13th Sunday after Pentecost September 8, 2019
1 Kings 19:7-13
1, 289, 373, 313:1
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May you forever be “at home” with your Savior-God, here in time and hereafter in eternity. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Americans increasingly have no time for fine, detailed work. We seem to have thrown out all of our little brushes and have kept only the big, wide, fat ones. We’re obviously speaking metaphorically here about what they call the “broad brush” approach to the questions or problems of life. What that means is that we love the “one size fits all” answers, rules, and solutions. We long to be able to see every question as rigidly binary— black and white, right or wrong. We have grown so sick of the new PC rules of life, conduct and speech that we are now arguably in danger of swinging too far in the opposite direction—almost to a “If it’s bad, shoot it” and “If it’s wrong, crush it” kind of worldview.
While the overreaction is of course understandable, it’s typically not an option that God offers to his children. We are in the salvage business, not the vengeance business. As always, we take our cue from Jesus, who always struck the perfect balance. It’s silly to imagine that sexual immorality wasn’t a serious problem among the Jews of Jesus’ day. Don’t you suppose it would have been tempting for Jesus therefore, when confronted with the woman caught in the act of adultery, to make a statement against this great societal evil by just letting the crowd do what the Law of Moses called for them to do, which was to stone her to death? Or do you imagine that Jesus wasn’t aware of all the evil (past, present, and future) to be carried out by the Roman government, and that he wasn’t therefore also tempted to tell his people that they no longer had to “support” such evil by paying their taxes? Jesus instead used the fine, detail brush when he taught them to forgive the repentant woman, but told her to “go and sin no more” and when he told the people to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Jesus never justified sin, but he did show unwavering concern for the human soul caught up in sin. While advocating respect to the governing authority, he always framed that respect in the context of obedience to God, the ultimate authority. He kept the law perfectly, but he also demonstrated the role of, and need for, the law of love.
Clearly this is fine, detail work where nothing but the steadiest hand will do. It’s an art form, and just one more reason why Christians need to pray for Godly wisdom and discernment every single day. This is the direction from which we will approach our text for this morning, found in the book of 1 Kings, the 19th Chapter:
And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” ESV
So far our text. In thanks to our Lord for this gift of his Word, and in humble acknowledgement of its depth, wisdom, and inerrancy, so we pray, “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth!” Amen.
Life tends to be a myriad of fine lines that require great care and attention to detail—which is not to say that generalities never apply. One such generality that we look at this morning in this context is the general rule that “You can never go home.” The fact that there are exceptions to this rule doesn’t change the fact that the rule still applies in the vast majority of cases. I’m guessing that the majority of adults here know exactly what we’re talking about. Something indescribable and permanent happens the moment you move out of your parents’ home. That exact “home” or relationship changes forever. Even if circumstances in life make it necessary or even just prudent for adults to physically move back in with their parents, what they invariably discover is that the “home” that they remember no longer really exists.
This is the general rule that we need to apply to our text for this morning, because in examining our text from this perspective we will learn something not only about our text, but about our own individual walk through life. We will thereby come to recognize a vital lesson that our God offers us in this section of his Holy Word.
The setting here is important. At this point in history, Israel had for the most part given itself over to pagan idolatry—in particular the worship of Baal and Asherah. During this period the Prophet Elijah served as the rather lonely voice of God in a very ungodly society. Just prior to the events of our text, Elijah had arranged a pivotal confrontation with the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mt. Carmel. You probably remember the account of how both Elijah and the prophets of Baal were to erect altars, lay the wood and the sacrifice, and then call on their God (or gods) to miraculously light the sacrifice. Obviously, the prophets of Baal and Asherah failed miserably, but the One True God did not. Elijah then exercised the blunt force trauma solution by slaughtering the prophets of Baal. In so doing, he brought about what he at first must have regarded as irrefutable evidence proving the existence and power of the One True God. He undoubtedly regarded the event as a lasting purge of the evil of idolatry in Israel. His optimism was short-lived.
Immediately after this great demonstration of God’s power, Queen Jezebel vowed to take Elijah’s life. Terrified and no doubt more than a little bewildered, Elijah fled for his life into the wilderness. It is at this point that our text takes up the story.
We miss the main point of this story if we fail to ask and answer two key questions, the first of which is: Where exactly was Elijah going? The second is just as important: Why was he going there?
The answer to the first question is that Elijah was fleeing to Mt. Horeb. Most know the place by its other name—Mt. Sinai. Why was Elijah going there, of all places? To answer, we need to remind ourselves not only of the history of Mt. Sinai (what happened there) but of the symbolism that God’s Word itself ascribes to it. Mt. Sinai was where God himself gave the Mosaic Law to Israel. As such, it had become “home” to the Jews—despite the fact that what they had experienced there had terrified them, and despite the fact that the Jews arrived at a profound misunderstanding of the events they there witnessed. They saw Sinai not only as a place where God visited them but as a place where he demonstrated his power.
Disheartened and disillusioned, Elijah was returning to what he undoubtedly regarded as God’s stronghold—the place where God wielded his influence and authority most powerfully. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, he was in fact returning to a symbolic place. God’s Word describes that symbolism in Galatians 4:22-26: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”
Elijah had just witnessed a remarkable demonstration of God’s power—tangible, visible evidence of his supremacy over pagan idols. In the mind of man, that’s how things get done. In some ways that’s true, but despite all appearances to the contrary, that’s not how things work when it comes to matters of faith. Man can be terrified and intimidated by outward demonstrations of power, but man is seldom changed on the inside by such things. There a different power needs to be applied.
Elijah’s flight to Sinai is essentially a doubling down on the way Elijah believed things got done. If Jezebel wanted to take his life, then let her and her men follow him to God’s seat of power, to Sinai, and there let them see God’s raw, unfiltered supremacy. There, if nowhere else, God would be able to protect him.
Remember what happened next? Elijah made it to Sinai and there informed God that he was the last true believer on earth. Remember God’s response? And (God) said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)
Man imagines that “might makes right.” While that’s true, man’s natural problem is that he doesn’t always recognize true might when he sees or hears it. God’s ultimate desire is not to kill and destroy but to convert and save. One day Elijah would go home—in the whirlwind accompanied by the fiery chariot—but Sinai was not his home. Nor was it God’s home. God once gave the Mosaic Law there, but that Law was given for a very specific purpose, and that purpose was never to save. Make no mistake, there was nothing wrong with the Law. It was not the Law that failed man, but man that failed the Law. Had man simply kept the Law, he would have forever enjoyed God’s protection and blessing. The Jews however came to believe that they could earn heaven for themselves by keeping God’s Law. They made that place their spiritual home and refused to leave. God demonstrated the foolishness of that misguided trust to Elijah. The true greatness and power of God is most clearly seen in his ability to rescue fallen sinners. It is to save, not to destroy. It is to demonstrate mercy, not to force into outward subjection.
Carry this lesson forward. You and I today look around and we see evil prospering on every hand. Evil is not just tolerated, it is flaunted, paraded, praised. Evil is lauded as good, and good as evil. The inevitable result will naturally be frustration on the part of God’s children, along with the desire to opt for Elijah’s solution. “Why does God continue to allow evil to exist and to prosper? Why doesn’t God put an end to it? Why doesn’t God bare his mighty arm and simply crush such obvious wickedness?” Followed through to its logical end, what we are really saying is “Why doesn’t God just send the unbelievers to hell right now?”
The answer, of course, is that God doesn’t desire the death of the wicked. He wants them saved, as he has already rescued you and me. That’s why God did not give us the consuming fire from heaven; he gave us the low, quiet whisper of the Gospel—the good news of what he has done for us in Jesus. That’s where the power is—the only power that can save, rather than destroy. How easy, how natural, and yet how sinfully wrong to allow our hearts to move back to Sinai— to be filled with hatred for the godless and the desire for their destruction, rather than love for their souls.
You and I were not saved by the wind, the earthquake, or the fire that Elijah saw on Sinai, nor by the Law once given there. We were saved by that incredibly powerful “low whisper” that is the gospel. It was through that “low whisper” that God the Holy Spirit rescued our souls from the eternal destruction we had earned because of our sin and unbelief. That “low whisper” carried to our hearts the simple truth that God does not now demand that we save ourselves through our own perfection. He instead demanded such perfection from his Son, in our place. Jesus alone fulfilled every demand of Mt. Sinai. That same incredibly powerful “low whisper” now assures us that Jesus’ perfection is ours because of the faith and trust that God himself has created and preserves in our hearts.
Why would anyone ever want to go back “home" to the terror of Mt. Sinai and the impossible demands of that place? An even better question this morning: Why would any child of God, having once experienced the power and love of that “low whisper,” desire anything less for those poor souls that currently call Sinai home? Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.