A Biography of Faith – I Kings 18:36-46

 

Several times over the last few months, the Lord has brought me back to God’s great prophet, Elijah. I have heard a sermon or two about him; one of those coming from this chapter. And in my reading I keep seeing his name come up. Also, I have preached on him once or twice lately – one message wasn’t very complimentary. Forgive me for coming back to him again. But this time I intend to be highly complimentary.

There are a great many lessons in this chapter, but they are not all about Elijah. There is Obadiah an employee of wicked King Ahab. Verse 3 says that Obadiah “feared the Lord GREATLY.” For the moment let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say this was a very good thing. He certainly risked his life to hide and help a number of God’s servants. But when it came to believing Elijah, he was not as quick to believe and supportive. In verse 12 he said “it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the LORD shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me.” BUT” he reiterates, “I have feared the Lord from my childhood.”

Elijah’s initial conversation with Ahab provides a great message. The wicked king said, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” Elijah replied, “It is not me“… “But THOU… in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord…” What was the cause of that society’s problems? Any society’s problems? The answer is sin – runaway sin; ravenous selfishness; rampant rebellion against the Lord and authority. Thousands of sermons have been preached from verse 21 “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” There are the many, many lessons which we can learn from Elijah’s battle with the 450 priests of Baal at the top of Mt Carmel. And then personally, verse 36 has always been a blessing – “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have DONE all these things at thy word.”

But it’s not what Elijah has done or what Obadiah did that I’d like to consider this morning. Despite the title of this message – “A Biography of Faith” – it’s what the LORD did which interests me. Faith is only the means by which what the Lord does becomes our own. For example, humanly speaking we are saved by faith – we become children of God by trusting in His provision of salvation. And as God’s children, it is only by faith that we access many of the Lord’s additional blessings.

The blessing I’d like to use to illustrate this lesson is Israel’s need of rain. Israel had been experiencing drought for three and one half years. It was long enough for the book Cherith to dry up, and for Elijah to move to Zarephath. While under the care of a widow in that community, her son died, but he was miraculously restored to life. Then there was a royal commission to find water and grass anywhere in Samaria in order to save the royal livestock. The three barrels of water used to drench Elijah’s sacrifice at Mt. Carmel was probably brought up from the Mediterranean Sea. Unless it was miraculously supplied, there was no fresh water anywhere in Israel.

After the sacrifice and victory over the false prophets, Elijah told Ahab, “Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.” But there wasn’t an ear in the whole nation that could hear anything like rain. There was no distant thunder, and if there was any noisy breeze it was the same dry, life-sucking sirocco wind. There had been no dew for years, and no humidity except for what was created off the men’s sweat. And yet, by faith Elijah could hear the sound of rain – in fact it was “the ABUNDANCE of rain” which he heard.

Christian, let me ask you, how dry is your life at the moment? How long has it been since there were any of the showers of God’s blessings? Is your life filled with problems – financial, family, health? Does depression plague you? Worry? Are there lost souls among your loved ones; are there prodigals among your children? Perhaps we can learn a thing or two about meeting those drought, famine and dust bowl conditions by considering Elijah’s situation here. “Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain” – that was a statement of FAITH.

We notice that Elijah’s faith was BASED on God’s promise.

This chapter is highlighted by Elijah’s great victory over the 450 prophets of Baal and Jezebel’s 400 prophets of the groves. Isn’t it interesting that the 400 are mentioned in verse 19 but then not again? It is almost as though they aren’t worth consideration – their religion was too stupid to mention again. Elijah’s battle was with the 450 prophets of Baal; the others weren’t even invited to the party. This chapter is all about the conflict between Jehovah and the leaders of Satan’s idolaters.

But is it really? Notice verse 1 – “And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send RAIN upon the earth.” We are not told that the Lord said anything to Elijah about Mt. Carmel and the 450 Baalites. What is more important in this chapter – the defeat of the devil or the defeat of the drought? At least initially, the Holy Spirit seems to say that our primary focus should be on the famine and the rain. The Lord is more interested in our faith – our trust in Him – our dependence upon the Lord – than in the glorious defeat of God’s enemy. It’s more about the spiritual and internal than the physical and external. But is that the way we ordinarily look at things? Should we be more focused on the execution of the idolater or on something miraculous which only the Lord can accomplish?

The point at this point is that Elijah’s faith was based upon the promise of God. “Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.” Now, I doubt that the Lord has promised YOU rain, but what has the Lord promised you? Didn’t the Lord promise you His comfort and the Comforter? Didn’t He promise to those who love Him that all things will work together for good? Haven’t we read, “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” Run through the list of God’s personal promises to the Christian. The question is – can we trust Him to keep His word? Can we trust the God who cannot lie, to keep the promises He has made to us? At this point in his life, the heart of Elijah said “absolutely.” Ahab I know you can’t hear it, but…. “get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.”

Elijah’s faith was based on the promise but it was BUILT UP on the foundation of God’s earlier blessings.

Verse 37 – “Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.” I hope that most of you are familiar with this chapter even though we haven’t read every word. Can you point to any of these verses where God told His prophet that He would send fire from Heaven? Elijah stuck out his neck; he risked his life and trusted God for a miracle – which wasn’t exactly promised. But Jehovah then blessed with the necessary supernatural event.

Elijah should not have needed proof from the Lord that rain was coming, but God gave it to him any way. That the brine-drenched-sacrifice was consumed by fire, should have fired up Elijah’s faith even more. I have to smile over the fact that God strengthened Elijah’s faith about rain with the antithesis of rain. “Then the FIRE of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice.” The fire FELL – apparently it came from the sky – from the heavens – from where rain usually comes. “Then the fire of the LORD fell, and CONSUMED the burnt sacrifice,” and a short while later, God’s rain consumed the unbelief of many in Israel.

You may be having a hard time trusting God right now – I am not criticizing, just pointing out a possible fact. But hasn’t the Lord already blessed you? Haven’t there been answers to prayer before? Hasn’t the Lord always met your needs? And sometime He did so almost miraculously. So now you need another blessing – divine and supernatural. For example, you are longing for the salvation of a friend. Hey, the Lord proved His sovereignty over the soul when He saved you. You can continue to trust Him. And you need some way to meet a bill or a promise, and you can’t see exactly how it can be done. But haven’t there been cases in your life like that before, and there was an eventual solution. When the Christian looks back on the Lord’s grace in past, he should be able to find a foundation for the future.

In this particular case, by faith Elijah even BOASTED in God’s blessings.

Verse 41 – “And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.” It is one thing for the Christian to silently trust God for some particular gift from God. Sometimes that requires more faith than we think we possess, until we remember that faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Then as we peer into the face of God through His word, we find that, yes, we do trust Him. It is one thing for us to trust God for some miraculous personal blessing. But it is an entirely different thing to express our faith before someone who doesn’t believe, or in front of some idolater who hates the idea of faith in Jehovah.

Whether by faith, by obedience or because of hunger, verse 42 says that Ahab did go off to find a meal. We had earlier been told that Elijah’s sacrifice took place at the time of the evening sacrifice. Apparently the day started early, and very likely if there had been any breakfast, Ahab, and probably Elijah as well, had not eaten since. Or Ahab may have been fasting – superstitiously not eating in order to strengthen the power of Satan. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Either way, now Elijah tells him to grab a quick bite, because there is rain acoming.

I guarantee that Ahab’s mind was aspinning. In addition to the failure of his false prophets, he had witnessed an undeniable, fiery miracle which came at the command of Jehovah’s ambassador. Then he had just seen the execution of his prophets, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. What is he going to say to that wicked, domineering, blood-thirsty wife of his? Now, the prophet of Jehovah is telling him that it is going to rain – after nearly 4 years of dry skies. What was Ahab thinking, if not actually muttering, as he went off to supper? Was it, This fool, Elijah, is actually boasting that his God is going to send rain?” Or was it something like, “My belief system is in shambles. What can I do to rebuild my old faith?”

Of course, Elijah wasn’t actually boasting. He was just stating what he believed was fact. Do we have that kind of faith? Can we tell the lost man about the promise of God as we understand it? It is not just a matter of the strength of our faith; it is also about our courage.

Elijah’s faith was BAPTIZED in humility and prayer.

Verse 42 – “So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.” The two altars, that of the idolaters and that of Elijah, had been erected on a flatish spot high on the mountain, probably overlooking the Mediterranean. Now Elijah climbed the rest of the way to Carmel’s very peak, but it was apparently situated in such a way that it faced east or at least away from the sea. There he flung himself down and put his face between he knees, although I can’t really picture how he did that.

The posture was one of humility before God. But I’m sure that he didn’t become inert – lifeless – waiting for the Lord to act. Elijah was still at work. In the New Testament, the Lord revealed to James some more information about this event. He wrote in chapter 5 – “Elias (Elijah) was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”

Despite the promise, Elijah did not neglect to pray about the answer – the fulfillment of God’s promise. I won’t tell you that I fully understand the relationship between prayer and God’s blessings. But I can tell you that the Bible exhorts and even demands our prayer – even after hearing God’s promise. People of faith, people who have no doubt about God’s promised blessing, expectantly wait that blessing, they are not hindered from prayer – they don’t neglect it – they are driven to it all the more. Elijah’s confidence encouraged his conscientious diligence in seeking the face of God in order to see the hand of God.

And that was in spite the fact that some people’s faith may have been burdened by God’s time table. Elijah “said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times.” It wasn’t until the seventh survey that the man saw the beginning of God’s blessing. The number 7 is really interesting, but I won’t go into it this morning.

And I am not going to say that the Lord was testing Elijah’s faith, because I haven’t been told. But I will venture out on a limb to say that the delay may have tested that servant’s faith. And then again maybe it didn’t. But there is certainly a lesson here about our own faith. How much earthly discouragement can your faith sustain? God has said it, and you have believed it. Now is it really settled in your heart? 7 minutes passed and no rain; 7 trips were taken over 70 minutes to the western look out. 7 years have passed and still the Lord hasn’t blessed your prayer of faith; is it time to give up? Should we quit after 17 years? How about 70 times 7? We must never quit, because we can’t know the mind or the time-table of the Lord. Just trust Him.

Are we sufficiently humble to admit that God knows what is best? That His time-table is perfect? God doesn’t very often spoil us by jumping to do our bidding, even when He has given us a promise in regard to that prayer of ours. Learn from Elijah and keep on praying. He wasn’t the least bit disappointed or discouraged after the 4th trip to survey the sky there were still no clouds. Elijah was expecting rain, even there were never any clouds at all.

But then eventually we see that Elijah’s faith was BUNDLED up in a little tiny cloud.

Verse 44 – “And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.” Despise not the day of small things – even small babies can grow into gigantic men. I like the tone of that servant’s words. A lot of people would have preferred a big cloud – a big black cloud with lightning between it and the sea. But this man had sufficient faith himself to say, BEHOLD, there ariseth a little cloud.”

The thing for us to remember is that God doesn’t need great size to do great things. It was the Lord Jesus who brought up the subject of the tiny mustard seed. “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Elijah apparently had bigger faith than that, and perhaps so did his servant. But we might turn the Lord’s statement that back upon Him. He is the One who first took a tiny seed which 3,000 years later became a 275 foot sequoia tree. He often takes little things and turns them into big things.

How much rain actually fell from that first Mediterranean storm after 3½ years? “And (Elijah) said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.” How long did the rain continue? How much rain is necessary to bring a full-fledged drought to an end? Do those massive hurricanes which devastate our southeastern coasts begin as small as a man’s hand? God’s certainties don’t require men’s champions. In fact diminutive David defeated the Philistines’ mighty champion. It is not about the size of our faith, nor is it the size of tool which God intends to use. What we need to realize is that our God is greater than any and all problems or challenges.

The last thing I’d like to point out about Elijah’s faith was that it was BEAUTIFIED by action.

“And (Elijah) said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.” In this case it was a small thing – he prepared Ahab for what was coming. Me, in my pride, I might not have done what Elijah did in telling Ahab to pull up the canvas top on his convertible chariot and get down the road. I might have just let the Lord speak for Himself. If Ahab drowns trying to cross the swollen creek just outside Samaria, that’s his problem not mine. Elijah was a better man than I am. Furthermore, “the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.” That sounds like taking action.

But here’s the point – God is honored when we act upon the blessing which faith has channeled into our hands. Has God so blessed your finances that your needs are fully met? Then give what you can to bless someone else. Has the Lord cured your sore throat? Then open your mouth to praise His name before the unbeliever. Have you been born again by the grace of God? Then consider the need of that unbeliever next door.

And with that in mind let me conclude with an application toward the gospel.

All of this chapter might be used as a metaphor. Without the blessing of the Creator, we are all living as dying souls in a land of drought. It hasn’t been just 3½ years, maybe you have gone 30½ years drying up without Christ. Gradually, or perhaps all of a sudden, you have realized that this is the hand of God’s judgment. You have realized, “I am lost and undone before the holy eyes of God. If I died at this moment my soul would be instantly in Hell.”

I would like to share with you one scripture – there are many, but I’ll just mention one. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” The meaning is not simply, “I believe that Jesus Christ once lived, or that Jesus is the Son of God.” The meaning is, “Trust Jesus Christ, who the Lord of heaven and earth, and thou shalt be delivered from the penalty your sins deserve.” That is the promise of God – as simple and plain as it is – as small as a man’s hand, you might say. But it is also a promise which has been proved to be true by thousands – millions of people just like you down through the years. Don’t be concerned about the size of your faith, and how much doubt you have felt all these years. Your concern should only be in the Lord, and I declare to you – He cannot lie. Eternal life is yours if you will humble yourself as Elijah did and trust God’s promise.

Assuming your faith is true, it will become even more beautiful by action. Faith in Christ is proof of new life in Christ, and life is never inactive. Tell others about your trust in the Lord. Submit yourself to baptism as an even more public testimony of your faith. Then begin to put the Lord first in your life – Love Him; worship Him: serve Him. Begin this morning. Would you be willing to share with this congregation that your faith is in Jesus Christ to save you?