Normally, I hone in on a specific, fairly small passage, but in this post I’m going to be covering an entire chapter, so I’ll encourage you to pull up and read I Kings 18 for context. I also want to point out that I don’t mean to imply from these two posts that God always acts according to a set outline or follows 1-2-3 formulas. However, we will see some patterns, and we will get insights into God’s nature that can guide us, encourage us, and give us hope.
To begin, let’s back up to chapter 17, where we are first introduced to Elijah the Tishbite. There we read the following decree he issued to Ahab, the evil king of Israel: “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.” Chapter 18 picks up this story by telling us, “After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: ‘Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’” In between those two verses, in chapter 17, we see Elijah hearing, speaking, and acting on the word of God as he ministers to a widow in Zarephath. When her son died, Elijah cried out to God to restore his life, and we’re told, “The Lord heard Elijah’s cry.” Our first observation then, is of Elijah closely following God and carrying out God’s will. God is not a magic genie whom we can summon to perform a particular action simply by obeying Him. However, I think Scripture is clear that God often moves in response to obedient faith. James, in a passage about prayer and faith, writes, “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.” Jesus often healed in response to faith, and “did not do many miracles [in his hometown] because of their lack of faith.” There is, then, a correlation between faith-filled living and the working of God.
The second thing we see, and it corresponds to the first, is that when God shows up, He does so according to His own will. I’ve often marveled at the account of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal and wondered if I could do such a thing—could I challenge those who believe in false gods and expect God to give a miraculous demonstration of His power and authority? And the answer is an emphatic yes!—if it was God’s will for me to do so. After the false prophets spend an entire day in futility, seeking to summon their god, Elijah has them douse his offering in water three times. Then he prays: “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.” Several times earlier in the chapter (verses 15, 22) Elijah referenced his service to God, and we’ve just looked at examples of that from chapter 17 as well. But the second observation is that Elijah has done “all these things” at God’s command. He did not wake up one morning and decide to poke the bear. God called him to this showdown. Can you or I expect God to do what He did for Elijah, or move in a similarly remarkable way? Are we walking in faith? Has He directed us accordingly? If so, the biblical model gives a resounding yes. But those are two significant caveats to consider.
Third, when God shows up, His people are emboldened. In the first part of chapter 18, we see that Ahab was hunting Elijah to the point that Obadiah, Ahab’s palace administrator, feared for his life if he misled the king as to Elijah’s whereabouts. When Elijah finally presents himself to the king, Ahab calls him a “troubler of Israel.” It does not take a lot of reading between the lines to infer that Ahab blamed Elijah for the drought and famine. Yet what does Elijah do? Does he cower or back down or promise rain to appease the king? Did he run from God’s command to present himself to Ahab in the first place? No, he challenges Ahab to bring the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel, and more than that, to invite people from all over Israel to witness what is about to take place. Again, as I’ve put myself in Elijah’s shoes, I’ve realized I’d be terrified of trying this, for fear that God wouldn’t show up and we’d have wasted a day and some good beef—and that I’d get sacrificed by the false prophets. But Elijah shows no such fear, because God is moving in him.
Elijah issues his challenge: prepare two sacrifices, one for Baal and one for the Lord. “The god who answers by fire—he is God.” The people agree, and the prophets of Baal spend the morning calling out to Baal, with no result. At noon, we’re told, Elijah began to taunt them, suggesting that Baal was busy or asleep. (This is, if I’m not mistaken, the first recorded example of trash talk, and Larry Bird has nothing on Elijah.) Throughout the afternoon, the false prophets plead with their god to answer, even cutting themselves with swords and spears in an effort to summon him. No dice. Elijah then calls the people to him, rebuilds the altar of the Lord—note the reverence and respect, even in the heat of the moment—and digs a trench around it. He then has the people pour water on the sacrifice, the wood, the altar, and in the trench. Three times. Elijah ups the ante. He is going for style points here, but not for his own glory, but for Jehovah’s. You don’t do that if you aren’t emboldened.
On a similar vein, we see here (as throughout Scripture) that when God shows up, He almost always uses people. God didn’t need Elijah. His voice could have thundered from heaven to draw people and He could have issued the challenge Himself. But he used a man of God as His instrument. Similarly, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need our help to share the gospel or minister to others, but it is His chosen method, I dare say more often than not. Along those lines, He gives His people the tools they need to accomplish their task. Sometimes that is in the form of issuing drastic decrees about the weather or the ability to outrun a chariot. (Seriously, how cool was that?) Sometimes it is merely the right words to say.
The fifth thing we notice is that when God moves it is not always restorative; sometimes, His movement is punitive. In a recent review of William P. Young’s The Shack, I noted that Young presented God as being only about love and mercy, even going so far as to have his “God” character state, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” Young also writes, “Judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right.” However, this is not the picture we see in I Kings 18, nor in the rest of Scripture (and is one of the many reasons I consider The Shack to be heretical). Check out verse 40: “Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.” God moved, and his servant Elijah brought about swift judgment on those who had worshiped false gods. This serves as a warning to Christians that although we are forgiven our sins in Christ Jesus, that doesn’t mean God will tolerate sin, and there are consequences in this life: “A man reaps what he sows.” But this is also a warning to unbelievers in that a day of repentance isn’t guaranteed. At any moment, God could exercise His judgment upon them for their sin and that judgment could result in death. Scripture tells us that God “is patient . . . not wanting anyone to perish” but also that He will not remain patient forever.
The last observation I want to draw from this incredible story is that when God moves, people are transformed. We aren’t given insight into their state of mind, but when Elijah proposes the challenge, the people agree to his terms. Were they humoring him? Were they honestly expectant that the true God would be revealed? We don’t know, but they at least were willing to be present, which is a sign of God moving. And do you remember Elijah’s challenge? “The god who answers by fire—he is God.” After no one answered the false prophets of Baal, we’re told “the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” Note what happens next: “When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord--he is God! The Lord--he is God!” Let me ask you as I ask myself, when was the last time you fell prostrate before God? Scripture informs us that Ahab had led the people of Israel to prostitute themselves by the worship of idols, and Jesus, when speaking of prophets not being honored or welcomed in their country, seemed to imply that at least part of the reason Elijah went to minister to the widow in Zarephath (as seen in I Kings 17) was because he wasn’t welcomed by the people of Israel. So for them to fall down in adoration and declare that Jehovah was indeed God represents a dramatic change of heart. So dramatic, in fact, that they served as Elijah’s agents in bringing the false prophets to justice.
Once again, I want to be clear that I’m not proposing step-by-step instructions for getting God to act as we desire. But we can draw from Scripture some reflections of God’s character: When God moves, it often is in response to faith, He does so at His own behest, He uses people (and emboldens them and equips them for the task), He brings forth judgment as well as mercy, and He changes people’s hearts. Oh, and at the risk of stating the obvious, when God moves, sometimes He does some pretty incredible and fascinating things!
 See Romans 15:4
 I Kings 17:1
 I Kings 18:1
 I Kings 17:22
 James 5:17-18
 Matthew 13:58
 I Kings 18:36
 I Kings 18:17
 I Kings 18:24
 See Mark 13:11
 William P. Young, “Breakfast of Champions,” in The Shack, (Newbury Park: Windblown Media, 2007), 119.
 Young, “Here Come Da Judge,” 170.
 See Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:12,15; Matthew 25:46; Luke 21:22; and II Thessalonians 1:8-9
 Galatians 6:7
 II Peter 3:9
 See Romans 2:4-5
 I Kings 18:38
 I Kings 18:39, emphasis added
 See II Chronicles 21:13
 See Luke 4:23-27