1 Kings 18:1-2

1 Kings 18:1-2

Sermon preached on June 3, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

I once read a story about a guy from the north who was visiting a friend down south. One day they went to a restaurant for breakfast. The guy from up north ordered a traditional breakfast of ham and eggs. When it came he noticed that besides the ham and eggs, there was something else on his plate beside them. He stopped the waitress and pointed at the strange thing on his plate and asked, "What's that?" The waitress replied, "That's grits." The northern customer said, "But I didn't order grits!" The waitress replied,

"Sir, you don't order grits. Grits just comes."

That's a wonderful illustration of what God's grace is like. It comes to people who didn't order it, who weren't looking for it. It comes unexpectedly, freely. We have an example of that in our text. Our text is about

the great grace of God that is sent to an undeserving people.

In the third year without rain the Word of the Lord appeared to Elijah and said,

"After a long time, in the third year,
the word of the LORD came to Elijah:
'Go and present yourself to Ahab,
and I will send rain on the land.'"

This is surprising because we have no indication that the Israelites had repented of their great sin of following Baal. If you look at the time of the Judges you'll see that God sent punishments like this famine on the people of Israel and only took away the punishment when the people turned back to the Lord in repentance. That was the pattern. The people sinned and turned away from the Lord. He sent an enemy to oppress them. The people realized their folly, turned from their sin and called upon the Lord to deliver them. At that point God would deliver them.

But we don't see that in the people of Israel here. Later we learn that there were only 7000 who were faithful to God in all of Israel. Only 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. (1 Kings 19:18) We're not sure what the population of Israel was in those days, but a few years earlier David had counted the fighting men of Israel and found there were 800,000 men in Israel who could handle a sword. And that's not counting the 500,000 fighting men who were from Judah. So a rough estimate would be that there were about 2 ½ to 3 million people in Israel at that time. Let's be generous to the ancient people of Israel and use the lower number—figuring that there were 2 ½ million people in Israel—and only 7000 were still faithful to the Lord—that means that only a quarter of 1% of the Israelites were faithful to the Lord. Wow. That's not very many—in fact only a tiny, tiny, minority.

The vast majority of the people of Israel were either actively following Baal or under his sway to some extent. This is confirmed later in this chapter when Elijah met with many of the people of Israel on Mount Carmel and criticized them for their lack of faith in God. He said to them, (1 Kings 18:21)

"How long will you waver between two opinions?
If the LORD is God, follow him;
but if Baal is God, follow him."

How did the people respond? We read,

"But the people said nothing."

Even after three years of drought because of Elijah's word—they didn't believe that Yahweh was the true God. We have no indication that there was any repentance among the people of Israel.

Nor do we have any indication that
King Ahab had repented. Quite the opposite. We see that he supported Queen Jezebel and she had sought to kill as many of the Lord's prophets as she could. We don't see anything here in Ahab like we see later in chapter 21. You'll remember that after King Ahab had Naboth murdered so he could take his vineyard—God sent Elijah to Ahab with a great curse. He told Ahab that where dogs had licked up Naboth's blood, dogs would lick up his blood. Elijah went on to tell Ahab that God was going to bring disaster on his household and that he was going to cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel and that his house would be made like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat. Elijah also told Ahab that dogs would devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.

What was King Ahab's response to that? We read, (1 Kings 21:27)

"When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes,
put on sackcloth and fasted.
He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly."

He was devastated. There was at least a measure of outward repentance.

But we don't see anything like that in our text. Ahab was hardened in his sin. Elijah had told him that the reason for the drought was the sin of the people of Israel and instead of turning in repentance to the Lord, instead of seeking the Lord—Ahab is seeking help somewhere else. He is looking for brooks or streams so he won't have to kill his animals. How sinful King Ahab is! Why is he so interested in his animals—his horses and mules? It's because they were essential for his military power. Horses and mules were important to the armies of Ahab's time. Just as he had rebuilt the walls of Jericho to strengthen his borders, so here we see King Ahab trying to preserve his military power by keeping his horses and mules alive. He doesn't do it by repenting and turning to the Lord—rather he seeks to get around the Lord's injunction.

People who didn't trust in the Lord put their trust in earthly military items. But the psalmist warned people not to do that. He said, (Psalm 33:17)

"A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save."

But Ahab didn't see things that way. He was like Joseph Stalin, the great Soviet monster. During World War II Stalin was told that the Vatican was upset with something he was doing. In response he said with a sneer,

"How many divisions does the Pope have?"

He looked on things from a totally earthly perspective. He was only interested in the number of soldiers. Like so many other tyrants, he totally discounted God's power.

That's what we see in Ahab. He's concerned about his horses and mules, his military power. He's not seeking God. He's going in the opposite direction. Where's his concern for his people who are suffering in this famine? What a contrast King Ahab is with King Solomon near the beginning of his reign. You'll remember that when God said to Solomon to ask whatever he wanted, Solomon said, (2 Chronicles 1:7-10)

"you have made me king over a people
who are as numerous as the dust of the earth.
Give me wisdom and knowledge,
that I may lead this people,
for who is able to govern
this great people of yours?"

Solomon wanted to govern the people well. King Ahab doesn't seem to have any concern for his people here. He's concerned about his horses and mules.

There's another comparison we should make. We must remember that in large part this drought was because of the sin of the king—Ahab himself. He knew how to end it. All he had to do was repent and turn to God. His people were suffering, in large part, because of his sin. Yet he seemed unconcerned about that.

Compare him with David. You'll remember that David sinned by counting the fighting men of Israel. When David saw God punishing the people, he said to God, (1 Chronicles 21:17

"I am the one who has sinned and done wrong.
These are but sheep. What have they done?
O LORD my God,
let your hand fall upon me and my family,
but do not let this plague remain on your people."

David loved the people of Israel. He hated to see them suffering. But with Ahab here, we see no concern for his people—he's concerned about his horses and mules, scouring the countryside for some grass.

Now before we go any further, let's stop to consider this lesson about the effects of sin. It is this:

Sin brings low. There's no glory in sin. It doesn't exalt us. It debases us.

Consider King Ahab here- where's the glory of his kingdom? He's searching for grass! What sin had done. It brought Ahab low.

It was the same way with
Adam and Eve. Before they sinned they were in the Garden, enjoying God's blessing, having no shame, exercising dominion over God's paradise and enjoying God's presence and walking with Him.

But after they sinned they were different. They were naked, no longer covered with God's glory. They were filled with shame. They were put out of the Garden.

Satan lied. He had said that sin would exalt them—that they would be like God. But instead of being exalted—they were brought low. That's what sin does. It doesn't exalt. It brings low. It brings shame and disgrace.

We see that in King Saul. He had started his reign so well. But he soon sinned. What was the end of his reign like? Remember how he was isolated and fearful? He puts on a disguise and consults the witch of Endor. When he got the message that he and his sons were going to die the very next day he was filled with fear and fell to the ground and he couldn't get up. What a posture for a king! But the next day it was even worse. Saul was wounded by the archers and begged his armor-bearer to run him through. But he refused. So Saul fell on his own sword and killed himself. What a disgraceful end.

We've already alluded to King Ahab's death. Elijah predicted that dogs would lick up his blood. Remember how it happened? He was in his chariot, disguised. But someone shot an arrow, seemingly at random, and it hit him between the sections of armor and mortally wounded him. They propped him up in his chariot and his blood pooled on the chariot floor. After he died they brought him back to Samaria, and washed the chariot at a pool. The Bible makes a point of telling us that that pool was where prostitutes bathed. (1 Kings 22:38) Dogs licked up his blood. Where's the glory there? What an ignoble end.

Do you want to be exalted? Do you want to be great? There's only one way—righteousness through the power of the Spirit. Sin promises you that you'll be better off if you sin—but that's a lie. Sin has never exalted—it brings low.

But someone may say—but Christians die too. Sometimes they have horrible ends. I remember reading a story about a Scottish Christian and how he was put to death in front of his wife and small children. If my memory is right he was given an opportunity to recant, but he didn't. He died for his faith. After they killed him, one of the horsemen who had been involved, said to the widow, who was standing over her husband's dead body,

"What do you think of your husband now?"

She replied,

"More than I ever did."

He was dead, yes. He had died a horrible death, yes. But there was glory there because he died in Jesus. Think about Stephen. He was stoned to death. He died just like the wicked. But he saw heaven opened and Jesus standing an the right hand of God. There was glory there and Stephen was ushered into glory—probably carried, as Jesus said about the beggar Lazarus in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man—angels carried him to Abraham's side. (Luke 16:22) There was glory there.

Grace exalts. Sin debases.

We see that even in
the angelic world. In Ezekiel 28:12-19 we read,

"You were the model of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
ruby, topaz and emerald,
chrysolite, onyx and jasper,
sapphire, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence, and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, O guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
Your heart became proud on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.
All the nations who knew you are appalled at you;
you have come to a horrible end and will be no more."

And in Isaiah 14:12-17,

"How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.'
But you are brought down to the grave,
to the depths of the pit.
Those who see you stare at you,
they ponder your fate:
'Is this the man who shook the earth
and made kingdoms tremble,
the man who made the world a desert,
who overthrew its cities
and would not let his captives go home?"

Sin brings shame. It will take you low. It brought Satan low. It brought Adam and Eve low. It brought Ahab low. If you dabble in it, it will bring you low. Recognize sin for what it does.

But getting back to our main point—God sends Elijah back to Israel with the gift of rain even though there was no repentance in the land, even though King Ahab was not repentant.

The great question is, "Why did God send Elijah back? Why did He tell Elijah that He was going to send rain on the land when King Ahab and the people had not repented?" What is going on? M.B. Van't Veer writes, (p. 155)

"we cannot help but wonder how the Lord could now return to His people in blessing before there had been any repentance on the part of the people or their king."

He goes on to speak of King Ahab and how he was still resisting God. He writes,

"Wasn't the will of the godless king turning out to be stronger than the will of Yahweh, which had been expressed in the judgment? When the Lord declared that He would now send rain upon the earth, He had apparently been defeated; He had been successfully resisted by a stronger will. The Lord changed His mind, but Ahab persevered and did not change his. The Lord abandoned the course He had chosen, but the king and the people did not budge an inch."

But rather than perplexing us, this story shows us an important truth about God's grace. The great point that we see here about it here is that

grace is undeserved.

King Ahab didn't deserve God's grace. He deserved for God to send Elijah to him with another message of judgment and curse. Israel didn't deserve God's grace. Of all the thousands of people in the land—less than 1% were faithful to the Lord. Yet God chose to go to them in grace.

That's what God's grace is like. It goes where there is sin, where there is lack of repentance, where there is hatred toward Him.

We see this in God's dealings with
Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. In Acts 9:1-2 we read,

"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out
murderous threats against the Lord's disciples.
He went to the high priest
and asked him for letters
to the synagogues in Damascus,
so that if he found any there
who belonged to the Way,
whether men or women,
he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."

But rather than striking him dead with a bolt of lightning from the sky Jesus appeared to him with grace and converted him. God took one of his greatest enemies and made him the great apostle to the Gentiles. God sought him out when he was unrepentant, fighting against God with everything that was in him. That's precisely when God sent His grace to Saul.

Isn't that the way with all of us?
If God gave us no grace and waited for repentance from human beings—how many of us would be in heaven? Not one. In John 6:44 Jesus said that no one could go to Him unless the Father drew him. Psalm 14:2-3 says,

"The LORD looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned aside,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."

In John 3:3,5 Jesus told Nicodemus that people need to be born of the Spirit—born again, or born 'from above'. That's grace. It comes to us not because of anything good in us, or because of any good we have done—but because of God's great love.

We are taught this in
Ephesians 2:1-10. We read,

"As for you, you were dead
in your transgressions and sins,
in which you used to live
when you followed the ways of this world
and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air,
the spirit who is now at work
in those who are disobedient.
All of us also lived among them at one time,
gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature
and following its desires and thoughts.
Like the rest,
we were by nature objects of wrath.
But because of his great love for us,
God, who is rich in mercy,
made us alive with Christ
even when we were dead in transgressions—
it is by grace you have been saved.
And God raised us up with Christ
and seated us with him
in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
in order that in the coming ages
he might show
the incomparable riches of his grace,
expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God—not by works,
so that no one can boast.
For we are God's workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Our salvation is totally of grace. It comes to people who are sinners. It comes to people who deserve wrath. It has it's source in God's character.

Indeed, God's grace is what brings repentance. In
2 Timothy 2:25-26 the apostle Paul spoke about how the Lord's servant must behave. He said,

"Those who oppose him
he must gently instruct, in the hope
that God will grant them repentance
leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
and that they will come to their senses
and escape from the trap of the devil,
who has taken them captive to do his will."

Apart from God's grace people are in the clutches of Satan. They are his captives. If any escape it's not because they come to repentance on their own—it's because God gives them grace and grants them repentance.

The second thing we should understand is that

grace is rooted in God.

Why was God doing this? It wasn't because the people of Israel deserved it. They deserved just the opposite. Their behavior didn't compel God's grace. If anything, it compelled His anger.

Why did God send them grace? It was because of something in God. God deals with people—His people, not according to what they deserve—but with grace and mercy—because He is so wonderful. The psalmist spoke about this in Psalm 115:1. He said,

"Not to us, O LORD, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness."

Indeed, this fact was often the basis of a plea for forgiveness. The Old Testament saints sometimes pleaded for forgiveness, not on the basis of their repentance—but on the basis of God's character.

We see this in
David's plea in Psalm 25:11. He pleaded with God for forgiveness and based his plea not on anything about him, but on something about God, his character.

"For the sake of your name,
O LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great."

He asked forgiveness, not based on anything in Him, but for the sake of God's name. We also see this in Asaph in Psalm 79:9. He said,

"Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name;
deliver us and forgive our sins for your name's sake."

John Calvin says, (on Psalm 25:11)

"in order to show more distinctly that he depends entirely upon the free grace of God, he expressly says, for thy name's sake; meaning by this, that God, as often as he vouchsafes to pardon his people, does so from no other cause than his own good pleasure; just as he had said a little before, in the same verse, for thy goodness' sake… as if he had said, My sins are, indeed, like a heavy burden which overwhelms me, so that the multitude or enormity of them might well deprive me of all hope of pardon; but, Lord, the infinite glory of thy name will not suffer thee to cast me off."

God's grace comes to us, not because we merit it or earn it by our repentance—but because of His love. God declares this in Ezekiel 20:39-44. He said,

"As for you, O house of Israel,
this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
Go and serve your idols, every one of you!
But afterward you will surely listen to me
and no longer profane my holy name
with your gifts and idols.
For on my holy mountain,
the high mountain of Israel,
declares the Sovereign LORD,
there in the land the entire house of Israel
will serve me,
and there I will accept them.
There I will require your offerings and your choice gifts,
along with all your holy sacrifices.
I will accept you as fragrant incense
when I bring you out from the nations
and gather you from the countries
where you have been scattered,
and I will show myself holy among you
in the sight of the nations.
Then you will know that I am the LORD,
when I bring you into the land of Israel,
the land I had sworn with uplifted hand
to give to your fathers.
There you will remember your conduct
and all the actions by which
you have defiled yourselves,
and you will loathe yourselves
for all the evil you have done.
You will know that I am the LORD,
when I deal with you for my name's sake
and not according to your evil ways
and your corrupt practices
O house of Israel,
declares the Sovereign LORD."

So we must not think it is a problem that God goes to Israel in grace even when they have not repented, even when they have not learned anything from the famine. God is going to them to show them that He is the true God. God sends Elijah to have his great contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. God is seeking out those who were lost.

The third thing we should see about the grace that God showed to Israel was that

this grace was based on Christ's future work.

The reason that God could go to the people of Israel with grace even when they have not repented is because of Jesus and His work. This whole episode points us to Christ and His grace. M.B. Van't Veer writes, (Elijah, p. 156)

"The prophetic work of Elijah can only be explained through the One who proved to be an even greater Prophet, the One who is at the same time our only High Priest. We must keep Christ in mind when we raise the question whether the mercy God showed Israel under Ahab was justified. Christ was to lay the foundation for such justification in His own work, His work of atonement. On this work we base our plea."

"Since Elijah could no longer pray for a blessing, it was up to the One who is greater than Elijah. He can still pray and plead, for He bases His plea on His own work, through which He made satisfaction for the sins of His people. On that basis He can even plead for a people mired in sin! He can renew them and make them turn from their sin; He can break through the hardening of their hearts and make them His people."

God can send grace to sinners because He died for their sins. He paid the price for their sins. He took the curse for them.

Paul wrote about this in
2 Timothy 1:8-10. He said,

"God, who has saved us
and called us to a holy life—
not because of anything we have done
but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus
before the beginning of time
but it has now been revealed
through the appearing of our Savior,
Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death
and has brought life and immortality
to light through the gospel."

The grace was given to us before the beginning of time. It was given to us according to God's own purpose and grace. It was given to us in Christ Jesus.

Now for Christians, this means that you should be ever so mindful of God's grace to you. How you should be rejoicing in Jesus and in His grace to you! Praise Him. Thank Him. Rejoice in Him. It's all of grace. Grace exalts. It cleanses of sin. It prepares works for us to do. We'll realize that fully on the last day when Jesus says to us, (Matthew 25:34-35)

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father;
take your inheritance,
the kingdom prepared for you
since the creation of the world."

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians. This passage shows you what God's grace is like. It is sent to undeserving sinners. Don't be like Ahab and reject God's grace. In Romans 2:4 Paul told people that God's kindness is designed to lead people to repentance. Accept His grace. Don't reject it. That's the way of misery and death. Rather, accept God's grace in Jesus—ask Him to save you. Trust Him and turn from your sins. Accept the free gift of salvation in Him.