A view towards Bishopsteignton in mist. As the mist clears, everything becomes clearer

1 Kings 18:38-46

Study on Elijah. Praying for rain.

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1 Kings 18:38-46

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

40 Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.

41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

43 “Go and look towards the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’ ”

45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. 46 The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

In our last study we saw the wrath of God falling as fire and consuming the sacrifice, thus bringing that amazing day to a dramatic conclusion.

Is ‘wrath’ the right word to use? What does God feel about sin? Particularly the sin of taking the Glory due to him and giving it to another?

So is it fair to say that it was the wrath of God against sin that was demonstrated when the fire consumed the sacrifice?

With that in mind, is that all we can find from the narrative? Have we looked at it from all possible angles? No – I think God's point of view was different again. He is not limited by time as we are. He could look beyond Carmel to Calvary, to another mountain and another sacrifice; where the whole of God's wrath would fall on his sinless son, the only way to provide atonement for the sins of the world.

Again, I must ask, is ‘wrath’ the right word to use? Was the wrath of God satisfied at Calvary?

Then the fire of the LORD fell . . . . And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. (1 Kings 18:38 and Matthew 27:51)

This was just as much the outpouring of God's wrath on one who knew no sin, for our salvation; for us who in many ways are no better than the people of Elijah's day.

Let us never treat our salvation as a light thing, never think of Calvary as something that was in any way easy. Instead we should try to imagine what it meant for God's sinless son, corrupted by our sins, to accept God's dreadful punishment in our place.

I believe that every time God accepted a sacrifice offered for the sins of his people, he always looked beyond that sacrifice to Jesus, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). That was the true meaning of the sacrifice on Carmel, and why it too could be accepted.

Now that the sacrifice had been accepted surely the rain would fall. No, not yet. In the moments before our conversion we are still sinners. There has been no change in our hearts even if there may already have been a change in our intentions. It is only when we have been born again that the change takes place.

Often there is a feeling of great relief knowing that our sins have been forgiven. But what about those habits and vices that now threaten our walk with God? These must be dealt with, and dealt with ruthlessly, before we are finally open to receive all that God has in store for us. There is no room for compromise where sin is concerned, and the same applied to the children of Israel.

In many areas of the country's life, the priests of Baal held considerable authority and power. In order for the people to be freed from their influence, the false priests must be removed permanently. Again Elijah was directed by God's word in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams . . . says, "let us follow other gods . . . and let us worship them" . . . That prophet or dreamer must be put to death . . . You must purge the evil from among you.

So verse 40: "Seize the prophets of Baal. Don't let anyone get away!" They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon valley and slaughtered there.

This was a very terrible act; and yet what else could he do? The saints of those times knew nothing of our modern liberalism. You might tell Elijah that those men were sincere, but he would find it hard to believe that. But, if you persuaded him that they were, then to Elijah it only made them more dangerous.

To let them live would be disobedient to God’s word and an acknowledgement that their message was acceptable. They must die. So the order went out and the people were in the mood to obey. They had seen how terribly they had been deceived. So now they closed round the tired and dejected priests, who saw that resistance was in vain, and that their hour had come.

They seized them. Some took one, some another; each priest was hurried down the mountain-side by people who now recognised that it was belief in their false gods that had actually been responsible for the drought.

Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there. Why there?

The Carmel range constituted the border between the Northern Kingdom and Phoenicia. The land just to the north, originally part of that assigned to the tribe of Asher, had been given to Haran, king of Tyre as payment for his help in building Solomon's temple. So the priests were actually taken out of the land of promise and returned to the darkness from where they had come. The Kishon might by now have been reduced to a stream, but the downpour that was to come so soon would have quickly transformed it into a rushing torrent that would sweep everything before it into the sea, never to be seen again.

What about Ahab? Did he follow them down to watch? Was he taken down by the people expecting him to be killed as well? That might be a tempting thought! Kill Ahab and make Elijah king! What a change that would make to the fortunes of Israel!

Well it appears that Ahab simply waited for Elijah to return from the slaughter: shocked by the day’s events and unwilling or unable to make a move. And Elijah would not kill Ahab - that was for God to do. So what was his attitude towards him? He recognised a totally depraved spirit, hungry and thirsty, but not for the things of God.

Verse 41: And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain."

Note that Elijah is still in control. Effectively he tells Ahab that there is nothing for him to do there, he may as well go and enjoy the food and drink that had been brought for him. But did he add a sense of urgency? – ‘there is the sound of a heavy rain’ Or was Elijah secretly hoping that even now Ahab might acknowledge that there was a God in heaven and that the same God who had answered by fire was now sending the rain?

Look for a moment at Joel 2:12-14

"Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing.

If Elijah hoped for a positive response he would have been disappointed. It seems that the mention of coming rain was not even noticed by Ahab. v42: So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

What a contrast between these two men! But then it’s what we’ve come to expect from the king. When his people were suffering because of the terrible drought, his only concern was to find enough grass to save his animals, and now though his faithful priests had been slaughtered, his only thought was of the meal that awaited him.

We can imagine Ahab and Elijah climbing the slopes together; no sympathy; no shared joy; no offer of thanks. The king turns off to his tents, while the servant of God climbs to the highest part of the mountain and drops to his knees in prayer.

It’s when people are brought face to face with a crisis that we see what they are really like – how they react and what they do. Hopefully, Christians will pray and perhaps ask others to join them in that. But it seems that for many others if only they can eat and drink, they can forget their problems for a while. Remember the feast of Belshazzar when the enemy was actually at the gates of Babylon. (Daniel 5:1-30)

For those in a position of leadership or authority the responsibility is greater.

We mentioned earlier the heads of nations who have degenerated into self-serving, ignoring the plight of their own citizens. But is that limited to heads of nations only? You will always be able to find examples of lesser leaders demonstrating how easy it is to slip into this while at the same time trying to faithfully exercise their positions of authority.

What is the danger that we should watch for here?

Isaiah prophesied that this failing would ultimately lead to the Exile: Isaiah 5:11-13 Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst.

Surely this is another reason for us to pray for those in authority over us.

Now before we rush on to the end of the chapter to see the sky grow black with rain clouds, we need to pause and watch Elijah at prayer. Can we learn something here again that will help our own prayer life?

The first thing to notice is that his prayer was based on the promise of God. When Elijah was recalled from Zarephath to resume his public work, his instructions contained the specific promise of rain: 1 kings 18:1 "Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land." This might have seemed to make prayer unnecessary. But Elijah's spiritual instincts argued otherwise.

Would God carry out his promise and send the rain without the need for further prayer? Why not? What’s the point of God’s promises then?


George Mueller was born less than a decade before Charles Dickens in 1805; so he was certainly aware of all the horrors of society that Dickens describes in his works: workhouses, prisons, filth and disease, lack of concern for the poor and homeless - all the things about which Ebenezer Scrooge in his unredeemed state could not care less. But Mueller did care, deeply; and in 1834 he decided to do something about it. He and his best friend, Henry Craik, founded the Scriptural Knowledge Institution (SKI) in Bristol, England, with one of their prime objectives being to establish Orphan Homes for the many homeless children in Great Britain.

But Mueller and Craik had no money, nor did they intend to ask anyone for it: they believed that God would provide everything they needed - without patronage, without requests for contributions and without debts. All they had to do was pray, and God would provide. For 64 years, that was how George Mueller operated. In that course of time, he built The Orphanage at Ashley Down, where he cared for and educated over 18,000 children; educated over 100,000 more in other schools at the Orphanage's expense; distributed hundreds of thousands of Bibles and tens of millions of religious tracts; supported about 150 missionaries; travelled over 200,000 miles as a missionary himself; and shared the Gospel with over 3 million people around the world. And in all that time, he never asked for one penny from anyone, his children never missed a meal, and he never had a debt. That is the remarkable record of George Mueller.

And he didn't just pray for money: he prayed for individuals as well. Sometimes Mueller prayed for someone for as long as fifty years. He didn't stop praying for anyone or anything until he got his request. That's how convinced he was that God would answer his prayers. Through his prayers, Mueller obtained the modern-day equivalent of £100M for his charities; he led tens if not hundreds of thousands to the Lord; and he lived to be 93 years old. That was the power of his faith and life.

Here are some of the ways he prayed.

(I Took this from: www.24prayerhouse.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=129:george-mueller&catid=45:revival&Itemid=100 but this site no longer exists. But there are several other biographical sites with similar wording!)

And that is just what we see Elijah doing here. But we must be careful not to force a rule where none exists. God is perfectly able to work his purposes and bring us blessings even before we think of praying. And all prayers are heard by God!

But we are told (in 1 Thessalonians 5:17) to pray continually, and it is also sensible to make our prayers specific. If we casually mention something in passing it can be like sending a chatty letter that doesn’t expect a reply. Of course God loves chatty letters! But if there is something we need to ask for remember what James 4:2 tells us: ‘We do not have, because we do not ask’.

Prayer will only be answered for the glory of Christ. But it may not be answered at all if we demonstrate by our attitude that the outcome isn’t important to us.

Look at David’s example in Psalm 5:3

In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.

That might suggest that we should write down those things that we intend to plead before God. He won’t be offended – probably he would be more pleased that we are serious about them. It will concentrate the mind, cause us to be very specific, and might also prevent our attention from wandering as we pray. Another good idea to also write down against the request, the answer we received.

True, to be passionate in prayer might well be inappropriate if we are asking for something for ourselves. But, when like Elijah, we seek the fulfilment of a Divine promise, not for ourselves, but for the glory of God, then it is impossible to be too sincere, and it is then that we can expect to see answers.

Verse 42 He bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. This is a very different Elijah! A little while ago he was standing, confidently commanding man as God's ambassador. Now as man's intercessor he pleads humbly with God. If we are going to live lives that demonstrate how close we walk with God, we must be prepared to humble ourselves in his presence.

1 Kings 18e 1 Kings 18g NIV Copyright