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Elijah and Elisha From the Outside In

Read: 1 Kings 17-18 and 2 Kings 5

Should the Kings of Israel exalt themselves to the seat of Pharaoh we should expect God to send another Moses. There should be fire and plagues and voice that condemns the ruler and lifts up the lowly.

Que Elijah. In 1 Kings 17 we’re suddenly introduced to this character out of nowhere. He’s a Tishbite from Tishe – ok? He announced a drought (rather provocative when the people expecting rain worship Baal who is himself a storm God). Elijah is fed by Ravens until the rivers dry up and then he’s sent north to Phoenicia where a near-dead widow will feed him with a tiny jar of oil and flour that will continue to flow abundantly.

In 1 Kings 18 he confronts the wicked King Ahab and his Phoenician wife, Jezebel by challenging all of the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah. The God who answers them with fire will be the God everyone worships. Of course ,Elijah mocks them and draws it out – he dumps gallons of water over the altar (where’d you get all that water Elijah?) but after a simple prayer, fire comes from heaven and devours the sacrifice, the stones, the water, and the dust. It begins to rain.

Many people ask me why God doesn’t show up this way anymore. I wish I had the answer — or the formula. I imagine he does — and I also imagine it isn’t our ‘fault’ that he isn’t doing it here, now. Perhaps his silence is an act of resistance against our consumer approach to church – perhaps the consuming fire refuses to be consumed. Perhaps it’s something else entirely.

in 2 Kings 5 Elisha heals a Syrian of leprosy. It’s outrageous because he’s not just a Syrian but the commander of the Syrian army and the Syrians had been warring against Israel a long time. What’s with all these outsiders?

Elijah was an outsider (Tishbite means stranger). The widow was an outside. Naama was an outsider. God seems to like dwelling on the ‘outside’ … take that how you will. Consider Luke 4:16-30. The day Jesus began his ministry in Luke’s rendering, he went into the synagogue and announced that there were many widows in Israel and many lepers in Israel in Elijah and Elisha’s day but God showed up to the Phoenician and the Syrian. Jesus’ words infuriated the masses and they immediately tried to kill him. Bringing the strangers into the family of God is what Jesus was all about.

In Ephesians 2 Paul says, “you were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…he’s broken down the dividing wall of hostility that is between us …he is creating in himself a new humanity in place of the fractured humanity that is. We are no longer strangers on the outside but members of the household of God.”

My favorite Elijah/Elisha story is found in 2 Kings 7. We’re told in 2 Kings 6:24 that there was a famine so severe (because the Syrians had laid siege to Samaria for several years and they were starving) that a donkey’s head was sold for 80 shekels and a 1/4 cab of dove poop sold for 5 shekels. The hunger was so severe the women were eating their own children. Elijah announced to the King and his Right-Hand-Man, “by this time tomorrow a measure of choice grain will be sold for a shekel and two measures of barley will sell for a shekel at the gates of Samaria.” The King’s right-hand laughed at him. He said, “Even if the LORD were to make windows in the sky, such a thing couldn’t happen.” Elijah responded coyly, “you’ll see it with your own eyes but you won’t eat of it.”

The next morning four lepers who were sitting outside the gates of Samaria said, “why are sitting here starving? If we go into the city we’ll die, if we stay here, we’ll die — why not go out to the Syrians and surrender? Worst case scenario, we die!” So off they went. As they approached the Syrians heard was they thought was the hooves of a army on horseback and they fled away in a mad panic. The lepers were left to loot the abandoned camp! They ate and drank and had a good day. Eventually, they felt bad and returned to Samaria to tell everyone the good news. In the mad stampede of joy that ensued, the King’s right-hand-man was trampled to death at the gate. He saw the abundance – but he did’t get to eat any of it.

God is out there. He must be. At the edge of our imagination – on the boarder lands – in the wild known. He’s in the ravens and the rivers, in the consuming fire, at the Jordan river. He’s in the abandoned camp. Just ask the widows, the sick, the lepers, the strangers. Ask the man hanging on the cross between two criminals broken in pieces on the wobbly table nourishing a doubting church.

Have you ever been way of your comfort zone?

Was God there?

What’s stopping you from going ‘out there’ now?

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