Formations lesson for August 15: God Calls Elijah : Friday, July 23, 2004
July 23 2004 by Ken Vandergriff

Formations lesson for August 15: God Calls Elijah : Friday, July 23, 2004
Friday, July 23, 2004

Formations lesson for August 15: God Calls Elijah

By Ken Vandergriff
Focal Passage: 1 Kings 18:30-40

We like to believe that faithfulness to God's call solves problems and results in calm and contentment. We're doing God's will; life is in harmony. Sometimes that's true, but at other times faithfulness brings problems.

Moses, Jeremiah, the disciples, Paul and countless others have found that following God's call put their lives in turmoil, sometimes in danger. Especially when life is tough, we crave affirmation and validation. We want certainty that we've correctly discerned God's will. Today's text invites reflection on the validation of God's call.

The context

It will be helpful to set the historical and literary context of this narrative. King Ahab ruled the northern kingdom of Israel from 869-850 BC.

Ahab was even more evil than his father, Omri, who had been more evil than all the kings preceding him (1 Kings 16:25,30). Ahab's flagrant worship of the Canaanite god Baal epitomized his sin (1 Kings 16:31-34).

The story in 1 Kings 18 actually begins at 1 Kings 17:1. Elijah, introduced for the first time there, abruptly appeared and announced that it would not rain again until he said so.

Since Baal was worshiped as the storm god, who controlled life and fertility by sending rain, Elijah's word was a direct challenge to Canaanite religion.

Following his announcement, Elijah went into hiding for three years. After three years of drought and famine, God sent Elijah back to confront Ahab and the Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:1-46).


1 Kings 18:30-37

In the high drama of this contest, the Baal prophets failed (vv. 20-29). Then Elijah, the prophet of the Lord (Yahweh in Hebrew), prepared for his role in three ways.

He first repaired what was broken, doing so in a way (the 12 stones) that reminded Israel of her status as the people of Yahweh.

Then, by drenching the altar with water, he addressed the strength of his opponent.

In Canaanite faith Baal was the storm god. Since water douses fire, perhaps Baal through water might still be able to subvert Yahweh. Elijah didn't shrink from confronting his opponent's strongest weapon.

Third, he prayed. Walter Brueggemann notes that "the petition is twofold: that Yahweh shall be seen as God, that Elijah be seen as intimately linked to Yahweh. The credibility of both is at stake as the two are intimately intertwined (1 Kings 18:36)."

As we respond to God's call, we might profitably reflect on these three strategies.


1 Kings 18:38-39

Elijah received decisive validation. He risked his life for God, and God vindicated him. But at this very point our connection with the text becomes difficult.

None of us will likely experience any such dramatic affirmation of our call. Yet we will wonder, and especially when faithfulness brings turmoil, we will doubt, craving affirmation. Are we really in God's will? Did we misunderstand God's call? Did God even call?

Beyond the miraculous and dramatic, how does validation come? We might remember the role of mentors from the Eli-Samuel story, or we might reflect on the "sound of sheer silence" that affirmed Elijah at a later time (19:1-12). How has your call been validated?


1 Kings 18:40

The end of this narrative troubles me. The text neither praises nor censors Elijah's killing; it simply reports it (although his act is in accordance with the law of Deut. 13:1-5).

What do we do with this, sensitive as we are to violence done in the name of religion? How do we view other religions, living as we do in "the most religiously diverse nation on earth"?

Diana Eck, professor of religion at Harvard, ends her book with this challenge: "The ongoing argument over who 'we' are - as religious people, as a nation, and as a global community - is one in which all of us, ready or not, will participate."

7/23/2004 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff | with 0 comments

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