Old Testament

Free Bible study - Elijah and the test

Focus Passage: 1 Kings 18

We all want God to do great miracles for us. Why does God seem to do great miracles in the Bible and not always for us? As we look at this second bible study on Elijah, we will see that God did something great to change the heart of a nation. God gave put forth a test to show who was the real God. Elijah had faith to do the miracle and so must we if we are going to do great things for God.

For three years, Elijah had hidden himself at the brook Cherith and then with the widow in Zarephath, but now he was commanded to "show himself" to wicked King Ahab. But along with God's command was God's promise that He would send rain and end the drought that He had sent to punish the idolatrous nation for over three years. Everything that Elijah did was according to the Word of the Lord (v. 36), including confronting the king and inviting him and the priests of Baal to a meeting on Mount Carmel. Ahab called Elijah "the troublemaker in Israel," but it was really Ahab whose sins had caused the problems in the land.

Mount Carmel was located near the border of Israel and Phoenicia, so it was a good place for the Phoenician god Baal to meet Jehovah, the God of Israel. Elijah told Ahab to bring not only the 450 prophets of Baal but also the 400 prophets of the Asherah (Astarte), the idols that represented Baal's "wife." It seems that only the prophets of Baal showed up for the contest (vv. 22, 26, 40) or that they made the offering for both Baal and his “wife”.

1.      Why does Ahab think that Elijah is the troubler of Israel? (18:17) What has Ahab done to be the real “troubler”? (18:18)

Everything that Elijah did was according to the Word of the Lord (v. 36), including confronting the king and inviting him and the priests of Baal to a meeting on Mount Carmel. Ahab called Elijah "the troublemaker in Israel," but it was really Ahab whose sins had caused the problems in the land. Surely Ahab knew the terms of the covenant and understood that the blessings of the Lord depended on the obedience of the king and his people. Both Jesus and Paul would be called "troublemakers" (Luke 23:5; Acts 16:20; 17:6), so Elijah was in good company.

2.      What groups did Elijah want to assemble? (18:19-20) How many people do you picture being present on Mount Carmel?

Representatives were present from all ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom, and it was this group that Elijah addressed as the meeting began. His purpose was not only to expose the false god Baal but also to bring the compromising people back to the Lord. Because of the evil influence of Ahab and Jezebel, the people were "limping" between two opinions and trying to serve both Jehovah and Baal. Like Moses (Ex. 32:26) and Joshua (Josh. 24:15) before him, Elijah called for a definite decision on their part, but the people were speechless. Was this because of their guilt (Rom. 3:19) or because they first wanted to see what would happen next? They were weak people, without true conviction.

3.      How did the people respond when Elijah confronted them with their double-mindedness? (18:21)

The people of Israel have assembled at Carmel. It is going to be quite a contest. Elijah knew what was in the hearts of the people. They were pretending to worship the living and true God, but they were also worshiping Baal. The reason the people did not answer Elijah is that they were guilty of sin. It is that type of double-talk -- a two-faced way of life -- that today has become so abhorrent and is a stench in the nostrils of God. The double standard of many Christians has turned off many people as far as the church is concerned. If the average unsaved man knew the church as I know it today, I have my doubts that he would ever darken the door of a church. If there ever was a place where things should be made clear and plain, simple and forthright, it is in the church. Unfortunately, that is where there is more double-talk and beating around the bush than any place else.

4.      How do people react today when they are confronted with a lukewarm faith? How does the Lord want them to react and why is that so difficult for many?

Answers will vary, but most make excuses or try to change the subject. God wants people who are committed to him and willing to serve others. That requires that people surrender themselves and trust in him. you can not hold on to the world and god at the same time.

5.      What does Elijah propose as a test to show who is the true God? How did the people respond to the confrontation Elijah proposed between Baal and God? (18:22-24)

Elijah weighted the test in favor of the prophets of Baal. They could build their altar first, select their sacrifice and offer it first, and they could take all the time they needed to pray to Baal. When Elijah said he was the only prophet of the Lord, he wasn't forgetting the prophets that Obadiah had hidden and protected. Rather, he was stating that he was the only one openly serving the Lord, and therefore he was outnumbered by the 450 prophets of Baal. But one with God is a majority, so the prophet had no fears. Surely the prayers of 450 zealous prophets would be heard by Baal and he would answer by sending fire from heaven! (See Lev. 9:24 and 1 Chron. 21:26.)

6.      Has your devotion to God led you to any showdown? What logic or test would you give to tell why you worship Yahweh and not one of the other gods present in the world?

Answers will vary. Any test has to be something that we know that God will do. The one thing you can always point to that makes the true God different is the cross and love of God. Other gods want people to come to them. The true God came to us.

7.      What preparations did Elijah make in the sight of the people before he prayed to God? (18:30-35) Why make the sacrifice harder than what the prophets of Baal faced?

But the altar had been destroyed, probably by the prophets of Baal (19:10), so Elijah rebuilt it and sanctified it. By using twelve stones, he reaffirmed the spiritual unity of God's people in spite of their political division. Elijah had given the prophets of Baal some advantages, so now he gave himself some handicaps. He had a trench dug around the altar and filled it with water. He put the sacrifice on the wood on the altar and had everything drenched with water. Elijah was making it so difficult that people would know that the true God did this and not some trick.

8.      How did Elijah address God in prayer? (18:36-37) Why must our prayer be about God in our times of crisis and not about ourselves?

At the time of the evening sacrifice, he lifted his voice in prayer to the God of the covenant, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His request was that God be glorified as the God of Israel, the true and living God, and make it known that Elijah was His servant. But even more, by sending fire from heaven, the Lord would be telling His people that He had forgiven them and would turn their hearts back to the worship of the true God.  

9.      What happened to the altar of the Lord when Elijah prayed? (18:38) How did the people react when they saw fire burn up Elijah’s offering? (18:39)

Suddenly, the fire fell from heaven and totally devoured the sacrifice, the altar, and the water in the trench around the altar. There was nothing left that anybody could turn into a relic or a shrine. The altar to Baal still stood as a monument to a lost cause. The prophets of Baal were stunned, and the people of Israel fell on their faces and acknowledged, "The Lord, He is God!"

10.  How did people react to the tragedy of 9/11? What was the problem with their worship and adoration of God?

The churches were packed for a few weeks after nine eleven. The problem was that people didn’t want God they were begging for his protection. They wanted his gifts to add to their own defenses. They did not want a releationship with the Lord.

11.  What prediction did Elijah make to Ahab concerning the drought? (18:41) Why was it so important that the rains come after this display of God’s power?

Elijah had announced three years before that it was his word that stopped the rain and only his word could start it again (17:1). He was referring to the power of his prayers, the words that he spoke to the Lord (James 5:17-18). It had been a long and disappointing day for King Ahab, and Elijah sent him to his retainers to get something to eat. Elijah went to the top of Carmel to pray and ask the Lord to send the much-needed rains. "Every day we live," wrote missionary Amy Carmichael, "we have to choose whether we should follow in the way of Ahab or of Elijah." Matthew 6:33 comes to mind. If the rains did not come, then the Lord would not have fulfilled his promise and be only a God of anger and not one of mercy and provision.

12.  What did Elijah perceive that God was doing in Israel through this showdown? What is God doing when He allows crisis to come on a nation or even on the church?

The three years of famine set up this dual. People would not have come in good times, but wanted to see why they were starving and why Baal or God had not provided food for them. God wanted people to return to him and see him as the only giver of the things we need. God must resort to bad times to get the attention of people today. We ignore God when things are good. We pay attention and begin to pray when we face a crisis that is bigger than we can handle.

If you would like a copy of this study with student guide in Microsoft word that you can use in your small group, just click here. Enjoy!

Free Bible study - Elijah and the drought

Focus: 1 Kings 17

Why would God inflict hardship on his people? Why would He allow war or famine to ravish his people and make things difficult for them? Will God still allow hardship to come on people today? Yes, and it is an act of love for a stubborn people. When we see Elijah for the first time, his message is one of drought and it will be that drought that will set up a time of learning for a stubborn people.

Elijah the Tishbite suddenly appears on the scene and then leaves as quickly as he came, only to reappear three years later to challenge the priests of Baal. His name means "The Lord (Jehovah) is my God," an apt name for a man who called the people back to the worship of Jehovah. Wicked King of Israel, Ahab, who reigned from 875-848 BC, had permitted his wife Jezebel to bring the worship of Baal into Israel and she was determined to wipe out the worship of Jehovah. Baal was the Phoenician fertility god who sent rain and bountiful crops, and the rites connected with his worship were unspeakably immoral. Like Solomon who catered to the idolatrous practices of his heathen wives, Ahab yielded to Jezebel's desires and even built her a private temple where she could worship Baal. Her plan was to exterminate the worshipers of Jehovah and have all the people of Israel serving Baal. As we shall see, God had other ideas.

1. What was one of the worst pieces of news you’ve ever had to convey to another person?

Answers will vary. Ask what made it such bad news? Why did you feel that you had to share it?

2. What was the prophecy that Elijah took to Ahab, king of Israel? (17:1) How do you imagine Ahab felt about Elijah after Elijah pronounced judgment on him?

The Jewish people depended on the seasonal rains for the success of their crops. If the Lord didn't send the early rain in October and November and the latter rain in March and April, there would soon be a famine in the land. But the blessing of the semiannual rains depended on the people obeying the covenant of the Lord (Deut. 11). The land belonged to the Lord, and if the people defiled the land with their sinful idols, the Lord wouldn't bless them.

It's likely that Elijah appeared before King Ahab in October, about the time the early rains should have begun. There had been no rain for six months, from April to October, and the prophet announced that there would be no rain for the next three years! The people were following Baal, not Jehovah, and the Lord could not send the promised rain and still be faithful to His covenant. God always keeps His covenant, whether to bless the people for their obedience or to discipline them for their sins.

3. After speaking with Ahab, why do you think that God directed Elijah to hide? (17:2-3) How were Elijah’s needs met while he was alone in the desert? (17:5-6)

"Go, hide yourself!" was God's command, and three years later the command would be, "Go, show yourself!" By leaving his public ministry, Elijah created a second "drought" in the land—an absence of the Word of the Lord. God's Word was essential to their spiritual lives, it was refreshing, and only the Lord could give it. The silence of God's servant was a judgment from God. The ravens didn't bring Elijah the carrion that they were accustomed to eating because such food would be unclean for a dedicated Jew. The Lord provided the food and the birds provided the transportation! Just as God dropped the manna into the camp of Israel during their wilderness journey, so He sent the necessary food to Elijah as he waited for the signal to relocate.

4. What kind of faith is required for living with just enough for each day and no more? What would you learn by being put in that situation?

The famine was something that Elijah could not control and the area that he was sent to had few resources so he could provide on his own. Here he would have to learn to trust the Lord. Food would come each day and like the people of Israel in the desert, he would come to depend on his Lord. There are often times that we need to go through hardship in order to learn to trust God. The hardship makes us ready for the large task ahead in our lives.

5. Where did God send Elijah after the brook dried up? (17:7-9) What two requests did Elijah make of the widow at Zarephath? (17:10-11)

Elijah lived at Cherith probably a year, and then God told him to leave. God's instructions may have shocked the prophet, for the Lord commanded him to travel northeast about a hundred miles to the Phoenician city of Zarephath. God was sending Elijah into Gentile territory! Even more, he was instructed to live with a widow whom God had selected to care for him, and widows were usually among the neediest people in the land. Since Phoenicia depended on Israel for much of its food supply, food wouldn't be too plentiful there. But when God sends us, we must obey and leave the rest to Him, for we don't live on man's explanations—we live on God's promises. The widow spoke of Jehovah as "the Lord your God" (v. 12, italics mine), for she could easily discern that the stranger speaking to her was a Jew; but even this isn't evidence she was a believer. It's probable that Elijah remained with her for two years (18:1), and during that time, the widow and her son probably turned from the worship of idols and put their faith in the true and living God.

6. What do the ways God chose to provide for Elijah during the drought tell you about how God may take care of you in tough times?

God used the supernatural in both cases, but the food did not just appear. He used the birds and an old widow. In the case of the widow, Elijah’s presence meant that she and her son would not die. Notice, also that the Lord “gives us each day our daily bread”. It would be comfortable to have a large store of food to draw on, but God gives us just what we need each day. 

7. What promise did Elijah make if the widow would be obedient to God? (17:14) How would you have reacted to Elijah’s request in view of the promise?

The woman's assets were few: a little oil in a flask, a handful of barley in a large grain jar, and a few sticks to provide fuel for a fire. But Elijah's assets were great, for God Almighty had promised to take care of him, his hostess, and her son. Elijah gave her God's promise that neither the jar of grain nor the flask of oil would be used up before the end of the drought and famine. God would one day send the rain, but until then, He would continue to provide bread for them—and He did.

8. What did the woman of Zarephath assume when her son became ill and died? (17:17-18)

The mother's response was to feel guilty because of her past sins. She believed that her son's death was God's way of punishing her for her misdeeds. It isn't unusual for people to feel guilty in connection with bereavement, but why would she point her finger at her guest? She recognized Elijah as a man of God, and perhaps she thought his presence in the home would protect her and her son from trouble. Or maybe she felt that God had informed her guest about her past life, something she should have confessed to him.

9. How would the miracle of the flour and oil have appeared to the widow in retrospect if her son had died?

She could have been glad that her son had lived with her an extra two years, but she could easily have been angry with God for giving life and taking it away. Her life would mean nothing as a widow if she did not have a man in the house.

10. When Elijah took the son from his mother, what question did he have for God? (17:19-20)

Elijah's response was to carry the lad to his upstairs room, perhaps on the roof, and to cry out to the Lord for the life of the child. He couldn't believe that the Lord would miraculously provide food for the three of them and then allow the son to die. It just didn't make sense. Elijah didn't stretch himself out on the boy's dead body in hopes he could transfer his life to the lad, for he knew that only God can impart life to the dead. Certainly, his posture indicated total identification with the boy and his need, and this is an important factor when we intercede for others. It was after Elijah stretched himself on the child for the third time that the Lord raised him from the dead, a reminder that our own Savior arose from the dead on the third day.

11.  How did the widow react when her son was returned to her alive? (17:23-24)

The result of this miracle was the woman's public confession of her faith in the God of Israel. She now knew for sure that Elijah was a true servant of God and not just another religious teacher looking for some support. She also knew that the Word he had taught her was indeed the Word of the true and living God. During the time he lived with the widow and her son, Elijah had shown them that God sustains life (the meal and oil didn't run out) and that God imparts life (the boy was raised from the dead).

12. In what way do you find it easy or difficult to obey God when you don’t know what the outcome will be?

During these three years as an exile and a hunted man (18:10), Elijah has learned a great deal about the Lord, about himself and about the needs of people. He has learned to live a day at a time, trusting God for his daily bread. For three years, people have been asking, "Where is the prophet, Elijah? Is he able to do anything to ease the burdens we carry because of this drought? But the Lord is more concerned about the worker than the work, and He has been preparing Elijah for the greatest challenge of faith in his entire ministry.

if you would like a copy of this study in Microsoft word that you can use in your small group, just click here. Enjoy!