The Old Testament book of Kings tells us that Ahab did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all the kings of Israel before him. Not only did Ahab continue their sins, but he married Jezebel who wanted to kill all of the prophets of the Lord, he worshiped one of the Canaanite gods called Baal and set up an altar for him in a temple that he had built for him, and he even made an Asherah idol. So one day the prophet Elijah appeared to Ahab and said, “Send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” Ahab did send for all Israel and he brought his 450 prophets of Baal and they gathered together before Mount Carmel. It was there that Elijah proposed a contest to answer once and for all whether Israel would follow the Lord or Baal. Two bulls were sacrificed. The first was cut in pieces and laid on the wood and the 450 prophets of Baal called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon asking for the storm god to send lightning to start it on fire. At noon, Elijah mocked them and suggested that maybe Baal was in deep thought, or going to the bathroom, or away on a journey, or maybe he is just asleep and they need to call louder to wake him up. Then Elijah fixed the altar of the Lord on that mountain that had been torn down and he dug a deep trench around it, cut the second bull in pieces and laid them on wood. And he called for four full jars of water to be poured on the bull and the wood. Then he said, “Do it a second time” and then “Do it a third time.” So twelve full jars of water were poured there – so much that the water ran off and filled that deep trench around it. And Elijah who thought he was the only prophet of the Lord left called upon the name of the Lord and indeed God sent fire that consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, and even all of the water in the trench. Elijah had won this trial by fire, so the people of Israel seized the prophets of Baal and killed them. But did you notice who was missing in this contest? Jezebel and her 400 prophets of Asherah. Of course, Ahab went home and told her what happened. Then she sent word to Elijah that she would do everything in her power to make sure that he did not live another 24 hours. So he ran for his life going a day’s journey into the wilderness where he sat down under a tree and told God, “I wish I was dead. Let me die” and he went to sleep. And an angel touched him and told him to get up and eat and he ate and drank and laid down again. So the angel came again and said to get up and eat and that meal gave him the strength that he needed to finish the journey of forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb. There he came to a cave and set up camp in it. And the Lord spoke to him, “Why are you here Elijah?” And Elijah said against Israel: “They have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, killed your prophets with the sword, and I am the only one left and they seek my life.” One might expect God to reject Israel and to start over with Elijah. But after God came down on that mountain the Lord again said, “Why are you here Elijah?” And Elijah repeated his earlier answer. Then the Lord gave him instructions to go to Damascus and anoint Hazael to be king of Syria and Jehu to be king of Israel and to anoint Elisha to be prophet in his place. And the Lord said, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” God had not rejected His people then. Nor did he reject the people of Israel when most of Israel rejected Jesus Christ. As Paul explains:
- The apostle Paul understood that there was a parallel between the days of Elijah and his own day.
- In the days of Elijah God did not reject the people of Israel but instead preserved a remnant. In Kings, the Lord had said, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal.” Paul changes this quote slightly to stress that God did the keeping: “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So God kept a remnant of seven thousand men who had not rejected Him. Elijah was not alone. Many had rejected the Lord to worship Baal. They had forsaken the covenant with Moses, torn down the Lord’s altars, killed a number of His prophets with the sword and were persecuting the faithful remnant that was left. Yet God did not revoke their most favored nation status for He kept for Himself seven thousand men who had not bowed to Baal. A remnant meant that there was hope for the future for Israel.
- Likewise, at the time of Paul’s writing there was a remnant within Israel chosen by grace while the rest were hardened and stumbled over Jesus. Those who were hardened met the same fate as those who had persecuted David. They had rejected the Lord Jesus Christ, killed a number of His prophets, and were persecuting the faithful remnant that was left. Those who were hardened persecuted the true church within Israel. They had sought righteousness but stumbled over Jesus. Paul had been one of them. But now Paul was not the only one in Israel chosen by grace. God had kept for Himself a remnant of the people of Israel. Israel had been seeking righteousness by works, but the elect obtained it by grace and the rest were hardened. God had not rejected His people Israel but He had distinguished between the elect in Israel and the rest who were hardened. But just as in the past, now again a remnant meant that there was hope for the future for Israel. Paul did not find that hope in Israel, but in the God of Israel who had kept for Himself some chosen by grace to follow Jesus.
- These same parallels continue on down to the present.
- Many continue to focus on the negative that so many of God’s chosen people were and are rejecting Jesus Christ but Paul understood that the presence of a remnant chosen by grace means that God had not rejected Israel. Naturally some thought that it wasn’t the right people who were joining the church and were upset about that, whereas Paul was excited that the gospel was going out to others. He wanted to see all Israel saved, but because they had rejected the gospel he was taking it to others with hope that more among the people of Israel would come to faith in Jesus Christ and be saved. He could have focused on the negative and acted like he was all alone like Elijah, but instead focused on the positive that God had preserved a much larger remnant than one. We could focus on the negative today that there are so few Jewish people who are trusting Jesus, but the fact that a remnant continues suggests that there is hope for more to be saved before the end.
- I would suggest as well that there are parallels to our situation in the Presbyterian Church (USA) as well as in American Christianity as a whole. That is, God has not rejected the PC(USA) nor the church in America for that matter just because so many within it have rejected Jesus. He has kept for Himself a remnant, which means that there is hope for the future. It is not hope to be found in the people in said churches, but a hope in the God who has kept a remnant – a remnant chosen by grace – not on the basis of works, but the free gift of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.