Elijah, God’s Strong Man

by Bruce Okkema

O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.  – 1 Kings 18:36-37

Approximately 60 years after the death of King Solomon, Ahab was reigning king of the northern kingdom. Solomon’s sons, Rehoboam and Jeroboam, had split the kingdom in two. In the interest of forming a political alliance with the Canaanites of his area, Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of the king of Phoenicia. Jezebel was a priestess of the god of Baal and his cohort, Asherah. When she came to live in the palace, she brought with her 450 prophets of Baal and 400 of Asherah and, through Ahab, she established her religion as the national religion of Israel. She tried to kill all of the prophets of the Lord. The scripture says:

There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. (I Kings 21:25)  (Please read the entire account in 1 Kings 16-19 to get a sense for the contrasting experiences pictured above.)

The scene is Mt. Carmel, the highest place of Baal worship. Baal was the god of the storm, thunder, lighting, and rain; Baal and Asherah together were considered the gods of fertility. For Elijah to proclaim the withholding of dew and rain was to declare Baal impotent and powerless. This infuriated Ahab and Jezebel to the extent that Elijah had to go into hiding for his own preservation. When the Lord called Elijah again to confront Ahab, he chose to give the prophets of Baal every advantage – the site being Baal’s own place of worship and the method being his own “fire from heaven.”

After a whole day of chanting, self-mutilation, and Satanic ritual, it was time for the prophets of Baal to turn the stage over to Elijah. He prayed to the Lord, and in a word, the true God of Israel, delivered lightning and thunder, he destroyed the prophets of Baal and Asherah, and then he sent rain on the land.

We are surprised to read next that we find Elijah running for his life and he wants to die. He said, “Lord, I have had enough … take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (I Kings 19:4-5). How could this be? He had been miraculously fed by ravens, provided an unending supply of oil and flour in Zarephath, raised a boy from the dead, and now had seen the awesome display of God’s power in the defeat of Baal. Yet he says,

“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:14)

The people of Israel needed to see the lightning bolts, but Elijah needed encouragement. He thought he was serving the Lord all by himself. God met him where he was and sent his angel to comfort him. He then took Elijah to Mt. Sinai to remember his covenant and teach him more about himself. Elijah, we know, eventually passed on his great spirit to Elisha and the Lord took Elijah to himself without passing through death.

Where ever you are serving the Lord, at times you will become discouraged. We naturally expect that our obedience to him will lead to things going well in our lives. Sometimes they will, but more often than not, they will not. The Enemy will always be trying to thwart the purposes of the Lord and to discourage us in the process. The constant battle between the forces of Satan and the forces of God is always around us and we are involved. It is important to share our troubles with the community of believers so we can know each other’s needs and how to pray together for strength and direction. The Lord never allows all of us to be under attack at the same time. When we do share, we find that we don’t have to face our problems alone and there is light at the end of the tunnel that we were unable to see.

Maybe you are in a situation where you are under attack. People are trying to destroy your family, the economy is destroying your business, your money is gone, loneliness is turning your thoughts inward, or maybe people are even trying to kill you for your faithfulness. Hold onto the story of Elijah. God never abandons us. He is always watching over us; when we cry out to him, he hears. He rarely works things out the way we expect him to, but he always does, and when our work on earth is finished, he will take us to himself.


The steep cliffs of Mt. Carmel overlook the Jezreel valley and the plains of Megido.

Caesarea Maritima

by Pastor Ed Visser

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment… The following day Peter arrived in Caesarea. Acts 10:1, 24
When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him.… Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace. Acts 23:33, 35

Caesarea–by–the–Sea (Maritima) was a purely Roman city. Built by Herod on the sandy coast of the Mediterranean, it was a city dedicated to Caesar Augustus and became an important seaport for Roman ships. Since there was no natural port on Israel’s coastline, Herod made one from scratch, using some newly invented cement that dried underwater, one of Herod’s greatest feats.

Roman AqueductSince there was no fresh water in the area, Herod also constructed seven miles of aqueduct, which brought water from Mt Carmel. He also equipped Caesarea with all the accoutrements of a Roman city: amphitheater, a hippodrome for horse races, and a huge theater conveniently located near the palace. A large temple, also in honor of Augustus, greeted the ships sailing into the harbor, apparently the first thing one saw from the sea.

Herod also built himself a palace, which stood on a promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean with its requisite Herodian pool. Herod could swim in fresh water while watching Roman ships sail in across the sea. The base of the palace and swimming pool are still visible today. Since the city Herodian Harborbecame the capital of Judea, this would be where Herod, his sons, and later governors of Judea would spend most of their time. Pilate also lived here, and a stone with his inscription was actually found in the reconstruction of the Caesarean theater.

Despite not being a very Jewish city, Caesarea does become the stage for a couple of events in the book of Acts. It was Caesarea where the first Gentile convert of the early Christian church lived, a Roman soldier by the name of Cornelius. The Apostle Peter was actually summoned to this city to lead him and his family to faith in Jesus Christ, and here, in this Roman city, the Holy Spirit was first poured out on Gentiles.

Caesarea TheaterThe man who would make it his life’s calling to reach out to more Gentiles, the Apostle Paul, sailed in and out of this port on his missionary journeys — the last time on his way to Rome itself. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, but when word of a Jewish plot to kill him surfaced, the Roman guard had him transported to the capital city of Caesarea for a “change of venue.” Paul was actually imprisoned in what was still called Herod’s palace (although I doubt he had use of the pool!). Though a thoroughly Roman city, even Caesarea played a crucial role in New Testament history. Might the sovereign God continue to use pagan cities of this world to fulfill his purposes?

The Olive Tree

by Pastor Ed Visser

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. – Isaiah 11:1-2

Olive TreeWhether standing on Mt Carmel or sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane, one is struck by the many groves of olive trees. Some are relatively new; others may have stood in Jesus’ day. Especially fascinating is the old gnarled tree that is, at the same time both ugly, twisted, and old, yet strong, wise, and beautiful. If you look carefully, you will see that there are new branches coming out of the stump even though the roots of the tree could be thousands of years old. In the case of this tree, only the groomsman would be able to tell us whether these new branches were grafted in or they sprouted on their own.

GethsemaneOlive trees can grow on almost any soil and can flourish in great heat with little water. They are virtually indestructible; even when they are cut down, new life will grow back from the roots. The olive tree has played a highly significant role throughout the history of Israel. Physically it provided a source of food, medicine, fuel, and a base for the anointing oil of kings and priests. Spiritually, it represents faithfulness, steadfastness, endurance, new life, and a host of other good things. And, of course, the olive leaf has become a universal symbol of peace.

Paul paints a picture for both Jewish and gentile believers in which the olive tree represents the roots of faith to which branches from another line can be grafted. The tree cannot exist without branches, nor branches without roots:

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. … And if they [Israel] do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
– Romans 11:17-18, 23-24

Many other lessons could be gleaned from the olive tree, but the most beautiful one is that of the Messiah as a branch growing from it. This tender branch, stemming from an old and weathered tree, has become the King of Israel, and to his glory, has even taken on the Name of God himself!

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.
– Jeremiah 23:5-6