Elijah and Moses…. Hard Lessons Learned

The Most Significant Transformations Take Time And Experience…….

Several things in my life have led me to a place where I believe I can finally understand how the prophet Elijah felt after defeating the prophets of Baal in a showdown proposal to the evil King Ahab in Samaria and why God disciplined Moses for striking the rock the second time the children needed water instead of simply speaking to the rock, as instructed……. I won’t give specifics of my own circumstances, but I will say that God has used these two Scripture lessons to show me some potent lessons in my own life.
First, the account of Elijah’s defeat of the prophets: (from What is the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal? | GotQuestions.org)
“The account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is recorded in 1 Kings 18. After Israel had gone more than three years without rain as a judgment for their idolatry, the prophet Elijah confronts the evil king Ahab and challenges him to a spiritual showdown. The king was to have all Israel gather at Mt. Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of the false god Baal and the 400 prophets of the false goddess Asherah (verse 19).

On Mt. Carmel, Elijah said to the people of Israel, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). The people remained noncommittal at that point. Elijah then challenged the prophets of Baal to prepare a bull as an offering for their god—Elijah would do the same—with this catch: they could light no fire on their altar. The God who answered with fire from the sky would be considered the true God (verses 22–25).

The people agreed that this was a good plan, and the prophets of Baal went first. The pagan prophets cried out and danced around their altar from morning till noon with no answer from Baal. Elijah began to mock them, saying, “Shout louder! . . . Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). (CBB 0bservation- In what amounts to perhaps overkill, Elijah taunts the prophets of Baal! Later Elijah said “I am your servant and I have done all these things at your command. I am not sure God called Elijah to taunt the enemy. The witness is less than gracious. But he was out to win over the hearts of the people of God, not the prophets of Baal, it seems. Also, Obadiah, had been the prophet of the LORD in Samaria. When Elijah came to address this problem, Obadiah met Elijah. Elijah told him that he was going to see the king and for Obadiah to go and announce that Elijah was coming. But Obadiah quaked at the thought of confronting the king, fearing for his own life, just as he had run in fear when Jezebel killed the prophets of God and Obadiah had taken some of the prophets of God and hidden them in fear instead of standing strong in the LORD. So when Elijah came before the king, then gathered the people, he said, “Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.” (verse 22) And Elijah set out to do the job alone.:

So the prophets of Baal “shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice” (1 Kings 18:28–29). Despite hours of effort, nothing happened. The historian’s comment hints at the emptiness of Baal-worship: “There was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (verse 29).

Elijah then called the people to him as he repaired the altar of the Lord. He used twelve stones and dug a trench around the altar. He then placed wood on the altar and laid the cut pieces of the bull on it. Elijah then had the people douse the altar with twelve large jars of water. The water soaked the sacrifice and the wood and filled the trench (1 Kings 18:30–35).

Once the sacrifice was ready, Elijah prayed, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36–37). Then God did what Baal could never do: the fire of the LORD fell from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, “and also licked up the water in the trench” (verse 38). The people of Israel bowed down and declared the Lord as God (verse 39).
(CBB observation: Elijah won over the hearts of the children of Israel, they repented and God brought rain and restored their land, but not those of the prophets of Baal or those of King Ahab or his idol worshipping wife, Jezebel. Elijah dealt with the prophets of Baal and Asherah. God dealt with Ahab and Jezebel for their faithlessness and idolatry.)

Elijah then commanded the people to put the prophets of Baal to death, in keeping with God’s command in Exodus 22:20. Following this event, the Lord finally ended the drought and sent rain upon the land (1 Kings 18:45).
(CBB- observation. Exodus 22:20 says “Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.” Trust me, they will be / are destroyed, but not always in the way we want or expect! Elijah followed God’s directive and had the people of God kill all 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah, which further incited Jezebel’s wrath against the prophet of God.

The miraculous event of fire from heaven was an answer to the prayer of Elijah. God was seeking to turn the hearts of His people back to Himself. He used a time of drought to get their attention and then, through His prophet, performed a dramatic miracle right before their eyes. No one who witnessed that event doubted that the Lord was God and that Baal was a powerless wannabe. The repentance of the Israelites was soon followed by God’s provision of rain through Elijah’s fervent prayer.

James teaches us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16), and he uses Elijah’s prayer life as a case in point: “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. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17–18).
(CBB observation- James does note Elijah’s righteousness in prayer and God’s faithful response in sending rain. But there were a whole lot of other things that happened before Elijah prayed for rain:, i.e. Elijah’s faithfulness in defeating the prophets of Baal and then running ahead of King Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel to be on hand when Ahab told Jezebel of the great showdown. If Elijah hoped that the miraculous defeat of the prophets of Baal would persuade Jezebel to believe in the God of Israel, he was sorely disappointed. Weak and double minded King Ahab let her condemn Elijah and he ran for his life and, in doing so, fell into what was clearly a depression. He did the same thing…. ran in fear…. that Obadiah had done and of which Elijah had shown such contempt when he said, “Only I , I alone , remain as a prophet of God.” To recover his strength and courage, and deal with his own failing in giving in to fear, he had to take a sabbatical of rest, nutrition and nurture to restore him. God soothed Elijah, pointed out that there were still many in Israel who believed and Elijah still had work to do, so God gave him a partner in Elijah’s work, Elisha so that he would not feel so alone in his tasks!)
We do what we believe God has called us to do. Then things don’t go quite like we expect and, in confusion and fear, we run away until we can regain our strength and find additional support from the LORD and others. . It may not mean that everything didn’t happen just as God wanted it to…. It simply humbles us and reminds us that we are human and not invincible. Furthermore God does not tell his servant everything .….. only the LORD is omniscient and mighty to save! Also, Elijah was operating out of his own territory, in Samaria where many of God’s people lived but were being influenced by Baal worship. His task did not include winning over the Baal worshippers, but restoring the people of God to faithfulness so God could bless them.

Then, on to Moses and hitting the rock for water…… twice.
In Exodus, early in their departure from Egypt the people are whining and are not trusting in God’s provision (or in Moses’ leadership). God commands Moses to strike a rock, and promises to make water flow in the desert for the people.
Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. (Exodus 17:6 ESV)

Notice, God says to strike the rock “and the people will drink.” The people were not yet trusting enough to know that God was surely with them and would provide for every need. God had told Moses, “I will stand before YOU there on the rock”…. Moses knew God was there and would do what he promised. And it was the influential elders who looked on.

Later on, God tells Moses to speak to a rock, promising to make water flow in the desert again. But instead, Moses strikes it as before. Because of just this one thing, God tells Moses that he will no longer be permitted to bring the people into the Promised Land.
“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:8-12 ESV, emphasis added)

Some things here in this second account are very different. God calls him to “assemble the congregation” , not just the elders. The people have become believers in the power of God, they know He is with them. Aaron is to join Moses in this…. An indication of the burgeoning structure and authority of the priesthood. Within the arena of a more cohesive and understanding people, Moses is no longer supposed to demonstrate to skeptical and whining people the power of God to provide what is needed through power. Instead, Moses is to set the example in the community of faith, asking the God Who Is Present with Us (in community fellowship) to meet their needs. Instead he rebuked the people, fails to acknowledge that this is God’s work and not their own, and used the same striking method he had used before. Dismissive and disobedient to God. Self-important and chastising the people.

The first incident calls for the reassuring example of the truth of God’s presence and power and a demonstration of Moses’ authority before the people to cause them to understand that God intends to meet their needs.

The second incident calls for a demonstration of the grace of God’s goodness in providing for the need of his people when they come to Him and ask. It shows an evolving community of faith, the development of a nation that could begin to dwell with more confidence and be at ease in the Presence of God and trust in his desire to give them what they needed and that they could come to him and ask.

Moses was impatient with the people and disobedient to God’s instruction. He ruined a perfectly designed object lesson that God had prepared for the leaders and the people. Because of Moses’ lack of understanding and disobedience, the mantle of leadership would be transferred to Joshua to complete the journey into the Promised Land. Perhaps God recognized the difficulty Moses would have in surrendering authority and leadership tasks he had shouldered so long, but for the people to move to the next stage of taking the land from the enemy and dwelling in it in safety would require an entirely different set of skills and gifts and God had been equipping the next generation of leaders during the wilderness time, just as He had equipped Moses during his 40 years alone on the backside of the desert. There comes a time for a change. And Moses’ place, time, and people was in the desert during their formative years in a place of relative safety from the dangers of the enemies they would later face. Now it was Joshua’s time and place in building a military power that could take territory and build an infant nation of thriving permanent residents.

To everything there is a time and season…….

CBB- 6-14-21