This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on June 5, 2016.
There is an interesting phenomenon that runs consistently throughout the events of human history. When an individual takes a bold stand for what is good and right in the face of a culture filled with what is bad and wrong, all those who had chosen not to take a stand label that individual a hero. Whether it is St. Catherine of Siena in 14th Century Italy nursing those whom others were afraid to touch or Martin Luther in 16th Century Germany calling for integrity and truth in the Church or Rosa Parks in 20th Century America sitting still and exposing injustice, heroes live among us. Even those without courage recognize it when they see it and honor those who use it. Like a diamond against black velvet, the contrast is simply too glaring to deny. That was precisely the scene that had been set when the Prophet Elijah burst suddenly onto the stage of Israel’s tumultuous history.
For 42 years King Asa reigned in the southern kingdom of Judah in a manner that delighted the heart of God. During those same 42 years the northern kingdom of Israel went through six kings with reigns that lasted anywhere from seven days to twenty-two years…with all six reigns characterized by evil, blasphemy, and degradation. When Elijah appeared in 1 Kings 17, Israel was ruled by King Ahab who “did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him” (16:30) and who ultimately married a heathen named Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon—King Ethbaal (“with Baal”). Ahab joined his new bride in her idolatrous worship of Baal.
Enter Elijah. In direct contrast to Jezebel’s father’s name, Elijah’s name means “my God is Jehovah.” He towers like a Gibraltar over all the prophets of old and all the preachers of today. Every move he made blazed with passion and power and conviction. He called evil what it was and proclaimed righteousness that glorified a Holy God. With boldness and obedience that come only from unwavering faith in the Living God, Elijah faced King Ahab himself. Both were men of undeniable passions, but where their passions were focused and to what their passions were surrendered made a world—and an eternity—of difference. Two passionate men stood face-to-face, but Elijah came with a word from the God whom Ahab had abandoned. Elijah informed the king there would be a drought throughout the land. No debate. No negotiating. No discussion. No argument. Just an announcement. That’s the thing about the contrast between good and evil, faithfulness and apostasy—once it is recognized and named, boldness and obedience take the lead.
The same boldness and obedience Elijah demonstrated in public before the king, he also lived out privately. After such a public exhibition before the king, God gave him a completely different assignment. God told him to go dwell in a private place where he would be hidden and where he would rely solely on God for his very sustenance. This wasn’t for notoriety or publicity or to vindicate him before others. No one would know. No one would see. This simply was a matter of bold faith and faithful obedience—just between God and him. What did Elijah do? “He went and did according to the word of the Lord” (17:5). Heroes are like that. They are who they are—even when no one is watching. Their passion for what is right does not fluctuate with their audience. Bold faith and faithful obedience look the same surrounded by a crowd or crouched by a creek.
When God chose to change how He would provide for Elijah, Elijah again heard clear instructions. God was going to provide through an even more surprising source than food from ravens and water from a riverbed. God was sending him to Zarephath in Sidon—right into the heart of Jezebel’s father’s territory. God told him to leave the security and serenity of the private place and go straight into the mouth of the lion—into the center of this evil that had infected Israel. For him to obey this command took more boldness, courage, faithfulness, and strength than even going before the wicked king. His response? Once again, “he set out and went” (17:10). The contrast between King Ahab’s disobedience to God and Elijah’s surrender to God could not have been more drastic.
In obedience to God’s clear instructions, Elijah did not go to another palace of a king but to the humble home of a pitifully poor widow who was preparing what she was certain was the final meal for her and her son. This was not a devout Hebrew widow. When she spoke to Elijah, she referred to God as “the Lord your God” (17:12). However, she had enough faith to do as Elijah told her, and she and her son were blessed to see the miraculous provision of God as He gave an endless supply of meal and oil. After many days of listening to Elijah and watching God’s miracles, she was faced with the ultimate abyss of pain. Her only son, her only joy, died. Elijah took her child from her, and again choosing boldness, faithfulness, and obedience over doubt, despair, and hopelessness, he called upon His miracle-working God to restore the child’s life. The stark contrast between life and death was mirrored in the difference seen in the woman. No longer did she speak to Elijah of “the Lord your God,” but rather, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (17.24).
That diamond on black velvet had never been more obvious. The widow would testify that this man just showed up in her life. He had been in her home for quite a few days. He was passionate and courageous about right and wrong, justice and injustice. She had watched. She had listened. Everything he did matched everything he said. Heroes are like that.
Dr. Vicki Vaughn
Richard Jackson Center for Evangelism & Encouragement, Brownwood, Texas
Tags: heroes, boldness, obedience, right vs. wrong