“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months” (James 5: 17 NAS).
Many of us dismiss the amazing feats Elijah performed by saying, “yes…but he was a prophet.” Clearly he was given to all the challenges and failings all of us are. Elijah faced great struggles and certainly did not lead a charmed life. Scripture is faithful to report he was terrified and sorely depressed after one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s miraculous power. Fear stronger than faith soared as Jezebel sought to take his life. (1Kings 19) Utterly human, he faced times of discouragement and depression, amidst great faith. So what separated Elijah from the rest of us? What enabled him to apprehend the attention of Jehovah God and embrace the miraculous?
Insight to that may very well lie in the infamous story of the Mt. Carmel showdown. As the people fell on their faces and said, “The Lord HE is God, the Lord HE is God” it behooves us to make note of what Elijah did prior. 1Kings 18:30 describes Elijah calling the people near as he repaired the altar of the Lord. The altar. A place of repentance, consecration, atonement and sacrifice. The place of access between God and his people. A sanctum of holiness where the manifest presence of God was found. Elijah knew it well.
His first step in repairing the altar was to carefully place 12 stones at its base. The battle between evil and God’s goodness Elijah faced on Mt. Carmel was not limited to just Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. It represented a national threat against the whole house of Israel and still does. A symbolic representation of each tribe and their inherent promises, blessings, admonitions and judgments were established as the altar’s foundation upon which he built.
Genesis 49 details the prophetic words Jacob spoke over each of his sons, each of the future tribes of Israel. These directed to the whole household of God including the olive branch of the Messiah’s offspring. ( Romans 11) “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come” he told them. To Judah he declared: “Judah, your brothers shall praise you. Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies…the scepter shall not depart from Judah…and he shall wash his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes” as he prophesied the coming and sacrifice of our beloved Messiah.
“Joseph is a fruitful bough…his branches run over the wall. The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him and harassed him severely, yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob…” as Jacob revealed not only the destiny of his biological son, but the miraculous testimony of an entire nation. We continue to see Israel preserved, surrounded still by her enemies as she lives in a state of continual attack. And the sober warnings for the consequences of sin he delivered to Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Warnings of judgment and curses of disobedience that are again being exacted on nations that turn away from God’s commands, as ours has.
As we embrace great uncertainty, bear the consequence of ungodly choices and live in a nation that has broken covenant with its maker, we still have the opportunity to turn and repair the broken altar. Stone by stone, truth by truth, commandment by commandment. Individually and corporately we can rebuild the foundation of our lives and the greatest country in the world. The only country besides Israel whose government was built on holy scripture and God’s commands.
The altar of God where restoration, forgiveness and blessing may be obtained and abound. Where shame turns to joy, guilt to freedom and pain to healing. May we say yes and be blessed and strengthened by his hand once again. It always has been and continues to be America’s greatest hope.