Elijah Series: Steps Towards Revival Pt. 2 (1 Kgs 18:16-40)
Steps Towards Revival Pt. 2
When Obadiah went and informed Ahab, the king went to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is it really you, the one who brings disaster on Israel?” Elijah replied, “I have not brought disaster on Israel. But you and your father’s dynasty have, by abandoning the LORD’s commandments and following the Baals. Now send out messengers and assemble all Israel before me at Mount Carmel, as well as the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah whom Jezebel supports. Ahab sent messengers to all the Israelites and had the prophets assemble at Mount Carmel. Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the LORD is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” But the people did not say a word. Elijah said to them: “I am the only prophet of the LORD who is left, but there are 450 prophets of Baal. Let them bring us two bulls. Let them choose one of the bulls for themselves, cut it up into pieces, and place it on the wood. But they must not set it on fire. I will do the same to the other bull and place it on the wood. But I will not set it on fire. Then you will invoke the name of your god, and I will invoke the name of the LORD. The god who responds with fire will demonstrate that he is the true God.” All the people responded, “This will be a fair test.” Elijah told the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls for yourselves and go first, for you are the majority. Invoke the name of your god, but do not light a fire.” So they took a bull, as he had suggested, and prepared it. They invoked the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal, answer us.” But there was no sound and no answer. They jumped around on the altar they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, “Yell louder! After all, he is a god; he may be deep in thought, or perhaps he stepped out for a moment or has taken a trip. Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to be awakened.” So they yelled louder and, in accordance with their prescribed ritual, mutilated themselves with swords and spears until their bodies were covered with blood. Throughout the afternoon they were in an ecstatic frenzy, but there was no sound, no answer, and no response. Elijah then told all the people, “Approach me.” So all the people approached him. He repaired the altar of the LORD that had been torn down. Then Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of tribes that descended from Jacob, to whom the LORD had said, “Israel will be your new name.” With the stones he constructed an altar for the LORD. Around the altar he made a trench large enough to contain two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut up the bull, and placed it on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four water jars and pour the water on the offering and the wood.” When they had done so, he said, “Do it again.” So they did it again. Then he said, “Do it a third time.” So they did it a third time. The water flowed down all sides of the altar and filled the trench. When it was time for the evening offering, Elijah the prophet approached the altar and prayed: “O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are the true God and that you are winning back their allegiance.” Then fire from the LORD fell from the sky. It consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, and the dirt, and licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground and said, “The LORD is the true God! The LORD is the true God!” Elijah told them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Don’t let even one of them escape!” So they seized them, and Elijah led them down to the Kishon Valley and executed them there.
1 Kings 18:16-40
What are necessary steps for experiencing revival in our lives, communities, and nations?
The background to this narrative is that Israel is under judgment. They had Ahab as their king, and he was the worst king in Israel’s history. He and his wife, Jezebel, had led Israel to turn away from God and instead worship Baal. Because of this, God brought a three-and-a-half-year drought on the land. Baal was the sky god, the lord who controlled the weather —he controlled the sun and brought the rain. By not allowing it to rain, God was showing Israel that Baal was actually not in control of the weather. At end of the three-and-a-half years, Elijah returned to Israel to confront them and turn them back to God. He does this by setting up a contest with the prophets of Baal to prove who is the true God. Before beginning it, in verse 21, he says to Israel, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the LORD is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” Then, at the end of the confrontation, Israel falls down and says, “The LORD is the true God! The LORD is the true God!”
It is clear that Israel had not turned away from God totally; apparently, they had become syncretic—worshiping God and Baal. Because of this, God judged them. Sadly, this often happens to the church in various ways—causing us to lose God’s blessing and experience spiritual dryness in our lives. With the believers James wrote to, he said this in James 4:4: “Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy.” It is not that these believers had stopped worshiping God, it was that their hearts were divided. They loved the world and the things of this world. They were consumed with money, prestige, and success, and God was simply a means to these blessings. James said they prayed with wrong motives, to get their selfish desires (Jam 4:3). They were spiritual adulterers, and because of this, they had become enemies of God. God began to fight against them in many ways, though they might not have recognized his disciplining hand on their lives—possibly hindering their business ventures, family life, and even health. God will not share our hearts with others.
But this judgment of God does not only happen to individual believers; it also happens to communities—churches, cities, and nations. God told the church of Ephesus that if they didn’t return to their first love, he would remove their lampstand—removing their witness to the surrounding communities and possibly the church altogether (Rev 2:4-5). Likewise, God told the church of Laodicea that he would vomit them out of his mouth for being lukewarm (Rev 3:16) and that all those he loved, he would “rebuke and discipline” (Rev 3:19).
Therefore, we must understand that it is a dangerous thing to live in compromise, worldliness, and even spiritual apathy. God is a jealous God who wants our hearts. James 4:5 says, “he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” Therefore, it behooves us to consider how to experience spiritual revival both in our lives and communities because God will not be our second.
In the previous text, 1 Kings 18:1-15, we considered that when bringing revival:
1. God often allows desperate circumstances to help people recognize their weakness and depend more on him. The drought was meant to show Israel they needed God and not Baal or anyone else. God will often allow desperate circumstances in our lives and others as well to help prepare our hearts for a revival—a renewal in our passion for the things of God.
2. God often raises up the righteous to faithfully, boldly, and sacrificially serve others. Often during these desperate times, God will bring a faithful believer in our lives to pray for us, serve us, and show us something in his Word to help us turn back to him. During the drought, God raised up both Elijah and a man named Obadiah. God used Elijah to challenge Ahab and pray for the drought. Then, he hid him from Israel and had him serve a Sidonian widow and her son in private. However, Obadiah’s ministry was different. He was meant to stay in Israel, working for the king in the palace. He was a light in a dark place. While Ahab and Jezebel were killing prophets, Obadiah was hiding them in caves. When bringing revival, God raises up the righteous to faithfully serve others.
3. Finally, God often unifies believers so they can more effectively complete his work together. Discord and independence in the church commonly hinder God’s work. Believers in local congregations often are independent and divided but so our churches. Typically, when God brings a revival, he unifies his church to pray, serve, and minister to others. In this context with Israel, God brought Elijah and Obadiah together. Apparently, Elijah did not think highly of Obadiah—probably because of his ministry in the king’s palace. Though Obadiah shared how he had been hiding prophets, Elijah will repeatedly share that he was the only prophet left both to Israel in this narrative and later to God in 1 Kings 19. He didn’t trust Obadiah; however, Elijah needed him to prepare a meeting with Ahab and to help bring revival in Israel. God often does the same today when bringing revival. He brings his divided children together to complete his work.
In 1 Kings 18:16-40, we’ll consider further steps to revival as we study Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal and Israel’s eventual return to God.
Big Question: What are other common steps in the revival process as discerned from 1 Kings 18:16-40?
When Bringing Revival, God Uses the Righteous to Confront Sin, Even at Great Risk to Themselves
When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is it really you, the one who brings disaster on Israel?” Elijah replied, “I have not brought disaster on Israel. But you and your father’s dynasty have, by abandoning the LORD’s commandments and following the Baals. Now send out messengers and assemble all Israel before me at Mount Carmel, as well as the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah whom Jezebel supports. Ahab sent messengers to all the Israelites and had the prophets assemble at Mount Carmel. Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the LORD is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” But the people did not say a word. Elijah said to them: “I am the only prophet of the LORD who is left, but there are 450 prophets of Baal.
1 Kings 18:17-22
This narrative is full of Elijah confronting sin. First, he confronts Ahab, then Israel, and then the false prophets. When Ahab initially sees Elijah, he says, “Is it really you, the one who brings disaster on Israel?” (v.17). The phrase “brings disaster” Ahab used can also be translated “troubler” or “snake.” Though Elijah had committed no sin, Ahab said that Elijah was the cause of all of Israel’s troubles. He was a dirty snake.
Unfortunately, this has been common throughout history when believers confront sin—they often are accused or condemned for doing so. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah was jailed for confronting the leaders of Israel for their rebellion against God. Also, when John the Baptist, who came in the spirit of Elijah, confronted Herod for committing adultery with his brother’s wife, Herod put him in prison and eventually beheaded him. Jesus confronted the Pharisees for their hypocritical behavior and false teaching which led to him being crucified.
Likewise, when God brings revival, he empowers and emboldens the righteous to confront sin and compromise, even at great cost to themselves. There can be no revival when people hold onto sin both individually and within a community; consequently, it must be confronted.
Certainly, we must realize there are a great cost and difficulties with this type of ministry. It’s uncomfortable. We don’t want to feel judgmental. Our friends could get mad at us and cut us off. However, Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” This type of ministry is needed for personal revival and revival in our communities. Elijah was willing to be hated by Ahab, Jezebel, the false prophets, and no doubt much of Israel who was suffering from the drought. In order to bring revival, Elijah had to confront the sins around him.
Application Question: How should we confront sin personally and corporately?
1. To confront sin, we must understand its contagious nature.
When encouraging the Corinthians to remove an unrepentant adulterer from the church, Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 5:6, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?” If the Corinthians did not confront this sin, it would only spread throughout the church. Likewise, if we don’t confront sin in our own lives, it will spread. A little compromise leads to big compromises. If we don’t confront sin in the lives of others, it will begin to spread—rumors will grow, ungodly language will become normal, dishonestly, sexual immorality, and violence will become common place. If we don’t understand sin’s contagious nature, we might be tempted to leave it alone—possibly hoping that it will go away. It won’t. It will most likely just become worse.
2. To confront sin, we must remove it from our lives first before focusing on others.
In Matthew 7:1-5, Christ said this:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
This is an often-abused text in the church and in the world. People will say that we should never judge anything; however, that is not what Christ was teaching. He said that we must first remove the beam from our own eye before we remove the speck from someone else’s eye. Confronting sin is like doing surgery. When a doctor does surgery, he first washes his hands and makes sure his clothing is clean, so he does not make the patient’s infection worse. Likewise, if we don’t take proper precautions, we can hurt someone we intend to help. A person with a beam in his eye, cannot see clearly and therefore will either be too harsh in the surgery or too light. People who are not properly cleansing themselves from sin often become judgmental Pharisees that hurt others or libertarians who focus on God’s love and therefore never hold themselves or others to God’s standards in Scripture. If we are going to confront sin, it must start with us, as individuals, first.
3. To confront sin, we must be wise in confronting others by using the pattern Christ gave for church discipline.
In Matthew 18:15-17, Christ said this about the process of confronting sin:
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.
In short, when a person is in sin, (1) we must approach them one on one first. This allows us to find out if there was some misunderstanding and to see where their heart is at. We must treat people who are struggling with sin and want to be free differently than a person who is willfully living in sin and doesn’t want to change. A person struggling with sin needs encouragement and help; a person willfully living in sin need rebuke and possibly discipline. In addition, approaching them one on one before going to others, also stops gossip from going around the church which will only harden the person’s heart further. (2) If they don’t respond to the one on one, we should approach them with one or two other people (possibly another mature Christian that knows them or an elder). (3) If they still don’t respond, it should be brought before the church. At this point, the elders are involved if they weren’t involved previously. The elders will share with the church (possibly at a members’ meeting) and encourage them to plead with the person or persons to repent. (4) If they still don’t repent, believers are to separate from this person. They are to be removed from the church in hopes that they will see the seriousness of their sin and repent.
When dealing with sin outside of a local church, many of the same principles should still be applied. First, confrontation should happen one on one. Only if the person is unrepentant should it go before a boss or others. If we rebuke people publicly or share it with others first, we will often lose the struggling person’s ear and often become a source of unnecessary division in a community. What Christ taught are wisdom principles, which should even be used outside the church.
With that said, without confronting sin, there can be no revival—no renewal in our relationship with God and no proper relationships with others. The sin will continue to fester in that person’s life and spread to others. This no doubt had happened in Israel. (1) First, a little Baal worship was despised but tolerated. (2) Then it was accepted as an alternative way of life and celebrated for the diversity it brought to the community. (3) Then, it spread quickly and soon became the national religion. If we’re going to experience revival, sin must be confronted, and the sooner the better.
Application Question: Why is confronting sin so important for personal and corporate revival? What makes the process of confronting sin difficult? How have you seen or been involved in the process of church discipline?
When Bringing Revival, God Confronts and Often Destroys People’s Idols
Elijah told the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls for yourselves and go first, for you are the majority. Invoke the name of your god, but do not light a fire.” So they took a bull, as he had suggested, and prepared it. They invoked the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal, answer us.” But there was no sound and no answer. They jumped around on the altar they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, “Yell louder! After all, he is a god; he may be deep in thought, or perhaps he stepped out for a moment or has taken a trip. Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to be awakened.” So they yelled louder and, in accordance with their prescribed ritual, mutilated themselves with swords and spears until their bodies were covered with blood. Throughout the afternoon they were in an ecstatic frenzy, but there was no sound, no answer, and no response.
1 Kings 18:25-29
This point overlaps with the previous one. Not only did Elijah confront Ahab and Israel about their sins, God confronted Baal through Elijah—demonstrating his superior power. God was already doing this through the drought, since Baal was believed to control the rain, but God was going to do this in dramatic fashion through Elijah’s contest with the false prophets. When Elijah called for the prophets, he asked for both the prophets of Baal and Asherah. Asherah was supposedly a wife of Baal and the goddess of sex and war. Israel worshiped both of them. Therefore, to make sure Israel had no doubts about who was God, Elijah stacked the deck, or rigged the contest, in Baal’s favor.
Observation Question: How did Elijah rig the contest in Baal’s favor?
He did this in several ways: (1) He gave Baal homecourt advantage. Archaeological findings tell us that Mount Carmel was considered a sanctuary of Baal. Roman inscriptions state the Phoenicians would come to the mount to worship the “Baal of Carmel.” Assyrian inscriptions also called it “Bal-rasi” which means “Baal of Carmel.” This is important to understand since most ancient people believed that the gods were territorial. For example, there was one time in 1 Kings 20:28 where Israel defeated the Arameans in a battle, and the Aramean wise men made an excuse for their loss by saying it happened because Israel’s God was “a god of the mountains and not a god of the valleys.” So when Baal lost, Elijah wanted to make sure they had no excuses. Baal had homecourt advantage. (2) Elijah also gave Baal a number advantage. There were to be 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. It was going to be 850 to 1. (3) Elijah also let the prophets of Baal and Asherah call on their god first. Again, he did this so they would have no excuse for losing the contest.
What happens next? The prophets were to slay a bull, prepare an offering, and then call on Baal to send fire from heaven. After, Elijah would do the same and whoever’s god answered was the true God. In verse 26, it says the false prophets called on Baal from morning to noon, possibly for six hours, but there was no response. During this time, they jumped “around the altar”—no doubt dancing in a provocative manner, seeking to elicit a response from Baal. Because of the ineffectiveness of the prophet’s antics, Elijah began to mock them and Baal. In verse 27, he said, “Yell louder! After all, he is a god; he may be deep in thought, or perhaps he stepped out for a moment or has taken a trip. Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to be awakened.” When Elijah said that Baal perhaps had “stepped out for a moment,” in the Hebrew, this phrase is probably a euphemism for Baal going to the bathroom. After Elijah mocked them, they began to yell louder, cut themselves, and go into an ecstatic frenzy; however, there was silence. They probably cried out to Baal for up to twelve hours since they did it from the morning to “throughout the afternoon” (v. 29).
When there was no response, Elijah called the people to himself and repaired the altar of God (v. 30). This was probably one of the high places people used to worship God at when Solomon was king. In repairing the altar, he did it with twelve stones which symbolized the people of Israel (v. 31)—reminding them that they were a people called by God to be his own from the twelve sons of Jacob. Around the altar, he built a ditch and then had the people pour four large jugs of water over the altar three times (v.32-34). Consequently, the water was dripping off the alter and had filled the ditch (v. 35). Finally, Elijah prayed a short prayer that God would prove that he was the true God and that he was turning the people back to him (v. 36-37). In response, fire from heaven consumed the sacrifice, the altar, and the water.
What can we learn from this? Certainly, we must realize that this is a common thing God does when bringing revival. He confronts people’s idols—anything that competes for his allegiance and affection in their hearts. How else do we see this in Scripture? We see this with Israel in Egypt. Often when we think of God delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt, we think of him delivering Israel from oppression, which is certainly part of it. However, he was also delivering them from worshipping the Egyptian gods. It’s clear that this had become a problem for Israel because soon after they were delivered from Egypt, they made a golden calf to worship while waiting for Moses who was on Mount Sinai (Ex 32).
Because of their idolatry, when God was delivering them, he continually showed his power over the Egyptian gods. Each of the ten plagues were confrontations with these gods. When God made it dark for three days (Ex 10), he confronted Ra, the sun god. When God turned the Nile river into blood (Ex 7), he was confronting the god of the Nile. In fact, consider what God said when he brought the last plague in Exodus 12:12:
I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will attack all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the LORD.
Through the plagues God was executing judgment on the Egyptians and their gods, so that the Egyptians would know their gods weren’t real but also so Israel would know.
Likewise, we see God becoming angry at the Northern Kingdom of Israel for worshiping pagan gods in the book of Hosea, where he calls them adulterers (cf. Hos 2:2). In Hosea 8:5-6, God said this to Israel:
O Samaria, he has rejected your calf idol! My anger burns against them! They will not survive much longer without being punished, even though they are Israelites! That idol was made by a workman—it is not God! The calf idol of Samaria will be broken to bits.
When God is going to bring revival, he often confronts the idols of people and at times destroys them.
In the New Testament, I also believe we see this when Paul brought the Gospel to Ephesus in Acts 19. The Ephesians were known for their witchcraft; therefore, when the Gospel went there, God made himself known through great miracles, which demonstrated his superior power over the evil spirits and dark practices of the Ephesians. Acts 19:11-12 says,
God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, so that when even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his body were brought to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.
Consequently, many came to the Lord. Those who practiced witchcraft began to gather their books and burn them in front of everybody. The cost was 50,000 silver coins (Acts 19:18-19). By doing extraordinary miracles, God confronted the evil spirits and witchcraft in that city, bringing a great revival.
Does this happen today? Certainly. In places that are animistic and steeped in witchcraft, God often ministers in very charismatic ways—delivering people from demons, healing people, sometimes even doing dramatic things with the weather, etc.—so there will be revivals. He confronts the idols of the people and demonstrates his power over them. Some wonder why this doesn’t commonly happen in modern countries like America or Korea. I believe God does do this; he just does it in different ways because we have different idols. Certainly, in many modern countries who don’t really believe in the supernatural, God confronts their idols in natural ways. He confronts the gods of intellectualism and science through apologetics, sound logic, archaeology, and strong biblical teaching. Sometimes, he confronts the idols of the stock market and money through recessions to help deliver people from the idolatry of “Mammon” (Matt 6:24 KJV). God is the same yesterday and forever. When he begins to bring revival, he often confronts people’s idols which control their hearts.
Application Question: How should we respond to the fact that God often confronts and destroys our idols in order to bring revival in our lives and communities?
1. Because God confronts people’s idols to bring revival, we must constantly test our own hearts to discern what may be stealing our affection and time away from God, so we can repent.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life.” Likewise, in Psalm 139:23-24, David prayed: “Examine me, and probe my thoughts! Test me, and know my concerns! See if there is any idolatrous tendency in me, and lead me in the reliable ancient path!” We must guard our hearts against any “idolatrous tendency”—whether that be entertainment, career, relationships, money, sexual immorality, false teaching, or anything else. We must continually ask ourselves, “Are we putting anything before God and his will for our lives?” “Is there anything that we’re putting too much time and energy into which is keeping us from reading God’s Word, prayer, worship with the saints, and serving him?” If so, we must repent by either getting rid of those things or reorganizing our time so that God is prioritized. As God told the church of Ephesus, he must be our first love—our priority—lest he remove our lampstand (Rev 2). We cannot have revival if there are idols in our lives, even as Israel could not.
2. Because God confronts people’s idols to bring revival, we must wisely and humbly confront the idols of others.
This takes tremendous discernment and humility because we cannot read others’ hearts, at least not without a tendency towards error. With that said, in Luke 6:45, Christ said from the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Typically, a person who idolizes money and prestige will constantly talk about it. A person who idolizes their religious works will constantly brag about them, like the Pharisees. A person consumed with their physical appearance or what people think of them will constantly display it through their language and actions. A person who loves comfort more than doing God’s will, will demonstrate that through words and actions. We can’t hide what’s in our heart, it will always come out. And because of this reality and because we love others, we may at times, in humility, need to point out things which may be hindering God’s best or distracting them from God. Again, this must be done in humility because only God clearly sees the heart and our eyesight is often cloudy because of our own sin (cf. Matt 7:1-5).
In addition, especially for those who have the privilege of teaching God’s Word in a small group, classroom, or even a pulpit, we must be aware of the idols of the culture we minister to. Like Elijah, we must point those things out so those we minister to may be aware of them, set free from them, and continually experience revival in their lives. Each culture has its own idols and those are often reflected in the church, whether it be an unhealthy focus on education, beauty, wealth, success, or conforming to the expectation of others, including family. When James wrote the people he ministered to, he constantly pointed out the sins in that culture. They were honoring the rich and dishonoring the poor (Jam 2:1-7). Some were seeking positions of influence not so much to serve but to be served (Jam 3:1).
To help bring revival in people’s lives, God often confronts their idols and will commonly use us in the process as he did with Elijah. As John with pastoral care said to the Ephesians, we must also in love say it to others, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
Application Question: What things do you have a tendency to idolize and put before God and his call on your life (comfort, family, success, entertainment, etc.)? How is God calling you to respond to your idols? What are some common idols in your culture or the culture you minister to? How should we wisely and humbly expose people’s idols so they can be set free and experience revival? In what ways can confronting idols be done unwisely?
When Bringing Revival, God Draws His People into Intercession
When it was time for the evening offering, Elijah the prophet approached the altar and prayed: “O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are the true God and that you are winning back their allegiance.”
1 Kings 18:36-37
After the false prophets prayed for approximately twelve hours, Elijah prayed a simple prayer, and God brought fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice. It must be understood that this was not just a prayer for fire from heaven. Elijah prayed that God would “prove” he was God (v. 36) so the people would know that he was “winning back their allegiance” (v. 37). Elijah was praying for revival—that the hearts of adulterous Israel would repent and turn back to God.
With that said, certainly, this was not the only time Elijah prayed for Israel. Though we don’t see him praying in 1 Kings 17:1 when he told Ahab that it would not rain except at his word, James 5:17 says that it stopped raining in response to Elijah’s prayer. Elijah prayed for the drought, which would reveal that Baal was not in control of the weather, and later he prayed for fire from heaven to demonstrate that God was the true God. No doubt, Elijah had been praying for at least three-and-a-half years for revival in Israel and probably long before that.
Likewise, when there is a revival, it happens in response to prayer. As we start to pray for a family member who is far-away from God, God often answers those prayers. As with Israel, he often does it through trials which soften their hearts and turn them away from other idols to the true God. But, this also happens as we pray for our communities, workplaces, churches, cities, and nations. God responds when people pray. And because of this, God often seeks out people like Elijah, who will be devoted to prayer. Ezekiel 22:30 says, “I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one.” Also, Isaiah 62:6-7 says, “I post watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they should keep praying all day and all night. You who pray to the LORD, don’t be silent! Don’t allow him to rest until he reestablishes Jerusalem, until he makes Jerusalem the pride of the earth.”
Perseverance in Prayer
As with Elijah praying for Israel for at least three-and-a-half years, revivals typically won’t happen without perseverance in prayer. Many of our prayers won’t be answered in our life-time. We’ll pray, God will move us to a new place or take us home, and somebody else will take up our prayer burden until God answers it. When God was bringing a harvest in Israel during Christ’s ministry, Christ said this to the disciples in John 4:37-38: “… the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.” Others had prayed, sown seeds of the Word and tears, and yet, the disciples were reaping the harvest without the hard work. Praying continually for a university, a city, or a nation is hard work, but the fruit is worth it. In the context of spiritual warfare, Paul said this in Ephesians 6:18: “With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.” We must pray for other saints with “all perseverance.”
Application Question: How should we apply the necessity of intercession for revival?
1. Because intercession often precedes revival, we must commit to faithfully praying for it in the areas and people God has called us to.
Again, God sought for a person to stand in the gap and pray but found none (Ez 22:30). No doubt, there were lots of believers in Israel, but most were too busy or too concerned with their own affairs to pray for the lost, repentance in their nation and others; therefore, God destroyed the land. We must commit to praying long term for lost friends, our church, our community, and our nation because God is seeking for watchmen who will stand in the gap (Is 62:6-7).
2. Because intercession often precedes revival, we must also at times commit to praying for it corporately.
In this text, we only see Elijah praying, but no doubt, he was just part of the faithful remnant that God had preserved who was also praying for the nation to turn back to God, including the prophets hiding in caves (1 Kgs 19:18). There seem to be special promises and power in corporate prayer. Though this promise is given specifically to Israel, certainly it has applications to the church since it reflects God’s unchanging character. Second Chronicles 7:13-15 says,
When I close up the sky so that it doesn’t rain, or command locusts to devour the land’s vegetation, or send a plague among my people, if my people, who belong to me, humble themselves, pray, seek to please me, and repudiate their sinful practices, then I will respond from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. Now I will be attentive and responsive to the prayers offered in this place.
God told Israel that when his people (plural) humbled themselves in prayer, sought the Lord, and turned from their sin that God would forgive them and heal their land. Certainly, this applies to the remnant of true believers in America, Korea, and other nations who cry out to God with prayer and repentance, often revival and healing follow. In addition, Christ said this in the context of church discipline in Matthew 18:19-20,
Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.
There is a special power in corporate prayer. Because of this reality, certainly it’s wise to initiate women’s prayer meetings for specific causes, men’s prayer meetings, church-wide fasting events, and cooperative prayer with churches in a city. As believers humble themselves before God and agree together for things Scripture says God’s desires like the salvation of the lost, righteousness in a nation, and revival in a church or Christian institution, God often moves in a special way in response to his people’s prayers.
Application Question: Why does God require his people to pray in order to get his will done, including bringing revival in the lives of others? What causes, individuals, or people in general do you feel God is calling you to commit to pray for and why?
When Bringing Revival, God’s People Genuinely Repent
When all the people saw this, they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground and said, “The LORD is the true God! The LORD is the true God!” Elijah told them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Don’t let even one of them escape!” So they seized them, and Elijah led them down to the Kishon Valley and executed them there.
1 Kings 18:39-40
Finally, after God hears Elijah’s prayer and sends fire to consume the sacrifice on the altar, the people cry out, “the Lord is the true God! The Lord is the true God!” (v. 39). Then, Elijah commands the people to seize the prophets of Baal and execute each one. Certainly, this seems cruel; however, this was in obedience to what God had called Israel to do with false prophets who tried to lead Israel away from the true God. Deuteronomy 13:4-5 says this:
You must follow the LORD your God and revere only him; and you must observe his commandments, obey him, serve him, and remain loyal to him. As for that prophet or dreamer, he must be executed because he encouraged rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, redeeming you from that place of slavery, and because he has tried to entice you from the way the LORD your God has commanded you to go. In this way you must purge out evil from within.
Again, this may seem cruel, but this demonstrates true repentance. In Mark 9:43-47, Christ said:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better for you to enter into life crippled than to have two hands and go into hell, to the unquenchable fire. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off! It is better to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out! It is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell
Christ essentially said, if what we are doing (represented by the hand) is causing us to sin, we should cut it off. If where we are going (represented by the foot) is causing us to sin, we must get rid of it. If what we are watching is causing us to sin (represented by the eye), we must do the same. This is warfare terminology. Commonly, when ancient armies defeated their enemies, they would gouge out their eyes or cut off their hands or feet, so they would never rise up and defeat them again, as seen with the Philistines gouging out Samson’s eyes (Jdg 16:21, cf. 1 Sam 11:1-2).
The hand, the foot, and the eye are all things dear to us, which could represent a relationship, a job, a hobby, or something else we care about. However, even though they are dear to us, we must get rid of them gladly to be holy. We must get rid of the TV show that we enjoy, the compromising relationship that is hurting our intimacy with God, and stop going to certain places in order to be holy. Certainly, this demonstrates why many can’t be holy. They love their hand, foot, and eye too much and therefore are not willing to be ruthless in order to be holy. For this reason, revival tarries in their individual lives, and they can’t be used by God to bring revival in the lives of others. We clearly see something of this when Elijah has all the false prophets put to death after confronting them. If Israel would have kept them around, they would have been prone to go back to worshiping Baal. Likewise, we must be ruthless with sin and temptations to sin as well.
This also reminds us of the need to practice church discipline in order for the community to be holy as mentioned earlier. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, consider how Paul challenged the Corinthians to treat believers in their church who were walking in unrepentant sin. He said:
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Certainly, this assumes the believers had already been approached one on one, with two or three, and by the church (cf. Matt 18:15-17). Because they still didn’t repent, the church should separate from them in hopes that they will see the seriousness of their sin and return to God. This is hard to do, but it is necessary to help bring revival in the person’s life and the church. Many churches can’t experience revival because they are not willing to be drastic with sin. This leads to them becoming lukewarm and God eventually removing their lampstand—their effectiveness in their community and city. Sadly, many of our once strong denominations are dead because they accepted sin instead of confronting it. And many Christians who were once on fire and effective at reaching others stopped being so, because they started to accept sin instead of confronting it and getting rid of it in their own lives and their community.
If we are going to experience revival, sin and temptations to sin must be removed, which demonstrates genuine repentance. If we tolerate temptations to sin, we will eventually succumb to it and others will as well.
Application Question: Why is it so difficult to be drastic in getting rid of sin in our lives—plucking out our eyes and cutting off our hands and feet (metaphorically speaking)? What happens if sin is not properly addressed in a community (cf. 1 Cor 5:6, Matt 18:15-17)? What thing is God calling you to be drastic with by getting rid of it to be holy to experience deeper intimacy with him (cf. Mk 9:43-47, 2 Cor 6:14-18)?
In 1 Kings 18, God uses Elijah to help bring revival in Israel. What are common steps towards experiencing revival in our personal lives and communities?
1. When Bringing Revival, God Often Allows Desperate Circumstances to Help People Recognize Their Weakness and Depend More on Him
2. When Bringing Revival, God Often Raises Up the Righteous to Faithfully, Boldly, and Sacrificially Serve Others
3. When Bringing Revival, God Often Unifies Believers So They Can More Effectively Complete His Work Together
4. When Bringing Revival, God Uses the Righteous to Confront Sin, Even at Great Risk to Themselves
5. When Bringing Revival, God Confronts and Destroys People’s Idols
6. When Bringing Revival, God Draws His People into Intercession
7. When Bringing Revival, God’s People Genuinely Repent
Application Question: How is God calling you to participate in bringing spiritual renewal in your personal life and community?
• Pray that God would expose our personal, communal, and national sins and idols, forgive us, and bring repentance. Confess corporate sins such as abortion, family, church, and political division, idolatry of education, wealth, and beauty, among others, which hinder revival.
• Pray that God would renew a spirit of intercession in our personal lives and our churches. Pray that God would raise up watchmen who will not give him rest until God brings righteousness.
• Pray that God would bring revival in his church and the cities and countries they reside in—that through the church God would reach the lost.