As we often do in beginning our story today, we need to catch up on the action in-between - from last Sunday's story to today's.
We heard, last week, about King David. About his desire to build God a house. And how, instead, God abundantly poured out more grace upon David, with a promise that his house - his ancestral line - would live forever and ever. Even with his mistakes, David was deeply loved by God. He was a humble warrior, a servant, and a king. One could say that David has a golden heart.
King Solomon - David’s son, succeeded him on the throne. Solomon’s reign began well as he asked God for a discerning heart, so that he might have the wisdom and understanding to govern God’s people with fairness. Under Solomon, Israel experienced a “Golden Age” of peace and prosperity.
But, this did not last. One might say that Solomon externalized the gold. He forgot that the gold that God desires for God’s people is the golden shrine of a surrendered heart - not the gold shine of a big building. Solomon violated the rules for kings that had been established in Deuteronomy. He amassed for himself great wealth, great military power and, most troubling, a vast harem of foreign wives who wooed him with their pagan gods. The gold became tarnished. Solomon abandoned Yahweh, following after the gods of his wives. And he would be cut off from the blessing of God.
After Solomon’s death, his son, Rehoboam, took the the throne of David. Things went from bad to worse. His stubbornness and detachment from the plight of the lower class in Israel led to the rebellion of ten of the twelve tribes of Israel. The nation would split in two. In the south, Judah would remain, under the rule of David’s line, centered in Jerusalem. In the north, Israel - the rebelling tribes - would be ruled by Jeroboam, eventually centered in Samaria. He would build two temples to complete with the temple in Jerusalem. One at Beth-el. A second at Dan. In each temple, King Jeroboam would place a golden calf to represent the God of Israel.
From this point on, the story goes back and forth between the two kingdoms. Each has about 20 successive kings. Scripture tells us that, in the north, none of the kings followed God’s will. They were zero for 20. In the south, Judah would have 8 of 20 identified as “good” kings.
Which brings us, today, to Ahab. In the verses that just precede our text today, we read that Ahab “did evil in the Lord’s eyes, more than anyone who preceded him.” He had married a foreign wife, Jezebel. A Phoenician princess from Sidon. Ahab served and worshipped Baal, her Phoenician god, making an altar for Baal in the temple constructed in Samaria for this purpose. He did more to anger God than any of Israel’s preceding kings.
It is here where our story opens this morning. But, not quite yet.
In last week’s story, one of the characters we met was the Prophet Nathan.
We really haven’t talked about the role of prophets - these key figures in Israel’s history. They weren’t fortune-tellers, predicting the future. Instead, they spoke on behalf of the God of Israel, playing the role of covenant watchdogs, calling out idolatry and injustice among the kings and the people.
And constantly reminding Israel of their calling to be the light to the kingdoms and to keep the covenant as it had been established in the Torah.
So, today, in our lesson consisting of three small stories, we meet the Prophet Elijah.
We begin in 1st Kings, chapter 17.
Elijah from Tishbe, who was one of the settlers in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As surely as the Lord lives, Israel’s God, the one I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain these years unless I say so.”
Then the Lord’s word came to Elijah: Go from here and turn east. Hide by the Wadi Cherith that faces the Jordan River. You can drink from the brook. I have also ordered the ravens to provide for you there. Elijah went and did just what the Lord said. He stayed by the Wadi Cherith that faced the Jordan River. The ravens brought bread and meat in the mornings and evenings. He drank from the Cherith Brook. After a while the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land. 1 Kings 17:1-7 (CEB)