Elijah the Tishbite
October 1st, 1961 @ 7:30 PM
1 Kings 16:28-33
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Kings 16:23-33
10-1-61 7:30 p.m.
Tonight, Elijah the Tishbite; turn to I Kings chapter 16; we are going to read from verses 28 through 33. First Kings chapter 16, verses 28 through 33; we are going to read here about Omri and his son Ahab, about Jeroboam the son of Nebat, Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians. Now, 1 Kings chapter16, verses 28 through 33. Let us read it together:
So Omri slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria: and Ahab his son reigned in his stead.
And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years.
And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him.
And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him.
And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.
And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.
[1 Kings 16:28-33]
Could you well imagine a high, an idolatrous, national state’s occasion in the capital city of Samaria? And Ahab is there and Jezebel his wife and queen, the princess of Ethbaal, the great queenly sea and maritime city of Sidon. They are in orgy and in drunkenness and in revelry. They are worshiping Baal and Astarte. Baal is worshiped in some instances by copulation with animals. And Astarte is worshiped with temple prostitutes.
And upon the occasion of this great and celebrated evening, they are drinking, they are in nakedness and in lewdness, in rioting, in orgiastic, unspeakable revelry. And some of them, as they share in those lewd and lustful idolatrous services, some of them are speaking of the days that are past and gone, when Jehovah God, the severe, the jealous, the only God of Israel, reigned through His prophets in the land, those bygone and puritanical days, when the prophets of Jehovah call the people to repentance and to righteousness. But those days are gone forever.
And they drink to Baal, the male god of the Zidonians. And they drink to Astarte the female god of the Zidonians. And in revelry, and in drunkenness, and in lewdness, and in nakedness, and in shame, led by their king Ahab and by their queen Jezebel, they are in that orgiastic national celebration.
And suddenly, as if he were dropped out of the blue sky of heaven, in their revelry and in their drunkenness, there suddenly appears a giant of a man. He is craggy. His locks are shaggy. He stands rude and crude, dressed in animal skins. His eyes burn like the fury of fire, and his voice thunders like the mountains roar under the reverberation of the voice of God, and he lifted up his prophetic voice, and he says, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” [1 Kings 17:1].
That great national orgy is stunned and paralyzed! And as the prophet stands momentarily with that denunciation and judgment from Jehovah God, the first one to move is Jezebel. And as she lifts her hand to command the palace guard to seize the prophet of Jehovah, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, he’s gone and lost in the twilight of the evening. She laughs at first nervously and then openly and uproariously as though it had been a great and planned joke. And she looks at her weak husband Ahab and he laughed. And then the bodyguards pick it up. And finally, all of the reveling worshipers laugh and mock and scorn.
The next day what had happened spread like wildfire all over the nation. But, the king ridiculed it and the queen mocked it. And the luxuriant fields and the green pastures and the springs from a thousand riverlets flowing down through the land gave the lie to the announcement of the prophet of God. But the next morning, somebody observed, “There was no dew that fell last night.” And the next day, somebody observed, “There was never a cloud in the sky.”
And after the passing of a few weeks, the word of judgment of the prophet of God struck like a fever into the heart of the stricken earth. The rays of the sun, gentle and healing, became fiery darts of destruction. And the gentle zephyrs and breezes that brought life to the land became burning, blistering gusts from a sultry east wind. Everything that had leaf began to bow its head and to wither away. Everything that had life began to dry up and to die. The riverlets and the creeks and the streams turned to dust and to powder. The heavens turned to brass, and the earth turned to iron.
All living things began to languish and to die. The cattle on the hill began to moan. The beasts in the forest began to cry. The bleating of the flocks, the bleating of the flocks on every side were heard as they scoured the pastures for a breath of life. And dearth and drought and famine and disease arose to a crescendo as it stalked through the land. And for three and a half years, nor a drop of dew fell, not a cloud was seen in the sky [1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17].
Who is this man Elijah? And where did he come from? And Ahab sought for him in all of the kingdoms and places of the earth. For the seventeenth chapter begins “And, and” [1 Kings 17:1]. In the passage that you read, “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, above all that were before him” [1 Kings 16:30]. And as though it were a small thing to do thus evil in God’s sight, he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and he reared up altars to Baal and to Astarte and made it the national religion for the people of God [1 Kings 16:31-32].
“And,” that is the beginning of the seventeenth chapter. “And, and Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab” [1 Kings 17:1], and unto Jezebel and unto Israel. . . . “And,” that means what happens here in chapter 17, connected with what happened in chapter 16, God put that “and” there! [1 Kings 17:1]. For you see, when you come to the end of chapter 16, it looks as if the religion of Jehovah has perished from off the face of the earth [1 Kings 16:31-34]. All of the great characters and participants in the story thought so: Ahab thought so, Jezebel thought so, the false prophets thought so, and even the disciples of the true God thought so. This is the end of the way! The times were dark beyond anything the world had ever seen in the life of God’s people.
Ever after, that time in Israel’s history has been used as a sign and a symbol of the apostasy of the people of God. And in the sermon last Sunday morning, it was used—with reference to the church age—of Thyatira, that Jezebel when the declension and the apostasy of the people of God fell down and down until it reached the very abysmal depths of hell and damnation itself [Revelation 2:20-24].
You see, Ahab, the young king, was introduced in a most favorable match to the daughter of Ethbaal, the king of Tyre and of Sidon and the priest of Baal and Astarte [1 Kings 16:31]. At that time Phoenicia sat queen over all of the maritime fleets and commercial enterprises of the whole world. The Phoenician colonies of Tyre and Sidon guided the entire civilized world. They spread their sails over the seas of the then known earth. And some of them even made their way to Cornwall in Great Britain to find tin. One of her colonies, Carthage, nursed the lion cub Hannibal that made Rome itself to tremble.
And in the midst of the zenith of the glory and power of Tyre and Sidon, Ahab, the young king who sat lord over Samaria, was married to the princess of Ethbaal. And he brought that princess to his palace and made her his queen. And she brought with her the abomination of the idols of the Canaanites [1 Kings 16:31-33]. And what a horrible thing immediately followed!
In Samaria the capital was built an immense temple to Baal, the male god [1 Kings 16:32]. And in the palace home of Jezreel was built another glorious temple to Astarte the female god [1 Kings 16:33, 18:19]. And all over the land, the smoke and the fires of the sacrifices to Baal and to Astarte could be seen rising up as an affront to the great Jehovah God in heaven. And every vale resounded to the orgies and the revelries of the worship of those infamous deities. And at the same time, the altars of God—as that one on top of Mount Carmel—were thrown down [1 Kings 18:30], and the prophets of God were slain [1 Kings 18:4]. The schools of the prophets were closed up and grass grew in the courts. Pious Obadiah saved just a few of the prophets of God. And he hid them in limestone caves on Mount Carmel. And at the risk of his life, he fed them with bread and water [1 Kings 18:4]. It was a tragic, it was a horrible, it was a corrupting time of decline and apostasy. It seemed as though Satan had darkened the entire world and blotted out the entire sky where God lives and Jehovah reigns.
Just one thing that Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal forgot, just one thing they omitted in their calculations; they left out the Lord Jehovah Almighty. “And,” that “and” by which chapter 17 begins, is a word of trembling to the foes of God, but a word of encouragement and hope to the disciples of the Lord [1 Kings 17:1]. And, “and Elijah the Tishbite,” suddenly appearing as though he were let down from God out of heaven; who is he and where did he come from?
On the other side of the Jordan River, to the north is a wild and mountainous land. Its great hills are covered with dark and shaggy forests. And its solitude is broken only with a dash of its mountain stream. In the valleys, ravenous beasts did roam. And the people who grew up in that rough and mountainous and shaggy country were exactly like the land, tall, and unkempt, and rude, and lawless, and fearless, and wild. In the midst of that craggy, wild, rude mountainous country of Gilead, there was an obscure and mean village by the name of Tishbe.
And in that village, there grew up in those mountains a man, tall and muscular and sinewy, who could outrun the royal chargers of king Ahab when he drove his chariots from the top of Mount Carmel down to the Vale of Jezreel, a mighty man, a fearless man, a man of God [1 Kings 18:46]. And there in his mountain home in that wild and desolate and solitude region of the hills and mountains of Gilead, he pored over the Word of the Lord. And he bowed himself in prayer and in zeal before the Lord God Jehovah.
Every day there came snatches of messengers from across the Jordan who gave information about the destruction of God’s prophets and the slaughter of God’s people and the destruction of God’s altars, and everywhere, the rising up of temples and the offering of sacrifices unto Baal and unto Astarte. And every messenger that brought a piece of a message, and everyone that crossed the Jordan to bring the dreadful news, cut like a living sword through the soul and the heart of this tall, muscular, devoted and zealous man of God! His blood ran liquid fire; and his righteous cause rose in indignation. And as he pored over the Word of God, he read out of the law and the commandments of Moses,
Take heed to yourselves, that your hearts be not deceived, and that you turn not aside, and serve other gods . . .
And the Lord’s wrath be kindled against you, and He shut up the heavens, that there be no rain, and the land yield not a fruit . . .
And in those awful and tragic days, James 5:17 says, and Elijah bowed before God and prayed that it might not rain upon the earth. What the prophet did, as he read the threat of the Lord God, Elijah—what the prophet did was this; he said, “O God, it would be better that the land be cursed and that the people suffer famine than that they believe that God is dead, that the prophecy was an idle tale, and that the law is a myth and God does not keep His word!” And Elijah, in the land of Gilead, bowed down in his prayer and prayed, “O God, O God, this people have apostasized. They have fallen into decline. They are worshiping other gods. They have fallen into every unnameable, unspeakable, indescribable sin. O God, You said if Thy people fell from the way and served other gods You would shut up heaven and the land would refuse to give its fruit [Deuteronomy 11:16-17]. Now Lord, now Lord, judge the king, and judge the queen, and judge the land, and bring Thy judgment upon this guilty and apostate people.” And he prayed that it might not rain [1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17].
And the Lord God in heaven heard the dread prayer of the prophet Elijah. And God said to Elijah, in his soul, “I have committed the heaven to thy hand. When you say they are shut up, they shall be shut up! Neither dew nor rain shall fall until you say that My heaven shall be open again. And go stand before Ahab and Jezebel and carry the message of the judgment of Almighty God” [1 Kings 17:1].
So it was that Elijah, untaught, uncouth, rough, unkempt with shaggy locks, dressed in animal skin, tall, sinewy and muscular, suddenly appeared into the company and into the court and into the orgiastic revelry of the king and the queen of Israel, and raised his hand and announced the judgment of the Almighty. “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shalt not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” [1 Kings 17:1]. What an announcement, what an announcement! “As the Lord God of Israel liveth,” they thought He was dead. “As God liveth, before whom I stand,” he was standing there before Ahab and before Jezebel. No! He was standing in the presence of the Lord God who rules heaven and earth!
That is the highest exaltation that a man can claim for himself, for that was the introduction of the angel Gabriel in the first chapter of Luke and the nineteenth verse, “I am Gabriel, which stands before the Lord God of heaven” [Luke 1:19]. Fearless, courageous, unafraid, “As the Lord God liveth before whom I stand!” And the judgment “. . . there shall not be dew nor rain these years upon the earth, but according to my word” [1 Kings 17:1]. And the earth turned to iron, and the heavens turned to brass, and all things living withered and died away at the word and the judgment and the command that God has given into the hands and into the keeping of His prophet, Elijah.
There is always a judgment of God upon iniquity, and sin, and declension, and apostasy, and denial. It may delay, but it’ll come! As it falls upon individuals, so it falls upon nations and upon cities and upon civilizations. For the Lord God liveth, and He sends His prophets, and they lift up their voices and call to repentance. And if a people turn, God bares His arm to save. But if the people deny and apostatize and refuse, the judgment of Almighty falls, and they live in ruin, and in disaster, and in stark, stark famine, and pestilence, and waste, and despair, and death. For that is the moral law of Almighty God by which He created this world, and by which someday He shall judge every living soul [Ecclesiastes 12:14, Romans 2:6].
And that’s true in our souls and in our lives. When we forget God, when we turn aside from the overtures of the Almighty, there is nothing left but judgment and death and the indescribable horror of a future filled with perdition and damnation, shut out, refused; our choice! How infinitely blessed when God’s people turn to the prophetic voice of the Almighty, spoken through His servant, and in humble contrition, come back in saving faith to the Lord God. As we shall see, Israel did under the mighty aegis and impetus and preaching of this prophet Elijah. We shall follow it through these evenings that are to come.
As we stand tonight in the presence of the Lord God of Elijah and while we make appeal in His name, is there somebody lost tonight who would come down this aisle and say, “Preacher, I have never given my heart in faith to God. I have never turned in repentance and in confession to Jesus our Savior, but I do it now, I do it tonight. I will take Him as my Savior. I will give Him my life in repentance and in faith. And I will confess Him openly and publicly before angels and before men. And here I come. And here I stand.”
And while we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you tonight to put your life with us in the fellowship of the church, into that aisle and down here to the front; down one of these stairways, in the balcony at the front or the back, “Here I come, preacher, and here I stand, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God.” While we sing this song of appeal, while our people prayerfully wait, will you make that great decision for God, and make it tonight? “Here I am, and here I come. As the Lord shall help me and as God shall be with me, I give my soul and my life to the Savior tonight. And here I come. Here I stand.” Will you do it now? While we stand and while we sing.
ELIJAH THE TISHBITE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I Kings 16:23-33
Israel worshiping Baal and Astarte
Elijah arrives on the scene during evil Ahab’s reign
Elijah prophesizes drought
Skies turn to brass, no rain