The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
1 Kings 19:9b-21
Seven Thousand in Israel
(Proper 8) The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 27 June 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. That is our prayer this morning from Psalm 16. It was also Elijah’s prayer. He thought he was fleeing for his life. Queen Jezebel and King Ahab were bad news. “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all the kings who were before him.” Ahab worshiped Baal and Asherah and even sacrificed two of his own sons to them. Elijah predicted a drought and for three years there was no rain. The prophet confronted the king. Eventually Elijah faced off with the priests of Baal—you may remember how the Lord accepted Elijah’s sacrifice. The people, for that day at least, recognized that the Lord was God. The Lord sent rain shortly after the false priests were slaughtered. And the queen was none too pleased with Elijah. He shows he is human just like any pastor or prophet. He ran away into the wilderness out of fear of Jezebel’s wrath. He was discouraged and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” The Lord sent an angel and provided nourishment, but by verse 9, Elijah is staying in a cave.
9bBehold, the word of the Lord came to [Elijah], and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Good question. Search the Scriptures and you will never find a solitary believer. The Lord always gathers them together. Besides, a prophet’s place is where the Lord puts him—with his people, not as a hermit in the wilderness. God’s people belong together, gathered around the Lord’s gifts on the Lord’s Day.
9bBehold, the word of the Lord came to [Elijah], and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Elijah ran away from Israel out of fear of Ahab and Jezebel, fearing for his life. In despair, he offered his life back to God so that the Lord would take him away from all his troubles, and now, it appears he wants to live but is fearful of the king and queen. And how does the Lord respond? 11And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
CPR: “We are amazed at Elijah’s lack of confidence in the Lord’s calling, but what is even more astounding is the Lord’s unending patience with Elijah and his complaint—and with us as well, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 8:26). The Lord could have justifiably given up on Elijah because of his lack of confidence, but He doesn’t. In fact the Lord goes to great lengths to “resurrect” Elijah and his faith, not by reprimand, but by demonstrating that He comes to him, not in power only, but in a soft gentle whisper [, His Word]. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). And in this particular instance, the Lord’s grace is [clearly made known]: not only does He allow Elijah to [repeat] his indulgent paranoia with the repetition of “I, even I only, am left,” but the Lord then also offers him the honor of anointing two kings and a prophet, Elisha, to succeed himself.”
And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” The Lord asks the same question a second time. Has Elijah learned anything?
14He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” Compare the Lord’s question and Elijah’s answer to what was said before. It’s the same thing until the Lord’s response. That is different. The Lord is not done with Elijah quite yet. Sometimes the names trip us up in the next part because of how hard they are to pronounce. Focus instead upon what these people are given to do.
15And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Names may be hard to say and otherwise confusing, but they are important. In Scripture, people often do what their name means. Hazael means “the one who sees God.” That’s good to hear, especially for the future king of a pagan nation like Syria. Jehu means “Yahweh is He, the Lord is He,” a name which reveals he would serve the Lord, the one true God. While not a perfect king, Jehu would purge the pagan descendants of Ahab and the prophets of Baal from Israel. And then there is Elisha, meaning “the Lord is salvation, Yahweh is salvation,” similar to the name Elijah, which means “The Lord is God, Yahweh is God.” We hear no more whining from Elijah. He is off to do what the Lord instructed, for he is not alone.
Not only is the Lord with Him, as He is with you during your times of trouble, disappointment, and discouragement, there are “seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal.” Elijah was not “the only one left.” There were 7,000 other faithful believers who had not committed spiritual adultery with a false god. Always, always, always, the Lord preserves at least a faithful remnant. He has preserved at least some believers all through history from Adam and Eve to Jesus and from Jesus through two thousand years to Christians today.
This as a good reminder for us. We look around our world and wonder where the faithful Christians are. We do see them remaining faithful, even under persecution and execution. We look around our community and are in shock witnessing services in Christian churches without even the name of Jesus mentioned, without the proclamation of the Resurrection as the main message. And still, we rejoice to hear the Gospel preached from some other pulpits and sung from some other pews. We look around our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, especially in a Convention year, and wonder at the problems we see in doctrine and practice. Yet, there is still the comfort of knowing that we are not alone. There are more than seven thousand left in the Spiritual Israel. We rejoice in confessing the faith together with our sister Wyoming District congregations and with faithful Lutheran and Christian congregations, pastors and laypeople around the world. Always, always, always, the Lord preserves a faithful remnant. And they need the faithful service of one of their own, a faithful pastor and prophet like Elijah.
19So he [Elijah] departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.
Many of you are familiar with agriculture, farms, and ranch life. You may have heard stories about teams of oxen on the farm or on the Oregon Trail, but I doubt if you’ve ever heard of a servant of the Lord walking up to a farmer on his tractor and putting a pastor’s stole around his neck and then walking away. That’s what happened to a farmer by the name of Elisha. He quickly says his goodbyes. To show there was no turning back, he sacrificed the oxen, held a barbeque and left for good with Elijah.
First Kings ends with Elisha in the background. By 2 Kings 2, Elijah is taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire. Elisha begins his ministry. The prophecies given Elijah continue to be fulfilled. Hazael becomes king of Syria in 2 Kings 8. Jehu ascends Israel’s throne in chapter nine.
CPR: “So quickly after his triumph over the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, we see Elijah running off on his own, fleeing from whatever God’s next agenda for him might be. He’d decided that his partnership with the Lord was a bust; God could go ahead and do whatever He was going to do, but count [me] out—[Elijah thought he] was better off dead. We humans are always caught between our own plan and the one God wills for us. But God, in His grace, doesn’t accomplish His will independent of us, despite our rebellion. He accomplishes His will through [His people], letting us remain and work…with Him.” We are never alone with the Lord by our side. We are not alone when the Lord gathers His people together to receive His gifts, tell the good news, and comfort one another.
Names may be hard to say and otherwise confusing, but they are important. In scripture, people often do what their name means. Jesus means “the Lord saves.” The angel told Mary to give him this name, for “He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus was the faithful remnant in His day—all of Israel reduced to one person. And from Him the new Israel began to grow. First twelve, then 120, then over 3,000 on the First Christian Pentecost. Always, always, always the Lord preserves a faithful remnant of His people, “seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” The Lord preserves you in Jesus, especially when you feel like discouraged Elijah in the wilderness. Jesus is the answer to the prayer of Psalm 16: Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.