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9. Elijah

9.2.2 Playing God

Elijah said that there would be no rain " but according to my word" (1 Kings 17:1). His faith was undoubtedly based upon being attune to the will of God and His ways of working with His people, to the extent that he knew that because the word abided in him, he could ask what he wanted and it would be heard, because he asked according to God's will. But when the time comes for rain, we read that " the word of the Lord [not Elijah's word] came to Elijah...saying...I will send rain upon the earth" (1 Kings 18:1).  

When Elijah is ordered by the captain of 50 to “come down”, Elijah responds by saying “let fire come down” (2 Kings1:9,10).  Elijah sees himself as the fire sent from God; he associates himself directly with God and His judgments. He hadn’t learnt the lesson that God wasn’t in the fire but in the small voice. The captain wanted Elijah to come down from the high hill (cp. Heaven), so Elijah calls fire to come down from Heaven. He sees himself as the fire, as God coming down. He had the wrong attitude and yet God still heard his prayers; God worked with Elijah as Elijah wanted. And so we perceive the subtleties of a man’s relationship with God. Prayer may be answered, and the extent of Elijah’s faith in ‘commanding’ the fire to come down is indeed awesome, but we may even then still be ‘playing God’ in a wrong way. This playing of God, this over certainty that God was behind him, led Elijah into some arrogancy. We read in 1 Kings 17:13 how he asked the widow woman to first feed him, and after feed herself and her son.  The Hebrew word translated “after” is that translated “last”- ‘put me first and yourself last’, Elijah is saying. Wasn’t this arrogant? He was so sure he was manifesting God that he could demand that she put him first and herself last. But God is demanding, and yes He worked through Elijah. But one does get the sense that Elijah felt he  should be put first. God can be demanding, but we don’t have the same right to be upon others. 1 Kings 17:11 in Hebrew has Elijah asking the woman: ‘Bring me a handful of bread’- and she replies that she has only a handful of flour (1 Kings 17:12). Yet even this is demanded of her. In passing note that her “meal in a barrel” (1 Kings 17:12) uses a Hebrew term which really means a  pitcher. The idea is of a handful of meal in a very large container; it’s an eloquent picture of her poverty, and how she was down to the last little bit of flour in a large container that was once full. And the Lord through Elijah demanded this of her, that He might save her. 

In 1 Kings 21:21 Elijah simply announces to Ahab: “Behold I will bring evil upon thee...”. We expect this to be prefaced by a “Thus saith the Lord”- but Elijah was so close to God he assumed he was speaking directly from Him. And yet Elijah doesn’t repeat what God had told him to say in v. 19. Was he too familiar with God? Assuming he knew God’s will and words? But it must be said that he improves- in 2 Kings 1:6 he says that what he says is the word of Yahweh, and he repeats verbatim what he was told to say. We too know God’s word. We know the Bible text well. But this can lead to an assumption that we speak for God; that we must be right in all our attitudes and positions we adopt on issues. 

One of Elijah’s problems was that because he spoke the truth, God confirmed his words; but this didn’t mean that Elijah himself was always morally acceptable to God. Thus Ahab accuses Elijah of being the one who troubles Israel, like Achan, for whose sake many of the people suffered. Elijah replies that it is Ahab who is the troubler of Israel, the Achan character. And he lived up to this, for in his days they sort to rebuild Jericho, and the curse associated with Achan came true at that time (1 Kings 16:34). Elijah’s words were justified, just as the truth we speak to those around us may be- because it is the truth of God. But this doesn’t of itself mean that we are right before God personally, nor does it mean that we can in any way presume to ‘play God’.  

Another example of Elijah playing God is when he proposes the contest on Carmel- and then claims that he did all that at God’s command (1 Kings 18:36). And yet there’s no record of any such word from the Lord to him. He appears to have set it all up at his initiative- and then assumed that actually God had told him to do so and that God would respond as he expected. We can so very easily do the same. And yet- despite all that, he had undoubted faith, and God rewarded that faith, despite Elijah’s crude sarcasm about Baal being in the rest room (1 Kings 18:27). God didn’t give up working with Elijah, and Elijah still had a relationship with God. And this is how we have to see those brethren whom we perceive as arrogant and so terribly deficient in the spirit of Christ. When Elijah demands that the people chose which lord they will serve- Baal [=’lord’] or Yahweh, he is really getting to the very crux of spirituality- for truly, there can be no halting between the two opinions of serving Baal and serving Yahweh. The Lord Jesus surely based His words of Lk. 16:13 on those of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:21: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon”. So although on one hand the Lord Jesus Himself quotes Elijah’s ‘truth’ approvingly, there is evidence galore that at the very same time, Elijah’s attitudes were far from Christ-like, as we will show below. At the very same time, Elijah mocks the Baal worshippers, teasing them to shout louder, because maybe their god has gone ‘in a journey’- a Hebraism for ‘gone to the toilet’ (1 Kings 18:27). This kind of mockery and crudeness is surely not how the Father and Son would have us act. Yet Elijah did this whilst at the same time deeply believing the fire would come down, and bringing it down by his faith. And saying other words which were alluded to with deep approval by the Lord. Elijah’s mocking attitude is also shown by the way in which he demands they find him four barrels of water- on the top of a mountain, after a major three and a half year drought (1 Kings 18:33). Presumably they took the water from the sea at the bottom of the mountain- and thus Elijah’s sacrifice would be offered with salt. He was strictly obedient to the requirements for sacrifice- yet amidst an abusive, self-justifying mindset. The very possession of truth can take our attention away from our need for self-examination and right attitudes towards others. In this lies one of our most subtle temptations.