Earnest Prayers Of Elijah
1 Kings 16:29-34 NIV
In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him. In Ahab's time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun.
After King Solomon died, Israel was split into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom was made up of 10 tribes (still called Israel in the Bible), while the Southern Kingdom (called Judah in the Bible), was made up of the remaining two.
The Northern Kingdom was chaotic, their kings were mostly terrible and promoted idolatry. Ahab was the seventh king of the North and ruled for 22 years. He married Jezebel, who was even more evil than him. She was a Phoenician princess and she was bent on turning the North into a nation of Baal worshippers. She killed most of God’s prophets, until Elijah came into the scene and rescued Israel.
Prayer That Put Him In Danger
1 Kings 17:1 NIV
Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
Elijah told Ahab that there would be a severe drought. Interestingly, the idea was not initiated by God. It was an answer to Elijah’s prayer.
James 5:17-18 NIV
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.
Elijah prayed earnestly that it would not rain, but why?
Baal was the deity of fertility, and rain is essential for crops to grow. Interestingly, Baal was also called the Lord of Rain and Dew, and Elijah had told Ahab specifically, “there will be neither dew nor rain”. It was a direct opposition to what the people worshipping Baal would ask for, to prove to them that it is God, not Baal that answers prayers.
Baal worship was not only wrong because it was the worship of a false god over the real God, it was also grossly perverse and evil. Infants would be burned alive as a sacrificial offering to the deity. Worshippers would also engage in bisexual orgies. It led the Israelites into a very depraved religious practice and lifestyle.
It is no wonder that Elijah had to use such an extreme measure to prove to them that Baal is not a god. Elijah took a risk in meeting Ahab as he could be arrested and killed like the other prophets. But he wanted to make it clear to Ahab that it wasn’t a coincidence that there was a drought, and that it was God’s power that stopped the rain and dew.
The drought would bring suffering to his people, but proving to them that Baal is a fake god was far more important. His prayer meant that he too would suffer when the drought came. It would also worsen the enmity with Ahab and Jezebel, putting himself in greater danger.
Would we make such a prayer if we were in Elijah’s shoes?
Action That Put Him In Danger
1 Kings 18:1-2 NIV
After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.
Three and a half year had passed and God asked Elijah to tell Ahab that He would bring rain. After such a long drought (because of Elijah’s doing), Ahab must hate Elijah even more. In fact, Obadiah told Elijah that Ahab had been looking everywhere for him (1 Kings 18:10).
1 Kings 18:20-21 NIV
So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing.
Elijah challenged Ahab to bring the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah to have a “Battle of the Gods”. It would have been the most intimidating meeting. He had to face so many false prophets, the army of Ahab and many Israelites who had come to witness the battle.
Elijah confronted the people for wavering between God and Baal. The people did not answer him when he called them to choose one. It was a sad time in Israel’s spiritual history, to see them lose their loyalty to God. When we profess to be Christians but choose not to follow God’s command, aren’t we behaving in the same way?
Elijah didn’t just challenge the false prophets and Ahab, he confronted the people for their disloyalty too. Any of them could have turned against him. His actions put him in great danger. His earnest prayer was backed up by courageous action.
Reason For His Prayer & Action
1 Kings 18:36-39 NIV
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 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. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord — he is God! The Lord — he is God!”
Elijah prayed, “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Elijah asked God to send down fire from heaven. But it wasn’t a demonstration of power for the sake of showing off, it was to show that God has power, unlike Baal and the other powerless gods that the people worship. It was to turn the people from Baal to God. Jesus’ death and resurrection was proof of his power over death, but his purpose for doing it was to redeem us from the penalty of sin.
What motivated Elijah to pray for the drought? What moved him to face Ahab, challenge the prophets, and confront the people? Why did he do all these despite the dangers that these would bring him?
He did all these to turn the people’s hearts back to God. He was willing to put his life at stake for the return of the hearts of his people.
James 5 describes that, “Elijah was a human being, even as we are.” But what stood out about him was, “he prayed earnestly”, out of his love for his people. He could have simply stayed faithful to God but hide from danger. But he took big risks to save the other prophets and turned the people’s hearts back to God. His prayer and actions were motivated by his love for his people.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Andy is the head of compliance for an international bank and is happily married, with three daughters. He became a disciple of Christ three decades ago, and studies God's Word passionately. He desires to be constantly led by the Spirit. Andy joined the Central Christian Church in 1990.