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Saturday, April 13, 2013

God Provides for Elijah

God Provides for Elijah
Elijah is one of the most powerful prophets of the Old Testament.  His ministry was marked by many miracles and his name meant “The Lord is my God”.  And that was the message that he preached.  Elijah was sent to shine God’s light out to the Jewish people during a dark and sinful time in their history. And because Elijah delivered God’s message to Israel condemning their spiritual darkness, he was always being harassed and threatened with death.  But God was there faithfully protecting Elijah at every turn.
The date was around 870 B.C. and sadly the people of Israel had turned away from worshiping God to worshiping Baal and the popular goddesses of the fertility cult. The Jewish people were renouncing their God after all that He had done for them.  
Centuries earlier with supernatural power God had rescued the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt and then He had led them safely back to their promised land. God had fed them and protected them from their enemies and given them the Ten Commandments and the law.  Down through the centuries God had been faithful to Israel but now Israel was not being faithful to God. Now they were turning their backs on God, the God who loved them so much. 
In 874 B.C. Ahab became king of northern Israel.  He married the wicked Jezebel and together they built an altar for Baal in the capital city and set up an Asherah pole too, encouraging the Jewish people to abandon God and worship these idols which included ritualistic prostitution, self inflicted injuries and human sacrifices.  Scripture describes King Ahab this way:  “He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal …  Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than did all the other kings of Israel before him.”  (1 Kings 17:32-33) 
Baal, a popular Canaanite and Phoenician god, was considered the god of fertility and lord of the rain clouds.  It was believed that Baal enabled the earth to produce crops because of the rain he sent.  The worship of Baal was a cruel and bloody religion.  Children and babies were murdered and sacrificed on the altar to Baal to persuade him to bring rain or to gain his favor for a good harvest. 
Asherah was a sex partner of Baal’s and she was the popular mother-goddess of sexuality and fertility.  She was worshipped by building Asherah poles and groves and combining sex and ritualistic prostitution along with the worship of this goddess!  Asherah poles were popular in ancient times and were popping up everywhere. But God had forbidden the Jewish people to have them. (Deut.7:5, 12:3)  Too often the Jewish people were tempted to disobey God and do what their neighbors were doing and worship at these heathen altars.  To keep Israel from idol worship was a never ending battle!  One king would tear down the idols and the Asherah poles and then a generation later the next king would build them back again.
Throughout Jewish history, God had always become angry when His people worshipped idols. Through one prophet and then another God told the Jewish people that He was jealous when they turned to other gods and that idol worshippers would be punished!  Scripture even says that the people who worship idols are really worshipping demons!  (1 Corinthians 10:20)  So God confronted this worship of Baal and Asherah - brought to Israel by the worst Israelite king and queen ever – Ahab and Jezebel - by sending His most powerful prophet ever- Elijah.
Soon after King Ahab set up idol worship in Israel, God called Elijah to go and deliver a message to him.  So Elijah strode into the palace and boldly announced to King Ahab that God was not going to send any rain or even dew to the land for the next few years, unless Elijah asked for it.  “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”  (1 Kings 17:1b)  After he delivered the message and before the startled King Ahab could say a word, Elijah turned and hurried out of the palace.
Perhaps God decided to stop giving rain to the land of Israel because now the Jewish people were worshipping Baal, the god who they worshipped for bringing them rain.  The coming drought that Elijah announced would be a demonstration that Baal, the lord of the rain, was really powerless to give rain!  Their so-called Baal god was being challenged.  Maybe the drought would teach the Jewish people that only God can control the weather and bless His people with rain. 
Elijah had just run outside the palace after announcing the news of the coming drought to King Ahab when God spoke to him again and told him where to go and hide.  Scripture says: “The word of the Lord came to Elijah: ‘Leave here, turn east and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you.”  (1 Kings 17:2-4) 
Elijah obeyed God and hurried to the Kerith Ravine and brook to hide from the angry king who soon would be sending his soldiers out to search for him.  And Scripture says that Elijah stayed in God’s hiding place - the Kerith Ravine - for perhaps three years.
 Elijah could not farm or go to the market to get food while he was in hiding.  So God provided for Elijah in a similar fashion as He had provided for Moses and the Israelites during the years they wandered in the wilderness.  Bible scholars estimate that there might have been two million Israelites traveling across the desert with Moses.  Since a group this large –the nation of ancient Israel- could not possibly find enough food in the desert to sustain them, God faithfully provided manna (sweet bread) for the whole nation of Israel for many years. 
 Every day of those three years that Elijah was in hiding, the ravens brought him food!   Every single morning and evening several ravens flew in and dropped off bread and meat to Elijah. I wish I had been there to see it!  Scripture tells it this way. “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening: and he drank from the brook.”  (1 Kings 17:6)  God faithfully provided.   
After about three years the long drought had caused the Kerith brook to dry up – the brook that Elijah had been drinking out of.  No rain had fallen in the land of Israel for years just as Elijah had predicted to King Ahab and all of the rivers and brooks in the land were drying up.  So God spoke to Elijah and said:  “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.  I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.”  (1 Kings 17:9) 
Elijah again obeyed God and when he arrived outside the city of Zarephath he saw a widow at the town gate gathering sticks.  He called to her and asked if she could bring him water and a piece of bread.  And she answered Elijah: “I don’t have any bread- only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.  I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son that we may eat it – and die.”  (1 Kings 17: 12)  The poor widow and her son would soon starve because the land could not produce crops due to the severe drought.
Elijah told the poor widow that God had spoken to him and promised that her jar would not run out of flour and her jug would not run out of oil until it finally rained again.  And Scripture says that that is what happened.  Elijah stayed with the widow and her son and the three of them ate the bread made with the flour and the oil in the jars that never ran out! God had done it again!  God miraculously sustained Elijah –along with the widow and her son- until the rains finally came back and the earth was again able to produce crops. 
God provided for Elijah because Elijah trusted in Him.  And God will provide for you and me because we trust in Him.  Elijah lived through many troubles and hardships and so will we.  But underneath are the Everlasting Arms – upholding and providing. (Deuteronomy 33:27) There are many Hebrew names for God in Scripture that describe His nature and one of those names is “Jehovah-Jireh” which means “The Lord will provide.” 
Elijah lived an unorthodox and dramatic life as Gods’ prophet and God often provided for him in unorthodox and dramatic ways. We live in a very different age than Elijah and we probably are not called to be a major prophet as he was. So God may provide for us in a different fashion.  We may not have birds delivering our dinner as Elijah did.  But God who created the birds and all of nature can move birds or nature or situations or people or anything He wishes to guide us and provide for us.  And He promises that He will.        

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