The stories of faithful kings in the Bible are fascinating and encouraging. You read of men like David, Asa, and Hezekiah, and you watch how they put their trust in Almighty God to give them victory, and that's exactly what He does. David put the entire Philistine army to flight by taking out their most skilled and armed and armored champion with a single sling stone. Asa achieved what is probably still the single most deadly victory in the history of warfare, killing one million enemies in a single battle. Hezekiah prayed to God for help during the siege of Jerusalem and God slayed 185,000 enemy soldiers during the night. The pattern seems simple: if you are the king, you stop trusting in man and put all of your trust and hope in God and then watch Him do amazing things. For those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and given the gift of faith, this complete trust in God does not really seem that difficult. But for most of us - especially those of us who are pastors - when we trust God like this, we don't always get to see the big victory. In fact, we often get pretty stepped on by the world when we hand it all over to God, and it can be rather discouraging. Where's my victory?
Well, here's the problem: we're looking at the wrong Scriptural examples. Sure, that was the way that God dealt with the kings of His people, but there are other faithful characters in the Bible's narrative who have a different experience, and we share much more in common with them. Of course, I'm talking about God's prophets.
If the kings of Israel and Judah get to experience great victory over their enemies when they turn to God in faith, the prophets most often get the opposite result. They are hated by almost everyone, killed for their testimony concerning God's Word almost to a man, constantly ignored, and almost always find themselves swallowed up in poverty, chains, pits, and prisons. Sounds like a pretty good benefits package, eh? Why are things this way? Why the huge disparity between the experience of faithful kings and prophets? Their God is the same God! To try to answer these difficulties, I want to turn to the life of Elijah.
Elijah is really the first main prophet in Israel. Moses was certainly a prophet of God, and Samuel is often considered the very first of that office after the people conquered the land of Canaan, but Elijah is the first of a series of prophets that dominates the rest of the Bible's story from that point to the end of the Old Testament. And just thinking about Elijah calls to mind some amazing stories like the contest on Mount Carmel, the chariot of fire, the boy raised to life, and the jars of oil and flour that would not run out, among others. Elijah is an enviable character, you would think, but we need to look closer at the details of his life.
In 1 Kings 17, when we first meet Elijah, he delivers the Word of Yahweh's judgment to King Ahab - something that would become a common occurrence - but then is instructed by God to go and hide himself on the east side of the Jordan river, by the brook Cherith, and there remain until God would choose to move him elsewhere. It is there by the brook that we are told of how God fed Elijah by the ravens. They would bring him meat and bread every day. Now, that sounds pretty miraculous and special until you are the one who is having to live outdoors near a brook until it completely dries up (which probably took more than a few days) and eat from scraps dropped into your lap by birds. They weren't bringing him takeout bags from Chili's, that's for sure. This "miraculous provision" would probably be labeled "extreme poverty" by just about anyone who had to go through it. That doesn't mean that it wasn't miraculous. It just wasn't fabulous.
And Elijah moved from that place to live with a dirty, depressed widow and her son who only had a tiny amount of oil and flour to eat and nothing else. Yes, God provided miraculously once again for His prophet, causing both jars to never run out, though their contents should have been used up many times over, but we need to keep in mind that it was just oil and flour. Chapter 18 of 1 Kings begins with "after many days", meaning that this diet of oil and flour cakes served in a very small house in the midst of a years-long drought continued for a very long time. Again, miraculous? Yes! Fabulous? No.
We could go on, but we would just see more like this. The story is the same for Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and all of the Old Testament prophets, as well as Peter, John, Paul, and yes, Jesus, in the New Testament. So why would anyone ever want this job, then? I will tell you that it's not because of earthly triumphs and blessings. It is because of God.
It's true that the prophets of Yahweh didn't conquer nations and live in palaces, but they dwelt in the very presence of the Creator of the universe! There is no amount of worldly treasure that you can hold in your hands that can compare with the treasure of the Word of God that we hold in these jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). There is no amount of fine food that can compare with "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). To those who are called to proclaim God's Word, God does not give fabulous earthly kingdoms; He gives us a far greater treasure: He gives us Himself! And to keep us from confusing which is the greater gift, He graciously prevents us from "having it all" so that we can see and appreciate His wonder. This is the way that God makes us ready to stand in the most important place and role that a human being can stand: as a proclaimer of His Truth. May we do so humbly and in full appreciation of the glory and honor of the post.