He Who Troubled Israel

Would you ever act without the full evidence that God heard your prayer? How much would you venture on the slightest indication of divine favor?

Yes and all, echo the bold answers of the prophet Elijah.

Called by God to bring about revival and reformation in the kingdom of Israel, Elijah was sent to King Ahab to pronounce God’s imminent judgment on the land: No rain until Elijah said so. The Bible says that Elijah was “a man with a nature like ours”[1]; he must have formulated big plans of what revival and reformation would look like in Israel. He might have even made a timeline. How long would it take for drought to settle in before the people would finally repent and turn back to God? The situation seemed almost laughable – on his way to the palace, Elijah had passed through “ever-flowing streams, hills covered with verdure, and stately forests that seemed beyond the reach of drought…. But he gave no place to unbelief.”[2] Having prayed in faith for the drought which would serve as judgment from God to His apostatizing people, he delivered the message and departed. But after Elijah left Ahab’s palace, God instructed him to flee to the Brook Cherith. Elijah’s prophetic declaration took immediate effect, the dreaded effects of famine setting in; 1 Kings 17:7 says that “after a while” the brook to which Elijah had escaped dried up. The land of Israel sunk deeper into ruin – spiritual and material.

But Ahab and his people did not repent. In fact, the Spirit of Prophecy states that the people were still bent on their idol worship[3]. King Ahab and the people of Israel saw Elijah as the problem – the reason for the drought, not the messenger of hope and forgiveness in returning to God. The unrepentant king sent people to hunt down the prophet, and God sent Elijah to Sidon to take refuge with a widow. By that time, even the widow of Zarephath had been greatly affected by the drought; when Elijah met her, she was ready to eat her last meal and die. Things looked grim for the prophet; he was a refugee in a foreign, famine-struck land, with no sign of revival breaking out in his homeland.

At this point in the story, one thing becomes clear: Revival takes time. It had already been months since Elijah had walked into Ahab’s palace and delivered his prophetic prediction. The drought had set in, famine had begun to settle, he’d been forced to flee – the only evidence of his presence in Israel was the lack of rain – and still, no revival had taken place. The Israelites continued stubbornly and defiantly in their idol worship, offering sacrifices to the gods whom they believed would send rain and thus override the word of Jehovah Himself. Elijah himself faced the same lack of resources suffered by all the other residents of the land. But he chose to trust God and speak faith, telling the despairing widow with confidence: “For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.”[4] He ultimately trusted in God’s ability to provide not just for his own safety, shelter, and food, but also that of others who remained faithful to Him.

1 Kings 17:15 says that Elijah stayed with the widow and her son for “many days”; Israel still had not capitulated. The rebellious kingdom still clung to their idolatrous ways, and there seemed no change on the horizon. In the midst of waiting for revival in Israel, a new challenge arose for Elijah’s faith. The widow’s son died. Now, Elijah found himself in a serious predicament: The only son of the widow with whom he had found refuge had died, and the widow was accusing Elijah of her son’s death. Elijah became desperate. He cried to the Lord, begging, “O LORD my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?”[5] But instead of allowing his frustration and desperation to control him, Elijah cried out to God for the boy’s resurrection and persevered in prayer. When God did not answer his prayer the first time, Elijah continued to pray. And again, he prayed. And again. Elijah prayed the same, fervent prayer three times.

And God heard the voice of Elijah. After the prophet’s third prayer, the child was “revived”[6]. What did it take for this child to experience revival? Faith and unceasing, persevering prayer. Elijah had to wrestle with God in prayer, waiting patiently for God to act, and he had to act upon his faith. When God did not answer his prayer the first time, Elijah could have taken this as a comment on the child’s resurrection simply not being God’s will. But he didn’t. Just because things were not going well, because his prayer had not been answered the first or second time, he didn’t give up or stop praying. In fact, the lack of immediate answer only made his continual prayer more fervent, and deepened his desire to see an answer to his prayer. Eventually, through the demonstration of great, unmovable faith, God answered with revival.

Revival takes faith-inspired, persevering prayer that does not cease until God sets His people on fire. As time passes and nothing seems to be happening, or things even appear to be getting worse, faith continues to ask until God answers. “When our prayers seem not to be answered, we are to cling to the promise; for the time of answering will surely come, and we shall receive the blessing we need most. But to claim that prayer will always be answered in the very way and for the particular thing that we desire, is presumption. God is too wise to err, and too good to withhold any good thing from them that walk uprightly. Then do not fear to trust Him, even though you do not see the immediate answer to your prayers. Rely upon His sure promise, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you.’”[7] 

The story didn’t end with this mini revival, however. God at last summoned Elijah to return to Israel, where the prophet called all the people together for a final showdown. This was the moment Elijah had been waiting for. Finally, God would prove Himself to the people of Israel and they would come to a deep recognition of Him and His power. In a spectacular display of divine power, fire fell from heaven in answer to Elijah’s prayer, the people unanimously crying out “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!”[8], and all the false prophets were killed. Revival and reformation were finally taking place in Israel. Needless to say, the prophet was excited; God had promised to send rain again when His people repented of and forsook their sins. In faith, Elijah declared to Ahab that soon the rain would fall, then knelt down and prayed for rain.

But no clouds formed. No thunder peals, no lightning flashes across the sky. Again and again, Elijah prayed in faith, pleading with God to send the promised rain. Again and again, by faith he sent his servant to scan the horizon for rain. Each time his servant returned with the same message –”nothing”[9]. Elijah found himself yet again pitted against time. He had to wait. He had to believe that the rain would come – but not in his time. It would come in God’s time. Meanwhile, he had to humble himself and continue to unceasingly, perseveringly pray, believing that God would answer his prayers. Seven times Elijah prayed, seven times his servant went to scan the horizon, and the seventh time his servant returned with the news, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!”[10] Elijah knew his prayers had been answered.

It is only in answer to humble, persevering prayers that revival and reformation can occur. So many times we wonder why there is no revival in our lives, let alone the lives of our peers. The reason is we don’t really care to humble ourselves before God and pray until it rains – until revival occurs. “There must be earnest effort to obtain the blessing of the Lord, not because God is not willing to bestow His blessing upon us, but because we are unprepared to receive it. Our heavenly Father is more willing to give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, than are earthly parents to give good gifts to their children. But it is our work, by confession, humiliation, repentance, and earnest prayer, to fulfill the conditions upon which God has promised to grant us His blessing. A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer.”[11] 

But most critically, Eijah’s experience had an effect on him. The prophet himself experienced spiritual growth; as he prayed “He kept reviewing his life, to see where he had failed to honor God, he confessed his sins, and thus continued to afflict his soul before God, while watching for a token that his prayer was answered.”[12] As he prayed for God to send the promised rain on Israel, God revealed to the prophet his sins, his idols, and his own great need for revival–his own great need for the LORD. He wholeheartedly confessed his sins and continued to pray until “he reached the point of renouncing self while he clung to the Saviour as his only strength and righteousness”[13]. Then, and only then, did God answer his prayers.

We cannot pray for others to be revived unless we first experience revival. We cannot expect God to rain His Spirit upon us unless we live like Elijah. We must have the same faith, the same unceasing, persevering prayer life, and the same personal revival and spiritual growth. God does not expect any less of us than He did of the prophet Elijah more than 2,000 years ago. If we should, like Elijah, be willing to humble ourselves before God and pray until we experience revival, we can be assured that we will see a revival greater than we have ever before. Elijah acted without the full evidence that God had heard his prayer, and ventured everything with only the slightest indication of divine favor.

The question remains: Are you willing to pray until it rains?[14]

[1] Jas. 5:17
[2] Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1917), 121.
[3] Ibid, 125.
[4] 1 Kgs. 17:14
[5] 1 Kgs. 17:20
[6] 1 Kgs. 17:22
[7] Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1892), 96.
[8] 1 Kgs. 18:39
[9] 1 Kgs. 18:43
[10] 1 Kgs. 18:44
[11] Ellen G. White, True Revival, (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2010), 9-10.
[12]Ellen G. White, “Lessons from the Time of Elijah,” The Review and Herald, May 26, 1891, par. 8.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, 156.

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