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December 11, 2021
You Can’t Have It Both Ways – Part 1 (Elijah) Courage To Take Sides
Pastor Philip De Courcy
1 Kings 18

Purchase the CD of this sermon.


In the new series, Profiles in Courage, Pastor Philip explores the lives of biblical figures who exemplify God-given courage. From Genesis to Revelation, these profiles of courage will inspire us to take a stand for righteousness and unwavering faith.
Courage is not limited to a select few; it is a quality all believers must cultivate. It involves putting ourselves at risk, sacrificing comfort, and persevering in the face of opposition. It demands a firm commitment to truth and an unwavering determination to do what others cannot or will not do.

More From This Series


I’m excited about this series, Profiles in Courage. This is a day in which men need to stand up and speak out and stand out for the Lord Jesus Christ. So, let’s take our Bibles and go to 1 Kings 18. We’re going to begin a two-part sermon on “You Can’t Have It Both Ways.” Now that’s the message of Elijah. You can’t have it both ways. Why do you halt between two opinions?
That’s the question that Elijah poses to the nation of Israel. We’re just going to read the opening 21 verses. So, follow along, keep your Bible open, and listen to God’s Word:
And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.”
So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab; and there was a severe famine in Samaria. And Ahab had called Obadiah, who was in charge of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. For so it was, while Jezebel massacred the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water.) And Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go into the land to all the springs of water and to all the brooks; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, so that we will not have to kill any livestock.” So they divided the land between them to explore it; Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.
Now as Obadiah was on his way, suddenly Elijah met him; and he recognized him, and fell on his face, and said, “Is that you, my lord Elijah?”
And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’”
So he said, “How have I sinned, that you are delivering your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, ‘He is not here,’ he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you. And now you say, ‘Go, tell your master, “Elijah is here”’! And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of the Lord will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me. But I your servant have feared the Lord from my youth. Was it not reported to my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid one hundred men of the Lord’s prophets, fifty to a cave, and fed them with bread and water? And now you say, ‘Go, tell your master, “Elijah is here.”’ He will kill me!”
Then Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely present myself to him today.”
So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?”
And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals. Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel. And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.
Such drama.
Martin Neimöller was a German pastor imprisoned by the Nazis for eight years after opposing Hitler. He was among a group of church leaders who drafted the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt at the end of World War II. It was a statement from the evangelical church in Germany that acknowledged that they had often failed to stand up to and speak out against the Third Reich.
Part of it read, “We accuse ourselves for not standing to our beliefs more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, and for not loving more ardently.” In fact, Martin Neimöller is famous for a poem or a statement that goes something like this: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”
In the face of today’s moral ambiguity and aggressive secularism outside the church and doctrinal plasticity inside the church, we might wonder if the evangelical church in America will not, in the near future, have to accuse itself of not holding to its beliefs more courageously. Confronted with social change and spiritual confusion, the church is keeping quiet instead of speaking out.
Guys, our condemnations of the surrounding culture are few, while our compromises with the surrounding culture are many. We’re more sensitive to people’s sin than we are to God’s holiness—more interested in dialogue than declaration. The reality is this. The state of play is tragically this. The forces of modernity are advancing in America while the church is retreating.
Speaking of this drift, this departure, this looming defeat, Os Guinness says this: “Christians in the West are living in a grand clarifying moment.” I think he’s right. In fact, I’m going to let him speak for himself more fully. Just in the last few weeks while traveling, I’ve been reading his book called Impossible People, which is a call to be courageous in the culture. And he says this: “Christians in the West are living in a grand clarifying moment. The gap between Christians and the wider culture is widening, and many formerly nominal Christians are becoming ‘religious nones.’ In many ways we are in the Thursday evening of Holy Week. The cock has not yet crowed, but the angry crowd who would like to see the end of our Lord in the Western world has already seen and heard enough of our early betrayals to believe that it can count on more, and harry us toward ignominious surrender. So this is no time for cowards, for fence sitters or for those who wish to hedge their bets until they hear the judge’s verdict on the contest.”
He goes on: “We face a solemn hour for humanity at large and a momentous showdown for the Western church. At stake is the attempted completion of the centuries-long assault on the Jewish and Christian faiths and their replacement by progressive secularism as the defining faith of the West and the ideology said to be best suited to the conditions of advanced modernity.”
I think we all know there’s a struggle going on for the soul of the West. We all know there’s a clash of worldviews going on in our culture. Given that struggle talked about here by Os Guinness, and given what is at stake in that struggle, we need to answer the bell as men. This is no time for cowards, for fence sitters, for those who will hedge their bets until they hear the judge’s verdict on the contest.
No, guys, this is a time for courage, boldness, resoluteness on the part of Christian men and Christians everywhere. We need to be unashamed of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16); unashamed of His virgin birth; unashamed of His sinlessness; unashamed of His deity and humanity; unashamed of His miracles; unashamed of His death on our behalf, His burial, resurrection, and coming again in judgment.
We need to stand up in the evil day for all that is decent and holy (Eph. 6:13). We need to boldly and bravely confess in the public square that Jesus Christ is Lord over life, marriage, gender, career, leisure. Romans 10:9 tells us to confess Him with our mouth, having believed in Him in our hearts. We need to fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). We need, as a church, to rebuke and expose the unfruitful works of darkness that are descending on our culture (Eph. 5:11).
That’s why I want to pursue this new series, Profiles in Courage, with you, because every man under my voice this morning needs to be a profile in courage. We need to be unbowed like Daniel and his three friends, who, even under the threat of being burned alive, made a confession of faith in God before a sinful society.
We need to be like those early Christians who refused to acknowledge that Caesar is Lord rather than Jesus, even if it meant becoming a human torch in Nero’s garden. We need to be like Athanasius, who stood for the truth of Jesus’ deity against the world, because the world was against Him. He was willing to be exiled five times in his lifetime for faithfulness to the gospel. We need to be like Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer who stood firm before a corrupt church despite the threat of a fiery stake. We need to be like our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, those Egyptian brothers who were lined up on that beach, whose throats were slit by ISIS terrorists. But they would rather die. They would rather have their throat slit than deny Christ and affirm Mohammed as prophet.
Profiles in courage. You’ll find them from Genesis through Revelation. You’ll find them as you turn the pages of church history, and we need to add our own chapter. This is a time when God, the nation, and the church needs us as men to be a profile in courage. The hour needs us to have a gospel stubbornness. We need to be like Joshua, strong and very courageous. We need to be like David and wait on the Lord and be of good courage. We need to be like the Corinthians, brave and strong as men.
In fact, as we’re talking about courage, by way of introduction, it’s been said there are two kinds of courage. I’ve been enjoying a really good book. It’s actually not a Christian book. It’s written by a secular author, a man by the name of Ryan Holiday. But it’s called Courage Is Calling. You should get a copy and read it. It’s just about courage in all aspects of life. It has some tremendous stories from history.
And in his book, he says this:
It’s long been held that there are two kinds of courage, physical and moral.
Physical courage is a knight riding into battle. It’s a firefighter rushing into a burning building. It’s an explorer setting out for the arctic, defying the elements.
Moral courage is a whistleblower taking on powerful interests. It’s the truth teller who says what no one else will say. It’s the entrepreneur going into business for themselves, against all the odds.
The martial courage of the soldier and the mental courage of the scientist.
But it doesn’t take a philosopher to see that these are actually the same thing.
There aren’t two kinds of courage. There is only one. The kind where you put your [rear end] on the line. In some cases literally, perhaps fatally. In other cases it’s figurative, or financial.
Courage is risk.
It is sacrifice . . .
. . . commitment
. . . perseverance
. . . truth
. . . determination.
When you do the thing others cannot or will not do. When you do the thing that people think you shouldn’t or can’t do. Otherwise it’s not courage. You have to be braving something or someone.
So, all of that said, this call to be a profile in courage brings us to look at our first profile in courage: the prophet Elijah, a man who had the courage to challenge his culture. That’s kind of our focus in this profile in courage: the courage to challenge the culture when it’s weak and wavering and wicked. And we’re going to look at him this morning and the next time we’re together.
Now, let’s put the text in its context. In 1 Kings 18, we’re in the middle of the eighth century BC. The prophet Elijah is speaking into the life of the wicked King Ahab, who’s the son of Omri, who did more evil than anyone before him. What we have in this chapter is the greatest smack down and showdown in all of the Bible. We have had Elijah appear in chapter 17 then disappear, only to reappear in chapter 18. And, as he reappears, he picks a fight with the prophets of Baal and Asherah.
The purpose of this sudden death conflict, this elimination contest, is the exaltation of Jehovah and the discrediting of Baal as a non-god. You’ll see this theme throughout the chapter. “If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). And, throughout the chapter, Elijah asks God to show Himself, to declare His glory powerfully in the midst of the people, because God will not share His glory with another. Right?
So, it’s a clash of cultures. Or, to borrow the words from Os Guinness about the West now, it was true of the East then: this is a “clarifying moment” in the life of Israel. And so, let’s look at this man. Several things jump out in the text. If you’re taking notes, the first thing I want you to notice is the command. Verse 1: “And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.’ So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab; and there was a severe famine in Samaria.”
We’re three years into the famine. Remember, back in chapter 17, Elijah declares that there’ll be no rain until there’s repentance, until there’s a reformation in the land. They’re suffering drought, according to Deuteronomy, because of their disobedience to God. A wicked king with a wicked queen has led Israel astray, and they have followed like sheep to the slaughter. And the time has come to act. Three years into the famine—which is a judgment, remember—this is a time of desperation and devastation.
Please note that the famine is targeted at the guilty parties. You’ll notice that the famine is most severe in Samaria, where Ahab and Jezebel are headquartered. The people may be desperate, and the times may be tough, but the king is only interested in his horses and his mules; you’ll see from verse 5. So that’s the command. Elijah appeared (17:1). Then he was told to go hide himself at Cherith (17:2). And now we have him presenting himself to Ahab. He appeared, he disappeared, he reappeared—all in obedience to God.
Now, we could leave it there, but I think it’s worth just pausing and delving in a little bit deeper because there’s a rhythm to our text. I like to always connect these two verses together. Chapter 17, verse 2: “Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith.’” And then we have here in chapter 18, verse 1, “Go show yourself” or “go present yourself.”
“Go hide yourself.” “Go show yourself.” Both commands. This is the latest one. But here’s the thing to notice, guys. There was a rhythm to the ministry of Elijah. Hide then present. Wait then walk. Listen then speak. Train then serve. Did you see that? Go hide yourself. Slow down. Embrace solitude. Wait on the Lord and be of good courage. That’s the secret to courage. It’s the overflow of a bold and deep and developing faith in God.
Now, if we go back to Cherith just for a couple of minutes, two things stand out that I think bring us to this moment, because the story has been building up to this moment. We’re jumping in, but before we get here, he has appeared, and then he has disappeared. And he goes through the school at Cherith, and then he goes through the university at Zarephath. God teaches Elijah certain things, and there’s two things I want to just highlight for your encouragement.
Number one, what I call the progression of faith. And, number two, the preparation of faith. When he comes to this clarifying moment, he’s been readied. He’s been prepared. Wait then work. Listen then speak. Train then serve. Hide then present.
The first thing is the progression of faith. Go back to chapter 17 and verse 2. Notice this word: “Then the word of the Lord came.” The word of the Lord came after Elijah had elbowed his way into Ahab’s court and had declared that a judgment was coming on the land, that there would be drought and famine and sickness, which was one of the curses of Deuteronomy. But here’s the point: “then.” That little word tells us that when the prophet Elijah pushed by the guard into Ahab’s court, he had no clue what was going to happen next. He just took a step of faith. This much he knew: go and tell Ahab, “No more rain, at my word.” He was walking by faith, step by step. In fact, scroll down to verse 8 of chapter 17: “Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath.’” So, go to Cherith. That’s a season; that’s a step. Go to Zarephath. That’s a season; that’s a step. Then, go present yourself to Ahab. That’s a season; that’s a step.
Guys, the point I’m making is this: the progression of faith. Elijah was being schooled in the progression of faith. God’s will does not come to us preassembled but is shown and known progressively as we obey the Word and as we walk in the Spirit. Right?
Psalm 119:105: the word is a lamp unto your feet and a light onto your path. As you come to understand God’s Word and obey the Word of God that you read one day, then you move on to reading and obeying the Word of God the next day. And so you progress down the path of maturity and discipleship. Keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). David Roper says this: “I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but God doesn’t give us a thousand pieces to work with all at once. He doesn’t dump the puzzle on the table in a jumbled pile. We would be much too confused by the clutter.” Amen?
I’m glad life isn’t a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle that’s just dumped on the table. No. Like a good parent helping a small child, God hands us one piece at a time. That’s a good word. My friend, whatever God has in front of you right now, whatever He’s calling you to do in obedience and repentance, do. Don’t run too far ahead. Don’t think too far ahead. Embrace the moment you’re in, the obedience that it calls for, and take another step of faith. And you’ll progress, and you’ll mature.
James Merritt says this: “The problem with most Christians is not that they need guidance in what they don’t know, but they need obedience in what they do know.” The way to learn the will of God in an unknown area is to obey the will of God in a known area.
You know the story of June and me packing up with our three little girls, putting all our stuff into several boxes, and coming to The Master’s Seminary in 1993. It was a bold move. It was a big move. It was a terrifying move. We left security for insecurity. We left a country we knew for a country we didn’t know. And we really didn’t know the future, but we had a sense. We wanted to come to The Master’s Seminary for another baptism in theology and knowledge and an understanding of the gospel. And God gave us a verse. My wife loves L. B. Cowman’s little book Streams in the Desert, and in it there was a devotional we were reading one day in the buildup to the big decision. It was Proverbs 4:12, that she translates, “As you go, the way shall open up to you.”
It was easy for us to wonder: How are we going to survive in Southern California? Will we be able to settle in a new country? Will June find friends? Will our little girls, five, three, and one, be able to adjust to the missing of their grandparents and with all that their little eyes have seen so far in life now gone?
But you know the story. It’s amazing. God had a plan for us to stay in this country, to fall in love with this country, to find some of the richest relationships we’ve ever known from God’s people in this country. I had no idea when I walked into my first class at The Master’s Seminary that someday God would give me the privilege to be 15 years on the board of that great school. I couldn’t have put the pieces of that puzzle together if you’d have dumped them all on a kitchen table. But, as we took one step and another step and another step, the way opened up.
And God’s preparing this man. You’ve got the progression of faith. And, secondly, you’ve got the preparation of faith. “Go hide yourself.” See, that proceeds, “Go show yourself.” It was just part of this progression, but it was also part of preparation—as in, listen, the secret place is the secret to our effectiveness.
The secret place is the secret to our effectiveness. Remember how Jesus put it in Matthew 6? You know what? Go and pray. Find a closet. Find a room. Find a corner. Throw a blanket over your head. Close a door behind you. Get alone with God, away from the lights, away from the noise, away from the drama. Seek your Father. He knows the things you have need of. Pray like this: “Lord, Your kingdom come, Your will be done. Give us what we need this day to survive. Deliver us from evil. Forgive us our sins, and show Yourself in all Your glory and power and kingdom rule.”
And what does Jesus say? And what God sees in secret, He will reward openly. There’s the pattern: secrecy, openness; privacy, public. Before the publicity of Carmel—which we’re about to get into before we’re done this morning and next time—you have the obscurity of Cherith. In fact, the Hebrew for “Cherith” means “cut off” or “cut down.” I think that’s not only physically true of that place, which was probably an old wadi that had worked its way through a valley and cut itself a deep ravine—which the Hebrews called “Cherith,” “cut off, cut down.”
Elijah had been sequestered so that indeed he might be cut off from all distraction to be dependent upon God and cut down in size and brought to a place of renewed trust and faith in God. He was cut off from all surrounding distraction and dependence. He learned his littleness in God’s bigness. He learned to confront his pride. He learned to conquer his fear. What God asked him to do: run against his natural instinct. God asked him to withdraw from the frontlines when war had just been declared. Doesn’t make sense! But, you see, we’re to trust the Lord with all our heart. We’re to lean not on our own understanding, and we’re to follow Him in all our ways. Cherith was doing that for him, and the fruits were supernatural.
In the place of solitude, God removed all the scaffolding from Elijah’s life, engendering a dependence upon Him. In the place of solitude, God freed Elijah from the victimizing compulsions of the world to engender spiritual sensitivity. In the place of solitude, God suffocated Elijah’s ego, engendering an undivided desire for God’s glory.
Guys, the secret place is the secret. And, if we’re going to have any effect in the public square, on the factory floor, in the university classroom, on the streets of our cities, we need to be alone with God. We need to emerge from times when we spend before His Word and on our knees in prayer seeking His kingdom and His glory.
Paderewski, the great pianist, said this: “If I don’t practice for one day, I know it; if I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it; if I don’t practice for three days, the audience knows it.” What’s the point? Paderewski’s public performance was only as good as his private practice. His public effectiveness would rise and fall based on his private earnestness. And that’s true.
So, that’s the command. “Go present yourself.” But we want to notice it came after “go hide yourself.” When he gets to this moment, there’s been a time of preparation, and there’s been a time of progression. That’s why he’s so effective on Mount Carmel.
Secondly, I want you to notice the contrast. This is verses 3 to 16. We’re not going to spend a lot of time here. In fact, I almost was going to just kind of jump over this little cameo between Elijah and Obadiah, but I thought better.
Now, within the text, this encounter between Obadiah and Elijah is simply the bridge between Ahab and Elijah. It’s Obadiah who will introduce Ahab to Elijah, and we will have the great competition and conflict on Mount Carmel. But here’s the thing that strikes me. If you look at verses 3 to 16, there is a study in contrasts. Just want to be practical, want to be pastoral—something you can see and something you can live. The pastoral and practical takeaway is this, that there are different ways to serve the Lord, and God uses different people in different places and in different ways to accomplish the same ends. Because Obadiah, in many ways, is so different from Elijah.
Now, there are some people who argue that Obadiah was a compromised follower of Yahweh. I’m not sure I buy that. There’s nothing in the text that condemns him, even though he is a civil servant in Ahab’s administration, a very wicked administration. So, the assumption is, this doesn’t smell right. How can he hold that position without some boot-licking or compromised commitments to this wicked regime?
But there’s nothing in the text that would tell us that’s the case. In fact, we’re told in the text that he feared God greatly. We’re told that he feared God from his youth. When he meets Elijah, he treats the prophet of God with great respect. And, you know what? He showed bravery. The example we have of him is not one of compromise. It’s one of courage, where he takes a hundred of God’s prophets during a time of slaughter, hides them—50 in one cave, 50 in another—and brings them food and water and, one would assume, some clothing.
But the contrast. Okay, if we assume he’s a true follower of God and he’s on Elijah’s side, although he’s inside the administration, I want you to notice the contrast. One is a prophet; the other is a civil servant. Both serving the Lord. One is loud, boisterous; the other is quiet, somewhat unassuming. One is inside the system; one is outside the system. One tries to stop things completely; the other tries to stem things progressively. One is publicly confrontational; the other is behind the scenes.
Obadiah’s approach was more like the Second World War resistance movements—caught behind enemy lines, secretly trying to disrupt enemy operations. I like what Dale Ralph Davis says in his commentary of 1 Kings. We may draw legitimate application based on his discussion. He says this: “Obadiah is obviously very different from Elijah. Elijah’s ministry is more public and confrontational; Obadiah works quietly in behind-the-scenes fashion and yet is faithful in the sphere where God placed him. The Bible never tells us that there is only one kind of faithful servant.” It never demands that you must be an Elijah clone. Models are helpful, but slavish imitation of them is foolish.
I remember hearing Alistair Begg say something one day: “If you’re going to copy someone, make sure you can.” As in, pick the person you want to be like carefully. And, be honest, some of us may become Elijahs in our generation, but most of us are probably going to be an Obadiah. Isn’t it a wonderful thing also here in this text to see where God places His servants, in hard places?
I hear a lot today of Christians wishing to escape hard places. And yet, in the Bible, God has His servants in hard places. I mean, Elijah is a flower growing in a scrapyard. What about Joseph? He was among the nation who worshiped cats and dogs and crocodiles. What about Daniel, who was among the people of God amidst the nation governed by astrology and astral deities? The horoscope ruled in Babylon, not the Bible. What about Paul, telling us right at the end of his letter to the Philippians, saying along the lines of, “I greet you and some within Caesar’s household greet you”? Woo! Right up at the top echelons of the Roman administration. I love it.
And, guys, there’s a wonderful example here of how God uses different people in different ways in different places. In fact, as I think about Obadiah, I think about two people I got to hear about in the last few weeks. I heard about a wonderful Christian woman, known to some of us, who’s worked in one of the major school districts here in California and sought to be a witness for Jesus Christ. She’s aware, or was aware, that the new curriculum coming down the pike was something that was godless and opposed to biblical morality. What could she do about it? What she did was she tried to hold off as long as she could and can in bringing in new curriculum. She’s going to make the present curriculum stick for as long as she can. You say that’s not moving mountains. Yeah, it’s blocking and tackling for the kingdom.
When I was in Scotland, I visited a Harvest Church in Ayrshire. Ended up talking to a police officer, anti-terrorist police officer in the Scottish police service. He told me a story about how there was a female commander coming in to give them a briefing, and she was foul-mouthed and rude. And, at some point, he put his hand up, and he says, “Is the briefing done?” She said, “It is.” But she was continuing to talk and interact with the guys, and he said, “Oh, then, excuse me, ma’am.” And he got up to walk out. She asked him, “Why are you leaving?” He says, “You know what? The briefings done, and I don’t need to listen to that anymore.”
Not too many hours later, he was told by his captain, “The boss wants to see you.” And he went into her office, and she said, “Sit down.” He said, “I’d rather stand, ma’am.” And she said, “You know what? You probably think I’m going to tear strips off you.” He said, “I don’t know, and if you do, it doesn’t matter. I’m out of here in about a year.” And then she started to ask him why he did what he did, and he said, “Your conduct’s unbecoming of a police officer and commander. You should do better. You should speak with more class. You should set an example for the young officers.” And you know what? She didn’t tear strips off him. She apologized, and later in the day, she sent out an email to all the officers who were at the briefing, apologizing for her unbecoming behavior. All because an Obadiah, with a little bit of an Elijah spirit, within the system acted smartly and wisely and bravely and said, “Enough.”
That’s the command. That’s the contrast. What about the contradiction? The contradiction. This is verses 16 to 18: “So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah. Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, ‘Is that you, O troubler of Israel?’” I mean, the gall. The gall. “And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals.’”
And here’s the contradiction. Ahab calls Elijah the troublemaker when in reality, he’s the source of Israel’s woes. Now, let’s just unpack it for a couple of minutes. Amazingly, Ahab scapegoats God’s servant. The term “troublemaker,” by the way, has significance.
If you go back to Joshua 6:18 and Joshua 7:25, we read about a man named Achan, who brought an unholy thing into the camp of Israel and brought about the curse and judgment of God on him and the family and the nation. And, when he’s found out, when that Babylonian gold and garment is found buried in the middle of his tent, he’s hauled out for the firing squad, so to speak, in front of the people of Israel. And what has Joshua said? “So, you’re the one that troubled Israel?” Now, amazingly, Ahab thinks Elijah is the one who has troubled Israel. Elijah is the one who’s brought about the famine and the curse of God. No self-awareness. The deceitfulness of sin. The blindness of arrogance. Ahab was the true Achan. Ahab was the troubler. And Elijah’s not shy to point that out. He sets the record straight.
He points the finger. You’re the culprit. You and your father, Omri. Go back to chapter 16, verses 25–26. Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did worse than all who were before him. And he’s followed by his wicked son Ahab, who married a Phoenician, Jezebel, who brought about compromise and corruption in the worship of Israel through the introduction of the Baals.
Elijah says, “You know what? You’ve committed sins of omission and sins of commission.” The sins of omission is they abandoned the law. They didn’t do what they should have done. And then the sins of commission was they followed the Baals, which was simply the local idols of Baals. It was different names for the Baals that had brought about corruption within the nation of Israel. He was the problem.
In fact, one of the commentators helped me see something. If you go to 2 Chronicles 17:11–19, we’re told about what’s going on at the same time in the middle of the eighth century. So, in the north you’ve got Ahab, wicked, disobedient. He has not followed God’s commandments, and he has followed the Baals. And famine has come because Deuteronomy says that God will curse the nation with petulance, famine if it follows idols.
But, in the southern kingdom, Jehoshaphat rules, and he’s prospering. There’s an economic boom. In fact, if you read those verses, he could marshal a million men for the battlefield. The south is blooming. The north is wilting. One king is good. One king is evil. Elijah’s very clear. But, here’s the point, practical point, something for you to chew on this week. Now, you maybe noticed this, but let me remind you if you haven’t. And, if you haven’t, this is a wake-up call. Do you notice in the Bible that the pattern is this? The world often sees the people of God as the threat, even though they have brought about their own demise and disaster.
Like the Savior, we can be despised and rejected by men. I don’t have time to go here, but if you go to Luke 23, verses 2 and 5, when the Jews present Jesus to Pilate, they say, “You know what? He’s the one that’s perverting the nation. He’s stirring up the crowds. He’s creating mayhem on the streets.” The Prince of peace. The same was said of Paul in Acts 24:5, that he’s the ringleader of the Nazarenes. He’s a rabble-rouser. He’s unsettling the status quo and cultural equilibrialism. The point is this, guys, as one writer says, our Lord was nailed to a cross, and you can count on being nailed to the wall.
Now, we may not like it, and we may have grounds for complaint. But, at the same time, you and I need to embrace the idea that this culture will mock us. It will portray us on television as stupid. It will make us the scapegoats for their own sins, their own failures. Just get used to it. What has been, is. What is, will be. In fact, we need to turn the corner and stop bellyaching about it and maybe get to an Acts 5:41, where we count it worthy to suffer for Him. If you become the piñata in your university classroom or in the workspace or wherever the case might be, embrace that—because our Savior was rejected and despised by men.
If you look anything like Him, and you preach His gospel, and you stand for His truths, the same will happen to you. They nailed Him to the cross. They will nail you to the wall. Listen to this from A. W. Pink: “It is the duty of God’s servants to warn men of their danger, to point out that the way of rebellion against God leads to certain destruction and to call upon them to throw down the weapons of their revolt and flee from the wrath to come. It is their duty to teach men that they must turn from their idols and serve the living God, otherwise they will eternally perish. It is their duty to rebuke wickedness wherever it be found and to declare that the wages of sin is death.”
This will not make them popular, for it will condemn and irritate the wicked, and such plain speaking will seriously annoy them. Those who expose hypocrites, resist tyrants, oppose the wicked are ever viewed by them as troublemakers. But, as Christ declared, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11–12). Is that you, Elijah, O troubler of Israel? And so, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Nero, in his madness, burned down the city of Rome, and he scapegoated the Christians.
I was thinking about Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, and how God gave him the strength and the courage to confront the apathy and apostacy that marked the church of his day: the mercenary use of indulgences, the authority of the Pope over Scripture, the immorality of the priesthood, the loss of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. And so he spoke up. He wrote 95 protestations, and he put them on the door of the church in Wittenberg, which was basically the place where people read their morning news. But, on June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull entitled “Arise, O Lord,” in which he condemned Luther and called for his immediate restraint. And he complained about this wild boar that had entered God’s vineyard. So, it wasn’t the popes and all their financial corruption and sexual immorality and theological compromise that troubled the church. It was Luther, the wild boar from Germany who had entered God’s vineyard. Guys, that’s the way it is. That’s the way it was.
Let’s get to a last thought here for a few minutes, and we’ll wrap this up. The choice. There’s a lot here. That’s why we’re doing it over a month or two. The choice. So, we read verses 19 and 20: “Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table. So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel.” Verse 21 is a great verse: “And Elijah came to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word.” The choice.
Elijah proposes to Ahab a battle of the gods, an elimination contest. He asked them to gather the clans of Israel to watch it and witness it, and they did come. People will come out for a good fight, and they did. With all Israel before him, Elijah calls on the people to make a choice, and he challenges them. How long will you falter between two opinions? It’s a word that carries the idea of limping.
Later on in the chapter, verse 26, we read here: “Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.” Speaking about the prophets of Baal. They were dancing feverously around the altar. We’ll get to that next month. But the point is that this word is that kind of limping, where you kind of favor one foot rather than another, or you kind of dance around something. In many ways, Elijah’s saying, “Hey, you can no longer dither, and you can no longer dance around the issue. I’m going to call your bluff. If God is the Lord, then follow Him. If Baal, follow him. But no more riding the fence. No more doing the spiritual splits. No more hokey pokey.” Right?
You know the old song Hokey Pokey, where you put your left foot in, put your left foot out, put your left foot in, and shake it all about. You do the hokey pokey, and you turn around. That’s what it’s all about. Stupid song. But we liked it at the time. And the point is this, we’re like that. We do the hokey pokey. We’ll put one foot in, and we’re at church, and we’re at a Bible study, and we’re praying, and we’re all excited. And then we put one foot out. We’re back in the world, carnal, pursuing relationships that are unholy and unhealthy. We’re like that, and it’s dangerous, and it’s damning. And Elijah wants to challenge them about that. One writer said this, “They thought that they could sacrifice their children to Baal on a Friday and then sacrifice a lamb to God on Saturday.” Amazing. They thought they could do that, but they couldn’t.
Israel had not totally rejected the Lord but was seeking to combine devotion to Jehovah and worship of Baal. But here’s the problem: synchrotism, ecumenicalism, pluralism, blending of traditions and doctrines is not compatible with Judeo monotheism. All right? Israel knows the Shema. There is one God. Love Him with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength. God’s singularity demands exclusive allegiance and unbridled devotion.
I mean, if the God of Israel exists—the God who wrote the Ten Commandments, the God who speaks through the prophets, the God who has done miraculous deeds within history, the God who governs all of life . . . If that God exists, then He demands exclusive allegiance and unbridled devotion. The true God is the ultimate reality. If He is true and He exists, then His claims are absolute. And that’s what’s being set before the people here.
It’s kind of the logic that gripped the heart of C. T. Studd, right? “If Jesus Christ be God . . .” That’s true. That He’s not a creation of God. He’s not a spiritual emanation from the ether world. But He’s God come in human flesh miraculously, by means of virgin birth, the offspring of the Holy Spirit.
“If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” And that’s why C. T. Studd put his cricket bat down. He was a cricket star in England—silver spoon in his mouth, part of the gentry of the English society. And he went to China, blazed the trail for God. Because, you know what? If God is ultimate, then His claims are absolute. You don’t get to sit on the fence. You don’t get to domesticate God. You don’t get to pick and choose what commandments of His you’re going to obey. You don’t get to give Him half your week and keep the rest for yourself. You don’t get to put one foot in and one foot out, right? You don’t get to do that.
Joshua said to the people of God, “Choose this day whom you’ll serve.” Jesus said, “You can’t serve Me and money. You can’t serve two masters.” Jesus said, “You’re either for Me or against Me.” He condemns the church at Laodicea. “I’d rather have you hot or cold. I can’t stand this lukewarmness.” God’s singularity demanded exclusive allegiance and unbridled devotion.
As we close, we want to be challenged by that. The Western civilization that we talked about at the beginning of this sermon, we’ll talk about now as we close. It stands at a crossroads. Listen to these words from Philip Graham Ryken: “We have started down the road to destruction, perhaps, but the way of life still stretches out before us. The ethical dilemmas we face show that we are at the crossroads. Will we cherish the lives of the innocent, or will we permit abortion on demand? Will we protect the lives of the defenseless, or will we allow involuntary euthanasia? Will we preserve the sanctity of marriage, or will we tolerate no-fault divorce and homosexual unions? Will we love the true and the beautiful, or will we gaze upon images of sex and violence? These are the questions a culture faces at the crossroads.”
“The evangelical church,” he says, “is also standing at the crossroads. Will we glorify God in our worship, or will we entertain ourselves? Will we bear witness to the Law of God and the grace of the gospel, or will we tone down our message so as not to offend anyone? Will we expound the eternal Word of God, or will we seek some new revelation? Will we defend the doctrine of justification by faith alone, or will we add works to grace? These are the questions a church faces when it stands at the crossroads.”
Guys, our culture is at a crossroads. As you work out your faith with fear and trembling in a wicked culture, every day you’ll face crossroads—ethical and moral and theological—where you’re going to have to make a stand for Jesus Christ. But, if Jesus Christ be God and died for you, then there’s no sacrifice, no mockery that you shouldn’t be willing to pay for Him. Choose this day whom you will serve. Why halt you between two opinions?
Let me finish with this story that comes out of the book Driven from Within by Michael Jordan—famous athlete, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, basketball players ever. In the book, he tells of a visit to the home of a basketball player named Fred Whitfield in Charlotte, North Carolina, who played for the hornets. Jordan asked him while he was there, “Hey, do you got a jacket I could borrow?” We’re not told why he needed the jacket, but he needed a jacket. So, Whitfield pointed him to a closet. Michael Jordan went in, and he noticed that there were Nike jackets and Puma jackets. He comes back into the living room with all the Puma jackets. He lays them on the floor, goes to Fred’s kitchen, picks up a butcher’s knife, and proceeds to cut them all to shreds. Then he threw them in the dumpster. He returned and angrily said to his friend, “Don’t ever let me see you in anything but Nike.” You cannot ride the fence. I’m going to guess Nike sponsored Jordan. That’s my assumption, but I love the story. Nike or Puma, make your mind up. Why hold between two opinions? Can’t ride the fence.
My friend, we need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s high time. Our salvation’s nearer then when we first believed. We need to put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Amen? Let’s be a profile in courage.
Father, we thank you for the beginning of this series. We recognize the need for courage in the Christian life. We live behind enemy lines. We’re going to need to be like Joshua, strong and very courageous. We’re going to need to be like David. We’re going to need to wait on the Lord and be of good courage. We need to be like the Corinthians. And Paul said, “Act like men. Be strong and be brave.”
We realize that we live in a culture that wants to squeeze us into its mold, wants us to conform, wants us to compromise, wants us to blend in, wants us to surrender our exclusive relationship with Jesus Christ—His law and His life and His love. Help us, as we journey through these great biblical characters, to be challenged, to take up the gauntlet that they threw at our feet. We thank You that throughout the ages, men and women have stood boldly and bravely for Jesus Christ. And we must do the same in our generation.
Lord, help us not to turn back in the day of battle. Help us, Lord, to run the gauntlet of their mockery and their shaming of us and their scapegoating of us. Help us to be unashamed of the gospel. Help us to expose the works of darkness. Help us to stand in this evil day. We thank You that the Spirit within and the Word without and the hope that lies ahead gives us reason enough to show physical and moral courage in this hour.
Os Guinness has put his finger on it. This is a clarifying moment in the West. It is no time for cowards, for fence sitters, or for those who hedge their bets. So, Lord, we pray that we’ll answer the bell and we’ll join in the good fight of faith and be stalwarts of the faith, uncompromising men of God, unwavering in our doctrine, unbowed in our conduct. For we ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.