“God’s anonymous: the 7,000”
I Kings 19:18
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
This past year, Andreas Hartman of the BBC reported that, all around the world, from the United States to Germany to the UK, thousands of people, every year, disappear without a trace. In the middle of the night, they leave their homes, their jobs and their families to start a second life, often without ever looking back.
The Japanese even have a name for it. They call it, “jouhatsu.” It’s a word that means, “evaporation.”
And the reasons are many. Some leave their lives, their homes and their families because of depression or addiction or simply because they want to be alone. Others leave because of domestic violence, debt collectors or difficult family situations. It’s a way people escape from the shame of a job loss or simply to have a fresh start.
One forty-two-year-old man said, “I just got fed up with human relationships, so I took a small suitcase and disappeared.”
But for those who are left behind, the pain is unbearable. When a woman’s twenty-two-year-old son suddenly went missing, she was shocked. So she drove to where he was living, then waited for days for him to show up. But he never did.
She said, “With the current law and with no money, all I can do is to check to see if a dead body is my son.”
Strangely enough, the book of I Kings tells of a man who was just like that. And of all people, it was a prophet whose name was Elijah.
Listen to the words of I Kings chapter 19: “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there” (I Kings 19:1-3).
So what’s going on?
If you know the story, then you know that, just one chapter before, in I Kings chapter 18, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. He said to all who had gathered on the top of Mount Carmel, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
Then he set up a test. He said, “Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it...and the god who answers by fire, He is God.”
And just as Elijah said, Baal’s prophets took a bull, cut it up, and laid it on their altar of sacrifice. Then from morning till noon, they cried out, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But when there was still no fire, they danced and sang and cut themselves with knives and swords. Still no sound, and no fire from heaven.
Then Elijah prepared his sacrifice and laid it on his altar. And he prayed: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant.” And just as soon as he prayed his prayer, fire fell from heaven, and consumed the sacrifice, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.
Then he said, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let even one of them escape.”
Now you’d think that the very next verse would read, “And Elijah rejoiced in the Lord his God. He made a sacrifice of thanksgiving and preached the word of the Lord.”
But that’s not what happened at all! For when Queen Jezebel heard what he had done, she said, “By this time tomorrow, O man of God, you’ll be dead.”
So Elijah ran for his life, hundreds of miles away, as far as he could go. He said, “I’ve had it, Lord. I can’t take it anymore, Lord. Take my life, for I’m no better than anyone who’s come before me.”
Sound familiar? It should. It’s a prayer that Moses prayed, and a prayer that the prophet Jonah prayed. “Take my life, Lord. I’m not good for anyone or anything anymore.”
Then what? Chapter 19, verse 9: “There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
It’s funny if you think about it. Whenever God asks a question, He already knows the answer. He asked Adam, “Adam, where are you?” even though He knew full well where he was and what he had done. He asked Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” even though He knew full well he was dead. He asked Moses, “What do you have in your hand?” though he knew it was a staff. Now here He asks Elijah, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”
It’s a good question. I mean, after all, isn’t this the same prophet that stopped the rain from falling for three-and-a-half years, who ravens fed by a brook, who raised a little boy from the dead, and who caused a widow’s oil and flour to never run out? Isn’t this the same man that called down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice?
“Elijah, what are you doing here?”
Yet what did God do? He met him right where he was, to give him the encouragement he so desperately needed to carry on.
As one author put it, “Even in discouragement, God meets us where we are, whether we have unwillingly and unwittingly landed on the heap of the rubbish and wreckage of life, or we are hiding in a cave, away from what we perceive to be an inhumane humanity. And He knows whether we need the whirlwind or the soft breeze to get us back on His track. God knows that we damage our compass of life now and then with the heat of our passions and the cold of our indifference. He knows we need to regain our sense of ‘mission and submission.’”
Then He gave him this charge. Verse 15: “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place...Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
“Seven thousand,” He said. “Yet I will leave seven thousand...who have not bowed their knees to Baal and have not kissed him.”
What’s it mean? It means that Elijah wasn’t the only one who had remained faithful to the Lord. Somewhere, somehow, there were seven thousand more.
It’s easy to say that we, as Christians, are in the middle of a war, just as Elijah was so long ago. In fact, five years ago, back in 2017, author Rod Dreher went so far as to declare that the war was over. He wrote, “Hostile secular nihilism has won the day in our nation’s government, and the culture has turned powerfully against traditional Christians.”
Or as another author put it, “While we acknowledge the wonderful things that surround us each day, we also recognize the forces that operate against the truth about human life, marriage and the family--their origin, sanctity and ultimate end.”
Is it any surprise? It shouldn’t be, for just as soon as you take God and His Word from our lives, it’s anybody’s guess as to what’s right and wrong anymore.
But just as it was in the days of Elijah, somewhere, somehow, there are seven thousand more.
Who are the seven thousand? They’re the ones who know that, over the chaos of this world reigns the King of kings, Jesus the Risen One, before whom every knee will bow. They’re the ones who know that whoever they might be--whether presidents or kings or prime ministers--they will not last. Their time will come to an end. For there is only one King and one kingdom that lasts forever--our home of forgiveness, life and peace.
To put it another way, we are not the Church of Chicken Little. We are the Church of Jesus Christ. We are the seven thousand.
And who is Jesus? While so many are in darkness, He is the Light of the World. While so many are hungry, He is the Bread of Life. While so many are thirsty, He is the Living Water welling up to eternal life. And while so many are lost and dead in sin, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.
As you probably know, the names “Norman Rockwell” and “Saturday Evening Post” are almost synonymous. In fact, way back in 1916, at the age of twenty-two, he painted his very first cover. Then over the next forty-seven years, he painted 321 more!
But in November of 1951, as the world suffered in the aftermath of the Second World War, as confusion, fear and hopelessness were filling almost every home, Rockwell painted what he would call, Saying Grace. And along with it, he added the words, “Our world is not the happiest place today.”
And in that painting, he depicted a woman and her young son praying at a local diner, while those around them looked on. His message was this: “How do you maintain faith in love and kindness and where do you get the strength to trust people again and look to the future with hope?”
The answer, he said, was a prayer of gratitude, coming from the very heart, for the gift of life.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, be the seven thousand. Be the Church of Jesus Christ.
So what lessons should we learn from this text? I’ll leave you with two.
The first is this--no matter who you are, and no matter how good or how strong, each of us has our “Elijah-moments.” Each of us knows the thrill of spiritual victory and the agony of spiritual defeat, when we want to give up and not bother with God’s work anymore.
Still He comes to us, even in our worst of times, to give us the strength we all so desperately need.
And the second is this--somewhere, some of the seven thousand are watching us and praying for us to stand up and to stand strong. So be strong. Be the Elijah God’s called you to be.
And all this is possible because of the One who, in spite of the cost, remained faithful to the very end. Though forsaken and abandoned, rejected and alone, He bore our sins on the cross. And by His faithfulness, by His suffering and death, we receive forgiveness, life and salvation.
As Paul once wrote to the Romans: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
We thank You, dear Father, for Elijah, and we thank You for the seven thousand. Help us, by Your grace, to be the church and the people You’ve called us to be, for Jesus’ sake. Amen