The need to pray earnestly - the example of Elijah

Elijah prays for rain

41 Then Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain." 42 So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, 43 and said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." So he went up and looked, and said, "There is nothing." And seven times he said, "Go again." 44 Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, "There is a cloud, as small as a man's hand, rising out of the sea!" So he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, `Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.'" 45 Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab rode away and went to Jezreel. 46 Then the hand of the LORD came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

Looking at this short passage, one has to ask, what is there to explore, for an entire space of a sermon as such. In brief, Ahab eats, Elijah prays, and prays, and prays, Elijah's servant sees a tiny cloud, and after three and a half years of drought Elijah knows this means rain, he tells Ahab to stop eating and get home fast, the rains come, and Elijah is enabled to run faster than the horse and chariot. However, the more one chips at the passage, the more we find. Indeed there are a number of points more than worthwhile exploring, and as this time is for that, let us delve into the Word. What can we learn from this small example of God's?

The first verse that comes to mind is that of the mind of the Godless man. Jesus uses a similar example for us in Luke 12:16, and yes I used this last time I spoke.

'The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 "And he thought within himself, saying, `What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' 18 "So he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 `And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' 20 "But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' 21 "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:16,

How, you may ask, does this fit with what God is saying to us in the Elijah saga? Across these past few weeks, we have noted that food featured, for each place Elijah was, the food he ate was mentioned. In this Luke passage did Jesus have Ahab in mind when he told this parable? He does not say so, but it is an interesting connection. The setting is different. Ahab had been in a country without rain for three and a half years. His prophets had just been executed. He had watched his god fail in the great challenge of fire from heaven. Yet when Elijah says go and eat, off he trots, to fill his stomach, not a care in the world, it was going to rain, all things were to go back to normal. This is different to the man in the Luke parable, who had great harvests and no droughts recently. But, we know, or will know once we get to those passages, that like the rich man in the parable, Ahab's life span was nearly over. Maybe he thought that Elijah had spared his life, and now was going to send rain, that he would be just OK. If we steal a little from Ron's passage next week, we find that he gets home and whines to Jezebel about the happenings, and how Elijah had killed all the prophets, so maybe he thought that Jezebel would fix it all. He could go back to his pathetic life. But all that aside, he sits down to dine. Eat drink and be merry, the rains are coming!

Did Elijah expect or hope of something different. Did he think: 'Ahab, look at all the death and destruction around you. Go eat'. 'What! Me eat? How can I eat? I have offended God to the full in my life, let me come and pray with you.' Maybe this response was what Elijah was testing him for, did Ahab think that he could eat drink and be merry for the rains are coming? or had he been brought to his knees? The Bible does not tell us what Elijah was thinking, or what he wanted. But God certainly tells us about the heart of man, and where it sits when a description of dining is present, as with the parable above, or with other biblical sayings, proverbs and narrative. Let us deviate a little and spend a little more time on this theme, and get a little more insight into what we can learn from stories of rich men and their dining tables. To do this we can turn to another story of a rich man dining.

"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 "But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 "desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 "Then he cried and said, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' 25 "But Abraham said, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 `And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.' 27 "Then he said, `I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, 28 `for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham said to him, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' 30 "And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 "But he said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'" Luke 16:19

The final words of this passage are interesting in themselves, when considering our own passage of study. Ahab saw the power of God in all its majesty, the fire of God coming down from heaven consuming all the sacrifice, water, wood and stone. He saw Elijah executing hundreds of men, in the name of the one true God, yet he goes off and eats as if nothing had happened. He is not persuaded that his lifestyle, or, more to the point in a brutal sense, that his life was a stench to God.

I chose this second passage because again, the links between this and the previous and our study for today is food, here the rich man is described as eating sumptuously as the beginning point; whereas the man who belonged to God was surviving on crumbs. I note this, because food and I have a certain affinity! But God says to those who look to the good life, and a measure of this is the excess in eating that a good life can have, this is not the way of Christ. He, Jesus, is described at one point to be walking through a grain field eating grains, raw, and de-husked by hand as he walked, or another time, having fish and bread. Not much is said of Jesus dining sumptuously except when dining with sinners, and nothing is ever said of what he eat there, it was to their excesses that he went, to save them from themselves. One group ends in hell, tormented by flames; and those that have it tough, yet stay with God, despite their poor circumstances, go to heaven. These passages tell me that the time we spend for God is very important, and today's passage lets us know that it is better to be like Elijah in prayer. In the story of Lazarus, we know not what he did, but he must have spent time in prayer to have the relationship with God in that he is carried to heaven at his death. What do we do with ourselves? Are we out eating, or whatever pleasure turns us on? Food for thought?!

Let us finish this theme with a final passage from Luke, in chapter 21: 29

"Then He spoke to them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 "When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. 31 "So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. 33 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. 34 "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35 "For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man." Luke 21: 29-36

Note again the reference to "carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life". However, what this passage also does is lead us to the next theme of our passage today. Prayer. What did Jesus say in the passage I just read? Instead of carousing, watch therefore, and pray always.

It is funny how the little word "always", or something similar pops up often when prayer is mentioned. Ephesians 6:18 says "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit," The second shortest verse in Thessalonians says 'Rejoice always,' followed immediately by "pray without ceasing" rejoicing and praying, always in God, or in Colossians chapter 4:2 "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving".

Daniel prayed formally three times a day, Jesus got up early to pray. If we return to the Thessalonian verse, we find that Spurgeon in 1872 said this from a pulpit: The position of our text is very suggestive. Observe what it follows. It comes immediately after the precept, "Rejoice evermore;" as if that command had somewhat staggered the reader, and made him ask "How can I always rejoice?" and, therefore, the apostle appended as answer, "Always pray." The more praying the more rejoicing. Prayer gives a channel to the pent-up sorrows of the soul, they flow away, and in their stead streams of sacred delight pour into the heart. At the same time the more rejoicing the more praying; when the heart is in a quiet condition, and full of joy in the Lord, then also will it be sure to draw nigh unto the Lord in worship. Holy joy and prayer act and react upon each other[1].

Ahab met the news of coming rain with eating and drinking, Elijah kneels as it were before God in prayer. What a contrast. Seven times he puts his head up and gets a servant to jog to the top of the mountain ridge to observe the weather towards the sea. Six times he gets a negative. Does he give up? No, he continues in prayer. Why? 'for there [was] the sound of abundance of rain'. Elijah could hear what God was sending, therefore he prayed.

How attuned are our ears to that of God's sound? In this case, God did not speak, but let Elijah hear the sound of the coming rain. He knew it was coming; he just needed to know when it was arriving. In the meantime he prayed. The Word does not tell us what he prayed for, or even that he was praying; maybe he was in silence before God. Prayer does not have to be words. Again, let us hear Spurgeon speak further, then look at a key verse for this point: Since we are to pray without ceasing, and yet could not pray with the voice without ceasing, it is clear that audible language is not essential to prayer. We may speak a thousand words which seem to be prayer, and yet never pray; on the other hand, we may cry into God's ear most effectually, and yet never say a word. In the book of Exodus God is represented as saying to Moses, "Why criest thou unto me?" And yet it is not recorded that Moses had uttered so much as a single syllable at that time. It is true that the use of the voice often helps prayer. I find, personally, that I can pray best when alone if I can hear my own voice; at the same time it is not essential, it does not enter at all into the acceptability, reality, or prevalence of prayer. Silence is as fit a garment for devotion as any that language can fashion.

God has given us the instruction, that if we don't know what to say to him, don't worry, we have a mediator. We need not speak: Romans 8:26 tells us: "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." God ensures that our voice is heard, whether we speak or not, or even when we don't know what to say. But the Spirit has to be alive within us, the fire of God refining our lives, otherwise, if we have a disconnect to the Spirit, how will this verse be true of us?

Let us finish this thought again by listening to brother Spurgeon, preaching 128 years ago yet still relevant here today (I ran into this short sermon by him on prayer, it seemed to fit well with what needed to be said of this passage). Spurgeon in the same sermon as above says: One real groan fetched from the heart is worth a million litanies, one living breath from a gracious soul is worth ten thousand collects. May we be kept awake by God's grace, praying without ceasing.

And we must take care, dear brethren, again, if we would perform this duty, that we fight against anything like despair of being heard. If we have not been heard after six times we must, as Elijah, go again seven times; if our Peter is in prison, and the church has prayed God to liberate him, and he still is in fetters bound in the inner prison, let us pray on, for one of these days Peter will knock at the gate. Be importunate, heaven's gate does not open to every runaway knock. Knock, and knock, and knock again; and add to thy knocking and to thy asking seeking, and be not satisfied till thou gettest a real answer.

So what happened with Elijah? Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, "There is a cloud, as small as a man's hand, rising out of the sea!" So he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, `Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.'" The cloud coming out of the sea. God was about to answer the prayer in a big way. What is Elijah's first thought? Interestingly, it was of the great sinner Ahab, wining and dining away there on the mountain, unrepentant, uncaring, and seemingly completely self absorbed. On the evidence of a small cloud, and God's sound-bite of rain coming, his faith, his trust, his own prayer, Elijah tells Ahab, go home fast, otherwise the rain will be so much, the chariot is going to get bogged. Why? Why send this man, a failed King home? God had more to do, and the time was not yet ready for Ahab to depart his miserable life, though he had yet to discover how miserable it was. God has his timing, and he says to Elijah in effect, don't let him drown on the plains; get him to his nice dry palace, so he can await the next stage of the play.

We also note in this passage, it take seven prayers, before the cloud arrives. Why seven? Nothing in the Bible is for nothing. Seven is God's number as it were. It marks the event as being from God. We read that God created earth, the heavens and every thing in them in six days, then rested on the seventh - His work was done. Here Elijah prays six times, then on the seventh he sees that God's Word is being fulfilled - completed. Naaman dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, the seventh time he became clean. God looks for persistence in our interaction with him. Imagine if we got every thing we prayed for immediately. Would we not start to treat God like a lolly jar, a place for sweets, treats, the things that we want but don't need? God looks for the person whose faith does not waver, despite the lack of evidence of something happening that we are praying about.

Let us deviate just briefly along this pathway. How is God going to get His message through to the World in the last days - the seven years of the period before and during the tribulation? We may start with Revelations 8:6

"So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. 7 The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. Revelations 8:6

Seven angels, seven dreadful happenings upon the earth. Will the people repent, will they cry out to God? Not at all. There hearts are so hard, God needs more than seven angels and seven trumpets. We jump to chapter 15 and we see another series of seven.

"And out of the temple came the seven angels having the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands. 7 Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever. 8 The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed." Revelations 15:6

Seven more times, seven more devastations. What does this have with praying seven times? Sometimes it takes us time to understand God's mind. In those terrible last days, each lesson will be unbelievably bad. People whinge today when Europe's airports are shut down for a few days, or if dust from the deserts blankets the cities with a red cloud. We whinge, but do we take note of what God may be saying? So, I think that God sometimes makes us pray and pray again, so we learn to know God's heart, and God's mind, to be sure that we know why we are praying and what for. Remember that we need to pray in a spirit that matches God's will for us, again, we need the Holy Spirit guiding us from within.

Let us go back to Elijah. Why was he praying for rain? Ahab had not repented. Jezebel was not a born again Christian. The people only noted that God was the one true God after they saw the power of God's fire from heaven burning up the sacrifices. Did Israel deserve rain? Was the prayer warranted for these people? But Elijah did as God wanted him to do. God got him on his knees (or his head in his knees) seven times. Maybe it was to allow Elijah to lose any doubts that this was really what God wanted. We don't know, I am making a supposition, but when I see that God sometimes had to do really hard lessons to get people to learn, and they listen so briefly, that if we read on just for say, another chapter, we see that the lesson is lost already, I think that this is something for each of us to mull over. Look for example at the exile of Judah to Babylon, in the time of Daniel. They lived in exile for 7 times 10 years! And they did not really learn a lot despite the circumstance. So praying for something just seven times, just shows you how close Elijah and God really were.

The final passage is a curious one, and one I find hard to fathom.

Then the hand of the LORD came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

The passage tells us a couple of interesting things. He stayed ahead of Ahab, it does not tell us whether it was a jog or a gallop, it does not matter, God gave Elijah a gift that many Olympians would like. The distance, depending on the commentary, and where people think that they started - Mt Carmel is a long ridge of about 24 miles in length, and we know that the servant could see the sea from the top of the part they were on. Nevertheless, he ran maybe 20-25 miles, staying in front. Why did they run. We can read Judges to get a very good idea about what happens when it rains in the area!

"The kings came and fought, Then the kings of Canaan fought In Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; They took no spoils of silver. 20 They fought from the heavens; The stars from their courses fought against Sisera. 21 The torrent of Kishon swept them away, That ancient torrent, the torrent of Kishon. O my soul, march on in strength! Judges 5:19

Kishon being between Ahab and his comfy home. In the rain, God was allowing Ahab to get home, and at the same time, providing Ahab, yet again, another very strong visual reminder of the power of God, a man, whose age we know not, I somehow doubt that he was young, running, wet, soggy gown, yet staying upright, and ahead. Just work it out. If they were doing a very good pace, they may have made it in 2 hours, so for two hours, Ahab had the very essence of God at work, in those legs of Elijah. Did he take notice? As mentioned, the simple answer is no. When he got home, did he say to Jezebel - you should have seen that man run? No, his first words were those we have already looked at, look what Elijah did, and none of it was good. How hard was his heart?

As I stated, it is an interesting passage, others may be able to find a whole sermon on it, but this is what my heart sees, but still, it provides further insight into how God works. But one can steal another man's thoughts. So to conclude this section, I am stealing from Arthur Pink, who writes a neat little synopsis: Each detail contains an important lesson for us. The power of God resting upon Elijah did not render him careless and negligent of his own duty: he gathered up his garment so that his movements might be unimpeded. And if we are to run with patience the race that is set before us we need to "lay aside every weight" (Heb. 12:1). If we are to "stand against the wiles of the Devil" we must have our "loins girt about with truth" (Eph. 6:14). By running "before Ahab" Elijah took the lowly place of a common footman, which should have shown the monarch that his zeal against idolatry was prompted by no disrespect for himself, but actuated only by jealousy for God. The Lord's people are required to "honour the king" in all civil matters, and here too it is the duty of ministers to set their people an example. Elijah's conduct on this occasion served as another test of Ahab's character: if he had had any respect for the Lord's servant he would have invited him into his chariot, as the eminent Ethiopian did Philip (Acts 8:31), but it was far otherwise with this son of Belial.

So, there we have it. There are parts I have not touched, but, before you heave a sigh of relief, there is though a final thought I wish to comment on before we end today. It is that of the rain: what a lesson for us is the rain. H2O falling from the sky, as pure as it could be - these were the days before we polluted the earth and now we see acid rains and other bad things. Rain, water, all belonging to God. The fountain of life, the rivers of living waters, The Word, water. We read in Isaiah 48:17

"The poor and needy seek water, but there is none, Their tongues fail for thirst. I, the LORD, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. 18 I will open rivers in desolate heights, And fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, And the dry land springs of water. Or Psalm 23:2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Isaiah 48:17

In these verses we read where Elijah must have been in his relationship with God, but where Ahab was so totally in the desert. We see in another Psalm - 42

As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? Psalm - 42

Is this us? It was not Ahab. He took the rain from God as his own right. We read elsewhere in the Bible about these waters that define Ahab, where the water was polluted, or was bitter, or a great flood. He did not turn to God, and drink of His pure water, nor take in the rain as God's blessing, God's gift for us. We can look at the rains, the water that God sends us, and do as Elijah - thirst is present, so prayer is present. It is interesting to note that with the rain God's answer was not immediate as with the previous day with the fire, so Elijah's prayer is persistent, and through the persistence of prayer, the fountains came down from heaven. His servant saw one small cloud, it was enough. We need only have one drop of water from God, and it should excite us so much that a short 20 mile run, is just what we need, exercise for God, with his water running down our faces, soaking us, like we are being baptised, his servant, doing his will, for His purposes, as evangelists for those that truly need to know.

How much are we like Ahab - food is on the table, rain is coming, our problems are over? The rain blinded Ahab, he did not see God running before him, keeping his path safe. His turn was coming, when Gods time was right, his patience ended, the last of the chances to repent gone. Let us finish with what can be our anthem of praise, and song, from Joel chapter 2:3:

3 Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the LORD your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you--The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month. 24 The threshing floors shall be full of wheat, And the vats shall overflow with new wine and oil. 25 "So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. 26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, And praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; And My people shall never be put to shame. 27 Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the LORD your God And there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame. Joel 2:3:

[1] "Pray Without Ceasing" A Sermon, (No. 1039), Delivered on Lord's Day Morning, March 10th, 1872, by C. H. SPURGEON, At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

Stephen B Simon (CCC November 2010)
People_Studies\Elijah Prays for Rain 1 Kings 18_41_46(SBS)