Encouraged by the devotional message delivered at our Men’s Breakfast this morning from 1 Kin 19 on the subject of Elijah and his post-Carmel collapse against Jezebel.
As with all good ministry, it stimulates one to thinking of one’s own. And on this occasion also to articulate some burdens that have been with me for a long time.
Elijah thought that he was alone against the power of the enemy but he was not.
He would need that companionship in due course, but the Lord apparently wanted the prophet to first know what aloneness felt like. Afterwards He would remind His servant that Israel’s true Lord yet had reserved “7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal.” (1 Kin 19:18).
Still I have to wonder just how much comfort the knowledge of that 7,000 really was to Elijah.
It occurs to me that even that figure must have seemed to him to represent a pitifully small band, a beleaguered minority in the midst of an entire nation that was supposedly the people of God
Aye there’s the rub.
It is one thing to be swamped in exile. To feel alone in what you know to be a pagan culture where really you can expect nothing better. This is to be like Lot,
“…tormenting his righteous soul over the lawless deeds that he saw and heard”
(2 Pet 2:8)
Such discomfort is an occupational hazard for those who perhaps have just not been choosy enough in where they pitched their tent. But the real pain is surely to be isolated and alone in a spiritual environment where you had reason to expect better. I am sure that the most difficult challenge of the 7,000 was that they found themselves alone in Zion!
The true saints of God are beginning to find out what it means to be a beleaguered minority, sometimes even in their own church assemblies. Outside it is worse still. We have less and less in common culturally with our countrymen, and our lives increasingly must seem strange and alien to them.
History teaches us that it is usual, where a community finds the ways of a minority in its midst to be unfathomable, that hostility towards that minority grows over time.
This is now beginning to happen to us.
Sodom eventually came to the conclusion that the rather strange man in their midst, simply by his strangeness, had set himself up in judgement over them and their ways (Gen 19:9).
But as this feeling of social detachment intensifies for us, I predict that we will not concern ourselves so much with the barbs of those outside who we knew were never with us, but rather as ever it will be the kisses of the seeming-friend that will sting.
External persecution is bad enough but betrayal will always feel worse
I predict that the increasing sense of isolation for us will be all the worse because it will involve so much desertion from amongst our own ranks. Preachers and teachers once considered reliable will desert their flocks in ever-greater numbers. Members of our own congregations - those whom we thought were with us - will over time yield to the spirit of this present age.
They will do so because it is easier than remaining with those that society –and even other church denominations- have now identified as “unloving bigots.”
I have been trying for a long time to exhort the people of God to be equipping themselves in areas where they need to be strong but are actually weak.
Firstly the need to be grounded in good apologetic arguments to buttress ourselves against the tidal wave of error and compromised teaching that is now assailing us.
The lack of this is a great burden to me.
I fear that we are largely defenceless against the cleverness of the arguments being deployed against us. The pastor who, in our day, is ignorant of apologetics is a man with his head in the sand. God help his congregation!
We also need to be praying for continual discernment (amongst priest and people) to know what is true, what is honourable and just and pure. It has been well-said that discernment is not knowing what is right from what is wrong, but knowing what is right from what is nearly right. There is a subtlety in the attacks of the enemy that can wrong-foot all but the most diligent.
And the time when these things are needed is not five years hence but is now.
But beyond good arguments and wise discernment we will increasingly in the future simply need encouragement. After Peter and John had escaped the clutches of the Sanhedrin we read,
“when they were released they went to their friends…” (Acts 4:23)
May we always do likewise.
There is an encouragement that is found only in the company of the like-minded. Even when you know you are in the right, like Elijah, it is still tough when it seems like pretty much everybody is against you. Christian friends are those who will simply be there to remind us that even when an entire society says that we are wrong, that we are actually right, after all.
The Old Testament furnishes us with the record of another generation that had found itself besieged even in Zion.
This generation was not facing gross idol-worship as in the days of Elijah, but rather the equally deadly sin of hard-hardheartedness towards the true God.
The need amongst the faithful for like-minded fellowship was just as strong,
“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.” (Mal 3:16)
They spoke with one another.
The necessity of Christian assembling will become ever greater as the days grow ever darker. Encouraging one another will become one of the most important aspects of our fellowshiping as Christian life grows harder.
“…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching"
You do not need to be a prophet or the son of a prophet to know that the Christian life is shortly going to get more uncomfortable for us than we have hitherto been used to.
People of God, now is not the time to be finding other things to do on a Sunday!
Now is not the time for that long-term gardening project, or for starting that car boot sale or enrolling your son in the local Sunday football league. Now is the time to be in the house of God with the people of God, hearing the Word of God.
Another scripture that floated into my memory this morning was,
“He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High” (Dn 7:25)
If we do not stand shoulder-to-shoulder then we will be worn out one-by-one.
So let us be speaking to one another often and reminding ourselves in our assemblies each week, as the speaker did this morning that, “beyond Jezebel there is Jesus,”
That is our ultimate encouragement for the coming days.