Who's the troublemaker?
When [Ahab] saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’S commands and have followed the Baals.
(1 Kings 18:17-18, NIV)
When, some time in the 860s BC, King Ahab of Israel called the prophet Elijah a troublemaker, you can see his point. For it was through Elijah, and at his word, that a great drought had come upon the land. After nearly three years of this, the situation had become desperate. Had not Elijah brought great trouble on the nation?
No, says Elijah to Ahab, you have. For it was under Ahab that worship of the Sidonian deity Baal had entered the land, and Israel had abandoned the commands of the One the Old Testament calls the LORD, or Yahweh - the God of the Bible. So Yahweh sent Elijah to call the nation back to him. The process started with the drought, for it was only by bringing the people to their knees that they could be brought to the table, and hear the prophet. Elijah was God’s agent working for his people’s long term recovery; Ahab was the real troublemaker, responsible for their decline.
Two things have struck me from this passage as I’ve been looking at it as part of our series on Sunday mornings.
First, we can easily mistake who’s really causing the trouble. In the great events of 1517, Martin Luther was called a troublemaker. His teaching broke the peace and led to disputes and all sorts of trouble for the official church of the day. But it was in fact the official church which had wandered away from the Bible. They were the real troublemakers. Any call back to God’s truth was inevitably going to be painful. But in the long run, Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel and his brave preaching of it brought incalculable good. So now, 500 years later, we thank God for Luther.
We need to hear this, for I am not sure our own Church of England has a culture which encourages whistle-blowing on Bible truth. Drawing attention to error rocks the boat; it is deemed “divisive”; it doesn’t play the game. Those who stand firm for Biblical truth are the awkward squad; they are called the troublemakers. I don’t want to be labelled as that, but I learn from Elijah that we may all need to learn to expect such a reputation if we are to have the courage to stand.
Secondly, note the exact expression Elijah uses for the real cause of the trouble: “You have abandoned the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals.” We might expect Elijah to have said, “You have abandoned the LORD and have followed the Baals.” Because, of course, to abandon the LORD’s commands is to abandon him. His commands are the expression of his will for us. We should not make the mistake of thinking we can have him without trusting him in all he says. For he is God.
We continue our series this Sunday - travelling with Elijah to the great showdown at Mt Carmel.
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