February 10 - 16
Prayers for Reformation: Elijah
THE CULTURE OF OUR WORLD CAN TURN QUICKLY TO EVIL. It usually does. Like tainted air, this evil seeps through the cracks under the doors and the windows of our hearts and minds and homes. Often, because we are part of the culture, we don't see these cultural evils for what they are. They can even invade the church; in fact, they often do.
In the early centuries, paganism invaded Christianity. "Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church. The spirit of compromise and conformity was restrained for a time by the fierce persecutions which the church endured under paganism. But as persecution ceased, . . . the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. "The Great Controversy, pp. 49, 50; emphasis supplied.
The marriage of the Israelite King Ahab with the heathen Jezebel illustrates the union of God's people with the world-a union that always results in apostasy. God still needs Elijahs and prayers of reformation to halt the downward course of compromise.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE:
I. Elijah Against Evil (Exod. 34:15, 16; see also Deut. 18:9-12; 1 Kings 16:29-33).
II. The Curse of the Covenant (Lev. 26:14-20; see also Dent. 28:15-24; 1 Kings 17:1).
III. Showdown on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-46).
IV. Letdown at Horeb (1 Kings 19).
V. Jesus' Example (Luke 1:32, 33; 19:41-44; see also John 17:6-19).
MEMORY TEXT: "'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty' "(Zechariah 4:6, NIV).
Describe the evils of Canaanite culture against which God had warned Israel.
Exod. 34:15, 16 _________________________________________________________________
Deut. 18:9-12 _____________________________________________________________
Because of the degrading practices of its people, Canaan was ripe for conquest. The conquering Israelites themselves, however, were seduced into idolatry. They might have won the military battle, but they lost the war against culture. When Israel split from Judah and formed the northern kingdom, Jeroboam introduced calf worship to keep his people from worshiping in the southern kingdom of Judah. In all of its history, the northern kingdom never had a righteous king, and the majority of its people were idolaters.
How did King Ahab increase the nation's apostasy? 1 Kings 16:30-33.
Jezebel, daughter of a Sidonian priest-king, was a ruthless, domineering person who exercised a powerful influence over Ahab and the nation. She had a temple built for Baal in Samaria and supported a huge college of Baal and Asherah prophets to practice and foster this religion. She also killed large numbers of the Lord's prophets (see 1 Kings 16:32; 18:4, 19).
Baal worship was extremely seductive to Israel. In order to stimulate the gods to make the land fertile, priests, temple prostitutes of both sexes, and worshipers engaged in sexual orgies after working themselves into an ecstatic frenzy by drinking wine and dancing. Israel, as an agricultural society, thought it necessary to follow the practices of the surrounding nations to guarantee abundant harvests.
As bleak as chapter 16 ends, however, chapter 17 begins with a note of hope. "Elijah appears on the scene as a man with an urgent errand for God. The hour is one of crisis. Sin has invaded the land, and if not stopped, will soon engulf all in tragic ruin."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 811:1, "Elijah."
The dangerous thing about culture is that those who are part of it can't often see it for what it is. Trying to step out of it is like trying to take off your shoes while jogging. As a church, we are part of our culture. What is the only guide we have to teach us which part of our culture is acceptable and which part we must reject?
What would happen to God's people if they refused to obey Him?
Lev. 26:18-20 ___________________________________________________________________
Deut. 28:23, 24 ____________________________________________________________
God loves to bless His people, but when they forsake Him, He speaks to them through blessings removed. We so often tend to forget God in times of prosperity and seek Him in times of adversity.
From his mountain home in Gilead, Elijah viewed with anguish Israel's deepening apostasy. He prayed that God would invoke the covenant curses to bring the nation to its senses. Read James 5:17, 18 and 1 Kings 17:1. According to Baalist theology, rain is simply Baal impregnating the earth in order that it bring forth its crops. God chose to destroy this claim by revealing that He alone is responsible for the earth's treasures-sunshine, rain, and abundant harvests.
In obedience to God's command, Elijah appeared before a startled Ahab, locked up the heavens, and walked away with the key! It took strong faith for Elijah to predict a long-term dry spell. The countryside, lush and green, seemed beyond the bony fingers of drought.
If Ahab, Jezebel, and her prophets were inclined to sneer at Elijah's curse, they soon had cause for alarm. Weeks and months went by with no rain. The prophets of Baal had plenty of opportunity to invoke their god but reasoned that he must have been asleep or on a journey. The brooks dried up, the grass withered, the crops failed, and gaunt herds suffocated under choking clouds of dust.
There was a key to unlock the heavens, but the people didn't know about it because their leaders had neglected to teach them. What was this key? 2 Chron. 7:13, 14.
"The Christian's most powerful resource is communion with God through prayer. The results are often greater than we thought were possible... . Because God's power is infinitely greater than ours, it only makes sense to rely on itespecially because God encourages us to do so."Life Application Study Bible (NIV), p. 2252.
After three and a half years of devastating famine, the Lord told Elijah it was time for the showdown. The God who brought drought could also bring rain (2 Kings 18:1). Elijah summoned the nation to Mt. Carmel.
How did he challenge the people? 1 Kings 18:21, 24.
Many Israelites had been serving both Baal and Yahweh. The time had come for them to take a stand one way or the other. As Elijah proposed a test, the prophets of Baal cringedtheir god had been powerless for over three years. Before God could send rain, there needed to be a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people (1 Kings 18:23, 24). Elijah repaired the altar of Yahweh, which had been in disuse for many years.
Study Elijah's prayer (vss. 36, 37). Note the length and manner of his prayer and its content. How does it contrast with that of the Baal prophets? (vss. 26-29).
|Contrast||Elijah's Prayer||The Baal Prophets' Prayer|
|Length of Prayer Offered|
|Manner in Which Prayer Was Offered|
|Content of Prayer|
When fire streaked from heaven and consumed the drenched sacrifice, wood, and the altar itself, the people fell on their faces, crying "Yahweh"not Baal"is God!"
|Why did Elijah follow up the demonstration by exterminating the prophets of Baal? What lesson is taught by this act regarding any compromise with the sinful parts of the culture? How could you apply this principle to your own life? Are there any specific issues on which you, personally, need to make a decision one way or another?|
The exciting day was not yet over. As Elijah prayed seven times under a cloudless sky, his faith clung to God's past performancesthe drought, the fire, the promise to bring rain (18:1). Faith feeds upon the memories of God's past leading. A tiny cloud was enough to convince Elijah that a deluge was coming. In spite of an all-day fast, Elijah ran with superhuman strength to guide Ahab's chariot through the rain. Then he laid on the ground, wet and exhausted, and fell asleep.
What events happened next that caused Elijah to flee? 1 Kings 19:1-5.
How could his mood change so rapidly from triumph to despair?
For years Elijah had invested all his emotional and spiritual energy in the cause of reformation. Yahweh had given convincing proof that He was God. Surely everyone in the whole nation would be converted, but they were not.
After an emotional high, one often experiences a letdown. Elijah felt that the crusade on Mt. Carmel was a failure. He felt useless, and he wanted to die.
Twice Elijah complained to God," 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too' "(1 Kings 19:10, NIV; compare vs. 14).
A great wind, a powerful earthquake, and a fire immediately followed Elijah's first complaint, but God was not in any of them. Then came a gentle whisperthe unmistakable voice of God (vss. 11, 12). Then Elijah knew that God does not always show Himself in vigorous ways. It is not always the person or event that creates the greatest excitement. A humble heart who hears and obeys God's still, small voice can be just as mighty.
Miracles are often not enough to convince stubborn hearts. They sometimes arouse more bitter opposition (John 11:45-50, 57). God must not only startle the people with signs but persuade them with the still small voice of the Spirit.
|Elijah, a man of God, a prophet in fact, became disheartened and discouraged. How should his experience help us through our own periods of discouragement?|
What plans did God have for Israel through the coming of Jesus? Luke 1:32, 33, 71, 74; 2:32.
In Luke 19:41-44, we read that these plans were not to be fulfilled. Israel's leaders would not recognize that God was visiting His people in the person of Jesus! (Luke 1:68). If they had, the covenant blessings described in Isaiah 62 and repeated in Luke 1 and 2 would have been poured out. Because of their constant opposition, Christ "seemed to do little of the work He longed to do in uplifting and saving."The Desire of Ages, p. 678.
Jesus, however, would not be discouraged. "In the heart of Christ, where reigned perfect harmony with God, there was perfect peace. He was never elated by applause, nor dejected by censure or disappointment. Amid the greatest opposition and the most cruel treatment, He was still of good courage."The Desire of Ages, p. 330.
What instructions and encouraging fact about Israel did the Lord give to Elijah? 1 Kings 19:15-18.
"One cure for depression is to get busy. So the first word from God to Elijah after the dramatic demonstration on Mount Horeb is 'Go.' The anointing of Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha would ensure that the campaign against Baal worship would continue, and a faithful remnant of Yahweh worshipers would survive."Lloyd J. Ogilvie, general editor, Russell H. Dilday, The Communicator's Commentary: 1, 2 Kings (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987), vol. 9, p. 224.
The campaign also would succeed because God had a remnant. Reformers need to remember and be encouraged by the fact that God has always worked through a remnant. "When we give ourselves wholly to God and in our work follow His directions, He makes Himself responsible for its accomplishment. He would not have us conjecture as to the success of our honest endeavors. Not once should we even think of failure. We are to co-operate with One who knows no failure."Christ 's Object Lessons, p. 363.
At the end of His ministry, Jesus looked with satisfaction upon His eleven disciples whom God had given Him. He prayed that God would keep them faithful (John 17:6-12). Through this small remnant, the world would be evangelized (vs. 20).
|Raphael was a newly baptized member. Early on he saw things in the church that greatly upset him. What can you do to help someone like him? How does "remnant theology" help in a case such as this?|
FURTHER STUDY: In review, how does Psalm 51 reassure us that God will honor our prayers for, and sincere efforts on behalf of, spiritual reform?
Read any or all of the following from Prophets and Kings: "Carmel," pp. 143-154; "From Jezreel to Horeb," pp. 155-166;" 'What Doest Thou Here?' "pp. 167-176.
"When upon Mt. Carmel he [Elijah] offered the prayer for rain, his faith was tested, but he persevered in making known his request unto God. . . . Had he given up in discouragement at the sixth time, his prayer would not have been answered, but he persevered till the answer came. . . . God does not always answer our prayers the first time we call upon Him; for should He do this, we might take it for granted that we had a right to all the blessings and favors He bestowed upon us. Instead of searching our hearts to see if any evil was entertained by us, any sin indulged, we should become careless, and fail to realize our dependence upon Him, and our need of His help.
"Elijah humbled himself until he was in a condition where he would not take the glory to himself. This is the condition upon which the Lord hears prayer, for then we shall give the praise to Him."Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 2, pp. 1034, 1035, "Important Lessons From Elijah."
SUMMARY: In the work of reformation, whether personal or corporate, we are at war with powerful enemies. We need to pray for wisdom, tact, ....
J. H. Zachary
RUSSIA-Natasha Dashidordzieva comes from a Buddhist background. But growing up in Russia, she was taught to trust in atheistic communism. She tried to start several businesses, but each time her efforts resulted in failure.
Discouraged, Natasha began searching for God. She read many books, visited religious teachers, and endured many strange practices in an attempt to find God. Finally, she gave up in frustration.
A neighbor gave her some religious books, but Natasha decided to return them unread. She knocked on the neighbor's door and found several women holding a Bible fellowship. The neighbor invited her to stay, and out of courtesy she did. But she was not interested in any new religious ideas.
However, Natasha noticed that the women seemed happy. As the women shared ideas, Natasha suddenly blurted out, "I don't believe there is a living God. If there is, why do I pray but receive no answers?"
Natasha told them of her failed business attempts, and one woman suggested that she should try giving God a tithe of her income and see what happened. It sounded ridiculous to her, but finally Natasha decided to try it. She was amazed when her business efforts began to prosper. Natasha continued attending the fellowship group.
The women planned an outing in the country, and Natasha wanted to go. But she had no money. A friend owed her some money and had not repaid it. Natasha prayed, "Lord, if You really exist, please send my friend to repay the money she owes me-today." As the hours passed and her friend did not come, Natasha wondered if God had heard her prayer. Then at sunset her friend appeared with the money she had borrowed.
Natasha was convinced. She gave her life to God for His service. Recently she attended a training program for missionary volunteers who are preparing to plant churches in unentered cities of eastern Russia. Natasha has been assigned to work in the city of Kiahta, on the border between Russia and Mongolia. This is a strategic area, for the people living in this region can work freely in Mongolia, a country that has fewer than fifty Adventists.
Natasha feels her new life is like a fairy tale, for because of Jesus Christ, her life already has a "happily ever after" ending.
J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour and a special consultant for the General Conference Ministerial Association.
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