17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, "Is it you, you troubler of Israel?" 18 And he answered, "I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." (1 Kings 18:17-19 ESV)What follows, as you may recall, is the confrontation of Elijah and the prohphets of Baal, where Elijah brings heaps of derision upon the false god Baal to whom the prophets of Baal made pleas to their god to no avail. My focus in contemplating this chapter this morning was not on that episode, however, but on these verses. Ahab, one of the more plainly wicked kings of Israel, is brought to meet Elijah, whose arrival Ahab's house manager Obadiah (not to be confused with the prophet) had announced. "Troubler of Israel" is the moniker with which Ahab addresses Elijah - and Elijah rejects that label in no uncertain terms, turning the tables on the wicked king. How this reminds me of our own times today.
Who is regarded as the troublemaker? Who does the church (writ large) view as the ones who are most troublesome? Is it not the one who follows in Elijah's footsteps and plainly speaks and expounds the Word of the Lord, the full counsel of God? When denominations go downhill as many have who is it that, in the end, is made out to be the bad guy? Who is it that is called "pharisaical" and "persnickety"? Is it not the one who rejects the morphing of the church into the world and the appeasement of worldly opinions, the taking up of humanistic perspectives, and the adoption of practices borrowed from secular entertainment? "Oh, you troublemaker - can't you see we need to change with the times?" "Don't you realize that the Pharisees were just like you, insisting on a strict reading of Scripture?"
As Solomon wrote so frequently in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun.
Following this passage, we find in 1 Kings 18:20-21,
20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:20-21 ESV)In thinking over this and reading the next few verses of 1 Kings 18, I am reminded of Christ's words to the luke-warm church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-18.
15 "'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:15-18 ESV)"If God be God, then zealously cling to and follow Him and heed His Word!" If you do not believe that, then eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die - and stop pretending a commitment to the God of Scripture! DThe message from Elijah and from Christ is the same. Toss the world aside with its opinions, perspectives and practices, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to be conformed to His image. Cast off the shackles of expectation that the world places on you, and live simply in His grace, committed fully to His ways and eschewing the priorities the world demands that we uphold. The world looks often at Scripture as a source of bondage, and wholesale commitment to the Lord and His commands as imprisonment and suppression of self.
In Truth, it IS suppression of self. Self-denial is the destruction of the fleshly desires that we carry in us thanks to the first Adam. True liberation of self, unto a holy and Christlike walk, however, is far from bondage - it is freedom, and the only freedom we need or ought to desire or pursue. I'm quite content to be seen as a 'troubler of Israel' if commitment to that true freedom brings such comments.