Alone. Hated. Considered strange – and dangerous. They were viewed as contrarians and curmudgeons, spoiling the fun as an entire culture was having a party.
While they were often well known, being an Old Testament prophet was not like being a modern-day celebrity. Prophets stood against the wicked in power who were leading the general populace into great evil. The prophet was often a single voice in opposition to everyone else. It was the prophet against the whole world.
Elijah the prophet is a case in point. According to 1 Kings 16, the people of God were engulfed in turmoil, treachery, and civil war. But behind those fearful circumstances, something even more sinister was at work. The forces of darkness were capturing pieces on the chessboard, and the worship of God was slowly being replaced by the worship of false gods. Idolatry seemed everywhere triumphant in the Promised Land.
Leading into darkness
When Elijah was sent to represent God before Israel, he confronted a culture given over to idolatry, corruption, and wickedness. But that transformation didn’t occur overnight. It didn’t drop out of the sky – it was a process. Corrupted cultures aren’t born out of thin air, they’re made.
Toward the end of 1 Kings 16, the Bible tells us that Ahab became king and married a pagan woman – the infamous Jezebel. These two rulers purposefully and rebelliously led the people into sin, promoting the worship of false gods, most notably Baal worship. They corrupted an entire culture, opened the floodgates of evil, and watched with glee as the land filled with darkness. They foolishly declared war on the God of Israel and thought they would not pay for their insolence.
In this way, the Bible says: “So Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33, NASB).
For a while, it seemed that all Ahab and Jezebel had accomplished was irreversible. When Elijah later recounted all that had happened at the order of the king and queen of Israel, it looked like a complete rout of the forces of righteousness: “The sons of Israel have abandoned Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they have sought to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10). Surely, the plans of Ahab and Jezebel to alter the spiritual landscape of Israel seemed like a done deal.
However, it is when rebels seem most invincible, when their triumph seems most assured, that God often makes His move. The Lord empowered Elijah to bring judgment against the whole land as a testimony to the wickedness of its people and their evil leaders. The prophet uttered a prayer that shut up the sky, and not a drop of rain came forth. There was a drought in Israel – along with all its attendant miseries.
Stubbornness of sin
God often gently pressures a culture to reconsider its ways, but when the people persist in their evil, the pressure gets ramped up. Such is the case in America. As many leaders pioneer newer and newer ways to defy the God of heaven, the hand of the Lord rests ever heavier on us as a people. Surely sinners will relent in their sinning?
It rarely happens that way, however. Just as we often see in the Bible, America’s wicked rulers have become obstinate in their sin. They have doubled down. They don’t just promote sexual deviancy with their words, they turn on the rainbow floodlights at the White House. They don’t relax as their ideologies carry the day on college and university campuses, they are now grasping for the minds of children in elementary schools.
It is the nature of such depraved leaders that they next turn their demonic anger against the handfuls of people who refuse to go along with their debauchery. Who stands in our way? they ask. Who continues to defy us? Who is causing us trouble?
In 1 Kings 17:1, when Elijah called for the drought, he boldly – and publicly – declared, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall certainly be neither dew nor rain during these years, except by my word.” (Emphasis added.)
Ahab and Jezebel surely took note that the scorching of the land was Elijah’s doing. Almost all the true prophets of God were dead because of Jezebel (1 Kings 18:4). The king and queen of Israel already believed that Baal was stronger than the Lord, so in their minds, Yahweh wasn’t a problem. Instead, Ahab and Jezebel saw Elijah as their enemy. Elijah was the hater. He was the bigot. He was the real threat to peace in the land.
Bringing sin into the open
So the Lord openly responded to the wickedness of the rulers of His people. In 1 Kings 18:1-2, Yahweh sent Elijah to confront Ahab face to face. It was the third year of drought, and it says that “the famine was severe.” The time for a showdown had come.
When Ahab saw Elijah, he asked the prophet, “Is this you, the cause of disaster to Israel?” (v. 17). Elijah did not shrink back from the accusation. The prophet declared that whatever disaster had befallen Israel, it was Ahab’s fault.
“[Y]ou have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals,” Elijah said in rebuke.
God was springing a trap, and Elijah proceeded to use Ahab’s arrogance against him. He told the king to bring his false prophets to battle against the lone prophet of God. Elijah’s boldness is breathtaking.
Of course, Ahab agreed. One more prophet of Yahweh to go, and Israel will forever belong to the Baals! How could he lose?
But Ahab did lose. The people came to see the battle, but God had brought their wickedness out into the open. He had gathered all the false prophets into one place. The time had come; it was God or Baal. Elijah openly mocked the powerlessness of Baal before the people, and the prophet was used to crush the demonic sway that Ahab and Jezebel had held over God’s people.
That day, the Lord turned the hearts of His people back to Him (v. 37), and when Baal was defeated and all the people saw it, “they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God!’” (vv. 37-39).
As a final blow to this false religion, Elijah ordered that it was now the prophets of Baal who should be slaughtered. “Do not let one of them escape” (v. 40), Elijah commanded. And none did.
With Almighty God, the tide in history can turn just that quickly. When it appears that all is lost, the decay and wickedness has gone too far, and evil leaders hold too much power, the Lord can suddenly and irrevocably destroy the plans of His enemies.
How is this possible? As the people cried out in the days of Elijah, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God!”