Sermon - Brad Brookins
I Kings 19. 1-18
Ahab becomes king over Israel. He marries Jezebel, the pagan princess from Sidon. Together they set about turning Israel on its head.
Ahab builds a temple to Jezebel’s favorite god, Baal—the god who makes it rain; he’s almost everybody’s favorite god in that semi-desert land. Jezebel, for her part, goes on a murderous rampage killing dozens, maybe hundreds, of the prophets of Yahweh, the God of Israel. She will stop at nothing to re-make Israel in her image. She will kill off their God if she can.
Elijah comes out of nowhere and delivers the word of the Lord to Ahab. “It will not rain”, he says, “until I say so”. “We’ll see”, he’s telling telling the king, “who really controls the weather”.
Three years pass. No rain. The land lies dead, or dying.
Elijah returns, inviting Ahab and all the priests of Baal to Mt Carmel. They will offer sacrifice to Baal. He will offer sacrifice to Yahweh. The God who answers by fire, Elijah declares, is God indeed.
On Mt Carmel Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh, faces off against the 450 prophets of Baal. He prevails over them in spectacular fashion. Fire falls from heaven at his command.
Then Elijah constrains the prophets of Baal and with his own hand, drives a sword through the body of each of those 450 priests.
Jezebel gets word of what Elijah has done. And swears to Baal that she will have his head by this time tomorrow.
And here the story of Elijah takes a puzzling turn.
At the queen’s threat, the man who stops the rain and calls fire down from heaven, turns and runs.
He stumbles into the wilderness, falls to his knees and prays to die. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors”.
This is what I think he means.
Jezebel killed the prophets of Yahweh. Elijah killed the prophets of Baal. Jezebel will kill Elijah. Elijah’s successor will kill Jezebel.
It isn’t going to stop.
This cycle of violence will not stop—ever. It will go on and on, bloodshed upon bloodshed, death upon death. There will be no end to it.
With blood on his hands, Elijah cries “Enough! I am no better than my ancestors. I can’t live like this”.
The budget for the United States Department of Defense, the part we know about anyway, will be 824.6 billion dollars in 2018. That’s more than the next 9 countries combined will send. So next year the top 10 countries will spend nearly 2 trillion dollars on machines designed only to kill.
And when 2019 begins, the world will be 2 trillion dollars poorer, and not one whit safer. They will still be killing ours. We will still be killing theirs. The fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Syria and through the rest of the Middle East, across Africa, along our southern border and in the cities of this country—it won’t stop
No matter the size or your armies or the precision of your weapons, the fighting will not stop. The killing will not come to an end—
until it does.
That’s what Elijah learned next.
He is driven further into the wilderness; all the way to Mt Horeb—to Mt Sinai, where Yahweh God first said to Israel “I will be your God” and Israel said to Yahweh “We will be your people”.
Elijah climbs the mountain and stands where Moses stood; in the cleft in the rock where Moses watched as God passed by.
A great wind blows, so strong that it splits the rocks in pieces; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind a violent earthquake; and then a fire, but the Lord was not in the earthquake or the fire.
And after the fire came a sound of sheer silence—really more of a soul stretching absence of all that noise, all that destruction and violence.
God is not in the violence, Elijah realizes. God never has been in the violence.
The violence was Jezebel’s and Elijah’s; not God’s.
And it is ours. We, like Elijah, are no better than our ancestors.
But we can be.
God’s silence quieted Elijah’s fear. And it can quiet ours. By ourselves we can’t stop the wars. But we can start to stop the wars. We can, at least, bring our violence to an end.
When we love more than we hate; when we work for peace; when we stop tolerating war, the world will begin to turn to something better.
Our violence will end when we are no longer afraid.
We will stop being afraid when we enter the silence that is God, stand in the cleft of that rock where God holds us safe; when we climb high above the noise and enter the quiet of God.
There God will speak and we will be transformed by this command:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; extend hospitality to strangers. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. Amen.
Text and Questions
I Kings 19. 1-18
I Kings 18. 36-40
At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’ Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’ Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.
1. When Elijah prays and fire from heaven consumes the sacrifice he had prepared, he pretty much proved his point about who was really God. Why do you think he took that next step and killed all the prophets of Baal?
2. If God sends a prophet with a message does it necessarily follow that everything the prophet says is true and everything he or she does is approved by God? Why or why not?
3. What other options were available to Elijah?
I Kings 19. 1-2
1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’
4. Jezebel knows what Elijah has done. She knows her prophets, and thus her god and her religion, have failed. This puts her hold on the throne at risk. Clearly this is not just a theological battle, but now a political one as well. Is it ever a good idea to mix religion and politics—to let one person or party control both church and state? Why or why not?
I Kings 19.3
3Then he (Elijah) was afraid; he got up and fled for his life…
5. Why did Elijah run? Was he really afraid of Jezebel? Can you think of another possible reason?
I Kings 19.4
He (Elijah) asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’
6. Analyze Elijah’s prayer. Why does he say what he says?
I Kings 19. 11, 12
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking 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; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;
7. What does it mean to say God was not in the wind, earthquake or fire?
I Kings 19. 12
12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
8. Did you notice the text does not say God was in the silence? Discuss this. Where is God in this story?
I Kings 19. 1-18
1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
11 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking 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; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ 15Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’