COME AS YOU ARE DON’T LEAVE AS YOU CAME
The Prayers of Elijah (1 Kings 18:30-46)
PREPARATION FOR PRAYER (VSS. 30-35)
THE INVITATION TO THE PEOPLE (VS. 30A)
Why do you suppose Elijah called the people to come near? Because of what he was about to do, his preparation and his prayer were designed to be instructive. It was doctrinally significant and important to faith and effectual prayer. The people had just witnessed the futile praying of the Baal priests, and Elijah wanted them to know Yahweh was the true God who answered prayer when people come to Him according to His plan of grace. He wanted them to witness the power of prayer. When we pray in public, we should never pray pretentiously, to be heard and seen by people in order to gain their approval. Still, public prayer is a means not only of exalting the Lord and seeking His grace but of providing encouragement and a blessing to people (1 Corinthians 14:15-17).
THE RESTORATION OF THE ALTAR (verses 30B-32)
What an important act! Elijah teaches us we must come to God on His terms and through His means of access. We will say more about the altar in a moment, but the point is this was the Lord’s altar of sacrifice and represented His prescribed means for access and fellowship. Note two things:
(1) One of the words used for offering a sacrifice in the Old Testament was qarab. It meant “to come near, approach, draw near,” and then, “to offer, bring.”Another word used, alah, meant literally, “to go up, ascend, climb.”The ascent of the smoke of the sacrifice symbolized access to God through a sacrifice that satisfied God’s holiness in anticipation of the substitutionary death of His Son.
(2) Repairing the Lord’s altar depicted coming to the Lord on His terms by repentance or confession, and restoring the areas of access we have neglected as had been the case–not with Elijah–but with Israel. God’s altar (or His prescribed way of access) had been neglected and was in shambles. In its place, they had substituted the idolatrous system of Baal.
For God to hear our prayer, we need to repair or correct those things in our lives that hinder fellowship with Him. Please review the following important passages: Compare Isaiah 59:1f; Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 28:9; Matthew 5:23-24; 1 Peter 3:7; with 1 John 1:9; Psalm 32:1f; 51:1f; and Proverbs 28:13.
Note also how Elijah repaired the altar–he used 12 stones. Why 12? Elijah was addressing the northern kingdom of ten tribes. After Solomon, the kingdom had been divided into the southern kingdom of two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, and the northern kingdom of the remaining ten tribes. This demonstrated God had never accepted this division. One of the things that always hinders the impact of God’s people in the world is disunity. God wants His people united and working together. This is clear in John 17.
THE PREPARATION OF THE SACRIFICE (verses 33-35)
This was all done for the purpose of authenticity. Not only did he not put any fire under the sacrifice, but he drenched it with water so there could be no mistake about how the sacrifice was consumed. It was a work of the living God. Do our lives give unmistakable evidence of the power of God, or are we building fires under our sacrifices? Is it evident that we are the ones running our lives rather than the Lord? How we need to give evidence that our lives are unexplainable apart from God who lives within us.
THE TIME AND PLACE OF HIS PRAYER (verses 36A)
“Then it came about . . .”This little clause is again instructive. As we have seen several times already (17:7, 17; 18:1), this did not mean simply, “and it just happened.”It should remind us that what specifically came to pass was a product of the work of God in the life of Elijah. In the preceding verses, this phrase referred to what happened through the providential working of the Lord circumstantially, but what happened here was doctrinally motivated; it was the work of God through the Word. It was a result of what Elijah knew as a result of his personal faith in the Word and as a result of his desire to glorify the Lord. Elijah waited until this specific time of the day to act and to pray before the people. As a testimony to the power of the Word, Elijah wanted the people to see that his life was ordered by God’s Word.
Please note the following important points:
(1) The time of his prayer was the time of the evening sacrifice as prescribed by the Old Testament.
(2) The place where he offered his prayer was near the altar where the bullock lay.
(3) These were both symbolical acts indicating Elijah’s faith in God’s truth.
(4) Elijah was acting according to the revelation of the Lord in the Old Testament Scripture. He was standing on the promises!
What can we learn from Elijah’s actions? There is no access to God and thus no prayer heard apart from God’s prescribed sacrifice and access. But remember this Old Testament sacrifice (as with all Old Testament sacrifices) was a shadow or type of Christ and God’s sacrifice for the sin of the world through His Son (Hebrews 10:5-10; John 1:29). What does this mean for us today now that Christ, God’s Lamb, has come and borne the sin of mankind?
(3) We must be in fellowship or our first prayer needs to be the prayer of confession by which we honestly deal with the problems of the heart as well as our overt behaviour (Psalm 66:18; 28:13; Ephesians 4:30 and 6:18).
(4) It also means the believer who publicly prays in the name of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us stands out as a testimony and as a condemnation of the ecumenical spirit of the day where prayer is made merely in God’s name or in the name of the deity.
THE MANNER OF HIS ADDRESS TO GOD (verses 36B)
He said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.”This proclaimed Yahweh as the God of the covenants and promises to the nation. Elijah’s confidence in prayer was based on the revelation of the character and nature of God as Yahweh, and on the specific principles and plan of God as revealed in the covenants of promise as given to the patriarchs of Israel.
First, when he addressed God as Yahweh, he was:
(1) Relying and counting on God as “I Am,” the eternal, immutable, and independent God of the universe with whom all things were possible.
(2) He was relying on God as the One who revealed Himself to the nation through Moses and the Law, and who had redeemed His chosen people for a three-fold purpose:
- (a) to be the custodians of the Word;
- (b) to be the channel for Messiah, the Saviour of the world; and
- (c) to be a light to the nations (Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Romans 3:2; 9:4-6).
Second, when he addressed God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, he was specifically thinking and praying in the light of the covenants and promises and the principles that related to Israel such as
- (a) God would not forsake His people;
- (b) they were to be a nation of priests to the nations of God’s salvation in the coming Messiah;
- (c) they were to avoid idolatry at all costs;
- (d) for obedience, there would be a blessing but for disobedience, there would be cursing or the cycles of discipline as spelt out in Deuteronomy 28-29 and Leviticus 26; and
- (e) they were to be a people of the Word of God.
This was to be the daily diet that they might remember the mighty works which He had done. In other words, Elijah’s prayer was motivated and directed by the principles and promises of Scripture.
THE PURPOSE AND CONTENT OF HIS PRAYER (verses 36C-37)
He said, “Let it be known.”Elijah had four concerns and each of them concerned the glory of God and the well being of His people. Here are four great things people need to see and know.
(1) “That Thou art God in Israel” (18:36), and “that Thou, O Lord, art God.”(18:37). O how people need to see there is a true God, know who the true God is, and know He is alive and well and involved with their lives and nation.
(2) “That I am Thy servant.”This statement shows us Elijah wanted the people to see that not only was Yahweh real, but he (Elijah) was real also. Though he served people, he was not a servant of people or a people-pleaser (1 Thessalonians 2). The world is full of religious phonies who worship and serve their own appetites (Philippians 3:18-19). It also shows he wanted them to see the truth of God which he held and believed and which had transformed his life. This truth had brought the power of God into his life.
(3) “That I have done all these things at Thy Word.”This is an advancement on the above. As God’s servants, our lives are to be ordered and directed by the Word of God, and not by the whims and caprice of people, whether from our own desires or those of others. People must come to see that the issues of life revolve around adherence to the divine Word. They also need to see that this as a word from God is not just a group of arbitrary restrictions designed to make people miserable. Rather its design is protective and soteriological. God wants to bring blessing and meaning into people’s lives.
(4) “Thou hast turned their heart back again.” Elijah sought no credit for the results of this miracle. It was all the work of the grace and power of God (1 Corinthians 3:5-7; 15:10). Grace! Grace! Grace! Elijah wanted the people to have their confidence not in him, a mere man, but in the Lord and His Word which Elijah followed (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Also, Elijah wanted people to realize something of God’s love and mercy: that without God’s grace that had pursued them like the hound of heaven, they would have proceeded deeper and deeper into sin and the judgment they so richly deserved.
THE BREVITY OF HIS PRAYER
His public prayer occupies only two verses and 63 words in the English Bible and even fewer in Hebrew. Here we find a principle seen throughout the Bible. Public prayers should usually be brief, clear, and to the point. The Lord does not hear us for our many words. Too often public prayers are long, monotone, humdrum, or flowery oratories that sound as though the person is auditioning for a part in a Shakespearean play. Very often, long prayers are pretentious (Mark 12:40).
THE RESULTS OF HIS PRAYER (verses 38-40)
In these verses we see the power of God manifested from heaven to do two things. First, we see men and women turning back to the Lord. We see revival, restoration, and repentance. Second, we see people become bold enough to defy Jezebel and execute the Baal prophets. Remember, this was their covenant duty and a protective measure under the law of Israel (Deuteronomy 13:4-5; 18:20).
How, then, does this apply to us today? The fervent prayers of the righteous move the Holy Spirit of God to accomplish His work in the hearts of people. The objective is to turn them to the Lord and then, as God’s people, to give them the courage to take a stand against the apostasy of the day. We need a bold witness. We need to refuse to be like the world or to go along with its ideas, patterns, and schemes that are so clearly contrary to Scripture. God wants us to get involved in the issues of the day that face our society.
This means earnest prayer for our nation and leaders. It means taking a stand on the job or at the office. It means being informed, witnessing and giving answers, praying, writing our elected representatives, voting, and other avenues open to us in a free society.