What Does It Take?
King David and then his son Solomon led Israel to be a great and powerful nation. Under their leadership, Israel grew to be one of the most powerful nations in that region.
However, Solomon was unfaithful and worshipped idols. Therefore, God judged Solomon, took 10 of Israel’s tribes and gave them to another dynasty. Israel became two nations. The 10 tribes became what is known as the northern kingdom or Israel. The tribe left to David’s line became what is known as the southern kingdom, or Judah.
The map of Israel now looked like this:
When God took the northern kingdom away from Solomon’s son, He gave it to a man name Jeroboam. Here is what God told Jeroboam:
‘I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten of the tribes to you! 32But I will leave him one tribe for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. 33For Solomon has abandoned me and worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; Chemosh, the god of Moab; and Molech, the god of the Ammonites. He has not followed my ways and done what is pleasing in my sight. He has not obeyed my decrees and regulations as David his father did. (1 Kings 11: 31-33[ii])
God explained that He was leaving one tribe for David’s line because of His promise to David. However, He went on to say to Jeroboam:
38If you listen to what I tell you and follow my ways and do whatever I consider to be right, and if you obey my decrees and commands, as my servant David did, then I will always be with you. I will establish an enduring dynasty for you as I did for David, and I will give Israel to you. (1 Kings 11:38)
In a few short months after God had spoken to him, Jeroboam found himself king over the northern kingdom. However, he did not trust God. He thought to himself:
“Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. 27When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the LORD, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.” (1 Kings 12:26-27)
His solution was to set up idols at the north and south ends of his kingdom so that his people would not go to Jerusalem, the heart of the southern kingdom, to worship. He also set up shrines to some of the gods that Solomon had worshipped.
In response, God told Jeroboam that his family would be completely destroyed. His lineage would be completely wiped out. God also said, “[ I ] will abandon Israel because Jeroboam sinned and made Israel sin along with him.” (1 King 14:16)
When Jeroboam died his son, Nadab became king. Nadab was king two years and then Baasha assassinated Nadab, made himself king and slaughtered all the descendants of Jeroboam.
Baasha was worse than Jeroboam, but he passed the Kingdom down to his son Elah. Elah was king for two years and then Zimri wiped out his descendants and even his relatives.
Zimri was king for 7 days, but the army was out of town. So, the army chose their commander Omri as king. Omri ruled Israel for 12 years. This is what 1 Kings 16:25 says of Omri:
But Omri did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him.
So the kings of the northern kingdom have been: Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri and Omri. (As a side note, there was a Tibni who fought a civil war with Omri for control of the nation.) The most notable thing about each of these kings is that each one was worse than his predecessor in ignoring the word of the Lord and in turning the people away from God by promoting idol worship.
The Lord sent prophets, warnings and judgments but these kings ignored them.
Omri had a son name Ahab who succeeded him as king. And, just when we thought it could not get any worse . . .
Ahab married a woman named Jezebel. He built a temple for a god named Baal in his capital city. He set up an Asherah pole. In fact, the Bible says, “He did more to provoke the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him.” (1 Kings 16:33) (1 Kings 21:25 says, “No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the LORD’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel.”)
Up to this point, the kings of the nation were judged. The nation was still prosperous and powerful. It was still one of the major powers in the region. Ahab was a powerful, rich king.
God was not getting through to these kings of Israel, so He raised up a prophet, a man of God, by the name of Elijah. God sent Elijah to Ahab with a message. He said, “As surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” (1 Kings 17:1)
3 1/2 years later, we find Ahab searching the whole land trying to find enough grass to save at least some of his horses and mules. (1 Kings 18:5) It is at this point that the Elijah sets up a meeting with the King.
A little background is in order. Elijah has been in hiding during the past three years. Ahab has been searching everywhere for Elijah. He had searched the surrounding nations and everywhere inside the borders of Israel. It was not safe to worship the Lord God in Israel. We are told that Jezebel had tried to kill all the Lord's prophets but one of the king's servants named Obadiah had hidden 100 of them in two caves.
When Ahab saw Elijah, he said, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?”
(1 Kings 18:17)
Listen to Elijah's response.
18“I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the LORD and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. (1 Kings 18:18)
Is it not interesting that Ahab blamed Elijah for the famine?
How is it that he can ascribe godlike powers to Elijah? Is this not obviously the hand of God? Can a man control the weather? What will it take to get Ahab's attention?
When God sent plagues on Egypt, he targeted specific Egyptian gods. Each plague challenged or corresponded with a particular Egyptian God. The drought that God sent on Israel also targeted the Baal and the Ashtoreth that Ahab worshiped. However, Ahab did not recognize the hand of God but found a scapegoat in God's messenger and blamed it on Elijah.
Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal that were in the employ of King Ahab's house to a contest. 1 Kings 18:20 -21 tell us:
20So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. 21Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.
Elijah built an altar. The prophets of Baal built an altar. They each put wood on top of the altar and then put a bull on top of the wood. The challenge was that they were both to call on their god and the God that answered by fire would be understood to be the true God. Elijah let the prophets of Baal go first.
All morning, the prophets of Baal called on him, but there was no response. Then from noon until about six o'clock in the evening, Elijah heckled them. Listen to what he said.
“You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” (1 Kings 18:27)
There was never any answer from Baal. Baal was the storm god. This challenge was perfectly suited for him because he should have been able to answer by lightning and set the wood on fire that was underneath the bull on the altar.
When it was Elijah's turn, he first soaked everything with water. Then he offered up a simple prayer, and fire came from heaven and consumed the bull, the wood, the stones and the water. Here is how 1 Kings 18:38-39 describe what happened:
38Immediately the fire of the LORD flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The LORD—he is God! Yes, the LORD is God!”
Israel had been straying from God for many years, and the Lord spoke to them repeatedly through prophets. Even when famine came, announced beforehand by a man of God, Ahab would not listen. It took fire from heaven to get the people's attention.
We know that soon there is a time coming that the Scriptures call the tribulation. First, there will be a mass disappearing of Christians, but the world will explain it away. Then there will be earthquakes. Earthquakes challenge our confidence in the earth and our ability to tame it, and our claim that matter is eternal. There will be war, plagues and diseases all with the purpose of demonstrating the futility of our modern idols of economics, political power and science. Science in this setting means our confidence in ourselves and our ability to master all challenges.
Let me ask you a question. Are not these idols at the core of what troubles our world today? Has not God shaken our economic foundations to get our attention? Are earthquakes not becoming more common than ever before? Are new and strange diseases not a cause for concern? What will it take for God to get our attention? God still speaks. Are we listening?
I know for me personally sometimes God has to use drastic measures to get my attention.
Is there a drought in your life today? Has something shaken the very foundations of your life and your world?
Our world assumes that because we are prosperous or well or at peace that we must be all right with God. However, Ahab was prosperous, healthy and had the strongest military in the neighborhood, but he could not have been farther from God.
I would like to echo the message of Elijah, the message of John the Baptist, and the message of Jesus Christ. "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand." God speaks. Are we willing to listen?
Let me close with some words from Jesus.
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:33)
[ii] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.