1 Kings 16:31-17:1
Leaders are people who set out on a journey and take others with them. Allow me to introduce you to two leaders who moved in different directions: Ahab took a journey of rebellion against God and led thousands of people with him, and Elijah, who took a journey of obedience to God and found himself out on a limb. He felt out of touch with culture and he faced an uphill struggle. He was a lonely man. He was exhausted from the ongoing strain of continually swimming against the tide of where the culture was going.
If you’re a Christian believer, you’re probably experiencing that in some way, shape, or form.
Ahab and Elijah were both leaders. They were both people of vast influence: Ahab in just his lifetime, and Elijah to this day, thanks to the Scriptures that speak of his ministry and give him as an example and inspiration to us today.
These were two men, both leaders, with different paths. They had extraordinarily different outcomes at the end of their lives.
Let’s begin with Ahab.
The pattern of the book of 1 Kings is to give a headline . . . a summary of each king, followed by a more detailed description of the key events in that king’s life.
The account of Ahab begins in 1 Kings 16:29, In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years.
He was on the throne for a long time—22 years. There had been six kings before him in the northern area of Israel. Previous reigns were shorter. Kings were murdered and deposed, but not Ahab. He was around for a long time.
Because he was around for so long, there was political stability. This resulted in economic prosperity. Note what God says about him in 1 Kings 16:30, Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.
He did more evil in the eyes of God than all the kings who were before him. If you look back to verse 25, the same thing is said about Ahab’s father, Omri, But Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him.
See what is happening with each generation. There is a slide away from God throughout their culture. They’re journeying into more and more of an ungodly culture. Omri and Ahab both allowed culture to slide away from God. Evil went from bad to worse under Ahab.
R. G. Lee described Ahab as, “The vilest toad ever to squat on the throne of Israel.”
Jesus spoke, in Matthew 7:13-14, about two roads: 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Ahab was on the broad road. A vast majority of those who would have called themselves God’s people were on the broad road.
Let’s follow the steps in Ahab’s journey. What does it look like to progress further and further down the broad road?
These four steps down the broad road are being taken by many people:
1. Break a commandment of God. (v. 31)
1 Kings 16:31 says he not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.
You can study more about this in Deuteronomy 7:3. When God’s people entered into the promised land, they were commanded to never marry people who worshiped idols.
It is important to understand what the issue was in this situation. The issue was not interracial marriage. We know this because Ruth, in the Old Testament, was a Moabitess. She married Boaz after she took refuge “under the wings of the Lord.” She was included in the line that led to Christ. We know, for sure, that God smiles upon the marriage of a man or a woman of different races when they marry in the Lord.
God speaks very clearly to His own people, with regard to entering a marriage with someone who does not submit to Him. Here you are and you submit to God and you are with someone who doesn’t submit to the Lord. That is what the Bible calls being “unequally yoked.”
Ahab pays absolutely no attention to that. What did he care about the Word of God in old books like Deuteronomy, written hundreds of years ago, at that time? He would have said he was dealing with political reality.
The political reality of the day was that Assyria (to the north) was growing exponentially in power. Ahab was presiding as king over these ten tribes in the northern part of Israel, in Samaria. He worked it out, and it doesn’t take a genius to grasp this.
He knew he needed a strong ally to bolster his defense against his threat from the north. It seemed, to Ahab, that the Sidonians were just the answer. What better way to cement an alliance with the Sidonians than for him to marry the crown princess, the daughter of Ethbal, whose name was Jezebel? So, they married approximately 60 years after Solomon’s death.
He was the seventh king in line after the awful schism in which the kingdom ruptured with the ten tribes in the north, separating themselves from the line of David that continued the Davidic king’s ruling in the south.
It is interesting, in this passage, that after seven kings and 60 years, Ahab wasn’t phased by walking in the sins of Jeroboam. Vast changes had happened over just half a century, since the death of Solomon. Sins that would have seemed shocking to one generation, now, within 60 years, seemed trivial to another.
Older folks, who could look back 60 years to Solomon’s reign, must have looked back and thought, “What has happened to our nation?” Have you ever asked that question about America? Have you ever felt that what seemed shocking a half century ago seemed lite and trivial today?
You begin to say, “How could a culture have moved so far and so fast after sixty years?” That’s the situation in America today and in 1 Kings 16.
2. Subvert the worship of God. (v. 32)
1 Kings 16:32 says, He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.
What a change this is. It is only 100 years since David planned for the temple of God, and 60 years since Solomon built it. Now, here we are, these years down the line, and Ahab is on the throne.
The ten tribes from the north were separated from Jerusalem, in the south, where the temple was located. Ahab decided to not build a house for the Lord, but for Baal. He built an altar for Baal inside the house for Baal that he built.
Think about this with me, with your Bible open. No one who takes the Bible seriously can say that all religions are different ways of saying the same thing.
Nobody who takes the Bible seriously can say that all religions are different ways of coming to the same God via different routes. There is one God. Baal is not God.
The first commandment, in Exodus 20:3, says, You shall have no other gods before me.
What does that mean? It means there is one God. Because it is our nature to rebel against Him, we invent other gods who will sit comfortably with our pleasures.
Our first sins hide inside the apparent sincerity of our man-made religions.
What is the second commandment? Exodus 20:4 says, You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
Jeroboam led the rebellion in which the ten tribes to the north broke away from the line of David. When he did that, he set up an alternative worship center. In fact, he set up two of them: one in Dan and one in Bethel. He didn’t want people going back to Jerusalem in the south.
He made two golden calves: one was in the center of Dan and the other was in the center of Bethel. 1 Kings 12:28 says, After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
Do you see what he is saying? He is saying, “We worship the same god, but we do it in our own place and we do it in our way.” In doing that, Jeroboam broke the second commandment.
Now, Ahab goes a step further. He doesn’t bother saying, “Folks, let’s worship God in our own way.” He says, “We are worshiping Baal. We live in a brave new world, and we’re living in a new way.”
Ahab breaks both the first and the second commandments. He leads God’s people to a low point. This is a place where not only is he breaking the commandments of God, but he feels that he has the freedom to choose his own god as well as his own lifestyle.
People begin to say, “I have the freedom to choose my own lifestyle.” Walk down the road further, you say, “I have the freedom to choose my own god.”
3. Provoke the anger of God. (v. 33)
1 Kings 16:33 says, Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.
The word “arouse,” or “provoke,” is really important. This tells us that anger is not God’s natural state.
The pagans believed in gods who were constantly angry and always needed to be placated. By His very nature, God is not angry. God is love. That is His nature.
God hates evil, and when His people are evil, He can be provoked to anger. The Bible says God is slow to anger.
Ahab had been, for years, on a sustained assault in a pursuit of evil. He did more to provoke the anger of God than all of the kings of Israel before him.
4. Ignore the warning of God. (v. 34)
1 Kings 16:34a says, In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho.
What is the significance of that? Back in the book of Joshua, remember the great story of when people came into the land of Canaan, and the walls of Jericho tumbled down. After that great victory, God gave specific instruction that nobody was to rebuild the city of Jericho.
Joshua 6:26 says, At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: “At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates.”
There is a commandment of God against the rebuilding of Jericho. Any man who rebuilds the city and contradicts God’s command, will be cursed before the Lord. This is crystal clear.
What does Ahab do? He directly contradicts the Word of God and commissions Hiel to rebuild Jericho, in 1 Kings 16:34.
1 Kings 16:34 says, In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun.
Hiel pours the foundation, and his first son dies. You think that may have had a clue he should stop. Then, he set up the gates, and his youngest son dies. What a tragedy!
You can read the story of how God redeemed this rebuilt city from the curse on which it was built. However, this story shows us how far God’s people had come from fearing Him.
Who took the Word of God seriously in the time of Ahab? Do you see the fear of God in people today?
This is the progression of evil in one man’s life, and what happened to society as a result of his ungodliness. Our beloved nation is on the same path as Ahab. We define our own morality. We choose our own gods. We provoke God’s anger and plunge forward by ignoring His warnings.
That is the broad road. In this time, Elijah took the narrow road. Allow me to introduce you to Elijah.
1 Kings 17:1 says, Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
Elijah just appears on the scene. We don’t know about his father or mother or background or interests. We know very little about Tishbe, where Elijah is from, but we do know that Elijah is God’s man.
God brings Elijah on the scene at this moment. It is wonderful how God brings His brightest light into the darkest places at the hardest times. If you find yourself in a dark place, in a hard time, and you are a Christian believer, do not be surprised, because God often puts His bright lights in dark places.
Try to imagine the scene of 1 Kings 17. We’re not told, specifically, that Elijah spoke to Ahab at the palace, but it seems more than reasonable that that would be the natural place this happened. I wonder how he even got in there. Palaces have security.
I don’t suppose Ahab was sitting in his throne room, waiting for some visitors with a word from the Lord for him. Can you imagine what it was like for Elijah to say, “Today is the day I will give the truth to Ahab.”
I wonder where he got the courage to do this. The same God who gave courage to David to overcome Goliath is the same God who gave Elijah the bravery to face Ahab, and is the same God who can give you the boldness to face obstacles on your path.
Elijah comes to Samaria. Then, he goes through the courtyards of the palace. He amazingly gets direct access to the king. He says a single sentence, in 1 Kings 17:1b, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
This is one man, going in a different direction than a darkening culture. Where do you find the courage to go down the narrow road in the midst of a broad path of worldliness?
Follow down these steps with me.
1. Stand in the presence of God.
I encourage you to be that person today. How do you stand before the Lord? Picture the palace as Elijah walks up to Ahab. Around the palace, servants were waiting. They were waiting to do whatever the king commanded. There was a waiter, standing there by another door. He was ready to serve food and drink whenever Ahab would beckon him with a single finger. All around the room, the King’s servants were present, and they were ready to respond in a moment’s notice.
Elijah walks into the throne room, and there are all of these folks standing around the throne, before King Ahab, and Elijah communicates that he stands before the Lord.
Standing before the Lord indicates that you are ready and available and responsive to whatever God commands you to do. Surrounded by the darkness, as all of us are, we need women and men who are in that place—standing before the Lord.
2. Believe the Word of God.
You may think, “What can a man like Elijah do? What can I do?” Stand before the Lord and be ready and available to Him, and then believe His Word.
Elijah did not have the Bible, as we have it today. What he would have had would’ve been the five books of Moses, together, with Joshua, Judges, and the books of Samuel. That’s about a quarter of the Bible that we have today.
He had access to the truth of the first parts of the Bible, and within that, He would’ve found this promise in Deuteronomy 11:16-17a, 16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce,
Elijah would’ve had access to this. When God’s people turn to other gods, God takes away the rain. Ahab led state-sponsored Baalism, complete with temples, and the whole nine yards. This led Elijah to pray.
Ahab and his kingdom had no respect of the Word of God. This greatly concerned Elijah. America has no respect for the Word of God. This should greatly concern you. It concerns me.
3. Stand up for the truth of God no matter what it costs.
James 5:17 says, Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.
Elijah not only said that it would not rain, but he prayed that it be the case. If there is no rain for three and one half years, cattle die. People die. Three and one half years of famine ruins an economy. This man prayed for his own country to see a revival of God’s Spirit no matter what.
Elijah personally shared in the suffering. However, he prayed that it would happen nonetheless. Why? This is a man that cares more about God’s glory than his own comfort. Can that be said of you? Strive to be a person who cares more about God’s glory than about your own comfort.
The economy was booming under Ahab’s leadership. Political stability was prescient under his reign. Elijah, however, was broken before God because of something much bigger than that—the glory of God. This is a man who cares more about the eternal destiny of people than he does about his physical wellbeing.
4. Speak in the name of God.
1 Kings 17:1b says, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
Speaking in the name of God gives you courage to stand before anyone, even the presence of a king. It is the engagement of worship and the submission of His Word today that will give you courage to face the darkness of the world in the coming days and weeks.
It was Elijah’s prayers in private that gave him power in public. Your prayers in private will give you power in public.
Ahab determined, through his actions, that religion was a branch of sociology to be manipulated by a politician at will. He determined belief in God was a mere expression of spirituality that could be leveraged for social purposes, but never seriously thought that a real God was alive and well. Here’s a man talking about God as if he would do something that actually makes a difference to peoples’ lives.
The story of Elijah makes me think about the Lord Jesus. Jesus, who said, in Matthew 17:13-14, 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
To all who will walk the narrow way of faith and obedience toward God, there is Good News for us: Jesus stands before the Father for us. He is the Word of God to us. He opens the seals to enact the will of God for us.
Elijah speaks a word of judgment so that people would seek mercy. Jesus speaks a word of mercy to people who deserve judgment. That’s the Gospel.
Thank God that we are not called to go out and somehow pray for judgment on this world, but instead we are to call people to repentance and offer the grace that is in our Lord Jesus Christ. In this darkening world, God is looking for people who will stand with Elijah on the narrow road.