Providence in pandemic part 3
Providence in Pandemic
WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE GIVING UP – PERSEVERANCE IN PANDEMIC (1 KINGS 19)
When the road is long and you feel like giving up - persevere
4 truths about God to help you keep going:
1: God's tender care (19:4-8)
2: God's spiritual concern (19:9-10)
3: God's true glory (19:11-14)
4: God's hold of the future (19:15-19)
We’ve been looking at the providence of God in the life of Elijah and applying what we learn to some of the realities we might be facing in the midst of this pandemic.
Elijah appears out of nowhere in 1 Kings 17:1 with an announcement for the king of Israel. “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” He is God’s messenger with a message of judgment on a rebellious king and an apostate nation. God had planned a 3 year drought in order to bring this nation and this king to its knees, to reveal to them who the true God is and call them to trust and obey Him. The next few chapters reveal the unfolding of that plan.
We saw God protect and provide for Elijah in the mountains on the West by commanding the ravens to feed him. Then He moves Elijah to Phoenecian territory on the west coast as he had planned to reveal Himself to this foreign widow from Zarepath. We saw how her faith in God’s promises becomes a source of provision for the rest of the drought. At the end of chapter 17 we saw God raise her son from the dead in response to Elijah’s prayer. The in chapter 18 God plans to send the rain, but first Elijah arranges this big showdown with the prophets of Baal on mount Carmel so that all Israel might see and know who the true God is. The true God is a prayer answering God, and after He incinerates the Altar /Elijah had erected the people cry, the Lord, He is God, the Lord He is God and God then sends the rain at the end of chapter 18….
And again, we are thinking – this is the climax, this is the happy ending to an amazing epic…. But chapter 18 is followed by chapter 19 and chapter 19 leaves us scratching our heads…..
Read 1 Kings 19:1-5
As one commentator explains, “ Elijah’s flight in 19:1–3 changes the face of the story…In three short verses the writer has totally changed the flow of the story. Victory seems to be transformed into defeat, the brave prophet into a cowering refugee, and the victory over death and Baal into an opportunity for death to reassert itself through Jezebel’s oath to take Elijah’s life.
There is only one hero in the Bible and His name is Jesus Christ. All the rest, without exception or men and women with feet of clay…..
As God’s plans unfold, everyone is humbled from the least to the greatest, from the king, to the widow, to the prophet, to the rank and file Israelite. This is one of the most important implications of providence. God is sovereign and we are not, God is wise and we are not, God is in control, and we are not, God is powerful and we are not. God’s plans prevail and ours do not…..
Elijah has served the Lord and trusted the Lord and sacrificed for the Lord – but now He’s faced with His own inability, His own powerlessness, the futility of what He has accomplished – and it breaks him. 3 years of drought, 3 years of living off bread and water, this incredible showdown where God’s power was placed unequivocally on display and Ahab had seen with His own eyes how fire from heaven had fell and destroyed everything and yet he had actually seen none of it, He had been touched by none of it. Spiritually speaking, he was as blind and hard hearted as ever. Ahab goes home and tells his wife all the trouble the Elijah had made for them and its like chapter 17 and 18 never even happened…
God had taken Elijah to the Eastern border, then to the Western border, now Elijah takes himself to the Southern most border of Judah – as far away as he can go and then he leaves his servant there and in 19:4 he takes himself out into the wilderness and sits under a tree and asks God to take his life, “God I’m done with serving you.”
Application: This pandemic is undoing much of what we’ve worked so hard to build. It’s unravelling our plans, emptying our reserves, closing our companies, dismantling our dreams and taking our loved ones. In the next few months many of us will see our lives as we know it dismantled and we will look at the desolation and say, “What has the last 20-30-40 years been all about? What have all the sacrifices been for, what have I actually accomplished? What’s the point?” And some of us are going to join with Elijah and say, “God, I’m done with serving you, take my life.”
If you don’t think God might take you there, then you don’t know your own weakness and you don’t know God… So listen up because you will need the truths in this passage to get you through to the end of chapter 19….
When you feel like giving up – 5 truths about God’s providence that will get you going again
1: God’s Tender Care (19:5-8)
This is an incredible picture of God’s abundant mercies, which are new every morning. God’s tender care, God’s incredible patience and deep love for His children.
Elijah has just thrown all of his toys out the cot and is having a fat tantrum. God take my life. If I were God I would have been tempted to answer that prayer. God sends another messenger, an angel to feed him. A personal messenger this time, not just the birds or the brook but a table set for him.
Now you can understand the truth of Rom 2:4 that God’s kindness, tolerance and patience is meant to bring us to repentance.
Elijah in Rebellion
Now don’t misunderstand vs 8, Elijah has not been brought to repentance yet, He is not back on track with God. In vs 4 he took himself into the wilderness to be alone and die. But God didn’t let him die but instead sustained him. In vs 8 he again takes himself out into the wilderness to die. He walks away from the Lord. In vs 4 he’s a days journey from Beersheeba, so even if he limped on crutches he could have got to Horeb in under a week. But he’s not on God’s mission, he still wondering around in the wilderness hoping to die and God is still sustaining Him.
God is miraculously sustaining a disobedient and obstinate servant for 40 days in the wilderness….Please tell me that description rings a bell with you. This was Israel in Numbers after they were too afraid to enter the promised land…and Elijah hadn’t realized how true his statement was in vs 4 “I am no better than my fathers.”
God’s spiritual concern (9-10)
Again, God’s not worried about Elijah’s comfort or his physical state or his geographical location – He’s worried about where Elijah is at spiritually. He’s ministered to him physically, now he’s going to minister to him spiritually.
If the name Horeb is not familiar with you, vs 8 tells us it’s the mount of God. This is the mountain where Moses first saw God’s glory, where Israel entered into a covenant relationship with God and saw His glory revealed as He thundered from the top of the mountain.
You can know that God has led this wandering prophet to the place where He will be confronted with God’s glory and be nourished with God’s truth. This was the destination that God had planned for Elijah. Even as Elijah was wandering in the wilderness looking for death, God was leading Elijah back to Him.
So He asks Elijah, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Of course Elijah has no idea. But the question is not just one of geography or even of purpose. It’s really a question probing Elijah’s spiritual condition. “What are you doing here, in this condition of faithlessness and hopelessness and rebellion?” And so that’s the question Elijah attempts to answer. He explains to God how he came to be in this depressed condition.
And his answer goes like this – I have been very zealous for you, I have sacrificed and trusted and obeyed and lived off bread and bird droppings for 3 years, and put my life in danger and prayed and prayed until there are callouses on my knees – and what has it all accomplished…. You are the God of the armies of Israel, you are the king of kings, you are the one true living God and yet you stand by and do nothing while these people drag your name through the mud and kill your servants. I’m as good as dead and yet my life lingers on because you won’t let me die in peace but you want to let me die at the hands of that women…. of all people. What am I doing here God – you tell me…. What more do you want from me – I’ve given you everything I’ve got and it’s not enough….
I’ve paraphrased a bit, but that is the gist of what Elijah had to say to God.
· He’s lost sight of God and instead is fixated on Ahab and Jezebel and the people and what they have done or not done.
· He has exchanged the fear of God for the fear of man.
· His plans and purposes have become more important than God’s plans and purposes. I guess he had hoped for Ahab to repent in dust and ashes, or failing that for God to strike him dead or something.
· And what makes it worse is that Elijah has arrived here while on a pathway of trying to serve God. He says in vs 10 I have been very “jealous” for the Lord. Jealous for God’s honour, and from what we can tell, Elijah had been. And still, what lies at the heart of His complaint is that the Lord is being dishonoured among the people.
· This is not just a selfish, self-centered man whose throwing a tantrum because God hasn’t given him what he wants. And yet Elijah has become very self-focussed. In vs 10 he says “I alone am left.” I’m all alone in this….
When we find ourselves in this pit, it’s really because somewhere along the line we started serving ourselves instead of God. Whatever the circumstances and reasons – we have become self-focussed. This is the main feature of depression or hopelessness or despondency or whatever name you want to give it – its all about me. My problems, my failures, my circumstances, my disappointment, my hopes which have been dashed or expectations which haven’t been met.
So if the problem is that I’ve become lost in myself- then the solution is that I have to get my eyes of myself onto God again. I have to see His glory and goodness and power and faithfulness with greater clarity. Which is exactly what God does for Elijah next…
God has to first bring Elijah down, so that he can show him his glory.
God’s tender care, God’s spiritual concern, God’s true glory.
3: GOD’S TRUE GLORY (11-14)
God then gives Elijah a revelation of His true glory. Now remember, this is at Horeb, the exact place where Moses asked to see God’s glory and where He hid him in the cleft of the rock and past by him in Ex 34 proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
Moses had also just faced a tremendous disappointment when he came down from the mountain with the covenant written on the tablets of stone only to find that Israel were already breaking it. In that context he also asks that God take his life….and then when God tells him he is going to have to keep leading these stubborn and rebellious people – he asks to see God’s glory. He had seen the burning bush, the 10 plagues, the parting of the red see, the water gushing from the rock, the crystal see around God’s throne, but still he knew He needed a clearer, better, higher view of God in all His glory.
Elijah had to learn the same lesson as Moses had to learn, very likely in the same place and in a very similar way….
· God sends a wind that is so violent it is tearing the rocks apart
· Then he sends an earthquake so that the earth is shaking with His power
· Then he sends fire from heaven so that the sky is lit up with His glory.
· All of these natural phenomenon are associated in the bible with Theophanies, with the manifest presence of God.
· If there is any way to see the glory of God with physical eyes and experience the glory of God with physical senses – than these manifestations are it.
· This is exactly what Moses wanted – Lord show me your glory, He had asked God on this mountain. But God said, no man can see my glory and live and instead he hid him in the cleft of the rock and proclaimed His glory. He explained to Moses in words, which the eyes of faith can see and understand and apprehend and lay hold of.
· See faith doesn’t operate in the realm of sight and senses – faith operates in the realm of understanding and truth.
· To understand and lay hold of the truth about who God is, that is to understand His glory in a way that is infinitely more important than seeing some bright shining light which is here today and gone tomorrow.
· Ahab had seen something of that when the fire had come down from heaven and consumed the alter and it had brought him no closer to God, no closer to understanding His sin and weakness and God’s holiness and power…..
· Even as Moses sees God’s glory as he hears God proclaim who He is, so now Elijah doesn’t see God in these powerful physical manifestations, but he hears him as the voice of God speaks to Him.
· More than anything else, the glory of God is His character. God’s glory is who He is, more than what He looks like. So what we need more than a revelation of God, is the revelation from God, the one which we now find in sacred Scripture. This side of heaven, this is the clearest and most profound way that we can see God in all His glory.
· To come to know who God truly is, is to see His glory and we don’t come to know that through mystical experiences, or sensory perception, or impressive miracles or mighty displays of power - but through hearing His voice as it now speaks in the pages of His Word….
Application: Our faith needs to be fed with the word. You will not get through this pandemic if you let your Bibles get dusty. Open your Bibles and ask God daily to show you His glory there revealed and to strengthen your faith….
When we find ourselves lost and alone and hopeless and confounded – we don’t need to find the strength in ourselves to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps. We don’t need to summon our reserves – we need to exercise our faith. With the muscles of faith we need to reach out and lay hold of our all-wise and all sufficient Father – who is a rock and refuge, who is a mighty fortress and deliverer, who is a gentle shepherd and merciful judge and benevolent king…. And the muscles of faith are strengthened as we exercise them in God’s Word. Listen to it, memorize it, read it, study it, speak about it, wrestle with it – whatever you do, feed your faith with it – especially when you are wondering where God is and what He is doing…
And so God asks Elijah again, in this soft gentle voice which is designed to woo Elijah back to his senses – what are you doing here Elijah? Which god are you trusting in and serving now?...
Elijah’s answer is just the same, at this point he is as hard-hearted and hard of hearing as Ahab and rebellious Israel. I think he began to realize that already back in vs 4 because he said “Take away my life, I am no better than my fathers.” He would like to believe he is better, he is desperately trying to convince God he is better, that he has been zealous and faithful – but he is as much in need of mercy as the rest of God’s people….
We are useless to God until we come to the end of ourselves and begin to lay hold of God by faith. Because then God’s glory is put on display and not ours.
God’s tender care, God’s spiritual concern, God’s true glory.
4: God’s hold of the future (15-18)
I just love what God does here, because it gives me so much hope…He says to Elijah, “Get going, this is what I want you to do.”
At this point Elijah hasn’t changed one bit, and neither has God. God has been using him and will continue to use him, despite himself… Get up and get going….
Trusting in God’s strength doesn’t make us feel strong. Faith doesn’t feel like some warm energy which suddenly comes over me and moves we forward. Faith is not a feeling, it doesn’t feel like anything has changed – but Elijah gets up and carries on serving God as he always has and God carries on using him as he always has.
It’s as simple as that – you get up and you keep doing what it is that God has called you to do because its God who has called you to do it.
The instructions God gives Elijah actually address his concerns. Has anything really changed, are you going to do anything about this mess God? God says, look this is what I’ve planned.
· 15 Hazael will be king of Syria. You go anoint him because I am the king who appoints the kings even over the foreign nations.
· 16 Jehu is going to be king over Israel. Ahab will be taken down and taken out when and where I have determined.
· Elisha is going to be prophet – whether its through you or your successor – I will make sure someone continues to speak my word.
· 17 I am going to bring inescapable judgment on these rebellious people.
· 18 Not only will I judge, but I will save and preserve a remnant. The Hebrew of vs 18 is a Hiphil which means “I will cause to remain” 700 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. I will keep a faithful remnant.
The point God is making to Elijah is – don’t fret it, I’ve got this covered. You focus on what I’ve called you to do, you faithfully proclaim the truth and I’ll take care of the rest. And as the rest of the book of kings unfold, that is exactly what happens – everything unfolds according to God’s Word. Which is how this narrative began back in chapter 17 – Go and tell Ahab what I have planned is going to happen according to my word. And now He must basically tell the same thing to Elijah. All this will take place according to my word.
When we find ourselves lost, we must realize that God is not far off. When we find ourselves confounded, we must realize that God is not confused. When we find ourselves overwhelmed, we must realize that God is not impotent. God is in no way diminished by our lack of faith, His purposes are not thwarted by our lack of co-operation. His glory is to be patient with sinners, to be loving toward His people, to be true to His character and His Word as he unfolds the future as if it were history.
God is not done
The narrative has taken an unexpected turn to us the reader, to Elijah – but not to God. God has and always been in complete control of the past, the present and the future.
You would think that God is done with Elijah at this point, but He’s not. This is not even the middle of the narrative. There are some amazing things still to come, 5 chapters of his story still remain. We are still going to see Ahab repent in dust and ashes in chapter 21. We are going to see Jezebel judged and defamed, Elijah calling fire down from heaven in 2 kings 1 and finally how God takes him up into heaven in a chariot and he becomes 1 of 2 old testament characters to escape death.
The story is not over until God says its over…. God is not done with us when we throw up our hands and say – I give up, take me home. Our God is bigger than that, wiser than that, more powerful than that.
Take this lesson from Elijah….You’re not done until God says you’re done! The best is still to come, our God will sustain us with His tender mercy, He will address our spiritual condition, He will continue to show us His true glory in His Word and lead us into to play our part in the future that He has planned – so get up and get serving Him again.