Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Title:God guides through ministry valleys
Scripture Text: 1 Kings 19
God’s preservation of His servant
God’s reminders of His covenant
God’s direction for God’s ministry
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3 Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
9 There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks 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. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15 And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
19 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “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?” 21 And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.
Blessed Sunday morning to everyone.
We thank God for the church conference that has just passed. For Dr Andrew Reid equipping us with the 5 Looks.
Tools to help us read God’s Word better and apply it appropriately in the 21st century.
As we look at chapter 19 of 1 Kings, let’s zoom out a bit to see where we are in the book of 1 & 2 Kings.
I shared previously that we could divide 1 & 2 Kings into these 5 sections as shown in the slide.
Today, we are in the 3rd section. The ministry of Prophet Elijah. And it runs from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 1.
In this 3rd section, Elijah was raised by God to confront king Ahab because Ahab took idolatry to levels higher than Jeroboam.
That led us last week to 1 Kings 18 where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel.
And through the sermon, Ps Luwin raised the challenge – what does it means to be all-in for God and His kingdom. So Elijah challenged the people:
1 Kgs 18:21 …. “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
I trust we were able to reflect on this during the week and may I just highlight the first reflection question for us again – “What are cultural idols of this age that prove to be alluring for our hearts?”
May I submit that one of the culture idols is the ‘me-first’ or ‘me-centric’ mentality.
We are greatly influenced by the value that Me, Myself and I are the 3 most important persons. That we should always put our priorities and our desires before anyone.
We may not say it, but we desire that everything revolves around our interest and preference. Including God, when we take Him as our cosmic genie, there to grant our every wish.
And I would like to attempt to link this perspective to how it might also influence the way we would read chapter 19.
There is a spectrum of how bible commentators see Elijah in 1 Kings 19.
On one extreme end, they criticise Elijah for being self-centred and exhibiting self-pity. So, to them, they see cowardice in Elijah’s flight from Jezebel. They take umbrage with Elijah’s comment that ‘I even I only am left’.
In the middle, we would see others who view Elijah having depression, both emotionally and spiritually. They see him being burnt-out in his ministry.
Then there are those on the opposite end, where they see this as Elijah being just human, just being like one of us.
Elijah is experiencing disappointments in ministry not depression but severe challenges.
However, to them, Elijah is not despairing, for they view Elijah’s actions more as persevering though ministry with God’s sustaining grace.
I sense that if we have the cultural idol of self-centredness, we might be prone to view Elijah very negatively.
And the possible reason why we want to be very critical of Elijah is so that it deflects responsibility from our own response to God, based on our own situations.
If Elijah, such a man of God can be so self-centred, well, I can cut myself some slack. I too can wallow in my self-centredness. I too can indulge in self-pity.
I submit for our consideration that the criticism of self-indulgence by Elijah is quite unfounded. And I pray that after our time in chapter 19, we would see Elijah in a much more positive light.
God’s preservation of His servant
I’ve titled the sermon of 1 Kings 19 this morning as ‘God guides through ministry valleys’.
Yet in this valley, I hope to show in the 2nd sermon point that God was actually leading Elijah to another high point in his ministry journey with Yahweh.
We all know of the 3 different perspectives when we view a glass half-filled with some water. Some will see if as a half full glass, others, as half-empty and still others as just a glass with 50% water.
As we look at the first 8 verses of 1 Kings 19, what is our view of Elijah using the ‘glass with water’ analogy?
If we are critical, we would see it as half empty. But can we see it more positively?
Can we see that everything happening, is really God’s preservation of His servant Elijah. That God had more ministry in store for Elijah and thus these sequences of events.
Look at verse 2, there was a messenger from Jezebel. Jezebel was out for revenge. Elijah had 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah killed by the brook of Kishon.
Did Jezebel have the means to kill Elijah? Yes, she did. 1 Kgs 18:4 tells us that Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord and it was only by the actions of Obadiah were 100 saved.
So, Jezebel could have sent an assassin instead of a messenger.
It’s within Jezebel’s power to get rid of Elijah. So why did she give advance warning? Can this not be the providential hand of God upon Elijah?
Now the half-empty glass proponents will refer to verse 3 to support their assertions. Because of v3, they will say, Elijah has fallen from the heights of Mt Carmel and now has totally lost the plot.
Many translations translate it as Elijah was afraid. However, the word translated as ‘afraid’, literally means ‘saw’. It has the meaning of ‘to see’, ‘to perceive’, ‘to become aware’.
So the KJV translate it as :
1 Kgs 19:3 And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. (KJV)
The NASB gives a notation before the word ‘afraid’ and informs the reader that the original Hebrew text is the translated word ‘saw’.
1 Kgs 19:3 And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. (NASB)
When we use the word ‘saw’ in the sentence, the nuances modify.
Now the situation can be – Elijah perceived that the events of Mt Carmel did not result in repentance from Ahab and Jezebel.
Further, possibly, Elijah concluded that the initial affirmation by the people exclaiming ‘The Lord, he is God’ will not lead to lasting change.
Elijah is a man just like us. There is no need then to endanger his life unnecessarily.
After understanding the situation, he must have felt that an alternative response is needed.
Has the Lord guided Elijah to have abrupt ministry direction change? Yes, he has. We’ve read about it already in the first 3 verses of chapter 17.
There God sends Elijah to the wilderness after his initial confrontation with Ahab.
Could Elijah have recognized that the presence of a messenger instead of an assassin as God’s guiding indication for life preservation? I submit it is a possibility.
Continuing with the half-full glass perspective, we see Elijah lamenting due to his deep disappointment of his ministry.
Though he could possibly have suicidal thoughts, significantly, he does not take his own life but places this request before God.
Elijah was a man just like us and so it is okay for believers to pour out our deep frustrations, our bitter disappointments to God.
The Psalms are full of laments being brought before God.
Not all ministry is mountain top experiences. God does allow us to go through the valleys as well.
Let’s also look at where Elijah fled to. We see that he went to Beersheba in Judah.
Elijah was at Mt Carmel. That is in the top left-hand side of the northern kingdom of Israel. Beersheba on the other hand is the far south and right in the midst of the kingdom of Judah.
If Elijah was afraid and just wanting to run away from Jezebel, he could have fled just into Judah’s territory. Why run all the way to Beersheba?
I submit that it can be due to God’s leading. Meaning, it might not be a flight of fear, but instead a deliberate act of arriving at a destination.
The phase from Dan to Beersheba is a biblical phrase used nine times in the OT to refer to the settled areas of the Tribes of Israel between Dan in the North and Beersheba in the South.
An example is 2 Sam 3:10.
2 Sam 3:10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba.”
So to flee to Beersheba is to go to the southern-most tip of the kingdom.
And God must have let him there because God was leading him subsequently to Mt Horeb. Where is Mt Horeb, it is even further south. It is also known as Mt Sinai.
So I submit, this was Elijah’s deliberated journey south led by God’s prompting. Thus again, likely not a flight of fear.
1 Kings 19 shows us God graciously ministered to Elijah by giving him physical rest and nourishment.
I’m sure as Elijah ate from the cake and the drank from the jar of water, he would remember God sustaining him through the widow of Zarephath.
Such remembrances help reassure Elijah that everything is going according to God’s plan.
That God continues to care for His children in a holistic manner. Caring for Elijah in body, in mind and soul.
Though I’m sure Elijah needed rest and refreshment for what had already happen. The words of the angel of the Lord are quite telling – arise and eat for the journey is too great for you.
God’s provisions seem also for the forward journey as much the past.
I pray that we will not see Elijah as a coward, but instead someone who was still actively depending on God’s leading for his ministry.
May it be our perspective that God can bring us through our ministry valleys. And in such valleys, we do not become bitter with God.
Instead, may 1 Kings 19 encourage us to keep trusting in God’s daily provision.
And through our valleys, may we discern that God could be refreshing us for the next phase of our ministry.
God’s reminders of His covenant
The defeat of the prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel we all agree is a high point in Elijah’s ministry. God proved decisively that He is God and Baal is not.
Baal the so-called god for the storm could not even light up the sacrifice on the altar.
Yahweh however could do that with the impossible. An altar drench with water.
The fire that God sent, consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust and even licked up the water that was in the trench.
Yes, it must have been a spectacular sight even for Elijah to behold. But may I submit, God was going to give Elijah and even more glorious experience.
V8 says, Elijah arose and ate and drank and went in the strength of that food, forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
Horeb is also known as Mt Sinai. This is the place where Moses met with God and where God gave Moses the 10 commandments.
4 things help us to see the connection between Elijah and Moses’ experience of meeting God.
Firstly, the location is the same.
Secondly, the significance of ‘40 days and 40 nights’.
Ex 34:28 So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
Moses spent that amount of time in the mountain with God. Elijah spent the same amount of time getting to the mountain of God.
Thirdly, we see that there were similar forces of nature present.
Ex 19:16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.
Elijah experience strong wind, earthquake and fire as well.
Fourthly, and I see this as the most significant – God graciously communicates in no uncertain terms His will.
To Moses, God reveals:
Ex 34:6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
To Elijah, God says:
1 Kgs 19:13 And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”….. 15 And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
God does manifest Himself though creation but in a unique and special way, God also condescends to speak in an audible voice so that we can understand.
Today, we are even more privileged than Moses and Elijah. God has revealed Himself fully in His Son Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God. And by His Spirit given us the Written Word.
To me, this surely must be an even higher point in Elijah’s ministry. He is experiencing something similar to Moses. The man who spoke with God face to face.
1 Kgs 19:13 ”And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
With this perspective in mind, may I submit that God’s repeated phase to Elijah – ‘What are you doing here Elijah’ should likely not be seen as a rebuke.
Instead, can we see it as God’s invitation for Elijah to verbalize his disappointments and His concerns. And for God to reaffirm Elijah’s ministry.
And if we see the glass not as half empty, then it seems Elijah is very concern for the spiritual state of Israel and for God’s name to be magnified.
He states Israel’s case first before even speaking about himself – Israel has forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars and killed your prophets.
With God’s covenant with Moses in the background, I see God affirming the concerns of Elijah and thus melting out judgement and grace.
Therefore, I find it harder to accept that God’s address to Elijah is a rebuke.
God promised Moses He will visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
So, God said all who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death.
God promised Moses that He is merciful and gracious, keeping steadfast love to thousands.
And so God informed Elijah, I will leave 7000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.
Though Elijah’s ministry valley, God gave him, what I would describe as a ‘covenant reminder’.
Church today, what has God left us with in terms of such covenant reminders?
May I submit firstly that we have the covenant reminders though the complete cannon of Scripture.
Through the inspired Word of God, the Bible, God reminds us of His covenant promises so plainly and clearly. And His Spirit within us, enables understanding.
By the grace of God, not only has God preserved His word for us since the time of Moses. According to the International Bible Society, as of 2020 the full Bible has been translated into 704 languages.
Secondly, we have the covenant reminders through the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion.
The sign of God’s grace working in our lives, is our public confession of His gift of salvation, through our obedience of being baptised in the name of our Triune God.
Each baptism shows us that God’s grace is at work, including redeemed sinners into His family.
The sign of God’s grace sustaining us is also found in our regular partaking of Holy Communion within the local church.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Each Communion, we are reminded that God has forgiven our sins, past, present and future.
That He is coming again and will establish His kingdom, where every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
God’s covenant reminders for Elijah must surely have strengthen and encouraged him. May God’s Word and His sacraments be ours today.
God’s direction for God’s ministry
Does ministry begin and end with us? If we are honest, we would say, we wish that it does, but in reality, we know that it doesn’t.
God’s ministry is God’s and so it is much bigger than us. We are just a small part of it. It begins before us and will continue after God has taken us home to glory.
And to Elijah’s disappointment that he has been no different from his forefathers – ineffective in turning the hearts of the people back to God in repentance.
God is reminding Elijah; this is my ministry. Don’t worry, just be faithful to what I’ve entrusted you with.
3 people Elijah is to anoint. Hazael, Jehu and Elisha.
Now, if we review Elijah’s accomplishments, he did a lousy job. He was only able to anoint Elisha. He only completes 1 of 3 tasks.
Jehu is anointed by one of the sons of the prophets as instructed by Elisha and we will see that in 2 Kings 9:1-3.
As for Hazael, it was also during the time of Elisha.
2 Kgs 8:11 And the man of God wept. 12 And Hazael said, “Why does my lord weep?” He answered, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.”
If we are the half-empty glass group, Elijah’s ministry was a failure. But God does not see it that way.
Elisha was the only one around for Elijah to anoint and so he did that obediently. And because Elisha was anointed, Elisha was able to carry out the rest.
Ministry is bigger than Elijah and goes beyond his life-time. That principle is true even today.
But in the anointing of Hazael the king of Syria, we see the frightening reality that because God’s sovereignty extends over the whole world, God can use even non-believers to fulfil His discipline on His children.
And how severe will be God’s discipline of Israel through Hazael, king of Syria.
Again, we are left in awe of the power and preciseness of the God’s Word. What God says comes to pass accurately.
May it give us the proper perspective to our roles as part of God’s ministry. Encouraging us to be faithful to whatever God has called us to be and therefore leaving the results to God.
Last week another reflection question given by Ps Luwin was “Are you presently “all-in” for Jesus? Say a prayer to confess and commit your everything to Him.”
The prophet Elisha, I submit is a great example of all-in for God.
His call was sudden, Elijah just went into the field one day and while Elisha was going about his daily work, Elijah symbolically called him.
But the Lord must have been preparing Elisha long before this sudden appearance of Elijah.
So, we see that Elisha was able to give up a prosperous life and family-ties for God’s ministry call.
Elisha’s act of kissing his parents goodbye, and having a town barbeque with his equipment and oxen, shows that he was all-in for God.
He was putting his hands to the ministry plow and not looked back.
And we see that Elisha’s ministry call was not a glamours one. The final sentence says, ‘then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.’
And this humble ministry is further repeated by the servant of the king of Israel –
2 Kgs 3:11 And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.”
We see here, glimpses of how serving God should look like. It’s all-in, it’s servanthood.
We thank God that we serve a God who has ample resources. Who has all of creation, subject to His authority.
And that God’s ministry transcends each of His faithful stewards.
Such a ministry of sacrificial servanthood that is timeless is best encapsulated in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mt 20:28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Rom 8:34 who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
How do we see Elijah’s ministry today? Was it half full or half empty?
I pray that I’ve persuaded that it should not be seen as half empty. Elijah did not wallow in self-pity. He was not a coward.
No, Elijah was walking in step with God and His direction for His ministry. He was zealous for God and His glory.
He sincerely wanted Israel’s king and the kingdom to repent and turn back to God.
Yet Elijah shows us that he is a man just like us. He had severe ministry challenges, he was drained both physically and spiritually.
But we thank God for His gracious leading and provision we see in 1 Kings 19.
May the testimony of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 be an encouragement for us today.
That by the grace of God, He will meet us at our point of need. That our ongoing encouragement can come through His Word and the Sacraments.
Let us praise God that His ministry will never lack. And may we thus continually seek God’s discernment as to our place in God’s great big cosmic ministry of reconciliation.