Great Escapes 4, with a King, Queen and Prophet: How and Why God Sometimes Rescues at (or Past) the Last Minute

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

Sometimes rescues aren’t just about what God is doing but about what He’s like, demonstrating His remarkable care and our remarkable weakness—from the best to the worst of us. In Great Escapes 3, Elijah prophesied a three-year drought to King Ahab, then hid from him as God instructed. In 1 Kings 18, the word of the LORD comes to the prophet Elijah in the drought’s third year, telling him to appear before Ahab and then God will send rain on the earth. 

In desperation, Ahab has just divided the land between himself and his household manager, Obadiah, to search for grass to feed the remaining livestock. Elijah finds Obadiah first and instructs him to announce his presence to Ahab, but Obadiah fears for his life (1 Kings 18:9-13):

“What sin have I committed, that you are giving your servant into the hand of Ahab to put me to death? As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent to search for you; and when they said, ‘He is not here,’ he made the kingdom or nation swear that they could not find you. And now you are saying, ‘Go, say to your master, “Behold, Elijah is here.”’ It will come about when I leave you that the Spirit of the LORD will carry you where I do not know; so when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth. Has it not been told to my master what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, that I hid a hundred prophets of the LORD by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water?”

In 1 Kings 17, God rescued Elijah from Ahab, hiding him and providing him with bread, meat and water. In 1 Kings 18, Obadiah tells how he rescued the LORD’s prophets from Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel, hiding them and providing them with bread and water.

Elijah swears by the LORD to show himself to Ahab that day, so Obadiah goes to get him. Ahab greets Elijah by blaming him for the drought, but Elijah responds (verses 18-19), “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals. Now then send and gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel, together with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

In this chapter, God rescues Elijah again in a very public contest which turns the hearts of the people back to the true God and rids the land of Jezebel’s false prophets. Afterwards Elijah tells Ahab to go up and eat and drink, prophesying a heavy shower. Ahab obeys. Elijah waits for the first cloud, then sends his servant to order Ahab to ride his chariot down to Jezreel before the downpour stops him. Ahab obeys again, but the LORD’s hand is on Elijah and he outruns Ahab.

In 1 Kings 19, Ahab tells Jezebel all Elijah’s done, including killing her prophets. Jezebel vows the next day to make Elijah’s life like the life of one of them. In fear Elijah runs for his life to Beersheba, where he leaves his servant and goes alone a day’s journey into the wilderness. Here, one of the greatest prophets the world has ever known acts like a baby and experiences God’s mothering, including divine naptimes and snacks. Under a juniper tree, Elijah asks God for death and sleeps, waking when an angel touches him and urges him to get up and eat. Elijah eats and drinks of a miraculous bread cake and a jar of water before him, then sleeps again. The angel of the LORD touches Elijah awake again, saying (verse 7), “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” After Elijah’s second supernatural supper, he goes forty days and nights in the strength of that food to Horeb, the mountain of God.

At Horeb Elijah hermitizes himself in a cave. Appropriately, the LORD asks (verse 9), “What are you doing here, Elijah?” When God asks something, it’s not because he doesn’t know the answer. He may want to engage us. Or maybe, in this case, to make us think. Elijah goes on a rant, extolling himself but skipping over his recent God-empowered victory over Jezebel’s prophets, the drought, Ahab and Jezebel, focusing instead on earlier trials. He finishes (verse 10), “And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”  

Elijah has completely isolated himself physically and mentally. Not only has he gone alone into the wilderness, despite ample evidence to the contrary he now seems to think that only he serves God and everyone in Israel wants to kill him. God waits to contradict Elijah and merely responds by dropping over for a little visit. Prefacing His appearance is a mountain-breaking wind, earthquake and fire, as if to show Elijah the power the LORD could apply, if He chose. Instead, He speaks after the sound of a gentle blowing, which Elijah recognizes as God’s calling card.

The Almighty is incredibly gentle, as it says in Isaiah 40:10-11:

Behold, the LORD God will come with might,

With His arm ruling for Him.

Behold, His reward is with Him

And His recompense before Him.

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,

In His arm He will gather the lambs

And carry them in His bosom;

He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

God’s might and gentleness are complementary character qualities of His perfect personality. He shows them both to Elijah.

Some people see a dichotomy in God, as if He’s harsh in the Old Testament but gentle, through Jesus, in the New. God is consistent in the entire Bible. Although Jesus went to the cross like a lamb as prophesied, He drove out the moneychangers from the temple days earlier (for the second time) and someday will return like the Lion of Judah. Still He says in the well-known passage of Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

The lesser-known passage before this says of Jesus (Matthew 11:20), “Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.” The next verses sound like Jesus is on a rant Himself (21-24):

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”

Jesus is serious about sin and repentance. He continues in verses 25-26, “I praise You, Father, LORD of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” Babies sometimes place ahead of the wise and intelligent in the triune God’s consideration, and He cares for each accordingly.

After Elijah hears the gentle blowing, he wraps his face in his mantle and stands in the cave’s entrance. There God asks him again what he’s doing and Elijah answers exactly as before. Not even God’s physical presence and power change Elijah’s attitude. He’s scared, worn out. He’s run a good race and apparently crossed the finish line.

Before retiring Elijah, God gives him three tasks: anointing Hazael as the king of Aram, Jehu as the king of Israel, and Elisha as the prophet to take his place. In verse 18 God foretells many deaths at the hands of these three, but the survival of 7,000 in Israel, “all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Elijah does not react to God’s revelation that Elijah is far from the only faithful one left. Elijah merely goes to find Elisha, throws his mantle on him and keeps going. Elisha is in the middle of plowing but immediately understands and responds. Elisha seems more relational, running after Elijah for permission to say goodbye to his parents and throwing a neighborhood party of sorts before beginning his ministry.

In 1 Kings 21, Elijah again deals with Ahab and Jezebel. Next to Ahab’s palace, Naboth the Jezreelite has an inherited vineyard which Ahab wants for a vegetable garden because of its proximity. Naboth refuses to relinquish his inheritance, so Jezebel conspires with the city’s elders and nobles to kill Naboth and fulfill her vexed husband’s desire.

The word of the LORD comes to Elijah, instructing him to confront Ahab and prophesy (verse 19), “Thus says the LORD, ‘Have you murdered and also taken possession’? And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours.”’”

Even before hearing Elijah’s prophecy, Ahab greets him (verse 20), “Have you found me, O my enemy?” Elijah responds harshly (verses 20-24):

“I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the LORD. Behold, I will bring evil upon you, and will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond and free in Israel; and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked Me to anger, and because you have made Israel sin. Of Jezebel also has the LORD spoken, saying, ‘The dogs will eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.’ The one belonging to Ahab, who dies in the city, the dogs will eat, and the one who dies in the field the birds of heaven will eat.”

For angering God and making Israel sin, Ahab and Jezebel have brought God’s sweeping judgement upon themselves.

Verses 25-26 justify God’s punishment: “Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel.”

Ahab responds to Elijah’s verdict immediately, like Elisha (verse 27-29): 

It came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently.Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.”

For Ahab’s humility, God postpones His judgement until Ahab’s son’s reign. Elijah again makes no comment. Is he being childish once more? Or has God’s mercy and gracious rescue left Elijah speechless, as we all should be?

  • Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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