Loyalty to God: Elijah

Elijah means “Yahweh is my God”

Factors that led to spread of idolatry in Israel

Introduction:

Idolatry refers to worship of idols.

An idol is an image representing a god usually made using materials such as bronze, stone or hard wood.

The images of these gods would be kept in the places of worship where the worshipers went to ask for whatever needs they had.

The 2nd commandment Ex. 20:4 forbids making of images of anything “In the heavens above or the earth below…”

The Israelites were forbidden from bowing down to /worshipping these images. (Deut 5:8 – 10 and Lev 26:1)

To guard against the temptations to turn to the worship of the Canaanite gods, Yahweh through Moses had forewarned the Israelites that when they enter Canaan, they were supposed to destroy all the worshipping places e.g. temples/shrines and cultic objects (Ex .34:13).

The Israelites were not supposed to:

  1. Make any agreement/treaties with the foreigners.
  2. Not to intermarry with the foreigners.
  3. Practice polytheism /worship of many gods.
  4. Copy the way other nations were ruled and governed.
  5. Compromise the worship of Yahweh with that of Canaanites.

However, when the Israelites settled in Canaan the Canaanite influence on them was great and they started to fall away from the worship of Yahweh.

The following contributed to this:

  1. The local Canaanite religion

The Canaanite religion had the following features/ qualities;

  1. It was predominantly a nature religion related to forces of nature e.g. rain and drought.  They were a means of maintaining the ordered harmony of nature and the life of the community/it was cyclic they repeated seasons.
  2. It was polytheistic/ comprised of many gods and goddesses’ e.g.
    • El – The high god, the king and father
    • Asherah – the “wife” of El, a goddess of fertility.-Baal – the storm god also referred to as the god of rain and fertility. He was sometimes called Baal Hadad which means god of storm.  He was represented in the form of a bull, a symbol of strength and fertility.
    • Baalath – female partner of Baal. Baalath means lady, her personal name was Astarte.
    • Mot – was the god of drought, famine and death.
    • Anat – “sister” of Baal, a goddess of war and love.

3. Symbols/idols/images were made to represent each god/goddess e.g.

  • Baal was represented in the form of a bull and stone pillar.
  • Asherah by a sacred pole.

4. Temple prostitution was part of the worship of gods and goddesses.

  • -The man identified himself with Baal while the woman identified herself with Astarte the wife of Baal. It was believed that if a barren couple imitated Baal and Astarte when having sex, they would be able to bear children.

5. Human/animal sacrifices were made to gods/goddesses.

6. Festivals and feasts were celebrated in honour of the gods and goddesses e.g.

  • Feast of unleavened Bread which was carried out at the beginning of the barely harvest. —–Feast of weeks celebrated during the wheat harvest.
  • Feast of in-gathering celebrated at the beginning of the agricultural year.

7. Rituals were performed to ensure continued fertility/well being of the community.

8. There were prophets and prophetess for each god and goddess.

9. Each god and goddess played a specific role in the community e.g.

  • Anat-Female deity rep. love
  • Asherah-Female deity rep. motherhood
  • Astarte- female deity represented war.

10. There was a chief god/goddess i.e. El

11. There were temples/shrines/high places of worship of the god and goddess.

12. Agricultural activities were linked to appeasing Baal, the rain god.

Influence of the local Canaanite Religion

  1. the new situation in Canaan made the Israel compromise the worship of Yahweh with that of Canaanite duties leading to Syncretism e.g. one time the Israelites recognized Yahweh as their sole God in the time of need/crisis at other times worshipped him as a Canaanite deity at Canaanite sanctuaries and making their own at Gilgal, Bethel, Dan, Gibeon, and Shiloh
  2. The Israelites used the items of Canaanites, sanctuaries e.g. Altar, the stone pillar and the wooden pole belonging to the Canaanite religion in worship.
  3. The sacrifices and offerings of the Canaanites were taken over by the Israelites e.g.
    1. Peace offering for renewed communion between the deity and the worshippers.
    2. The burnt offering – given wholly for the deity.
    3. Cereal offering of the fruits.
  4. Israel adopted great festivals which belonged to the structure of agriculture life in Canaan e.g. harvest festival
  5. Transition from pastoral life to agricultural life, they were attracted by the agricultural successes of the Canaanites and thought this was due to their religion and thus began copying their worship activities.
  6. The Israelites were attracted to the visible gods of the Canaanites as opposed to the invisible Yahweh.
  7. The Israelites failure to effect God’s commands to destroy all the cultic objects and temple used in the worship of Canaanite gods.
  8. The Israelites failed to understand the nature of their God:  They broke God’s commandments which prevented them from worshipping their gods e.g. made and worshipped the golden bull calf.
  9. The change of environment from nomadic to settled and agricultural environment. The nature gods proved more relevant than Yahweh (The God of the desert.)

B. The religious schism between Judah and Israel

Schism:  refers to a division within or separation from an established church/Religion.

– The other factor that led to the spread of idolatry in Israel dates back to around 922 B.C. when Jeroboam became the King of Israel.  He made sure that the people of his kingdom did not have any links with the people of Judah.

Ways in which King Jeroboam contributed to religious schism between Judah and Israel.

1Kings 12:25 – 33

  1. He made two golden calves and placed one at Bethel and another at Dan to represent Yahweh Vs 29.
  2. He set up two rival places/ centers of worship and ignored Jerusalem. V.s31.
  3. He made the Israelites to offer sacrifices to the golden calves. V.s.32.
  4. He chose priests from ordinary families to serve at worship centers. Priests were supposed to come from the house of Levi. Vs. 31
  5. He built other places of worship/shrines on hill tops vs. 32.
  6. He burnt incense at altars of the idols/ made sacrifices to idols himself, thus breaking the first commandment.
  7. He instituted religious festivals in the months of his choice.
  • From the above we conclude that Jeroboam set a bad example for all the Kings who came after him in Israel.

Factors which lead people away from the worship of God today

  1. Materialism, love/craving for earthly possessions/wealth at the expense of spiritual development.
  2. Corruption which makes people mistrust God/come to the conclusion that God does not care.
  3. Permissiveness in society which makes people lose value especially religious values/social influence from peer groups.
  4. Mass media /pornography where people spend time listening and watching T.V, videos and films. They may influence people’s activities which are contrary to the true worship of God.
  5. Urbanization leads people to lose their identity/change values which may lead to degeneration of morals.
  6. Dehumanization where the value of a person is not considered but the service they can provide.
  7. Threats to human life/human dignity; caused by wars nuclear power/abortion which make people lose faith in God.
  8. Confusion arising from religious pluralism. Some people wonder which is the true religion as some religions advocate worship of idols/Satan.
  9. Social/political/cultural/economics/religion suffering might make some people loose faith in God.
  10. Sexual immorality/adultery, fornication, prostitution, homosexuality take away some people from the community of worshippers.
  11. Scientific discoveries. People come to place their faith in science and technology.  They believe it can solve all their problems.
  1. Addiction to drugs.
  2. Social prejudices/discrimination racism/tribalism destroys the unity of humanity.
  3. Poverty dehumanizes the unit of humanity.

 

  1. King Ahab’s marriage with a Phoenician princess

 (I Kings 16:29 – 34)

The third factor that led to idolatry in Israel was Ahab’s marriage to Queen Jezebel who promoted idolatry in the following ways;

  1. She imported her Baal religion to Israel.
  2. She asked her husband, Ahab to build high places for the idols.
  3. She influenced the king to make Baalism the state religion.
  4. She persecuted the prophets of Yahweh.
  5. She influenced King Ahab to worship Baal.

THE EFFECTS OF IDOLATRY IN ISRAEL

  1. It led to the persecution of Yahweh’s prophets. The remaining loyal followers of Yahweh were driven into hiding.
  2. It led to the division in Kingdom as a punishment by God/Unity was undermined.
  3. Religious syncretism developed where they worshipped both Yahweh and Baal e.g. Israelites turned to fertility gods to ensure good harvests and looked to Yahweh in times of military crisis..
  4. Israelites broke their covenant relationship with God.
  5. Israelites forgot the covenant of brotherhood and practice.
  6. God raised up prophets like Prophet Elijah to help bring back the Israelites to the covenant way of life.
  7. Famine and drought befell Israel leading to the people’s suffering e.g. 3 years drought/suffering.
  8. Social evils such as bribery, sexual immorality and stealing became rampant.
  9. False prophets emerged in Israel and received state protection and gave false messages.
  10. The Israelites were defeated in battles leading to their exile in foreign countries.
  11. They introduced new religious festivals that were not in the Mosaic Law.
  12. The Canaanite agricultural calendar was adopted by Israel for the timing of the pilgrimage festival. (Ex 34:22 – 23).
  13. Names of Canaanite gods were used for Yahweh e.g. El the name of the father of all gods was applied to Yahweh.  The name Baal was also given to Yahweh.
  14. Parents began naming their children after Baal e.g. one of the judges, Gideon was also named Jerubaal, which means “Let Baal contend”.
  15. The Canaanite sacrificial system was incorporated into Israelite worship e.g. the different types of Israelite sacrifices such as peace offerings, burnt offering (Holocaust) and cereal offering (Oblation) where formerly Canaanite in origin Lev 1 and 2 but were later taken over by Israelites.
  16. Under the influence of Jezebel, King Ahab declared Baalism a compulsory state religion.  Baal was worshipped as the Lord of heavens who sustains and gives life.
  17. Queen Jezebel ordered the destruction of the altars of Yahweh/Yahweh’s altars were destroyed/ neglected.
  18. Emergence of weak rulers through bloody coups.
  19. Exile to Assyria and Babylon.
  20. The 450 prophets of Baal were made officials of the royal court in order to promote and protect the Baal religion.
  21. The religion of Yahweh was now in danger of being destroyed.  It is in this context that Yahweh raised up Prophet Elijah, a Tishbite, to return Israel to the covenant way of life.

ELIJAH’S FIGHT AGAINST FALSE RELIGION AND CORRUPTION

Introduction

60 years after Jeroboam I was made ruler of the kingdom of Israel, a prophet named Elijah appeared in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  He prophesied during the time of King Ahab, son of Omri (869 – 850 BC).

Prophet Elijah’s mission

  1. He was God’s spokesman/messenger of God.
  2. He spoke with the authority of Yahweh with no fear of the consequences to himself
  3. He stood for the covenant way of life at a time when it was rejected by the Israelites.
  4. Elijah pronounced God’s judgment on Israel together with her king for their sin.

A)  FIGHT AGAINST FALSE RELIGION

            1 KINGS 18:17-46

God sent Prophet Elijah to fight against widespread idolatry in Israel. He did this through several

ways including calling for a contest between him and the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. The

contest went as follows;

  • Prophet Elijah asked Ahab to assemble all the people at Carmel.
  • The king summoned all the people including the prophets of Baal to Carmel.
  • Elijah told the people to choose between worshipping God and Baal.
  • He suggested to the people that two bulls be brought and each party to offer a sacrifice to their God.
  • He challenged them and said whichever party will make their God burn the sacrifice will be the true God.
  • The prophets of Baal were given a bull which they prepared and called upon the name of their god.
  • Elijah mocked the m asking them to shout louder to their god.
  • They prayed, cut themselves with knives until the bled but Baal did not answer them.
  • Elijah asked the people to come to near him as he repaired the altar of God.
  • He placed the sacrifice on the altar and asked the people to pour water on it.
  • Fire consumed the sacrifice/ the wood/ the stones/ the water/ dust around it.
  • The people threw themselves on the ground and worshipped the Lord as the true God.
  • Elijah killed the prophets of Baal.

Lessons learnt about the nature of God from the contest at Mt. Carmel

  • Yahweh is the only true God. Baal is not a god at all.
  • Yahweh is a living God who controls force of nature/ He is the Lord of nature/ He has power over nature.
  • Yahweh is a powerful God.
  • Yahweh is a merciful God who wins back way ward hearts. I Kings 18:37.
  • Yahweh is a jealous God who will have no other gods beside him. vs. 21
  • Yahweh is a God of justice who punishes idolaters and other sinners/He punishes evil.
  • Yahweh answers prayer/He is a faithful God.
  • God should be worshipped.
  • He works through human beings e.g. appointment of Jehu.
  • God wants human beings to obey him.
  • He is omnipresent.

Conditions that made it difficult for prophet Elijah to stop idolatry in Israel

  1. The existence of false prophets who gave false promises to the Israelites.
  2. King Ahab had allowed his Phoenician wife to bring the worship of false gods and goddesses.
  3. Jezebel ordered the persecution of the true prophets of God.
  4. King Ahab had allowed the building of temples/ high places for the worship of Baal.
  5. The Canaanite religion had a strong influence on the Israelites.
  6. The king participated in idol worship.
  7. The idol gods could be seen/ touched so they appeared real.

Elijah’s fight against corruption

(I Kings 21:1 – 29)

Prophet Elijah fought moral corruption by condemning King Ahab’s behaviour involving Naboth’s vineyard.

  • Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard, which was adjacent to the palace.
  • He offered to buy it but Naboth refused because it was a family inheritance.
  • The king was depressed but Jezebel planned a corrupt scheme to acquire it.
  • She forged letters using the King’s Seal and accused Naboth falsely for:

(i) Showing disrespect to God/ Blasphemy.

(ii) Cursing the king/ treason.

  • This led to the stoning to death of Naboth.
  • Ahab went and possessed the land.

In so doing Ahab and Jezebel had broken the following commandments: 1 Kings 21:1-16

  • They broke the commandment of not to kill when they planned for the stoning of Naboth.
  • When they worshipped idols, they broke the commandment of not worshipping other gods.
  • They broke the commandment of not coveting a neighbor’s property when they wanted Naboth’s vineyard.
  • The commandment of not stealing was broken when they planned to take away Naboth’s vineyard.
  • They used the name of God in vain when they said Naboth had blasphemed against God.
  • The commandment of not to cheat/ bear false witness was broken when they planned/ instituting false witnesses against Naboth.

Forms of punishment prophesied by Prophet Elijah to king Ahab and Jezebel

1 Kings 21:19-24.

  • Death of King Ahab would be in the same place/ valley of Jezreel like Naboth’s. Vs. 19.
  • Evil would be upon Ahab. Vs.21.
  • God was to take away the posterity of Ahab/ his rule would come to an end.
  • Dogs would lick the blood of Ahab.
  • All the male children free/ slaves would be cut off.
  • The lineage of Ahab would be wiped out.
  • The dogs would eat anybody who belongs to the family of Ahab who died in the city. Vs. 24.
  • The birds of the air would eat all members of Ahab’s family who die in the field.
  • Dogs would eat the body of Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel. Vs 23.

Forms of corruption in the society

The following are the forms of corruption found in the society today:

  • Cheating in business.
  • Robbery with violence.
  • Dishonesty/telling lies.
  • Misuse of public property/funds.
  • Grabbing of personal or public land.

Any form of corruption is wrong as it is an unfair dealing and causes suffering to individuals who fall victim.

  • It can also retard development in society.
  • A Christian has a duty to play in building a fair and just society by applying the life skills of critical thinking, creative thinking and making appropriate moral decisions.

Ways of fighting against corruption in the country today

  1. Condemning all the unjust practices in the society.
  2. By practicing moral values such as honesty and integrity.
  3. By making moral choices and informed decisions through the use of life skills like critical thinking, creative thinking and decision making.
  4. By lobbying for the punishment of all those who abuse justice.
  5. By obeying the laws of the state.
  6. By exposing corrupt practices in the society.
  7. By advocating for the enactment of laws that will fight corruption.
  8. Praying for the corrupt to change their behaviour.
  9. Setting a good example by acting as good role models for others to copy.
  10. Educating people on the evils of corruption.
  11. Preaching to corrupt people to change their ways.
  12. Providing civic education on corruption.
  13. Reporting those who are engaged in corrupt practices to the relevant authorities.

REASONS WHY ELIJAH FACED DANGER AND HOSTILITY AS A PROPHET OF GOD

I KINGS18:19-21, 19:1-21, 21:1-26

Prophet Elijah’s mission was to fight false religion and moral decay in Israel.  This put him in

great danger and hostility with Ahab and his family in the following ways:

  1. He foretold a 3½ year drought that caused suffering to the people. I Kings 17:1, 18:3-6, 17:7-16.
  2. He was one of the prophets of Yahweh who were being persecuted by Jezebel.
  3. There were many false prophets of Baal who enjoyed state protection. They outnumbered Yahweh’s prophets. Baal’s prophets supported the Kings decision to fight Elijah.
  4. He rebuked King Ahab’s and Queen Jezebel’s evil ways.
  5. Queen Jezebel sought to kill him for killing Baal’s prophets at Kishon valley.
  6. He hid in the wilderness to avoid persecution, where he faced the danger of starvation.
  7. He fought for the true worship of Yahweh, which angered Jezebel.
  8. Prophesied doom for Ahab and Jezebel’s family.

Problems Elijah faced in Israel

  1. His life was threatened.
  2. He was fearful.
  3. He was hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.
  4. He had no support from his fellow Jews.
  5. His fellow prophets were killed.
  6. His message was rejected.

THE RELEVANCE OF ELIJAH’S PROPHETIC MISSION TO CHRISTIANS TODAY

  • Elijah was courageous and faced the king whenever he turned away from the covenant way of life. Likewise, church leaders today should remain courageous and firm in condemning any form of social injustice e.g. Desmond Tutu of South Africa struggled to end apartheid which was finally achieved in 1994.
  • Elijah was loyal to God and struggled to return Israel to the monotheistic worship of Yahweh. Modern Christian should remain faithful to God through word and deed even if this would cost them their lives.
  • Just as God helped Elijah, when he was in difficulties by providing him with food and drink, modern Christians should not despair in their missionary work but lean on God for encouragement and providence/pray to him for provision whenever they lack.
  • Elijah was a man of prayer and God always answered his prayers. Christians should pray to God in faith and God would surely answer them. They should not give up.
  • Christians should not compromise their faith in God for fear of threats, rejection, opposition or persecution/should be loyal to God.
  • Elijah lived a simple life and stood for the rights of common people in the same way Christians should advocate for the rights of the poor and speak against any form of oppression.
  • Christians should accept their call and accept any task God gives them.
  • Christians should not give false evidence against their neighbours like Jezebel in the case of Naboth.
  • Both political and church leaders should realize that all authority comes from God and they are accountable to him for their deeds.
  • Christians should be persistent like Elijah was in their struggle against injustice.
  • God communicated with Elijah in a “still small voice” indicating his intimacy with the prophet. God is able to establish an intimate relationship with his faithful.
  • Christians should show strong faith in God and avoid all forms of idolatry such as love for money, devil worship and drug abuse.
  • They should avoid sinful life so as to escape God’s punishment.
  • Christians should preach and win converts to God.
  • Christians should be ready to suffer and face opposition in their work.
  • Christians should worship one true God and put their trust in him. He is the one who has all the powers.
  • Christians should condemn all forms of social injustices such as corruption, murder of innocent people and exploitation of the weak.

Qualities of Prophet Elijah that a Christian leader should posses

  1. Truthfulness.
  2. Courage.
  3. Faithfulness/ trust.
  4. Kindness.
  5. Loving/ caring.
  6. Honesty.
  7. Responsible.
  8. Loyalty/ obedience.
  9. Respectful.
  10. Prayerfulness.
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