The book of James tells us that Elijah was a man ‘just like us’. Really?! “he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months” (James 5:17). I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound like the experience of an ordinary man! There are approximately 330 million cubic miles of ocean on Earth, and due to the heat of the Sun and the process of evaporation this leads to 1.5 trillion tones of rain per day falling on the earth. Elijah steps onto the pages of history, waltzes up to king Ahab and delivers the news that God is going to stop this process, certainly as far as Israel is concerned. Have any of you had the audacity to pray a prayer like that? Or the courage to walk up to a head of state and tell them that because of their disobedience toward God, they have incurred His wrath, and their whole realm will now suffer as a result!
Without doubt, this is one of the most remarkable events in the Bible, but how much faith did Elijah need? How can James say he was an ordinary man?
Three and a half years after giving Ahab this message, Elijah challenges the king to a showdown on top of Mt Carmel in north-west Israel. Elijah is the sole representative of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but he goes head-to-head with 450 prophets of the pagan god Baal.
“And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you waiver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” So all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.”” (1 Kings 18:21-24)
Baal’s prophets try from morning to noon, and then on to the evening, even cutting their flesh in the hope their god will answer. Elijah even mocks and asks if their god is away on a trip, or sleeping, or maybe even in the bathroom! Then Elijah repairs the alter of God which was lying in ruins, soaks his offering three times in water, and this ordinary man then calls down fire from heaven that consumes the sacrifice. The people were left in no doubt that God is the true God, He is the LORD.
Once again we return to our question: how can James say Elijah was just like you and me, and how much faith did Elijah need?
The answer is found in 1 Kings 18:36, where we read “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word“.
You see, it wasn’t that Elijah had great faith, but a great God. It is not about how much faith you have, but rather whom your faith is in! Jesus said that if we have just a little faith we could move a mountain. To the natural mind this seems impossible, but we need to understand that faith is not about overcoming a reluctance in God to do something we want, but believing God to do something He has already decreed. It is not about wishful thinking on our part, or really hoping that something might happen, but about trusting the promises of God! When we know the promises of God, and God’s unchanging character, and when this is the basis of our faith, we only need a little faith, but in a big God.
To illustrate this, one of my daughters recently got stuck up a child’s climbing frame and couldn’t get down, so I simply said to her to jump and I would catch her. How much faith did she need? A little, it is true, but her faith was in the character and love that she knew of her daddy. She still had to take a step of faith – as did Elijah going before Ahab – but there was never really any doubt that her daddy would fail her, and so with Elijah.
Regarding the basis of faith, Dave Hunt comments “Either we trust in the power of a firmly held belief activating some mysterious psychic power of the mind, or else we trust in God and His infinite power, which is obviously demonstrated everywhere in the universe. Only a fool would choose the power of the mind over the power of God. True faith looks to God to do that which neither one’s mind (conscious or unconscious) nor talents nor efforts could accomplish”.
To understand this better we need to go back to Deuteronomy and see what it was that had stirred Elijah and given him the courage to go before the king, and the desire to pray his incredible prayer.
In Deuteronomy 11:16-17 where God warned the children of Israel: “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the LORD’s wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you.”
Elijah knew that God had promised that if the people went astray and served other gods, He would withhold the rain. It was simply a case of…
“God has said it. I believe it. That settles it!”
Yes, God had stirred Elijah’s heart to pray, but Elijah’s faith was then based in the promises of God, something that he know was a certainty.
At the end of the three and a half years God tells Elijah the rain would come, but once again, Elijah knew for this ‘curse’ to be turned away, there had to be restoration. Before the rain could come, the hearts of the people would have to be turned back to God (Deut 30:10), and this would therefore require atonement through the shed blood of an innocent substitute. Hebrews tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. This is why Elijah offered a sacrifice on top of Mt Carmel. God had already told him that the rain would come, so Elijah knew that God would therefore first accept the sacrifice, and as God had already done on many occasions in the past, by sending his fire.
So Elijah was just like us; he had a little bit of faith in a very big God! God will always be faithful to that which He has promised in His word. Our prayers, if in accord with His world are not merely wishful thinking, but are faithful declarations of the promises of God Himself!