In ancient Israel, as now, our calling is to be God’s people, to represent Him, to be His hands and feet in our world.
But what does that mean in practice?
How do we get distracted?
What can bring us back to where we should be?
And on a more serious note, what are the consequences if we don’t obey?
The Old Testament prophets can help answer these questions and the story of the Prophets in the Old Testament begins with Elijah and Elisha who we will talk about today.
Below is a podcast of the lesson, then a video and following that notes/transcript of it:
What is it that pleases God?
• Is being financially well off a sign of God’s favor?
• Are full church services and public worship what pleases God?
• Where does how we treat each other fit in?
• The questions we ask today are the same ones God’s people were asking in the Old Testament and the answers God gave them then, apply to us now as we’ll see in our lesson:
Ancient Prophets, Modern Messages
How the lives of Old Testament Prophets apply to us
Teacher, Yvon Prehn
Some things change but many stay the same
• In ancient Israel, as now, our calling is to be God’s people, to represent Him, to be His hands and feet in our world.
• But what does that mean in practice?
• How do we get distracted?
• What can bring us back to where we should be?
• And on a more serious note, what are the consequences if we don’t obey?
• The Old Testament prophets can help answer these questions.
Today we have God’s complete Word to us to guide us
• Back then it was still being written by his prophets.
• And though some things have changed since then, God’s expectations haven’t.
• As we go through the prophets and the remaining history of the Old Testament, we will find situations that are very similar to ours and we can learn from the prophets and the people how to live.
• In each upcoming lesson, I’ll talk about the history and setting of each prophet and as always give you contemporary applications and lessons we can learn from them.
To start, remember the primary role of prophets was to be “covenant enforcement mediators.” (Gordon and Fee)
• Incredibly important, because the Covenant Israel had with God determined their identity and blessing.
• God gave the people his covenant when they came out of Egypt at Sinai, starting with the 10 commandments and the many other laws.
• They were to worship, obey, and represent Jehovah God and if they did, God would bless and protect them.
• Along with promised blessings, they were promised punishment if they did not obey.
• The prophets were sent to remind people of this agreement and the rest of the Old Testament is a combination of the history and the messages of the prophets as they did that and of the consequences if the people did not.
Remember, these messages were to GOD’S people
• It can’t be emphasized enough that in all these books and through all the teachings of the prophets, the people considered themselves religious.
• It seems to be part of the heart of what it means to be human to worship—but who and what we worship will be reflected in our actions.
• Because they didn’t worship the true God in the way He told them to worship Him and live as He commanded, the prophets were sent to remind them.
• We need to be careful because this same thing, saying we know God, but not living like it, can happen to us today as this verse reminds us—
• Titus 1:16 – They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good.
• We don’t want to be people like that, and our study of the prophets, and what they tell us about how GOD wants us to live will help prevent the disconnect between what we say and how we live.
Political & Physical Setting, on real maps, places you can visit today, same as when these books took place
• Israel and Judah, had been one kingdom from the time of leaving Egypt, from Joshua, Judges, Saul, David, to Solomon.
• 1456-980 BC, 488 Years
• Divided after Solomon into…
• The Southern Kingdom of Judah with its capital Jerusalem. Kings varied good and evil, but God’s promise to David’s dynastic line was kept until Jesus was born.
• The Northern Kingdom of Israel, eventual capital—Samaria. Kings, were always evil, not one dynastic line, and constant fighting, does not last an independent nation after the Assyrian defeat.
Smaller nations—mentioned in many of the prophets
• Going clockwise, starting in the North
• Aram-Damascus, people to the north of Israel, (Assyria was to the North and east of them). Their language Aramaic would become the universal language of the area through New Testament times.
• Ammon, Moab, descendants of Lot.
• Edom, south of Judah, descendants of Esau.
• Philistines, people of the coast, home of giants, a problem from the time of Judges.
• Constant warfare with Israel and Judah.
Larger World Powers of the time
• Egypt—a foe, but sometimes an ally and a temptation, throughout all the histories and both Testaments.
• Assyria—brutal nation; conquered Israel and surrounding areas, eventually conquered by….
• Babylon—who then conquered Judah and held people captive for 70 years
• Media/Persia conquers Babylon and allows the Jews to return to the land.
• The entire area was later conquered by Alexander the Great during the time between the Old and New Testaments.
• After he dies, the land is split between his generals and local rulers, lots of war, and shifting powers until the rise of ROME, which takes us into the New Testament.
Back to the history of the nation
The kingdom splits under Rehoboam, son of Solomon
• God had already decreed that the nation of Israel would split because of Solomon’s sins of idolatry.
• But Rehoboam was still responsible for his actions and he acted foolishly by refusing to lighten the burdens of the people.
• Important lesson: God determines overall history, BUT individuals are still responsible for their actions, no matter what the circumstances.
• Some acquit themselves well during times of intense personal and national trial as we will see with Daniel and his friends in the coming lessons.
• God honors that and is with them.
• Some do not and God judges them.
• Victim or victor, you always have a choice no matter how challenging the circumstances.
Back to the history that prompted God to call the prophets
• After the split, between Israel and Judah, Jeroboam, who God made the ruler of Israel, could have had a lasting dynasty, but instead of trusting God for it, here is what he did…..
• 1 Kings 12: 26 Then Jeroboam said to himself, “Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. 27 If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah.”
• In response to this unfounded fear, he….
Sets up golden calves in Bethel and Dan
1 Kings 12:28 So the king . . . .made two calves of gold. He said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29 He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 And this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one at Bethel and before the other as far as Dan.31 He also made houses on high places, and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not Levites. 32 Jeroboam appointed a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the festival that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar; so he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.
He set up his own religion with idols, priests, and parties
• We innately want to worship and if it isn’t the true God, it will be a dreadful substitute.
• The kingdom previously split as judgment for idolatry, and Jeroboam didn’t learn from it.
• He didn’t trust God to keep what God had given him.
• When God gives you something, a work, a calling, TRUST HIM and carry it out—no matter how scary.
• He was judged for this, and his family was ultimately wiped out.
• History following often refers to others as committing “the sins of Jeroboam….” Instead of the founder of a dynasty, he became an example of sinful failures.
Overview of the history of what followed in Israel, where two major prophets will appear
• A series of evil and relatively inconsequential kings follow Jeroboam:
• Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri—little but their sins and deaths recorded about them
• Then an interesting group appears:
• The Omrides Dynasty: Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram
• Interesting because they founded the capital city of Samaria and because of Ahab one of the most sinful of Israel’s kings and the setting for one of the most powerful of its prophets—Elijah.
Founding of the capital city of Israel, Samaria
• 1 Kings 16: 23 In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned twelve years, six of them in Tirzah. 24 He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver and built a city on the hill, calling it Samaria, after Shemer, the name of the former owner of the hill.
• Samaria, though conquered later, continued as a city throughout New Testament times and it still exists.
• Ruins can be seen of Omride palace in the area today.
Story of how Samaria came to be viewed negatively by Israel in Jesus’ time
• Most have heard of the story of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman and how the Jews of the day hated the Samaritans.
• Here is how that animosity came about.
• 2 Kings 17: 22 The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them 23 until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there. (here is where it gets interesting about Samaria……)
• 24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. 25 When they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. 26 It was reported to the king of Assyria: “The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.”
• 27 Then the king of Assyria gave this order: “Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.” 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord.
• 29 Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. 30 . . . . . 32 They worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. 33 They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
They were of mixed races and even more mixed religion
• The practices started hundreds of years previously and continued until the time of Jesus.
• And so they were hated and avoided by the Jews around them, who considered themselves the only true worshippers of God.
• But God didn’t forget about them.
• It was no accident that Jesus decided to take that trip to Samaria, to stop by the well and share the message of salvation with the Samarian woman.
• Application: No group is too far gone for the gospel; don’t be afraid to share with anyone.
Back to the Old Testament—
King Ahab of Samaria of Israel marries Jezebel
• 1 Kings 16:29-33 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel for twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.
God’s response to the evil of Ahab and Jezebel
• Elijah bursts on the scene
• Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” 1 Kings 17:1
• And it didn’t.
• A showdown occurs at the end of 3 years, but first, some background on Baal, as he is most often the pagan god Israel turns.
Baal – Canaanite god of storms, thunder
• Ugaritic records show him as a weather god, with particular power over lightning, wind, rain, and fertility—especially important to an agrarian people.
• Asherah, his consort—Fertility goddess.
• Rain, fertility, and prosperity—are what people wanted from worshipping these idols.
• A lack of rain was a direct challenge to the power of this “god.”
• After 3 years…..time for a showdown
• Between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.
• All the people called to witness it.
• 400 prophets of Baal vs. One prophet of God.
• No contest—the prophets of Baal cannot do anything.
• God answers by fire and the prophets of Baal are killed.
• And rain arrives as the ultimate victory of Jehovah God over Baal.
• Was the result that Elijah would then lead a great revival?
Sadly, no—Jezebel threatens him
• And he runs for his life and takes refuge in the mountains.
• Thinks he is the only one who serves God.
• God gives him work to do, part of which was to appoint Elisha, the prophet who would succeed him.
• And God reminds him:
• “ And incidentally, there are 7,000 men in Israel who have never bowed to Baal nor kissed him!” 1 Kings 19:18 Living Bible (TLB)
• Applications: God has so many doing so much we know nothing about—don’t ever think you are the only one.
• Once again, like after Jonah walked away from the victory in Nineveh, what might have happened if Elijah had stayed to instruct the people after God’s great demonstration of power?
• PREPARE for these situations, after great victories (or even little ones) often comes great emotional and spiritual exhaustion—expect it. Plan ahead to finish the ENTIRE work you’ve been called to do.
Final words about Elijah
• Considered one of the greatest prophets in Israel and was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire.
• John the Baptist compared to him.
• But the Bible reminds us:
• Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. James 5:17-18
• It’s never about us, but about God, that great works are accomplished.
• God doesn’t keep score on how many pray before he answers—many praying, many can participate in praise, but only one needed.
• Your prayers matter as much as Elijah’s did, they are as powerful as his—not because of you, but because you have the same God.
Elisha the prophet who followed Elijah
• A great prophet–led a school of prophets. Many miracles, often to individuals: raising a woman’s son from the dead, increasing the oil of a widow so she and her son could sell it and have something to live on, told in 2 Kings 4.
• Story of Naaman and his leprosy—simple obedience can greatly demonstrate God’s power 2 Kings 5
• AND one of my favorites the story of the war with Aram, where Elisha and his servants were surrounded by an army, and the servant is terrified…
• “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:16-17
• THAT is reality, though we don’t see it, remember it is true.
We aren’t told their entire stories
• Or that of every prophet God sent, some prophets are not even named or only mentioned briefly.
• We are told what God wants us to learn about God’s dealings with his people and in all, we must remember…
• God is in charge of the destinies of individuals and nations, and we see in these stories,
• How God can do big, grandiose things—splitting the nation; prophets of Baal battle, victory for Israel over enemies.
• And miracles for individuals: the widow’s oil, raising a dead son, healing a pagan general.
Final thoughts and applications
• God has given us his Word. The people in the OT had the earlier written covenant, the 5 books of Moses, and the words of the prophets
• Our common application is that in various ways, from God’s Word and prophets then and teachers now, we know what God wants us to do.
• Circumstances will always be challenging, war, disease, famine from the earliest days until the end of days, problems will always be there and….
• Even more dangerous—the times of prosperity.
• Israel through much of its history was rich and prosperous as you’ll see in the coming prophets and their behavior then is what made God most angry.
• But no matter what, in plenty or need, circumstances never absolve us of God’s requirements for obedience as His chosen and loved people.
As His representatives
• Our responsibility never quits as this verse reminds us
• Phil 1:27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
• We aren’t alone in trying to learn what that means and to live it out.
• The prophets will help us understand what God wants and live as His representatives in historical settings that are very similar in their challenges to our world today.
• We may never do the miracles they did or preach with the power of the prophets, but by our behavior and actions, may we all be what our Lord wants us to be, may we be worthy representatives in this sad world to remind them that knowing God and following His commands is the way to true joy and peace forever.
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