I Stand Before Godby A.W.Tozer on May 17, 2022
I Stand before God Elijah knew the way down is also the way up By A.W.Tozer
THERE ARE PEOPLE IN OUR churches today who think they are being persecuted for their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. I have a word of encouragement and perspective for them. Take a long look at Elijah the prophet! They need to ask God to show them the depths of Elijah's courageous faith in God. They need to comprehend the risks he took in one of history's worst times. None of us in our day has been the subject of an evil king like Ahab and a thoroughly heartless, vulgar queen like Jezebel seeking to destroy us. It was an era of intense religious persecution and ungodly vilification. Elijah faced all of that when he dared to stand for Israel's God. He challenged pagan idolatry and lewd forms of worship. He called the nation back to faith in the God who created it and who sustains the universe. In any assessment of Elijah, it is necessary to realize the royal odds that were against him as he stood up against Ahab and Jezebel. Yet Elijah dared to remind this couple that they were no match for the wisdom and will of Jehovah. Jehovah was the great I AM who had revealed Himself and made a covenant with Israel, His chosen people. As a prophet in evil times, Elijah had reason to lean hard on his God. He had come often into the presence of Jehovah. His is one of the great examples of people born of the seed of Adam, yet willing and able to press into a deep knowledge of God through personal encounter with Him. Like his distant forebear Jacob, Elijah acquired many spiritual wounds in his militantly prophetic ministries. Elijah, with courageous faith, took his campaigns for the glory of God into the very throne room of kings. Without regard for his own safety and comfort, he willingly hazarded his life in his stand against the Lord's enemies. In the natural and human sense, Elijah had almost nothing to commend him. He dressed in the rough garments of the Gileadites. He had no background of education or culture. He is first mentioned as appearing about halfway through the reign of Ahab of the Northern Kingdom. King Ahab had taken as his queen Jezebel, daughter of the King of Sidon. Jezebel had installed throughout Israel hundreds of priests of Baal, the chief deity of the Phoenicians. Orthodox priests and prophets in Israel who protested the pagan idolatry were silenced or driven out. Ahab, dominated as he was by Jezebel, gave no positive, godly leadership in Israel's religious life. He is condemned in the Scriptures as the most wicked of the Hebrew kings. Permit me to speculate a moment concerning bad King Ahab and his monstrously evil queen, Jezebel. Did Elijah have instructions from God to write those two off as completely hopeless without any chance of change? We are not God, and we do not know the answer to that question. We do know, however, that salvation is of the Lord. For a man or woman to be saved, there must be an impartation of divine life from above. We do not come to love God by a sudden, emotional visitation. God would never have asked Ahab and Jezebel to take up a human course of reformation. Love for God and service for God result from repentance, a genuine turning away from the old life and a fixed determination to love God. Human nature, as we know it, is in a formative state. It is being changed into the image of the thing it loves. It is sad but true that men and women are being molded daily by their affinities. They are being shaped by their affections. They are being powerfully transformed by those things most dear to them. I most assuredly believe that. We must face the truth that in the unregenerate world of Adam, this power of our affections produces tragedies of cosmic proportions. Was Jezebel always the "cursed woman" whose head and hands the very dogs, with poetic justice, refused to eat? No. Once she dreamed her pure girlish dreams and blushed at the thoughts of womanly love. But soon she became interested in, and devoted to, evil things. She admired them and at last loved them. There the law of moral affinity took over. Jezebel, like clay in the hands of the potter, was turned into the deformed and hateful thing the attendants finally threw down from the palace window to her death below. The record in First Kings 17 is terse and concise. Suddenly Elijah, this rough, back-country prophet, is confronting King Ahab in his palace, apparently with no advance notice and without invitation. The foundation of everything that made Elijah who he was is found in his opening testimony to the astonished king. "As the Lord God of Israel lives , before whom I stand," he declared, "there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." There is no indication that the surprised king had a chance to say anything before the prophet had turned and was gone. Certainly Elijah had no reason to overstay. In those days of kings' absolute power, if someone out of favor stayed a little too long, it was his head. Where did Elijah get the kind of boldness that took him to Ahab's throne room to speak for God? The answer comes as no surprise. Elijah may have been lacking in culture and social amenities, but in seeking God for himself, he had found the ultimate Reality. In finding and knowing and loving God, Elijah had discovered the reality that is permanent, eternal. Most of us do not see very much of permanence around us in our world. Some while ago, I was given a new definition for permanent. I picked up a flyer being distributed in my neighborhood advertising the opening of a new beauty shop. They were offering women a permanent wave, guaranteed to last three months! So "permanent" is now something that will be around for three months—and we are men and women created by the Almighty God with eternity in our hearts! The designers and builders who turn out so many of our products with a "planned obsolescence" do not want to talk about permanence. And our "throw away" society seems satisfied to have it that way. "Seems satisfied,” I say. And yet I must admit that mankind evidences a longing for the permanence of the Divine reality. Unfortunately, man's sin and selfishness and scheming stand always in the way. Without God, men and women are unendingly striving—but never finding. They miss the answer pointed out by the hymn writer who said, Now rest, my long-divided heart; Fixed on this blessed center, rest. Too many Christians sing that hymn and others with little thought of the words. If they were honest, they would stop and ask, "What does that really mean?" The poet was trying to say something significant about God, who wants to become the center of our being. Some of the church fathers talked about "the ground of the soul”—something hidden deep within our beings. It is the ground, the foundation. Elijah had found that ultimate reality in his friendship with God. He had found something that would never pass away. The average person does not know and probably does not care about this kind of reality, this anchor of the soul. But for Elijah, it was absolute—something beyond and yet something in the midst of the relative. We have almost made a crisis word out of relativity. But I insist there is One who cares for us and knows us. He is not relative to anything except to what and to whom He sovereignly desires to be. That One is God, the living God. Whether men like it or not. He is the absolute! I have been around long enough and preached often enough to have been called some interesting names. For instance, I have been called an absolutist. My response? Of course I am an absolutist, and so is every other believer if he or she is worth anything to God and to His testimony. None of us should be scared or offended if we are called absolutists. We must never let words bother us. Of course we believe in something absolute. Of course we believe in something permanent. We believe in God, the fixed Absolute, to whom we pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven." He it is who tells us, "Come out from among them, and be separate, . . . and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters" (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). Do not attempt to argue Elijah out of his faith. He had found the absolute, the ultimate reality. He had found the holy in the midst of the unholy. He had found the Perfect One in the midst of the imperfect. He had found the Infinite beyond the limitations of the finite. He had found the eternal in the temporal. Elijah had gone far beyond philosophy and its uncertainties. He had found God! It was not a religious theory that Elijah had found. He had found the very key to life and eternity. God the Creator made us for Himself. Our hearts and beings will never be satisfied until we find our satisfaction in God Himself. Long before Elijah stood in Ahab’s presence, Elijah had met God. That was what made his salutation to Ahab so significant: "I stand before God. God is here with me. I stand really in His presence, not yours." Everything Elijah believed in and stood for had been tested in the fires of experience. We see him standing before Ahab, and the Bible verse comes to mind: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us". God surely gave us Elijah that we might see a man who was the incarnation of what he believed. It is the work of God to make the Word flesh over and over again whenever men or women are born again of the Spirit. Let me explain. There is a primary sense in which the Incarnation can never be repeated. Only once in the fullness of time could the second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son, be born of the virgin Mary. The coming of Christ into our humanity stands in lonely grandeur as the mightiest act God ever wrought in all the ages. But there is a limited sense in which God's Word becomes flesh whenever a lost sinner comes to Jesus Christ in believing faith. In this sense God wants to incarnate the Word in surrendered human lives. Elijah was constantly learning new lessons of God and His ways with men. That learning continued even after his own human nerves were shattered and his reserves spent as Ahab and Jezebel chased him into the wilderness. We can learn important lessons by considering God's disciplines in dealing with Elijah. As Elijah fled to the wilderness following his first confrontation with King Ahab, God said to him, "Elijah, go to the brook Cherith, and I will feed you there.” God sent big, black buzzards—ravens, scavenger birds—each morning and evening with Elijah's meals. What humiliation! All his life Elijah had been self-sufficient. Now he waited on scavenger birds to deliver him his daily bread. God also had said, "Elijah, you will drink from the brook.” But Elijah had promised Ahab a drought, and his prophecy was true to God's word to him. Elijah was caught by his own cue card. The brook dried up. Elijah was like so many faithful preachers of the Word who are too true and too uncompromising for their congregations. "We don't have to take that,” the people protest. And they stop contributing to the church. More than one pastor knows the meaning of economic strangulation. Preach the truth, and the brook dries up! But the Lord knows how to deal with each of us in our humiliations. He takes us from truth to truth. When the brook dried up and there was no rain, God instructed Elijah to go to Zarephath, where he would be fed by a poor widow. We would consider this to be humiliation compounded. It was bad enough to preach the brook dry and to be fed by ravens. But now God says, "There is something else for you to learn, Elijah. A poor widow woman will feed you. But first you must ask her for food.” Well, Elijah obeyed, and we all know the story of the small container of oil and the handful of meal that never ran out. At God's direction, the widow, her son and the prophet Elijah lived for a long, long while on a daily miracle. How could these things happen? Because a strong, blustery man of faith was willing to be humbled into the dust. What key do we discover as God faithfully deals with His prophet? It is in James 5:17-18: "Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” The Lord heard the voice of Elijah because Elijah had been waiting on God to hear the voice of the Lord! Elijah still stands as one of the great men of God. It is as if God is saying to us, "There is My man, Elijah. He was so great in faith and godliness that when I wanted him up here with Me, I sent a chariot of fire and took him up in a whirlwind! But in concluding, let us think of loneliness and trouble and self-pity and discouragement. Do these things ever come with an overwhelming force against God's men and God's women? Loneliness got to Elijah. He felt that he was the only person on earth who still served the Lord. He felt that he finally was one man against the world. Elijah found out something that we are not teaching very well to new Christians. We ought to tell them that when they follow Jesus all the way,His enemies will be their enemies. We ought to tell them that they will be rejected in this world, just as Elijah—and Jesus—were rejected. We are getting our new converts off to a bad start. We tell them that following Jesus as Lord is just the smoothest, easiest, slickest thing in the world. “Jesus is not going to lay any burdens on you,” we reassure them. “Jesus is going to get you out of all your troubles.” I will come right out and say it: We ought not to tell them such lies! We ought to tell them that if they will follow on to love and obey the Lord, this world will think the same of them that it thought of Him. What the world thought of Jesus was cruelly demonstrated on a rugged cross atop a hill outside Jerusalem. Elijah's God still lives. Elijah's walk with God has afforded spiritual inspiration to millions. Look at him and find the secret of humility. Study his life and learn how you can glorify God while you live. I am a better person because of Elijah. Are you?