Ravens and the ProphetIn the Courts of the Lord - Chapter One
And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.”
(1 Kings 17:1 KJV)
In the Courts of the Lord
Unexpected. That is as good a word as any to describe what happens when God reveals His heart to His people. From the Incarnation to the Resurrection, and on through the Ascension to Pentecost, God’s dealings with mankind leave us reeling with surprise.
To follow the Lord’s leading is the greatest of all adventures. Who but God would have thought of sending a lone man from the mountains to overthrow a royal dynasty? Like David, who was trained in a cave in order to reign in a palace, Elijah was reared in a school that was both sterner and yet sweeter than that to which we are accustomed. He spent the greater part of his life in rugged, inhospitable places, separated in heart and spirit from the prevailing compromise of his day. Elijah spoke into the heart of his generation with true perspectives and awesome authority, challenging the powers of darkness that had invaded the nation.
There can be few more dramatic scenes in the whole of Scripture. Armed with nothing but the word the Lord had given him, a rugged man from the mountains burst into the court of King Ahab. There he proclaimed a truth no other man alive had had the courage to voice: that the God whom the playboy king had so recklessly ignored had declared a time of reckoning on the backslidden nation.
The future of Israel hung in the balance as Elijah strode onto the pages of recorded history. From a human point of view it looked foolhardy. Baal-worship had swept the nation, the prophets of the Lord had been silenced, and the cause of God appeared to have been all but defeated.
From heaven’s perspective, things looked very different. God sent this man, whom he had trained in His own courts, to testify in the court of a corrupt king because He knew that the truth of His Word would first confront, and finally overthrow, the lies of the Baals, and the arrogance of the king.
Seeing with God’s Eyes
Standing in the courts of the Lord, we see more clearly the reasons behind the outward events of our lives, and between spiritual cause and effect in society at large. We also discern the particular calling that is on our own lives.
In the presence of the Lord, Elijah had felt God’s grief over the nation’s backsliding. He had come to share His anger that the nation had dared to equate the Lord Almighty with the worthless Baals. His first public pronouncement imposed a judgement which would entail the most horrendous sufferings: a terrible drought would come upon the land.
Why did so drastic a sentence have to be visited on the nation? After all, it was barely a hundred years since the golden age of Israel, when David had ruled in the fear of the Lord. A quick glance at the preceding century is enough to reveal the main reasons.
Solomon’s infidelities had paved the way for the kingdom to be torn in two. Of the next seven kings who ruled the ten tribes, not one can be considered a faithful servant of the Lord.
The godly foundation that Samuel and David had developed was all but swept away. The speed at which the nation fell first into spiritual indifference, and then into heathendom, is a stark reminder of how quickly a godly heritage can be eroded, when evil is allowed to spread unchallenged.
The nation had strayed so far from their God that nothing but judgement awaited it. When a still more ungodly man came to the throne, few were prepared to oppose him. Lewd and selfish by nature, Ahab became an unstoppable tyrant when marriage allied him to Jezebel, the scheming daughter of the king of the Sidonians.
How the powers of darkness rejoiced to see the pair united! Jezebel imposed the worship of her alien gods and flooded the land with her own priests. An unprecedented storm of suffering fell on the heads of the true believers. Indeed, as Baal worship spread, it seemed for a time as though the worship of Yahweh was about to be driven once and for all from the face of the earth.(1)
As Elijah saw these things taking place, His heart burned within him. Tragically few others had the courage to stand against the new idolatries, and those who did were quickly silenced. So long as the economy was booming, and there was food on their table, people saw little point in risking their lives by speaking out. After all, since Yahweh Himself did not appear to be doing anything about the situation, most people preferred to stifle their conscience and pay at least lip service to the new gods.
Every generation presents us with similar temptations to compromise. In our own century, the example of many Churches in Nazi Germany, and more recently in South Africa, Russia, Romania and China, reminds us how easy it is to reach a place of accommodation with evil – to say nothing of the myriad ways our hearts fall prey to the more sophisticated idolatries of materialism.
God sees all the dark forces in the world today, just as He did in the days when the Baals were worshipped in the land of Israel. He sees every act of injustice and He hears every cry of pain. He grieves that so few are prepared to declare war against this temptation to compromise, and to dedicate themselves instead to seeking Him.
Elijah would no more have welcomed the prospect of a prolonged drought than we would, but the Lord had revealed His will, and His servant had to be prepared to pay the cost involved in implementing it. Effectively, Elijah accepted that it was better for the nation to suffer hardship than to continue in its apostasy. The spiritual renewal which had not occurred in times of ease and prosperity might yet be brought about when harsher measures forced a rethink. As events turned out, his hope was not entirely disappointed.
The Sovereignty of God
Much of the beauty and power of Elijah’s life comes from His willingness to embrace the clear directions God gave Him. His obedience is, as it were, the foreground of His life. In the background, however, we can discern the sovereign actions of a God who cares very much what happens to His servants, and who ordains events accordingly.
When the Lord commanded the ravens to bring Elijah meat, and the widow to feed him, neither the ravens nor the widow would have had any consciousness of being part of God’s wider plan. This brings us face to face with something that is everywhere implicit, and often explicit, throughout the pages of Scripture: namely, the sovereignty of God.
When the enemy comes in like a flood, we need not despair: Satan has never been the ultimate master of any situation.
God anticipates times of crises and prepares His witnesses accordingly. Thus Noah built his ark, Joseph gained favour in Pharaoh’s court, Daniel became ‘Prime Minister’ of Babylon, and Esther Queen in Persia, all in order to avert the wholesale destruction of God’s chosen people.
Even in the darkest times, God has never ceased to undermine the stability of the evil forces, and to raise up His brightest lights: His Deborahs, Samuels and Elijahs.
As our understanding of God’s sovereignty deepens, so it becomes no longer a mere doctrine, but a perceived reality. The events of our life, the people we meet, the places the Lord takes us to, and even the needs and delays we experience, all combine to play their part in helping us to develop a truly biblical approach to life.
Like Elijah, we need to take time to reflect and to meditate in order to perceive the Lord’s intimate involvement in the things that happen to and around us. The more we embrace this awareness of God having authority over matters beyond our control, the more we will enjoy freedom in worship, and confidence in our decision-making.
Without such trust in His sovereign control (both over complex world affairs and the minutiae of our everyday lives) our hearts will often be doubt-ridden and anxiety-laden.
The finest truths of Scripture are not placed together in convenient charts and graphs. They are more like buried treasure that waits to be explored and pieced together. The more we study Scripture, the more clearly we perceive the God of first causes. We must look beyond purely economic or military reasons to understand that it was the Lord who brought Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Crete and the Syrians from Kir – just as it was He who delivered Israel from the tyranny of the Baals – and us from our own many scrapes!(2)
It is especially in the books of the prophets that we meet the God who declares, ‘I am (this or that) and I will (do this or that)’. It is He who raises men up and who casts them down again.(3) Here is an understanding that will impart a sense of imminence to our reading of the Bible. Tempted though we may be to skip over many of the prophetic oracles in search of more familiar pastures, a closer study of these passages will repay the effort a thousand times over. Not only will our understanding of the heart and character of God deepen, but we will increasingly discern spiritual meaning and patterns behind the shifting episodes of life.
God calls us into His courts not only to deepen our relationship with Him,
but also to show us how He feels about things.
His ways are as varied as His means,
but by one means or another,
He will develop understanding in our hearts,
fill the ordinary with new meaning
and turn sight into insight.
In short, we will begin to see with His eyes.
The Supreme Court
Scripture reveals how willing God is to show us not only what He is doing, but also why. From the moment the Lord shared His hidden counsel with Abraham, right through the writings of the prophets until the revelations He entrusted to John on the island of Patmos, we find God revealed as the One who is sovereign over men and nations alike – but who ‘confides’ in those who fear Him, and takes the upright into His confidence.(4)
Beyond all human courts, where rulers exercise their authority, Scripture alludes to the existence of a supreme heavenly court. This is where the decrees are issued that affect both life and eternity.(5) The Lord draws us into this court in order to help us to see with His eyes, and to understand what is on His heart.
All true prophets have stood in the courts of the Lord. Isaiah and Daniel, were but two of the most prominent who ‘eavesdropped’ on the worship of heaven, and thereby discovered more of God’s commission on their own life. As they saw the Lord seated in His court, they were granted insight into the workings, as well as the worship, of this heavenly assembly.(6)
It was not every day that these prophets experienced great visions. Those they did receive are, as it were, the recorded highlights of their lives and their deepest understanding of the ways of heaven.
When they saw the Lord seated in His court, for instance, they realised with a fresh immediacy that God does not merely watch events on Earth from Heaven: He directs their outworking.
When Daniel overheard specific decrees and judgements being issued in the throne room of God, he perceived that world empires are allowed to rule only by heaven’s decree. The power of evil men would, in due time, be stripped from them. He also understood that, in some mysterious way, God incorporates the intercessions of His people into His decision-making process.(7)
The Hebrew word that is used to describe this court is s”dh.(8) Since this word means both ‘council’ (as in a council chamber) and ‘counsel,’ the term embraces not only a circle of intimate friends, but also the particular affairs discussed between them. From this court flow mercy and judgement, even as friendship and understanding develop in our hearts as we draw near to the King of Kings.
The Prophet’s Task
From time immemorial it has been the function of the prophet to put the trumpet to his lips and to declare what he has seen and heard in the courts of the Lord. The word of God must be made explicit, because generalities usually fail to convince men of their sin.
Centuries beforehand, Moses had steeled himself to enter Pharaoh’s court. Now, Elijah knew that the moment had come to take his message of judgement to king. It does not take much imagination to realise that the role of the prophet is a hard rather than a glamorous one. Because the prophet is called to ‘uproot and tear down’ as well as to ‘build and to plant,’ he (or she) will inevitably face misunderstanding and opposition.(9)
A G Gardener wrote:
‘When a prophet is deified, his message is lost. The prophet is only useful so long as he is stoned as a public nuisance, calling us to repentance, disturbing our comfortable routines, breaking our respectable idols and shattering our sacred conventions.’
So high is this calling, and so solemn its outworkings, that God has to go to extreme lengths to prepare people to execute this ministry in humility of spirit.(10)
The Drought Decreed
It is a sublimely fitting irony that God should choose a rugged man from the mountains to be the one to take His message to the fineries of Ahab’s court. Elijah’s task was outwardly as daunting as the latter-day mission of John the Baptist to denounce Herod’s extra-marital indulgences. King Ahab, like Nebuchadnezzar after him, would have to learn the hard way that all the pomp of earthly trappings could avail him naught against a decree that was issued from the throne room of heaven.
Boldly refusing to allow any fear of the consequences to water down his message, Elijah dared to predict the unpredictable: a drought of unspecified duration would afflict the land. The sentence had been pronounced, and no further rain would fall until he, Elijah, so decreed it.
The drought was a rebuke to the nation, a direct rebuttal of Ahab’s complacent assumption that all was well under his rule, and a challenge to the people to consider why their God had had to send it. If Elijah had not brought this specific revelation concerning the forthcoming drought, people would have been quick to find some other way of explaining it away. Perhaps, in those superstitious days, the drought might have been blamed on bad spirits. In today’s terminology it would doubtless be attributed to the Greenhouse Effect! The prophetic declaration marked God’s intended action, and His decree would not be revoked, unless or until it was stayed by mercy, through the repentance of His people.
To see with God’s eyes is an enormous privilege. It enables us to see people with the Lord’s eyes of love, and to understand issues with a greater degree of clarity. It can be exceedingly painful, however, for we will come face to face with the same sins which merited God’s judgement in Elijah’s day, and must respond accordingly.
‘Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant,
for the Lord has spoken.
Give glory to the Lord your God before He brings the darkness,
before your feet stumble on the darkening hills . . .
But if you do not listen,
I will weep in secret because of your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly,
overflowing with tears.‘(11)
Dear Lord, as I meditate on Elijah’s life, help me to grasp more clearly how You feel about Your world. Thank You that You sent Elijah to Ahab’s court in the power of the Spirit. Thank You that he did not hold back from following You there. I ask that You will draw me closer to Your heart, and set me free from my own preoccupations and willingness to compromise, so that I may see with Your eyes, and be more open to Your leading. In Jesus’ name, Amen.(12)
1 Cf 1 Kings 18:13
2 Acts 17:28, cf Amos 3:6b, 9:7, Psalm 94: 8-10
3 Eg Isaiah 45:6-11
4 Psalm 25:14, Proverbs 3:32, cf Genesis 18:17-21, Amos 3:6b, Psalm 94:8-10; Isaiah 45:7. It is worth adding that the Lord often reveals these reasons some considerable time after they have happened, as it were interpreting them to us.
5 Job 1:6f; Daniel 7:9-27; Zechariah 3:1f, cf Jeremiah 23:18-22
6 Isaiah 6:3,6-8, Daniel 7:9f
7 Daniel 7:9-27 but see also chapters 8-12
8 Daniel 7:9f
9 Hosea 9:7-8, 10:2 We shall be looking at some of the principles involved in handling a word from the Lord in the chapter ‘The Prophetic Ministry.’
10 John and Paula Sandford have valuable insights into the training that is necessary to equip us for the prophetic ministry in their book ‘The Elijah Task.’ (Logos).
11 Jeremiah 13:15-17, cf Joel 2:12-17, Zephaniah 2:1-3
12 You may find it helpful to spend some time in the near future re-reading at least one of the books of the prophets. Study how the prophets each found their own way of presenting the Lord’s burden. For example, Malachi used dramatic dialogue between God and His people, Amos exposed the sins of the neighbouring nations, before going on to show that the chosen people were no better themselves; Hosea was led to marry an unfaithful partner, as a symbol of Israel’s infidelity, Habakkuk wrestled with the violence that surrounded him, while Ezekiel used dramatic actions to get his message across to the people. The understanding that will accrue from such an in-depth study of the books of the prophets will go a long way towards developing a truly prophetic understanding of life.
Chapter One - The Courts of the Lord
Chapter Two - The Hidden Life
Chapter Three - By the Brook Cherith
Chapter Four - The Shrinking Brook
Chapter Five - Strange Guidance
Chapter Six - The Provision of the Lord
Chapter Seven - In the Power of the Spirit
Chapter Eight - The Stature of Waiting
Chapter Nine - Interfacing with the World
Chapter Ten - Fire on Mount Carmel
Chapter Eleven - The Ministry of Heaven
Chapter Twelve - The Importance of Rest
Chapter Thirteen - Strategic Retreat or Headlong Flight
Chapter Fourteen - Shock and Shame
Chapter Fifteen - The Temptation to Despair
Chapter Sixteen - Angelic Restoration
Chapter Seventeen - Confronted with God's Challenge
Chapter Eighteen - Symbols of His Power
Chapter Nineteen - The Dark Speech of God
Chapter Twenty - The Judgements of God
Chapter Twenty One - When My People are one
Chapter Twenty Two - A Heart of Mourning
Chapter Twenty Three - Three pdfs
The Prophetic Ministry
Part One - May our Hearts be free from idols
Part Two - The Prophetic Calling
Part Three - Prophets and Pastors
Chapter Twenty Four - The Challenging Counterfeit
Chapter Twenty Five - The Schools of the Prophets
Chapter Twenty Six - Translated to Eternity