The Fifth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| July 21, 2019| 1 Kings 19:11-21
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Then the Lord said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in the history of God’s people. He wrote no book. We read of him in the writings of others. He was a brave man and a faithful prophet of the true God. Through Elijah God rained fire from heaven on Mt. Carmel. He exposed the prophets of Baal as frauds. Elijah stood all alone against the prophets of Baal. Elijah, along with Moses, appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest man born of woman and he compared John to Elijah. Why? Both men preached the truth of God. Both men spoke against enemies of God’s truth. Neither man would shut up. That’s what is needed in a prophet. He must be faithful to God’s word and he must never stop proclaiming it.
Our text for this morning finds Elijah hiding in a cave near Mt. Horeb, that is, Mt. Sinai. He had just bested the prophets of Baal in the contest on Mt. Carmel, exposing their religion as false, and earning even greater enmity from Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. Jezebel worshipped Baal and Asherah. She worshipped pleasure and self-indulgence. She hated the preaching of the prophets of the LORD. They preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins. That had no place in her religion.
Elijah was all alone. He was the only true prophet left. As he hid in the cave, he felt the weight of failure heavy on him. There was no separation of church and state in those days. A prophet was protected by a king. Or not. Ahab was Elijah’s king. But he was dominated by his wife, Jezebel, and she was a bitter enemy of the true faith. There was no king to protect Elijah. If you did not have the protection of a king, your life wasn’t worth much. The kings wanted prophets who would preach what they wanted them to preach. If the prophet said what God wanted him to say, the king would either accept or reject it. If he rejected the word of God he would do away with the prophet who preached it. As our text for this morning begins, we find Elijah in a cave, fearing for his life.
Elijah was alone. He was in hiding. He was alone and in hiding because the religious establishment wanted him dead. The prophets of Baal preached a preaching that tickled the egos of the people. They did not preach repentance. They did not preach the promised Savior from sin. They did not preach God’s grace. They preached a message of self-indulgence. You could manipulate the gods to do what you wanted them to do. The LORD couldn’t be manipulated. He couldn’t be bribed. He was holy and just. You didn’t meet him on your terms. He met you on his terms. This is the God Elijah preached. And there he was, hiding in a cave.
Hundreds of years earlier, as God prepared his people to go into and take possession of the Promised Land he made it clear through his prophet Moses that they must be intolerant of the religions of the people living in Canaan. They must separate themselves from their false worship. Listen to what Moses writes in Deuteronomy 12:29-31,
When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, “How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.” You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
Critics of Christianity say that it was vicious and cruel for the LORD God to command Israel to destroy the nations of idolaters. Their criticism is based on ignorance. It was the idolatrous religion of the people in Canaan that was vicious and cruel. Unfortunately, Israel did not utterly destroy those nations. Instead, she adopted their practices. The Psalmist writes:
They did not destroy the peoples,
Concerning whom the Lord had commanded them,
But they mingled with the Gentiles
And learned their works;
They served their idols,
Which became a snare to them.
They even sacrificed their sons
And their daughters to demons,
And shed innocent blood,
The blood of their sons and daughters,
Whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;
And the land was polluted with blood. (Psalm 106:34-39)
God sent Elijah to call the people away from this kind of idolatry. Sexual immorality was a feature of the religion of the Baal worshippers. Sacrificing their children to Moloch was how they obtained the favor of the gods. This sounds like the secular religion of our own day! Sexual sins are not sins. Killing infants is every woman’s right. And don’t you talk to us about repentance and the forgiveness of sins! Don’t talk about your Jesus who came to suffer and die for sinners, bearing their sins in his own body. We have our own Jesus.
They mock God. They persecute Christians. They try to silence the voices of the true prophets. They demonize those who speak for God. Make yourself known, God! Don’t let those who mock you get away with their mockery. Don’t let those who pervert your holy law get away with it. Think of the millions of unborn babies slaughtered in the name of their religion! Avenge yourself, O God! Avenge your people! Make your presence known!
God punishes. God destroys the wicked. Our generation’s religious affection is attached to the same gods that Jezebel worshipped. These gods permit the sins that their worshippers want to do. They sanctify self-indulgence. But these gods are lies. They are made up by those who worship them. The god who permits self-indulgence at the expense of marriage and children, who requires no repentance, is not God. He’s an idol. He cannot answer when you call. He cannot help you when you are in need. He can’t forgive you your sins. He can’t rescue you from death. He cannot save you from hell. The contest on Mt. Carmel proved that!
But how does God save? He sent the great, strong, wind that tore the rocks off of the mountains. But he was not in the wind. He sent the earthquake. But he was not in the earthquake. He sent the fire. But he was not in the fire. Elijah found him in the soft, gentle voice. That’s where we find him. We find God in his gospel. The gospel overthrows the false religion of Moloch who demanded the sacrifice of children. God saves the children. He becomes a holy Child. He sacrifices himself for us all. Where the blood of the Lord Jesus is shed, there all sins are forgiven. There God speaks to us in that gentle whisper of pure love. He doesn’t scare evil out of us. He bears the evil in his own body and gives us the forgiveness of sins.
This gospel is how God preserves and protects his church. When Elijah thought that all was lost, God preserved seven thousand who had not bowed their knees to Baal or kissed him. God protected his remnant then, and he will protect his remnant today. Elijah cast his mantel on Elisha. The preaching of God’s word continues. The net of God’s grace rescues us and our children from the lies and false promises of the Baals.
God’s gentle voice spoke to Elijah’s heart and kept him in the true faith, even when it appeared outwardly that God had lost. That same voice speaks to our hearts today. We have hope. Our affections are set on the love God has revealed in Christ. We see him on the cross taking away our sin. We see him risen from the dead, having conquered our death. We see him at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us and governing all things for our good. We see him returning to take us home to heaven where everything we now believe but cannot see we will see, and feel, and touch, as the glory of God will be revealed in us.
This is our hope. We are never defeated. We can be a minority of one, and we are not alone. When anyone asks us the reason for our hope we are ready to defend it. We are ready, because the Lord Jesus is sanctified in our hearts. He is set apart. We are ready to confess him. The gentle voice of God’s grace sustained Elijah when he was all alone. It will sustain us. When we humbly give a defense of the hope that is within us, God will speak through us in the gentle voice of his grace. It will be his net, delivering people from sin and death.