verses 17-24, we read that Elijah prayed over the boy and the Lord graciously brought him back to life. The words that came from the grateful mother’s lips were written for all of those who read the Scriptures to recognize that Elijah was a legitimate prophet of the Lord.
1 Kings 17:24 (CSB): “Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know you are a man of God and the Lord’s word from your mouth is true.’”
Elijah was like no other prophet in the Old Testament. He was still spoken of some 800 years later when Jesus was walking the earth. Jesus said in Matthew 11:14 that John the Baptizer was “the Elijah who is to come.” In Matthew 17:3, Elijah joins Moses on the mountain as Jesus’ glory (deity) radiated from His body as Peter, James, and John watched. Elijah was no ordinary prophet and, because of God’s grace, he made a huge impact in the Old Testament. Even speaking in the 21st century, I don’t think he’s done. I tend to believe that he is one of the two witnesses that will show up during the Tribulation Period (Revelation 11).
1 Kings 18
Time passes since Elijah told Ahab that there would be no rain for 3 years and six months (James 5:17-18 gives us this time period).
1 Kings 18:1-2a (CSB): “1 After a long time, the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year: ‘Go and present yourself to Ahab. I will send rain on the surface of the land.’ 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab…”
As Elijah was traveling to meet Ahab, the king had just sent out Obadiah to look for water. Verse 3 tells us that Obadiah “was in charge of the palace” and “was a man who greatly feared the Lord.”
1 Kings 18:7 (CSB): “7 While Obadiah was walking along the road, Elijah suddenly met him. When Obadiah recognized him, he fell facedown and said, ‘Is it you, my lord Elijah?’ 8 ‘It is I,’ he replied. ‘Go tell your lord, “Elijah is here!” ’ ”
Sounds easy enough but Obadiah was so afraid that if he went and told Ahab that Elijah wanted to see him, Elijah may take off. Ahab would become infuriated and would kill Obadiah.
1 Kings 18:15 (CSB): “Then Elijah said, ‘As the Lord of Armies lives, in whose presence I stand, today I will present myself to Ahab.’”
So Obadiah found Ahab and told him that Elijah wanted to meet him. When Ahab and Elijah met, it was clear that they were enemies. Ahab accused Elijah of ruining Israel. From James 5:17-18, we realize that the drought in Israel happened because Elijah was praying for the drought.
Elijah fired back that it was Ahab that was ruining Israel. He had “abandoned the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals” (v.18). So Elijah drew a line in the sand. He said that it needed to be determined in Israel once and for all who the true God was. So he said…
1 Kings 18:19 (CSB): “Now summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
In verses 20-46, we observe that Ahab was so sure of his gods that he willingly participated. He “summoned all the Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel” (v.20).
In the presence of everyone gathered on Mount Carmel, Elijah spoke up and clarified that they were meeting to see who the real God was. And whoever the real God was would be the one that they all should worship.
1 Kings 18:21 (CSB): “Then Elijah approached all the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. But if Baal, follow him.’ But the people didn’t answer him a word.”
It’s been my experience that the people today still don’t utter a word. You could prove God’s existence through logic, or considering the fine-tuning of the universe, or talking of answered prayer, or any number of other ways that people testify to God’s existence. Yet, people who are dead set against believing in a divine moral law-giver will not believe no matter what you do.
When we look back at the story on Mount Carmel, we observe that they were doing what folks in the Old Testament did – they slaughtered animals and offered up sacrifices. Nothing happened when the Israelites sacrificed to their gods. But when Elijah sacrificed to the God of Heaven, fire came down and burned up his sacrifice.
1 Kings 18:38-39 (CSB): “38 Then the Lord’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, ‘The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!’”
So, the people of Israel saw and acknowledged the Lord. Of course, this would be very short-lived and they would jump headfirst back into their sinful lifestyle. But for the moment, they were acknowledging that the Lord was the true God of Heaven.
We’re not told that the Lord commanded the next thing that Elijah did. He might have but He might not have. He slaughtered every one of the prophets of Baal.
1 Kings 18:41 (CSB): “Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a rainstorm.’”
These words were said in faith. There was no rain yet. It hadn’t rained for three and a half years. But James 5:17-18 tells us that Elijah prayed after the allotted time and the rain came. That’s what Elijah was doing in the next verses. He went up to the top of Mount Carmel which provides a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea to the west … and he prayed.
1 Kings 18:42-43 (CSB): “42 So Ahab went to eat and drink, but Elijah went up to the summit of Carmel. He bent down on the ground and put his face between his knees. 43 Then he said to his servant, ‘Go up and look toward the sea.’ …”
Elijah is praying for rain and he is sending his servant to see if the Lord has answered yet. This is the balance between praying in faith and praying in reality. Elijah was praying for rain but wouldn’t consider his prayer answered until the rain clouds formed.
2 Kings 18:43b-46 (CSB): “18 … So he went up, looked, and said, ‘There’s nothing.’ Seven times Elijah said, ‘Go back.’ 44 On the seventh time, he reported, ‘There’s a cloud as small as a man’s hand coming up from the sea.’ Then Elijah said, ‘Go and tell Ahab, ‘Get your chariot ready and go down so the rain doesn’t stop you.’ 45 In a little while, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and there was a downpour. So Ahab got in his chariot and went to Jezreel. 46 The power of the Lord was on Elijah, and he tucked his mantle under his belt and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.”
As we conclude, I’ve referred to James 5:17-18 a few times in this podcast. But I haven’t actually read it. Let’s end with reading those verses. But I want you to realize that the Lord, through James, wanted to tell us that we can pray just like Elijah. We have access to Heaven’s throne room just like Elijah.
James 5:16b-18 (CSB): “16 … The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. 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.
Friend, those are powerful words. And our prayers can be powerful because they are crying out to the same God that Elijah prayed to. So, what do you think we need to do in response to what we have read? Let’s pray.