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How the words of our lips betray the state of our hearts! Such language from the king after the sore judgment which God had sent upon his dominion revealed the hardness and impenitency of his heart. Consider the opportunities which had been given him. He was warned by the prophet of the certain consequences that would follow his continuance in sin. He had seen that what the prophet had announced surely came to pass. It had been demonstrated before his eyes that the idols which he and Jezebel worshipped could not avert the calamity nor given the rain which was so urgently needed. There was everything to convince him the “the Lord God of Elijah” was the sovereign Ruler of heaven and earth, whose decree none can disannul and whose almighty arm no power can withstand.
Such is the sinner who is left to himself. Let Divine restraint be removed from him and the madness which possesses his heart will burst forth like a broken dam. He is determined to have his own way at all costs. No matter how serious and solemn be the times in which his lot is cast, he is unsobered thereby. No matter how gravely his country be imperiled, nor how many of his fellows be maimed and killed, he must continue to take his fill of the pleasures of sin. Though the judgments of God thunder in his ears louder and louder, he deliberately closes them and seeks to forget unpleasantries in a whirl of gaiety. Though the country be at war, fighting for its very existence, “night life” with its “bottle parties” goes on unabated. If air raids compel munitions workers to seek refuge in underground shelters, then their eyes (in one shelter at least) are greeted with notices on its walls, “Cards and gambling encouraged.” What is this but a strengthening themselves “against the Almighty,” a flinging of themselves “upon the thick bosses of His bucklers” ( Job 15:25,26)?
There is but one answer: a sovereign God, in the plenitude of His amazing grace. And how the realization of this should humble us into the dust, for by nature and by practice there was no difference between us and them: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation (manner of life) in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” ( Ephesians 2:2,3).
It was distinguishing mercy which sought us out when we were “without Christ.” It was distinguishing love which quickened us into newness of life when we were “dead in trespasses and sins.” Thus we have no cause for boasting and no ground for self-complacency. Rather must we walk softly and penitently before Him who has saved us from ourselves. “And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” Elijah was the one who above all others stood out against Ahab’s desire for uniting Israel in the worship of Baal: and thus, as he supposed from effecting a peaceful settlement of the religion of the nation. Elijah was the one who in his view had been responsible for all the distress and suffering which filled the land. There was no discernment of God’s hand in the drought, nor any compunction for his own sinful conduct: instead, Ahab seeks to transfer the onus to another and charges the prophet with being the author of the calamities which had befallen the nation. It is always the mark of an unhumbled and unjudged heart for one who is smarting beneath the righteous rod of God to throw the blame upon someone else, just as a sin-blinded nation which is being scourged for its iniquities will attribute its troubles to the blunders of its political rulers.
It is no unusual thing for God’s upright ministers to be spoken of as troublers of peoples and nations. Faithful Amos was charge with conspiring against Jeroboam the second, and told that the land was not able to bear all his words ( Amos 7:10). The Saviour Himself was accused of “stirring up the people” ( Luke 23:5). It was said of Paul and Silas at Philippi that they did “exceedingly trouble the city” ( Acts 16:20), and when at Thessalonica they were spoken of as having “turned the world upside down” ( Acts 17:6). There is therefore no higher testimony to their fidelity than for the servants of God to evoke the rancor and hostility of the reprobate. One of the most scathing condemnations that could be pronounced on men is contained in those terrible words of our Lord to His unbelieving brethren: “The world cannot hate you: but Me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil” ( John 7:7).
But who would not rather receive all the charges which the Ahabs can heap upon us than incur that sentence from the lips of Christ!
It is the duty of God’s servants to warn men of their danger, to point out that the way of rebellion against God leads to certain destruction and to call upon them to throw down the weapons of their revolt and flee from the wrath to come. It is their duty to teach men that they must turn from their idols and serve the living God, otherwise they will eternally perish. It is their duty to rebuke wickedness wherever it be found and to declare that the wages of sin is death. This will not make for their popularity, for it will condemn and irritate the wicked, and such plain speaking will seriously annoy them. Those who expose hypocrites, resist tyrants, oppose the wicked, are ever viewed by them as troublemakers. But as Christ declared, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.
Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” ( Matthew 5:11,12). “And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim” ( 18:18).
Had Elijah been one of those cringing sycophants which are usually found in attendance upon kings, he had thrown himself at Ahab’s feet, suing for mercy, or rendering mean submission. Instead, he has the ambassador of a greater King, even the Lord of hosts: conscious of this, he preserved the dignity of his office and character by acting as one who represented a superior power. It was because Elijah realized the presence of Him by whom kings reign, who can restrain the wrath of man and make the remainder thereof to praise Him, that the prophet feared not the face of Israel’s apostate monarch. Ah, my reader, did we but realize more of the presence and sufficiency of our God, we should not fear what anyone might do unto us. Unbelief is the cause of our fears. O to be able to say “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid” ( Isaiah 12:2).
Elijah was not to be intimidated by the wicked aspersion which had just been cast upon him. With undaunted courage, he first denies the foul charge: “I have not troubled Israel.” Happy for us if we can truthfully make the same claim: that the chastisements which Zion is now receiving at the hands of a holy God have not been caused in any measure by my sins. Alas, who among us could affirm this? Second, Elijah boldly returns the charge upon the king himself, placing the blame where it duly belonged: “I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father’s house.” See here the fidelity of God’s servant: as Nathan said to David, so Elijah unto Ahab, “Thou art the man.” A truly solemn and heavy charge: that Ahab and his father’s house were the cause of all the sore evils and sad calamities which had befallen the land. The Divine authority with which he was invested warranted Elijah thus to indict the king himself.
Third, the prophet proceeded to supply proof of the charge which he had made against Ahab: “in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.” So far from the prophet being the enemy of his country he sought only its good. True, he had prayed for and called down God’s judgment for the wickedness and apostasy of the king and nation, but this was because he desired they should repent of their sins and reform their ways. It was the evil doings of Ahab and his house which had called down the drought and famine. Elijah’s intercession had never prevailed against a holy people: “the curse causeless shall not come” ( Proverbs 26:2). The king and his family were the leaders in rebellion against God, and the people had blindly followed: here then was the cause of the distress: they were the reckless “troublers” of the nation, the disturbers of its peace, the displeasers of God.
Those who by their sins provoke God’s wrath are the real troublers, and not those who warn them of the dangers to which their wickedness exposes them. “Thou and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.” It is quite plain even from the comparatively brief record of Scripture that Omri, the father of Ahab, was one of the worst kings that Israel ever had, and Ahab had followed in the wicked steps of his father. The statues of those kings were the grossest idolatry. Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, had no equal for her hatred of God and His people and her zeal for the worship of debased idols. So powerful and persistent was their evil influence that it prevailed some two hundred years later ( Micah 6:16), and drew down the vengeance of Heaven upon the apostate nation. “In that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord.” Therein lies the very essence and heinousness of sin. It is a throwing off of the Divine yoke, a refusing to be in subjection to our Maker and Governor. It is a willful disregard of the Lawgiver and rebellion against His authority. The law of the Lord is definite and emphatic. Its first statute expressly forbids our having any other gods than the true God; and the second prohibits our making of any graven image and bowing down ourselves before it in worship. These were the awful crimes which Ahab had committed, and they are in substance those which our own evil generation is guilty of, and that is why the frown of Heaven now lies so heavily upon us. “Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that My fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts” ( Jeremiah 2:19). “and thou hast followed Baalim”: when the true God is departed from, false ones take His place—“Baalim” is in the plural number, for Ahab and his wife worshipped a variety of false deities. “Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table” (v. 19). Very remarkable is this: to behold Elijah alone, hated by Ahab, not only charging the king with his crimes, but giving him instructions, telling him what he must do. Needless to say, his conduct on this occasion did not furnish a precedent or set an example for all God’s servants to follow under similar circumstances. The Tishbite was endowed with extraordinary authority from the Lord, as is intimated by that New Testament expression, “the spirit and power of Elijah” ( Luke 1:17). Exercising that authority Elijah demanded there should be a convening of all Israel at Carmel, and that thither should also be summoned the prophets of Baal and Ashtaroth, who were dispersed over the country at large. More strange still was the preemptory language used by the prophet: he simply issued his orders without offering any reason or explanation as to what was his real object in summoning all the people and prophets together.
The time had now arrived when things must be brought to a head: Jehovah and Baal come face to face as it were, before the whole nation. The venue selected for the test was a mountain in the tribe of Asher, which was well situated for the people to gather there from all parts—it was, be it noted, outside the land of Samaria. It was on Carmel that an altar had been built and sacrifices offered on it unto the Lord (see v. 30), but the worship of Baal had supplanted even this irregular service of the true God—irregular, for the Law prohibited any altars outside those in the temple at Jerusalem.
There was only one way in which the dreadful drought and its resultant famine could be brought to an end and the blessing of Jehovah restored to the nation, and that was by the sin which had caused the calamity being dealt with in judgment, and for that Ahab must gather all Israel together on Carmel. “As Elijah designed to put the worship of Jehovah on a firm foundation, and to restore the people to their allegiance to the God of Israel, he would have the two religions to be fairly tested, and by such a splendid miracle as none could question: and as the whole nation was deeply interested in the issue, it should take place most publicly, and on an elevated spot, on the summit of lofty Carmel, and in the presence of all Israel. He would have them all to be convened on this occasion, that they might witness with their own eyes both the absolute power and sovereignty of Jehovah, whose service they had renounced, and also the entire vanity of those idolatrous systems which had been substituted for it” (John Simpson).
Such ever marks the difference between truth and error: the one courts the light, fearing no investigation; whereas error, the author of which is the prince of darkness, hates the light, and thrives most under cover of secrecy.
There is nothing to indicate that the prophet made known unto Ahab his intention: rather does he appear to have summarily ordered the king to summon together the people and the prophets: all concerned in the terrible sin—leaders and led—must be present. “So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.” And why did Ahab comply so meekly and promptly with Elijah’s demand? The general idea among the commentators is that the king was now desperate, and as beggars cannot be choosers he really had no other alternative than to consent. After three and a half years” famine the suffering must have been so acute that if the sorely-needed rain could be obtained in no other way except by being beholden to the prayers of Elijah, then so be it.
Personally, we prefer to regard Ahab’s acquiescence as a striking demonstration of the power of God over the hearts of men, yea, even over the king’s, so that “He turneth it withersoever He will,” Proverbs 21:1.
This is a truth—a grand and basic one—which needs to be strongly emphasized in this day of skepticism and infidelity, when attention is confined to secondary causes and the prime mover is lost to view. Whether it be in the realm of creation or providence, it is the creature rather than the Creator who is regarded. Let our fields and gardens bear good crops, and the industry of the farmer and the skill of the gardener are praised; let them yield poorly, and the weather or something else is blamed: neither God’s smile nor His frown is owned. So too in political affairs. How few, how very few acknowledge the hand of God in the present conflict of the nations. And let it be affirmed that the Lord is dealing with us in judgment for our sins, and even the majority of professing Christians are angered by such a declaration. But read through the Scriptures and observe how frequently it is there said, the Lord “stirred” up the spirit of a certain king to do this, “moved” him to do that, or “withheld” him from doing the other.
As this is so rarely recognized and so feebly apprehended today we will cite a number of passages in proof. “I also withheld thee from sinning against me” ( Genesis 20:6). “I will harden his (Pharaoh’s) heart, that he shall not let the people go” ( Exodus 4:21). “The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies” ( Deuteronomy 28:25). “And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him; ( Judges 13:25). “And the Lord stirred up an adversary unto Solomon” ( 1 Kings 11:14). “And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria” ( 1 Chronicles 5:26). “The Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistine” ( Chronicles 21:16). “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation” ( Ezra 1:1). “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them” ( Isaiah 13:17). “I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field” ( Ezekiel 16:7). “Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, a king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots” ( Ezekiel 26:7). “So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.” In the light of the above scriptures, what believing heart will doubt for a moment that it was the Lord who made Ahab willing in the day of His power, willing to obey the one whom he hated above all others! And when God works, He works at both ends of the line: He who inclined the wicked king to carry out Elijah’s instructions, moved not only the people of Israel but also the prophets of Baal to comply with Ahab’s proclamation, for He controls His foes as truly as He does His friends. Possibly the people in general assembled together under the hope of beholding the rain fall at the call of Elijah while the false prophets probably looked with contempt upon their being required to journey unto Carmel at the demand of Elijah through Ahab.
Because the Divine judgment had been inflicted on account of the apostasy of the nation and especially as a testimony against its idolatry, the nation must be (outwardly and avowedly at least) reclaimed before the judgment could be removed. The lengthy drought had wrought no change, and the consequent famine had not brought the people back to God. So far as we can gather from the inspired narrative, the people were, with few exceptions, as much wedded to their idols as ever; and whatever may have been either the convictions or the practices of the remnant who bowed not their knee to Baal, they were so afraid publicly to express themselves (lest they be put to death) that Elijah was unaware of their very existence.
Nevertheless, till the people were brought back unto their allegiance to God, no favour could be expected from Him. “They must repent and turn themselves from their idols, or nothing could avail to avert God’s judgment. Though Noah and Samuel and Job had made intercession, it would not have induced the Lord to withdraw from the conflict. They must forsake their idols and return to Jehovah.” Those words were written almost a century ago, yet they are as true and pertinent now as they were then, for they enunciate an abiding principle. God will not wink at sin or gloss over evil doing. Whether He be dealing in judgment with an individual or with a nation, that which has displeased Him must be rectified before there can be a return of His favour. It is useless to pray for His blessing while we refuse to put away that which has called down His curse. It is vain to talk about exercising faith in God’s promises until we have exercised repentance for our sins. Our idols must be destroyed ere God will gain accept of our worship.