“We Are No Better” (September 2005)
“Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:1-4) “For I am no better than my fathers.” While I was reading this passage of scripture, recently, the last part of this verse seemed to “leap off the page” at me. For some reason, as many times is I have read this verse and even preached from it, I never paid attention to it- never really even noticed it. (When you experience this, it’s the Lord bringing it to your attention because there is something that He wants to show you.) So let’s see what the Lord is trying to show us.
The portion of scripture we are talking about is from the time when Elijah and the prophet’s of Baal had a “show down” on Mt. Carmel to settle the question once and for all-- who is the true God. The contest was between the Lord God and Baal. Which ever one answered by fire, that would be the God that the people would serve. “And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.” (1 Kings 18:24) (Of course there is only one true and living God- so it really was no contest.) The Lord God proved He was God by sending fire down from heaven to consume the sacrifice, the altar, and all the water around the altar. After this, Elijah took hold of the prophet’s of Baal and killed them. When Jezebel heard this she sent a messenger to Elijah threatening to kill him; so Elijah decided to “run for his life”. This brings us to the point of this month’s message. “For I am no better than my fathers.” When you read the whole verse, you can’t help but wonder why he would say that he is no better than his fathers- what did that have to do with the fact that he was running for his life from Jezebel and at the same time asking God to let him die? One of the meanings of the word ‘better’ in the Hebrew indicates a comparison to see which of the things being compared is the better one. For example- I am “better” than you are because I scored higher on the test than you did. Elijah compared his reaction to his circumstance to that of his fathers (his ancestors) in the past and determined, “I am no different than my fathers were- I am just like them.”
How was Elijah just like his “fathers”? Why did he consider himself no different- no better? What did he mean? In order to discover the answer we have to look back into the lives of his ancestors- the Israelites. As we do, we discover that they were God’s chosen people. “And I will make of thee (Abraham) a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2) We also see that numerous times in the scriptures God did such awesome miracles for them. He delivered them out of Egyptian bondage. While Egypt was facing plagues the Israelites were safe and untouched by them. When the death angel passed through the land of Egypt, God gave the Israelites instructions as to what to do so that they would be protected. Once they left Egypt God did another great and mighty miracle for them (another miracle of deliverance and protection)- He opened up the Red Sea so that they could safely cross and escape once and for all from Pharaoh. The miracles did not stop there- He gave them water from a rock, manna in the wilderness, the soles of their shoes didn’t wear out, He protected them for forty years while they wandered in the wilderness. Even when they came out of the wilderness God showed His mighty hand of deliverance and protection by giving them victory after victory in driving out the inhabitants who were in the land that the Lord had promised to them. But as we look back into Israel’s history we not only see the great and mighty deliverance, protection, and miracles that God did for them, we see some other things about them as well. “And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!” (Numbers 14:2) “Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea. They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel. But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image. They forgat God their saviour, which had done great things in Egypt; Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word: But murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord. They joined themselves also unto Baalpeor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead. Thus they provoked him to anger with their inventions: They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils. Many times did he deliver them; but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity.” (Psalms 106-selected verses- you should read the whole Psalm) As you read Psalms 106 you will get a picture of what kind of attitude they possessed- especially toward all that the Lord had done for them. They were ungrateful and very seldom appreciative to the Lord for His intervention on their behalf. Instead they murmured and complained. And even though the Lord did miracles on their behalf that they had never seen before, they still were full of unbelief. Remembering back to the behavior and attitude of his ancestors, perhaps this is what prompted Elijah to say that he was no better than they were. Elijah had just seen God do the miraculous at his request. The Lord had proven that He was the only true God. Elijah had experienced God’s supernatural protection on several occasions. The Lord had used him to do great and mighty miracles. At his prayers the heavens were shut up so that it did not rain for three and a half years; then through his prayers the heavens sent rain again. But here he was running from Jezebel out of fear (unbelief); murmuring and complaining. “Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:2-4,10) No wonder he said that he was no better than his ancestors- he was doing the same thing they did. They saw the miracles- so did he; they experienced God’s protection- so did he; they knew that God was the only true God who was able to do anything- so did he; they murmured and complained and didn’t believe God even after all they had seen- so did he. He was right, he was no better (different).
Have you ever asked the question, “After all they had seen and experienced how could they not believe?” or made the statement, “If I lived back then and had seen the miracles they saw, if I had seen the Red Sea part, or had seen Jesus open blinded eyes and raise the dead, I never would have acted like they did. I would have had more faith.”? The fact of the matter is, when we compare ourselves to them- even though we would like to think that we would be different- we aren’t; we are no better than they were. Why is that?
I believe the key to finding out is found in Psalms 106:13- “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel.” Our problem is in “not remembering”. We tend to forget what the Lord did for us in the past. We tend to forget how He delivered us when we cried out to Him in our time of need or trial and how He fought our battles for us. Was there a time in the past when the Lord healed your body and now you are facing another illness but you are having a hard time believing that He is your Healer? Were there times in the past when He met a financial need that you had yet today you are facing one again but you don’t believe He’ll meet this need? Has something happened in your life that is causing you to blame God and accuse Him of not caring about you? Did you experience victory yesterday but you are under attack today and you are blaming God because you are convinced that it is His fault for letting it happen? If this is the case in your life, then “you are no better then them”.
This isn’t something that only happens to us on a personal level, it can also happen to a nation. Elijah experienced it personally, but as we have read this also happened to the whole nation of Israel. As I look at my nation- the United States- I see this has happened to us as well. God has been good to this nation. We have seen His hand of mercy and protection. He has blessed us and made us a blessing around the world. He has prospered us and given us freedoms that so many have never experienced. At our conception He bought us out of “religious bondage” so that we might have the liberty to worship Him freely. Yet we are no different- we are no better. We have done the same thing they did. When we have been in trouble, we have cried out to the Lord and He saved us. “Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry: And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies.” (Psalms 106:44,45) Every time this nation has gone to war we set aside time to pray for the Lord to protect us. When we were attacked at 9/11 this nation fell on her face before the Lord. When the hurricanes and natural disasters hit our shorelines we gathered together and had a National Day of Prayer. But when the danger or crisis is past what do we do? “They soon forgot his works”. We forget this gracious God who had mercy on us. We forget that He heard our prayers and protected us. We turn back to our false gods of money, entertainment, fame, popularity, etc. We begin to make accusations against Him, and try to kick Him out of our society. We want to be left alone to do our own thing and go our own way- to do what is right in our own eyes. We don’t want to have any part of Him or have Him involved in our nation (at least not until we need Him to help us again).
Another similarity we see in us and them is- we also forget the warnings that He sends our way. God gave Israel many warnings of the consequences that they would face if they did not heed the warning. Many times He warned them that if they continued to go their own way and forsake His way, they would face many curses: famine, disease, an overthrow by the enemy, captivity, drought, bondage and so on. (Deuteronomy 28) When they ignored the warnings and forsook God they faced the consequences. God in His mercy has sent us warning after warning too. He has sent them by the mouth of His prophets; He has sent them through signs in nature; He has sent them through His faithful witnesses; He has sent them through many avenues but have we heeded? Are we listening to the warnings and responding to them by acknowledging that we have sinned against God and turned from His way and serving Him. Are we turning in true repentance from them?
If we are no different than them, and we have determined that we aren’t, then that means we will be just like them also in the fact that they didn’t escape the consequences so neither will we if we don’t do something different. What can we do? “Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God.” (Jeremiah 26:13a) In other words, do something different than you’ve been doing, namely- remember the Lord and repent.