From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
We are entering the final section of 1 Kings, which is about King Ahab, the worst king in Israelite history, and the prophet Elijah. Today’s passage is short and will introduce these two main characters.
I would like to talk why Ahab was considered the worst king and what Elijah represents. From both characters, I would like to share reflections on the idea of suffering and how we can respond to hard times. Let’s pray.
[Read 1 Kings 16:29-17:1]
So why does the writer of 1 Kings think that Ahab is the worst king of all? Here are three reasons.
First, his marriage to Jezebel. Queen Jezebel would influence Ahab to kill prophets of Yahweh, the God of Israel. She ordered her people to search and kill those loyal to Yahweh, and to desecrate places of worship to Yahweh. Choosing her as a wife reflected Ahab’s own character and willingness to compromise the values of Israel’s God.
Second, like Jezebel, Ahab was a worshipper of the deity called Baal. Worshippers of Baal sometimes offered children as sacrifices. Verse 33 mentions that Ahab made an Asherah pole. The goddess called Asherah was both the mother of Baal and, at the same time, the mistress of Baal. Worshippers of Asherah and Baal were known to engage in all kinds of sexual acts with temple prostitutes.
Thirdly, Ahab asked a man named Hiel to rebuild Jericho. Jericho used to be a mighty fortress, but it fell in the days of Joshua, when God enabled the Israelites to destroy it. Ahab may have wanted to rebuild the fortress as a defense against the nation of Moab. However, centuries ago God had forbidden the Israelites to rebuild it, as recorded in Joshua 6:26: “Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho.” Still, Hiel rebuilt the city, and the curse of God fell upon his two sons.
To summarize, Ahab was openly hostile to the God of Israel and defiant of His commands. The reign of Ahab was a dreadful time for believers of Yahweh, the one True God.
But it is not only during Ahab’s rule that believers of Yahweh have suffered. Throughout history, there have been terrible times for believers. Even today, I think of Christians in North Korea and some Muslim countries, where people have to hide their faith or risk being killed.
Is God blind to our hardships? No. For example, Revelation 2:13 records a word of God to the early church in Pergamum:.“I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness who was put to death in your city.” God knows exactly what we are facing.
Then why doesn’t God remove our suffering if He knows about it? Especially when we have done nothing to deserve it? The whole book of Job attempts to answer that question. But Job ends up concluding that the answers are beyond our understanding for now.
Thankfully the Bible doesn’t leave us on such a hopeless note. The Bible affirms that God cares so much about us that he was willing to show it in the most extravagant, unbelievable way. He came in the form of Jesus and died the most painful death. God can truly say to us, “I know what it means to suffer. I know what it means to grieve.”
God is with you when people make fun of your faith and insult you. God is with you when you have lost someone. God is with you when a disease eats away at your body. God is with you when you battle depression and feel nobody understands you. He knows everything you are going through and He has felt the weight of your pain.
Hebrews 12:1-3 reminds us to turn our eyes to Jesus and to reflect on His suffering for us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
As for people like Ahab who persecute believers and innocent people, God says not to worry as He will call them to judgment at the proper time. Let’s turn to Isaiah 41:10-12: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.”
The doom of Ahab and Jezebel would come at the proper time. First, God sent Elijah to warn them.
Who was Elijah? He appears on stage without much background story. The most important thing we know is that he speaks on behalf of Yahweh, the God of Israel.
His coming brings a drought to the land of Israel. Now, this is very significant because Baal is supposed to be a god of fertility and rain. Here we see who is the true God: Yahweh, and not Baal.
This temporary drought was the first warning to Ahab. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, because long ago, the law of God recorded in Deuteronomy 11 says this, in verses 16-17: “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you.”
Elijah’s appearance reminds us that God is in control. Even if evil reigns in our land, God has already prepared his counter-move. God can raise righteous men for His service from out of nowhere.
The book of James speaks to those who are yearning for the Lord Jesus to return soon. James 5:7-11 says this: “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You, too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
Later, the same chapter talks about Elijah. See James 5:17-18: “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James encourages us to emulate Elijah, whom he calls a righteous man who prayer was powerful and effective.
How exactly should we pray? I think we should pray with expectancy – that is, anticipating God to listen and answer. But we should be open to God answering our prayers in a way we don’t expect. Let me close with a story about that.
Before coming to Japan, I had the challenge of working with a supervisor I found to be bossy and aggressive. Let’s call her A. During my training period, there was an orientation for students. I was supposed to wait for A’s arrival and follow her instructions, but she didn’t show up.
My fellow teachers saw that I looked nervous and confused. So one teacher gave me instructions what to do during the orientation. Just as she finished explaining, A arrived and scolded me, “Why didn’t you wait for me? Instead, you went to get help from other people.” I was shocked by her words.
Over the next few weeks, I continued to find that she was a difficult to work with. I would come home feeling exhausted. My wife noticed that every day I would complain about A and sometimes I even dreamed about her. Every day, I prayed that God would change my supervisor and make her a nicer person.
Indeed, God heard my prayers. But he didn’t change her. Instead, God began to change me. Somehow, He convinced me that the one who needs to change is me. He convinced me that I need to be nicer to her.
So I started bringing her homecooked food. I even wrote a thank-you note to her once or twice. After a few weeks of this, A began to soften her attitude towards me. She told me, “You are so nice. Nobody has been so nice to me in this place.” We started to have a better relationship after that. And I also began to understand why she was so bossy and aggressive – it was the nature of her job.
She was also very helpful to me, especially when I had trouble with a rebellious student. Once, I ordered this student to leave the classroom. When he refused to leave, I called A. She came over and called the boy out of class and scolded him. When he tried say bad things about me, she scolded him some more. After that, I really appreciated A’s fiery personality.
After leaving this job, I realized that God had used this tough experience to grow me as a person. I saw how He answered my prayer for help, and it happened in a way I didn’t expect.
In conclusion, when we are going through a problem, will we believe that God cares for us and sympathizes with us? We should not hesitate to ask Him for help. But we should also remember that God may have a different solution in mind, one that is deeper and wiser than we can imagine.
Allow me to close with these encouraging words from 1 Peter 5:6-10: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”