"The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Matthew 3:3).
We read that John the Baptist would be like Elijah the Prophet. We are told concerning John that he would: "Go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). John's mission was to preach repentance. He would exhort people to change their hearts and turn again to God.
What about Elijah, the man who was the type for John? Who was the Prophet Elijah? What was his mission?
The prophet Elijah is introduced to us in I Kings 17: "And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word" (I Kings 17:1).
Elijah prophesied in the days of Ahab, who was a corrupt king of Israel. Elijah was commissioned to notify Ahab that his kingdom was about to be punished and that God would withhold the rain.
His credibility as a prophet is established in this same chapter when he was used as an instrument of God in the resurrection of a child. His mother witnessed to the fact by proclaiming: "And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth" (I Kings 17:24).
When we consider the story of Elijah we find that his life demonstrates that those who speak out against evil are likely to be persecuted by the ungodly. This principle extends to all who attempt to live a life in service to God, as we are told be the Apostle Paul: "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12).
One of his more notable encounters is found in I Kings 18, where Elijah provokes a contest with the prophets of Baal to demonstrate that there is a true God in Israel. King Ahab initiates the encounter by accusing Elijah of being the troublemaker in the Nation of Israel. We read about Ahab's slander in verse 17: "And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?"
Elijah replied: "I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim" (v. 18).
How typical for sinful man, to blame the messenger. To suggest that there would be peace in the nation if Elijah would simply ignore all of their false worship. We should stop and think. Do we ever strike out at those who are trying to guide us back to God? Do we ever blame those who are trying their best to follow the rules, simply because they are making our own attempt to break the rules more difficult?
It is on this occasion that Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest on Mount Carmel. We read his opening remarks to all of the people in verse 21: "And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word."
In this challenge, Elijah has described in very simple terms what the problem really is. The people are being tossed to and fro between two opposing views. Should they follow the God of Israel? Or should they follow after idols?
Our lives are often centered around a similar struggle. We are constantly caught between two opinions. Shall we serve God and live? Or shall be continue to gratify our natural desires, knowing that we will die? There should be no choice, and yet countless numbers of people continue to live after the flesh in spite of the consequences. The people of Israel would need a miracle to lead them to repentance. What will it take for us?
The contest rules were simple. The prophets of Baal and Elijah would both prepare a sacrifice. The true God would manifest himself by consuming the sacrifice with fire. Elijah allowed the prophets of Baal the first opportunity to establish their credibility.
They prepared their alter, and their sacrifice, and then they called upon Baal to answer. They begged, they pleaded and they cut themselves. They humiliated themselves for hours, but their was no answer from their gods of wood and stone.
Then, in his turn, Elijah made the task more difficult to demonstrate the great power of God. He prepared the sacrifice and then poured barrels of water on it. He made the task impossible for man to accomplish through any cheap trick. He then called upon the name of the Lord. We read what happened, and how the people responded in verses 37-39:
It is interesting that after the miracle, Elijah commanded the people to slay all of the prophets of Baal, and it would have seemed that he would have remained the hero in Israel for many days to come. However, Queen Jezebel was not impressed. She ignored the power of God and the endorsement of his prophet, and commanded that Elijah be slain.
It is hard to imagine just how this wicked queen could convince herself that she was more powerful than the God of Israel, and that she should be allowed to continue in her evil ways.
When we consider the way that the leaders of the people responded to Jesus the Christ, (who also performed miracles in the Name of God), we realize that all men are capable of blindness in his justification of sin. They sought to kill him for his good deeds, and they were enabled through the will of God to crucify him. All of the prophets were persecuted and the Son of God was slain by those who have in every generation fought against God. Their victories are only temporary, and are allowed only through the longsuffering of God, who endures with much grief, their wickedness for a season, so that he might lead his servants to repentance and reward them with His glory.
Elijah, who fled into the wilderness to escape the wrath of Jezebel, was convinced that he was all alone in his zeal for God. He was willing to die, convinced that he had failed in his effort to glorify God in Israel.
Elijah learned a lesson that day. One that all of those who serve God in fear and trembling do well to remember. We read of his lesson on Mt Sinai in I Kings 19 as follows:
It may seem that we are all alone in our efforts to glorify God in this evil society, but this is not the case. There are others, yet 7000 (a typical number) that are still trying to be faithful. Our challenge is to go and return to our mission. To continue to preach and teach the gospel of the Kingdom of God, even if we are despised by the world. To find the others who are known by their fruit. Together we will be able to comfort, edify and strengthen one another, as we all strive to complete our own process of conversion.
Together, we will be able to continue to offer a word of hope, the gospel of salvation to as many as the Lord our God shall call.