Great Summer Reads: Elijah--Warfare, Then & Now
Today both Marilyn (in Mt. Laurel) and Jeff (in Voorhees) talked about the episode in 1Kings 18-19 where Elijah confronts the priests of Baal (and Ahab the King) in one of the most amazing incidents of spiritual warfare in the Old Testament. It is clear that Israel is not following the Lord, the Kingdom has been split north and south, and Ahab the king of the northern kingdom did “more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”
So Elijah stops the rain (1Kn 17) and goes away to the widow of Zarephath for 3 years. It is after that he hears from God that he is to go and confront Ahab and the priests of Baal (1Kn 18-19). The confrontation is epic, the forces of evil arrayed against the single prophet of the living God. God’s victory is spectacular, and Baal is shown as the loser in the competition. Baal (one of the personalities of Satan in the Old Testament) had a hold on the people, but God put an end to it. When it comes to such direct confrontations, God always wins. At the end of the day, the prophets of Baal ended up dead, all 450 of them.
So Ahab, and his queen Jezebel, are furious, vow to kill Elijah, and send out assassins to take care of him. So he flees. Ending up under a broom tree exhausted, he is refreshed by an angel who visits twice, feeds him, and sends him on his way to Mount Horeb, a 40 day hike. The encounter with God in the cave of Mount Horeb includes wind, earthquake, fire, and finally, silence. And it is in the silence that Elijah again hears from God and gets his marching orders.
Too often we think of Elijah as having failed after his confrontation with the priests of Baal – he was clearly victorious, having done all that God asked of him. Jezebel sends her assassins, and he flees, having done all that God asked him to do. Notice he flees from evil, and ends up in God’s presence (when evil stalks you – it is often wise to flee)! He looks for him in the power moments, but only hears him in the silence.
In all of biblical history, few are greater than Elijah. You can read the story in 1 Kings, and keep in mind he is one of the select few who did not die, but was taken up directly. He is mentioned by Jesus in the same breath as John the Baptist, and met with Jesus on the mountain (Mt. 17) at the Transfiguration experience.
So is ‘spiritual warfare’ still an issue for us. We do not have priests of Baal before us – but what do we face? A toxic culture that diminishes us as believers in the Gospel at every turn. A political landscape that is filled with confusion, fake news, and leaders at the highest level behaving as though truth (and most especially, Truth) no longer matters in the world. How are we to live? How are we to behave? Should we look for venues where we can belittle the “priests of Baal” in the public square? Do we ever get specific instructions as Elijah did?
Warfare is real. Know that! Jesus, however, is more Real, more Powerful, more Present. We do not need to go to a cave after a 40 day hike to find him. And he has ALREADY defeated the enemy of our soul!! Warfare, as we experience it, is an attention getter, not a defeater. We have been given authority to stand for the Truth. But we also need to represent the Love of God as expressed in Jesus.
Satan wants to kill us – all of us! He cannot kill us on his own! He does not have the power, so he reverts to temptation, deception, and emphasizing the seductive qualities of the culture. He wants to destabilize our witness in any way he can, so he will shout (in the spiritual realm) all kinds of accusations at us and try to belittle us in our minds and hearts. But, we are in Christ, and as such, we are always able to withstand such attacks – they are only words! Even when they come from other ‘believers,’ we need to anchor ourselves in the love of Jesus. There is only one question we need to have in our hearts – ‘what does love require of me here?’
When we made the decision to open a new campus at Mount Laurel, we opened ourselves up to a level of spiritual attack that was not normative for us. Every single thing we do now is subject to attack in a way that was not true prior to this time. Know. This. Well. Budget issues, attendance, outreach issues, community involvement….all of these are entry points for the enemy to sew discord! There is no doubt, we are engaged in spiritual warfare! It is real. It is daily. It is at every level of our engagement with Mount Laurel. Be assured that the enemy of our souls is trying to make our everyday experience full of confusion and mistrust.
“What does love require of me here” is a powerful question. Those of us who are there week to week are encountering that love repeatedly. We are seeing every Sunday that the love of Jesus is always present as we give Him space to be in our midst.