1 Kings 19:11-18

Sermon preached on November 18, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

This morning we have a great passage before us and it has many wonderful lessons to teach us. Elijah had been discouraged and disheartened. His behavior before God was totally inappropriate. God had called him to be a prophet to His people Israel. But Elijah had abandoned his post. Rather than being a shining light before the Israelites of faith and trust in God—Elijah showed everyone that he was afraid of Jezebel and that He didn't trust God enough. Rather than being strong and courageous and full of zeal for the work of the Lord—he's disheartened and discouraged.

This morning I want you to examine whether the life you're living is appropriate. Are you doing what God wants you to do? Do you have an adequate conception of what God is like and are you living appropriately in light of that knowledge? The passage before us compels us to ask those questions. Elijah was behaving inappropriately. So God took aside and showed Elijah something of what He was like. That revelation made all the difference to Elijah. So let's look at what God taught Elijah.

The main lesson we see from our passage is that

the God that we have to do with is mysterious, awesome and terrifying. He is a God whose ways are mysterious and terrifying. He is a God of vengeance. Yet He is also a God of love. The only way to deal with Him is to do what He says.

Your life before Him needs to be lived appropriately. If not, you're in a lot of trouble.

That's what this passage is about. Let's consider these things. First, we see that

the God that we have to do with is mysterious, awesome and terrifying.

Note what happened. God told Elijah to go out of the cave and stand in His presence, but before He could do that—before He left the cave—a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. It was then that there was a gentle whisper and the Lord was in the whisper. It was only after the gentle whisper that Elijah left the cave and stood at the mouth of the cave. But even then He pulled His cloak over his face.

That was a very impressive and terrifying scene. Can you imagine a wind so powerful that it tears the mountains apart and shatters rocks? Then to have an earthquake and then have a fire. All these things were impressive displays of God's frightening power.

Now I don't know about you—but if I had been with Elijah I would have been terrified. If I was able to speak I think I would have asked Elijah,

"What's happening? What's this all about?"

But Elijah wouldn't have been able to tell me. He didn't understand these things either. They made no impression on his as far as him better understanding his mission and what he should have been doing. After it all, God again asked him,

"What are you doing here, Elijah?"

Elijah's response was the same as it was before. (verses 10, 14) He said,

"I have been very zealous
for the LORD God Almighty.
The Israelites have rejected your covenant,
broken down your altars,
and put your prophets to death with the sword.
I am the only one left,
and now they are trying to kill me too."

He didn't get the meaning of the meaning of the wind, earthquake, fire and gentle whisper. It was a mysterious revelation to Elijah. God revealed something of Himself—but it was inscrutable.

Our God is mysterious. His ways are mysterious. Can you understand Him? Can you understand His ways? Can you understand His providences? Our God is glorious and majestic. Our God is high and lifted up. He is a consuming fire. His ways are mysterious, beyond our understanding. As we read in
Isaiah 55:8-9,

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD.
'As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"

The world today thinks that this is a cop-out.

They accuse Christians of hiding behind this façade of God's greatness. They want us to explain about how there can be a good God who is all powerful when there is all the suffering in the world. People today are very arrogant and think that they can judge God and His ways.

But non-Christians aren't the only ones who have questions about those things.
Elijah was like that a little bit. He had had enough. He didn't understand the way that God was working things out. But he knew that he didn't like it. He wanted to die. Job was like that a bit too. He asked God all kinds of questions about the horrible things that had happened to him.

Yet it's interesting that God didn't answer any of Job's questions. He basically told Job that He didn't know enough to question God.
So our answer that God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways higher than our ways, and that God and His ways are mysterious and inscrutable—that's not a cop-out—it's the way that things are. It's reality. It's the truth. In Job 38:1-21 we read about how God responded to Job.

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm.
He said: Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it and set its doors
and bars in place, when I said,
'This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt'?
Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!"

Now what this means is that we need to know our place. We are creatures. God is God. He is awesome—perfect in all ways. He is far beyond what we can comprehend. He is so glorious that we cannot see Him and live.

Indeed, when Elijah sensed God's presence
he put his cloak over his face and came out of the cave. How appropriate and necessary for him to do that! That act reminds me of the seraphs who attend God on His throne. Isaiah 6 describes them and tells us that they each had six wings and that with two of their wings they cover their faces. God's glory is so great that even these great seraphs cannot look on God with uncovered faces.

This incident also reminds me of when Moses asked to see God's glory. That happened in the same area that Elijah was in and some have suggested that the cave that Elijah was in may have been the same cleft of rock where God put Moses when He passed by.

God said to Moses when Moses asked to see His glory, (Exodus 33:19-23)

"'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you,
and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence.
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I will have compassion.'
'But', he said, 'you cannot see my face,
for no one may see me and live.'
Then the LORD said, There is a place near me
where you may stand on a rock.
When my glory passes by,
I will put you in a cleft in the rock
and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.
Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back;
but my face must not be seen."

Elijah was right to put his cloak over his face. He knew his place. He knew that he was in the presence of the God of the universe and that he could not look on Him without being consumed.

This applies to you as well. Know your place before God.
When you think of God—do so with the greatest reverence and esteem. Recognize that He is so far about you that you could not see Him and live. Recognize that He is glorious and majestic—and that that's the reason you cannot see Him and live—because of His perfections.

Job got it right after God spoke to him. He said, (42:2,6)

"Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know…
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

Now one of the things that this means for Christians is that

the glorious One that you serve is worthy of your best service.

You should never get tired of serving Him. You must not be easily put off serving Him. There's no need to get discouraged in serving Him. There's no reason to become disheartened.

When I was in university there was a very popular poem, Desiderata, which had a line,

"no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."

The universe is unfolding as it should because God rules. Jesus Christ has been exalted to the highest place and all rule, power and authority has been given to Him. (Ephesians 1) Your service of Him should be your greatest passion in life—no matter what your circumstances, no matter what happens to you, no matter how things work out. As the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:20-22,

"I eagerly expect and hope
that I will in no way be ashamed,
but will have sufficient courage so that now as always
Christ will be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."

Elijah was discouraged and disheartened. He had no need to be. He was ready to give up. He shouldn't have been. God was working out His plan.

The second thing we see from our text is that

God's ways are terrifying. He is a God of vengeance.

Our God is a God whom everyone should be serving. He is their Creator and He is thoroughly good. The fact that people have rebelled against Him and don't serve Him is a great evil. The fact that people sin by serving false gods is such a horrible evil that it should be punished.

Elijah was discouraged and disheartened. He wanted to give up on God's work. To set Elijah right, God gave him a glimpse of His glory—and His terrible acts of punishment of sin.

Elijah didn't understand the meaning of the wind, the earthquake, the fire—so God explained it. He said, (verses 15-18)

"Go back the way you came,
and go to the Desert of Damascus.
When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.
Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel,
and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat
from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.
Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael,
and Elisha will put to death
any who escape the sword of Jehu."

Now what's important to understand here is that these people are anointed for horrible judgment and punishment. They were to be God's instruments in bringing judgment to those who have rejected God and disobeyed Him.

We see this is Hazael

In 2 Kings 8:7f we read,

"Elisha went to Damascus,
and Ben-hadad king of Aram was ill.
When the king was told,
The man of God has come all the way up here,
he said to Hazael,
Take a gift with you and go to meet the man of God.
Consult the LORD through him; ask him,
'Will I recover from this illness?'
Hazael went to meet Elisha,
taking with him as a gift forty camel-loads
of all the finest wares of Damascus.
He went in and stood before him, and said,
Your son Ben-hadad king of Aram has sent me to ask,
'Will I recover from this illness?'
Elisha answered, 'Go and say to him,
'You will certainly recover';
but the LORD has revealed to me that he will in fact die.'
He stared at him with a fixed gaze
until Hazael felt ashamed.
Then the man of God began to weep.
'Why is my lord weeping?' asked Hazael.
'Because I know the harm
you will do to the Israelites,' he answered.
'You will set fire to their fortified places,
kill their young men with the sword,
dash their little children to the ground,
and rip open their pregnant women.'
Hazael said, 'How could your servant, a mere dog,
accomplish such a feat?'
The LORD has shown me
that you will become king of Aram,
answered Elisha. Then Hazael left Elisha
and returned to his master.
When Ben-hadad asked, What did Elisha say to you?
Hazael replied,
He told me that you would certainly recover.
But the next day he took a thick cloth,
soaked it in water and spread it
over the king's face, so that he died.
Then Hazael succeeded him as king."

Hazael became a murderous, ruthless, horrible king. He would do great harm to Israel. We are given summaries of it in 2 Kings. For example, in 2 Kings 10:32-33 we read,

"In those days the LORD
began to reduce the size of Israel.
Hazael overpowered the Israelites
throughout their territory east of the Jordan …"

In 2 Kings 13:3 we read,

"So the LORD'S anger burned against Israel,
and for a long time he kept them
under the power of Hazael king of Aram…"

And in verse 22 we read,

"Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel
throughout the reign of Jehoahaz."

In all this Hazael was an instrument in God's hand. God's anger burned against Israel—so He had Hazael oppress them.

God's people went after Baal and it seemed to Elijah that all was lost. But God showed him that through Hazael God would punish the people. God used one of His enemies, a foreigner, King Hazael of Syria, to bring His wrath upon Israel. God showed Elijah that those who rejected Him, those who fought against Him—would not succeed. They would be severely punished.

This would be especially true of Jezebel.

We see this in Jehu.

The next thing that Elijah was to do was to anoint Jehu to be king over Israel. God said to Elijah, (1 Kings 19:17)

"Jehu will put to death
any who escape the sword of Hazael,"

Now Jehu was going to be a wicked king. But what is significant here is that God used this evil man to inflict His punishment on Queen Jezebel and King Ahab and their family. You'll remember that after King Ahab killed Naboth and took his vineyard, following Jezebel's directions, Elijah said to him, (1 Kings 21:20-24)

"because you have sold yourself
to do evil in the eyes of the LORD.
'I am going to bring disaster on you.
I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab
every last male in Israel— slave or free.
I will make your house
like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat
and that of Baasha son of Ahijah,
because you have provoked me to anger
and have caused Israel to sin.'
And also concerning Jezebel the LORD says:
'Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.'
Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab
who die in the city, and the birds of the air
will feed on those who die in the country."

What's important for our purposes is that Jehu was the man who God used to do that. We read about it in 2 Kings 9 and 10. Jehu killed Ahab's son and successor, King Joram of Israel, shooting him with a bow between the shoulders. He then ordered that Joram's body be thrown in the field that belonged to Naboth. Jehu then went to Jezreel and had Queen Jezebel killed. In 2 Kings 9:30-37 we read,

"Then Jehu went to Jezreel.
When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes,
arranged her hair and looked out of a window.
As Jehu entered the gate, she asked,
'Have you come in peace, Zimri,
you murderer of your master?'
He looked up at the window and called out,
'Who is on my side? Who?'
Two or three eunuchs looked down at him.
'Throw her down!' Jehu said. So they threw her down,
and some of her blood spattered the wall
and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.
Jehu went in and ate and drank.
'Take care of that cursed woman,' he said, 'and bury her,
for she was a king's daughter.'
But when they went out to bury her,
they found nothing except her skull,
her feet and her hands.
They went back and told Jehu, who said,
'This is the word of the LORD that he spoke through
his servant Elijah the Tishbite:
'On the plot of ground at Jezreel
dogs will devour Jezebel's flesh.
Jezebel's body will be like refuse
on the ground in the plot at Jezreel,
so that no one will be able to say,
'This is Jezebel.''"

After that, Jehu had all seventy sons of King Ahab killed. He had the people of Jezreel kill them all, behead them, and send their heads to him. Then he went to Samaria, and killed all who were left of Ahab's family. This was all according to the Word of the Lord spoken to Elijah. (2 Kings 10:17) Jehu was God's instrument of judgment on Ahab and Jezebel.

Now what this means is that when you're wondering about all the evil in the world, about all the injustices, all the evildoers—

know that God will set everything right.

God will do that. There is no doubt about that.

Yes, there are going to be times when everything in this world seems out of whack. It seemed that way for Elijah Queen Jezebel seemed triumphant and unstoppable. But God put everything right. She was destroyed.

In the future things will seem even worse than in Elijah's time. We read about such times in
Revelation 13:4-10.

"Men worshiped the dragon
because he had given authority to the beast,
and they also worshiped the beast and asked,
'Who is like the beast?
Who can make war against him?'
The beast was given a mouth
to utter proud words and blasphemies
and to exercise his authority for forty-two months.
He opened his mouth to blaspheme God,
and to slander his name and his dwelling place
and those who live in heaven.
He was given power to make war
against the saints and to conquer them.
And he was given authority over every tribe,
people, language and nation.
He who has an ear, let him hear.
If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
with the sword he will be killed.
This calls for patient endurance
and faithfulness on the part of the saints."

What horror will characterize those days. But Christians, no matter how bad things get—remember that God will set everything right.

You can be absolutely assured of this because what we see here is that

God is so great that He even uses His enemies to accomplish His purposes.

God used the heathen, Hazael to punish the disobedient people of the northern kingdom of Israel. God used Hazael's lust for power, his murder of King Ben-hadad, and his ruthlessness to punish disobedient Israel.

Many of these things are mysterious to us—like Elijah's message to tell King Ben-hadad that he would recover, like his telling Hazael that he would be king. But one of the clear points of all this is that God used this evil, bloodthirsty enemy to accomplish His purposes.

We see the same thing in
Ahab's death. God used a lying spirit in the mouth of one of Ahab's prophets to lure Ahab to his death at Ramoth-Gilead. (1 Kings 22:22) God used Joseph's brothers and their sin to save the people of Israel from the famine. (Genesis 50:20) Joseph said to his brothers, (Genesis 45:8)

"it was not you who sent me here, but God."

(Genesis 50:20-21)

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good
to accomplish what is now being done,
the saving of many lives."

God is so powerful, so great, so in control of all things—that He can even use His enemies to accomplish His purposes.

God even used
Satan to accomplish His righteous purposes. God intended to save people by the death of Jesus. In order for that to happen, a betrayal needed to take place. In Luke 22:3-4 we read,

"Then Satan entered Judas,
called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.
And Judas went to the chief priests
and the officers of the temple guard
and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus."

Satan was filled with such hatred of Jesus that he incited Judas to betray Jesus. But it was all according to God's plan. As Peter said in his Pentecost sermon, (Acts 2:23)

"This man was handed over to you
by God's set purpose and foreknowledge;
and you, with the help of wicked men,
put him to death by nailing him to the cross."

Christians, you can trust God to work out His perfect plan. As Job said after God appeared to him, (Job 42:2)

"I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted."

We never have to be discouraged or disheartened. God rules. All power has been given to Jesus. He will make everything right. His power is so great that He even uses His enemies to accomplish His purposes.

For those of you who are not Christians,

this means that you are going to suffer the punishment for your sin unless you go to Jesus.

Sin will surely be punished. Sin is evil and is directed against God and His rule. It is right that sin be punished. And punished it will be.

Jezebel's sin went unpunished for awhile. For a time it looked like she was immune from God's wrath and that she would inflict harm upon Elijah. But she was not able to kill him. No one was. God took Elijah up to heaven.

But then Jezebel met her end. Dogs ate her. She was punished for her sins.

Your sins have to be punished. The great question is—are they going to be punished on you? Like Ahab, like Jezebel, are you going to face the wrath of God for your sins?

There is another way. Jesus can take them. He died for sinners. One of the great things we see from our text is that there is also grace with God. John 3:16 says,

"For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life."

In verse 18 God said that He reserved 7000 in Israel. Not all in Israel would perish. God reserved 7000 for Himself. 7000 is a symbolic number. Seven is a special number signifying completeness. 7000 is the number 7 multiplied by 10x10x10. Ten is also a number signifying completeness. 7000 stands for the number of God's redeemed—the whole of God's people—every one of them will be safe.

Will you be one of that number? Jesus is your only hope. He died for sinners. He endured the wrath of God for their sins. He took their place so they could be saved. Go to Jesus and find deliverance. He's your only hope.

Lastly, for Christians, the fact that God punishes sin means that

you need to persist in God's work and warn people of their danger.

God is a jealous God who will not give His honor to another. He is a God of terrible vengeance. What should be our response to that? The old KJV of 2 Corinthians 5:11 tells us,

"Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord,
we persuade men;"

We are called to go out and tell all people about our Great Savior Jesus, who died for sinners and who calls them to Himself. We must not grow weary or become discouraged. Don't give up the struggle. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:58,

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.
Let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully
to the work of the Lord,
because you know that your labor
in the Lord is not in vain."

God will save His people. He will do it through your work. No matter how hard the struggle becomes, no matter how disappointing, no matter how frustrating, no matter how unfruitful—persevere.