1 Kings 18:45-46

Sermon preached on September 23, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

I usually love symbolism. That is, I love it, if I get it. Sometimes it goes right over my head. For years one of my favorite TV shows was
Inspector Morse. It was about a British homicide detective in Oxford, England. At the end of each show they would play the theme music of the show. It was a nice little theme that I never really thought much about. But one time I heard someone talking about the show and they mentioned how neat it was that the theme music had bits of Morse Code in it, to emphasize that the lead character was named Morse. I had totally missed it. But now whenever I watch one of those shows and hear the theme music, I think to myself,

"That's a nice touch."

Another piece of symbolism that went right over my head was Michelangelo's famous sculpture, David. I always thought it was just a great piece of art celebrating the David's victory over Goliath. But then someone, I think it was Sara Carson, pointed out to me that in Michelangelo's sculpture, David's head and hands are out of proportion to the rest of the body. They are larger than they should be. She suggested that the symbolism could be (and probably was)—not the biblical notion that David relied on God and His power—but that it celebrated man's might and strength—that it was pointing us in the opposite direction of the biblical teaching.

In fact, the Michelangelo' website (Michelangelo.com) tells us that the only element that enables us to identify the figure as David is the sling, which is almost hidden. It adds,

"At the time, Florence was going through a difficult period, and its citizens had to be alert and mobilized to confront permanent threats. He used David as a model of heroic courage, in the hope that the Florentines would understand his message. This young Biblical hero demonstrated that inner spiritual strength can prove to be more effective than arms.""Michelangelo chose to represent David as an athletic, manly character, very concentrated and ready to fight. The extreme tension is evident in his worried look and in his right hand, holding a stone. The meaning of this David becomes fully clear if we take into consideration the historical circumstances of its creation. Michelangelo was devoted to the Republic, and wanted each citizen to become aware of his responsibilities and commit himself to accomplishing his duty."

Michelangelo himself told us about his David in his diaries:

"A civic hero, he was a warning...whoever governed Florence should govern justly and defend it bravely. Eyes watchful...the neck of a bull...hands of a killer...the body, a reservoir of energy. He stands poised to strike."

For years that symbolism had gone right over my head. I didn't get it at all or understand much of what Michelangelo intended.

The same is true with our text. At first glance it's a very strange passage. For years I had no idea what the symbolism meant. We read, (1 Kings 18:45-46)

"Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds,
the wind rose, a heavy rain came on
and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.
The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and,
tucking his cloak into his belt,
he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel."

King Ahab is riding in his chariot and the prophet Elijah runs before him all the way to Jezreel. The great Olympic runner, Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame, had nothing on Elijah. When Eric Liddell ran, he had a very unorthodox running style in which he would put his head back and open his mouth wide. He said that when he ran, he felt the "Lord's pleasure". He looked strange when he ran.

But as strange as he looked, I'm sure that he had nothing on the prophet Elijah. What a scene it was. In his book,
Elijah, Charles Swindoll tells how every time that he's in Israel he goes up to the top of Mount Carmel, looks down on the valley of Jezreel and imagines what a sight Elijah running before King Ahab must have been. He writes, (p. 106)

"look! There's the old prophet. Elijah running, running, running, faster and faster, hitching his robe up around his thighs as he catches up with Ahab's chariot… And then, while you're standing there smiling, thinking you're all alone with Elijah and Ahab…and God…some other tour group behind you wonders what you're laughing at and why you don't move out of their way so they can see what's so amusing. Some travelers just don't get it."

What a strange sight it must have been! We are told in our text that Elijah ran in the power of the Lord. That made him into a great runner. To be able to run ahead of a chariot for a something like 12 miles in pouring rain and to win the race was an absolutely remarkable feet. What a sight it must have been.

But the great question is:

What's going on here?

What are we supposed to learn from this? There's obviously a great lesson for us. In our text the Holy Spirit is not merely making an aside and telling us that Elijah was a great runner. No. There's great symbolism here. Let's look at it.

First of all, we should note that
Elijah was a prophet of the Lord. Indeed, he was the prophet par excellence of the Old Testament. He was the one that came to Israel and said, "Thus says the Lord…" He revealed God's will to the people.

Secondly, we should note that Ahab was king. He was the leader of the people. As their leader he could set the tone for the whole kingdom.

Thirdly, this happened in the rain. This rain signaled the return of God's blessing, of His favor. God was putting an end to the three and a half years of drought.

Fourthly, we should note that Elijah ran before King Ahab. Elijah led the way. The king was behind.

Let's consider some of the lessons this teaches us.

The first thing we see from our text

governments have an obligation to obey God's laws.

Elijah ran before King Ahab. The Word of the Lord, not the will of the king, had supremacy. This symbolism is important. It shows that God's Word is paramount, even for governments.

Of course someone will object and say,

"But Israel was a theocracy. In ancient Israel God was the Supreme ruler. The king ruled under God and was supposed to follow God's commands. But that doesn't apply to governments today. It only applied to ancient Israel."

But one of the things we see from Scripture is that no government is exempt from God's law. God did not just rule over ancient Israel, He ruled over, and still rules over all the nations of the earth.

In America today we hear a lot about separation of church and state. There were good and legitimate reasons why the founding fathers set up the constitution the way that they did.

But we have to be careful of misinterpreting that concept. That's what some people do today. By separation of church and state they seem to think that the state is autonomous in its affairs, that its independent and that God has no right to dictate to the government in areas of the government's jurisdiction. They believe that the state is answerable only to itself or the people under it.

That was Pharaoh's attitude. In
Exodus 5:2, in response to Moses' demand to let the people of Israel go, he said,

"Who is the LORD,
that I should obey him and let Israel go?
I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go."

He thought that he was not answerable to the Lord, the God of the universe. But Pharaoh was answerable to God. He was not autonomous and independent, exempt from God's rule. But he found out different. God demanded obedience from Pharaoh and when Pharaoh refused, God punished him for it.

What we need to keep in mind is that
our Lord is Sovereign over all the kingdoms of the earth. Colossians 1:16 tells us that everything was created by Jesus and was created for Him. This includes the nations of the world. As Daniel said to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:17,

"so that the living may know
that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men
and gives them to anyone he wishes
and sets over them the lowliest of men."

In Proverbs 8:15 God declared,

"By me kings reign…"

The Bible also declares that God is the King of Kings. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:15-16,

"God, the blessed and only Ruler,
the King of kings and Lord of lords…"

God is sovereign over all the governments of the earth.

Indeed, one of the reasons God has established governments is so that they will uphold what is right, protect those who are righteous and punish those who are wicked.

Governments are not autonomous. They are not independent. They have been set up by God to accomplish His purposes as His servants.

Romans 13:3-5 the apostle Paul wrote,

"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right,
but for those who do wrong.
Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?
Then do what is right and he will commend you.
For he is God's servant to do you good.
But if you do wrong, be afraid,
for he does not bear the sword for nothing.
He is God's servant, an agent of wrath
to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."

Paul makes it very clear that rulers are under God. They are God's servants. Every government has a duty and obligation to obey God's laws. They are to uphold it and defend it. That how they act justly.

If governments leaders do not do this and lead their people in wickedness—God punishes them. He had punished Israel under Ahab. That's what the drought was all about. King Ahab was answerable to God.

We see this theme in many places in the Scriptures, relating to many people. Remember
Sodom and Gomorrah? Why were they destroyed? It was because they flaunted God's commands. Remember how the two angels came to Sodom in the evening and how Lot invited them into his house? Later, many of the men of Sodom surrounded the house and demanded that he surrender the men to him so that they could abuse them. God destroyed Sodom because of their wickedness and sin. (Genesis 18:20)

It was the same with the
Amalekites, only their sin was different. In 1 Samuel 15:2-3 we read God's message to King Saul,

"This is what the LORD Almighty says:
'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel
when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.
Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy
everything that belongs to them.
Do not spare them;"

The Amalekites were destroyed because they did not give Israel safe passage from Egypt to the promised land. They flaunted God's commands.

We see the same with
Edom, the descendants of Esau. The prophecy of Obadiah is against Edom. We read, (Obadiah 1:10-18)

"Because of the violence
against your brother Jacob,
you will be covered with shame;
you will be destroyed forever.
On the day you stood aloof
while strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.
You should not look down
on your brother in the day of his misfortune,
nor rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their destruction,
nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.
You should not march through the gates
of my people in the day of their disaster,
nor look down on them in their calamity
in the day of their disaster,
nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.
You should not wait at the crossroads
to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors
in the day of their trouble.
'The day of the LORD is near for all nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you;
your deeds will return upon your own head.
Just as you drank on my holy hill,
so all the nations will drink continually;
they will drink and drink and be
as if they had never been.
But on Mount Zion will be deliverance;
it will be holy,
and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance.
The house of Jacob will be a fire
and the house of Joseph a flame;
the house of Esau will be stubble,
and they will set it on fire and consume it.
There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.'
The LORD has spoken."

The second thing we see from our text is that

governments have an obligation to acknowledge God.

I've already mentioned Proverbs 8:15 where God declared,

"By me kings reign
and rulers make laws that are just;"

Kings reign and governments exist according to God's good pleasure. As such they should acknowledge that. You'll remember that in the book of Daniel King Nebuchadnezzar failed to acknowledge and honor God. He had a horrible dream which predicted that he would become mad for seven years. Daniel said to him, (Daniel 4:25-27)

"Seven times will pass by for you
until you acknowledge that the Most High
is sovereign over the kingdoms of men
and gives them to anyone he wishes."

Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"

The words were still on his lips when God declared that his royal authority has been taken from him.

Then at the end of the seven years we read, (Daniel 4:34-35

"At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar,
raised my eyes toward heaven,
and my sanity was restored.
Then I praised the Most High;
I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures
from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand or say to him:
'What have you done?'"

Nebuchadnezzar had an obligation to praise and acknowledge God.

So did his son, King Belshazzar. In the very next chapter of Daniel we read about him. He took the goblets that had been taken from the Lord's temple in Jerusalem and partied with them. Daniel said to him, (Daniel 5:22-28)

"You praised the gods of silver and gold,
of bronze, iron, wood and stone,
which cannot see or hear or understand.
But you did not honor the God
who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.
Therefore he sent the hand
that wrote the inscription.
This is the inscription that was written:
This is what these words mean:
Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign
and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed
on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided
and given to the Medes and Persians."

All kings, all governments have an obligation, a duty to praise God and thank Him for His goodness to them. In Psalm 148:11-13 we read,

"kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and maidens, old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens."

The third thing that we see from our text is that

God is gracious in forgiving, gracious in giving governments opportunities to repent.

Elijah had come with blessing for King Ahab. In our text King Ahab is being given an opportunity to turn from his wicked ways and be obedient to the Lord. Elijah runs before King Ahab. This is a remarkable instance of grace. This unity is remarkable and is in sharp contrast with the division that previously existed between the godly prophet and the wicked king. After he told King Ahab that there wouldn't be rain on the land except at his word, Elijah fled for King Ahab. The king searched everywhere for him but couldn't find him anywhere. When Elijah returned and presented himself before the king, Ahab said to him, (1 Kings 18:17)

"Is that you, you troubler of Israel?"

Elijah responded,

"I have not made trouble for Israel.
But you and your father's family have.
You have abandoned the LORD'S commands
and have followed the Baals."

There was a great divide between the prophet and the king. The prophet was faithful to God. The king was unfaithful.

M.B. Van't Veer, writes, (My God is Elijah, p. 316)

"At Mount Carmel things changed. Elijah and Ahab, the prophet and king, no longer stood over against each other, with the one calling down judgment on the other; they were now united in the service of the Lord."

At least that's what appeared on the surface. King Ahab's heart was not changed. But God was being gracious to him and was showing him the way to blessing.

M.B. Van't Veer, writes, (My God is Elijah, p. 316)

"Ahab now saw that the Lord wanted to show him His favor, and he also saw how that favor could be his, namely, if he bound himself to the Word of the Lord brought by Elijah. The service of Elijah and the work of the Ahab were to form a unity. The office of king had to be carried out in complete submission to the prophetic Word."

God was so gracious to King Ahab. In spite of Ahab's wickedness and rebellion, God came to him in grace and showed him the way to blessing for both himself and his people.

To reject God's grace will spell disaster—for individuals and for governments. In
Revelation 19:19-21 we read,

"Then I saw the beast
and the kings of the earth and their armies
gathered together to make war
against the rider on the horse and his army.
But the beast was captured,
and with him the false prophet
who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf.
With these signs he had deluded those who had received
the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.
The two of them were thrown alive
into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
The rest of them were killed with the sword that came
out of the mouth of the rider on the horse,
and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh."

What do the kings of the earth and the rulers of people need to do? We read in Psalm 2:10-12,

"Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry
and you be destroyed in your way,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him."

Christians, we need to be praying for our rulers—that they may rule justly—that they may kiss the Son. That's the only way to true blessing.

Lastly, our text

points us to the glorious King who is to come.

Elijah ran before King Ahab. They looked united—but that appearance was deceiving. But in Jesus the offices of prophet and king are perfectly united. He will lead His people to the Father and rule over them in righteousness, ruling in accordance with God's perfect will. In Him we will be blest. In Revelation 21:9-11,22f we read that one of the angels said to the apostle John,

"Come, I will show you the bride,
the wife of the Lamb."

Then we read,

"And he carried me away in the Spirit
to a mountain great and high,
and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God.
It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was
like that of a very precious jewel,
like a jasper, clear as crystal…
I did not see a temple in the city,
because the Lord God Almighty
and the Lamb are its temple.
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth
will bring their splendor into it.
On no day will its gates ever be shut,
for there will be no night there.
The glory and honor of the nations
will be brought into it."

How wonderful to have Jesus as our King! How wonderful are His laws! How wonderful His reign. (Revelation 22:20)

"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."