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By age 18, the average American will have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence on television, including 40,000 murders. Then there is all the onscreen sex and perversion, not to mention the fact that our culture is going out of its way to take God out of the picture completely.
It can be very tempting to say, “Well, really there is no hope. There is nothing we can do, and there is certainly nothing that I could do personally.”
But that is simply not true. From a time in Israel’s history that closely parallels our own, we can learn how one person made a difference. His name was Elijah, and he appeared at one of the darkest and most evil periods in the history of his nation. Israel had pushed God out of their culture, reminding us that when God is abandoned, moral breakdown always will follow. It is not that Israel no longer believed in God. Rather, they turned away from the living God to worship other gods – false gods that could not see or hear or speak.
For more than 100 years, Israel had lived under the reign of three kings: Saul, David and Solomon. At the end of Solomon’s reign, a civil war broke out, and the nation was divided into the northern and southern kingdoms. Idolatry was widespread, sin was abounding, and Israel had become more and more wicked. A new king had emerged on the scene, King Ahab, and he was the most sinful of all. He was married to Jezebel, a woman who, in many ways, was even more wicked than her husband. Effectively, she was the power behind the throne. She was a full-tilt idol worshiper, so it was only a matter of time until her husband engaged in it, too. Soon the nation was turning to idolatry.
We may think we never would do such a thing, but it really is very easy to worship a false god. An idol is anyone or anything that takes the place of God in our lives. It doesn’t have to be an image we bow before. For some, their god could be their career, because they give more attention, more thought, more worry and more concern to it than anything else, including their relationship with God and their own family. For someone else, their god could be their own body, because they spend more time thinking about, looking at and being worried about how they look than anything else in their lives.
Jezebel was so wicked that her name became synonymous with disobedience and sin. Ahab and Jezebel planted a sacred grove of trees for the worship of Asherah, the goddess of sex and violence. This couple in power assumed they could do whatever they wanted, in any way they wanted, with impunity. They felt they could effectively thumb their noses at God without repercussion.
But here is what the Bible says God thought about it: “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33 NKJV).
Of the thousands of Jews who were under Ahab’s reign, there were only 7,000 who had not bowed to the false god, Baal. And suddenly the time had come for God’s man to appear on the scene. Elijah was from Gilead, east of the Jordan River. The people from Gilead were rough-hewn, tanned and tough, and Elijah was tough as well. He was also a man full of faith and boldness and courage. Yet Elijah had his moments of desperation. He got so depressed at one point that he was ready to die and even asked God to kill him. Elijah wasn’t superhuman, but he was a man of God – even a flawed man of God – reminding us that God can use us in our generation as well.
At God’s command, Elijah flung down the gauntlet at the very nerve center of the nation and the people. He walked into Ahab’s court and announced, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Imagine the scene. Ahab and Jezebel, feared by everyone, were sitting on their regal thrones, when suddenly a crazy-looking guy from the wilderness came walking in, dressed in animal skins. He made his announcement, turned around and walked out. What he did was unbelievable.
So how was he able to do that? Elijah knew God. In contrast to Ahab and Jezebel – and most of Israel at this point – Elijah served a living God, not a dead one. Notice he said, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand …” Elijah recognized that wherever he was, he was in the presence of God.
Do you ever feel as though you are the only person speaking up for what is true? That is probably how Elijah felt. And that is why it is so tempting to just blend into the woodwork. But Elijah would not do that. And we can’t do it, either.
It is easy to just go along with the crowd, to wink at that indiscretion, to avoid appearing too goody-good. It is easy to laugh a little at that dirty joke along with everyone else or make that compromise to fit in. But at what cost? At the cost of our integrity? At the cost of our reputation?
Elijah was no compromiser. And God is still looking for men and women today who will stand in the gap as he did. As Chuck Swindoll said, “Those who find comfort in the court of Ahab can never bring themselves to stand in the gap with Elijah.” Are you finding comfort in the court of Ahab? Or are you standing in the gap with Elijah?