What Are We Singing: The Days of Elijah
- Saturday, May 12, 2007
Churches today — over the past, let’s say, twenty years or so — have incorporated “praise and worship” music into their services. Even those die-hard never-gonna-sing-anything-but-the-old-hymns churches are dusting off their guitars and investing in overhead projection systems just to accommodate this “new” way of singing.
But our “new” songs of worship are not always so…ahem…new. They are, many of them, songs with lyrics taken out of Scripture. These contemporary pieces are fashioned after the great psalms of David’s pen…or Moses’…or the sons’ of Korah, etc. These psalms (or songs) were written out of experience with God. For example, when David sinned with Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11) and was called on the carpet by the prophet Nathan, the “sweet psalmist” wrote what we have recorded in our Bibles as Psalms 51. If you have never read the psalm, chances are you’ve at least sung the opening lines: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love…. (Psalm 51:1a)
Singing the words is one thing (and such heartfelt words, they are!). But knowing what they mean is something else entirely.
Days of Elijah
In the mid-90s Robin Mark wrote and recorded a song that would make him as well-known in the churches of the United States as he already was in the U.K. The Belfast, Northern Ireland native believes (as I believe) that the Old Testament stories are as relevant today in what they can teach us as they were when they were experienced and, subsequently, first told.
Having watched a television special that included footage about the Rwandan civil war, Mark wondered if God were truly “in control.” He prayed and waited for God’s reply, which was that yes! He was very much in control. But these were also days when we, as Christians, needed to have the boldness of Elijah… to declare the words of the Lord in a world and to a people who have sought after other gods… other means of worship.
Who Was Elijah?
We first read about Elijah in the book of 1 Kings. Israel, by now divided from the kingdom of Judah, had a king named Ahab. Ahab was a wicked man, the height of his wickedness being that he married a woman named Jezebel. Jezebel worshipped Baal and brought that worship into Israel. Ahab followed in that debauchery. Ahab…did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him. (1 Kings 16: 33) Elijah prophesized a drought in the land…and a drought came! Three years later Elijah went to Ahab on God’s orders. Ahab (and Israel) was near-frantic; they were desperate for water. When Ahab saw Elijah, he called out to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17).
This led to one of the greatest stories in the Bible: a show-down of epic proportions on Mount Carmel. (For the full story, read 1 Kings 18:16-41) Hundreds of Baal priests were killed by Elijah’s sword.
Years later, again prompted by God, Elijah boldly approached the king and queen after they’d killed an innocent vineyard owner so as to “steal” his land. (1 Kings 21)
“You did evil in the eyes of the Lord,” Elijah told Ahab. “Because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel--slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.' "And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: 'Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.' "Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country" 1 Kings 21).
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