His installation had gone well. Ahab was king! (See 1 Kings 16-21)
Determined to make Israel great again, Ahab launched a building campaign. First, he built a temple to the prosperity God Baal and altars around the country to encourage his people to worship and to sacrifice to Baal. Ahab then set about building a wall around Jericho. In his single-minded pursuit of this goal children were sacrificed.
Given the history of his people with the Lord, the God of Israel, Ahab shouldn’t have been surprised when Elijah showed up with a word from God — but he was. When Elijah declared, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there will be consequences because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed false gods,” Ahab screamed, “You troubler of Israel!” Elijah shouldn’t have been surprised, either, when Ahab put a bounty on his head.
In spite of the dangers to his own reputation and person, Elijah was committed to do as God commanded, to help the people see the falsity of their commitment to Ahab and the prosperity promises of Baal. On top of Mt. Carmel, Elijah went toe to toe with the hundreds of court prophets who couldn’t get enough of saying yes to Ahab and Jezebel. There, on the mountain top, Elijah bore witness to the greatest electric display of God’s mighty acts since the plagues in Egypt. And now it wasn’t just Ahab who was fighting mad, Jezebel was out for Elijah’s blood.
In spite of experiencing God’s tender care time after time, Elijah’s own courage and confidence in God was stretched to its limits. “How could you let this happen to me, God? There’s nobody else around here as faithful to you as I have been, so why is it that I’m the one on the run — again?”
It wasn’t enough that Ahab became king. It wasn’t enough that a nation had been entrusted to his care. He had to see how much he could convert to his own benefit, add to his own wealth. When he coveted his neighbor’s land, what did it matter that Naboth had to die for Ahab to get the land?
The Bible is unflinching in naming the sins and failings of the leaders of the people. Nor does the Bible hide the moments when faith was weakest in those faithful to God, when hope failed. “Put not your trust in princes,” the Psalmist warns, “Instead, put your hope in God and know real blessings.”
These ancient words still speak today, cautioning us about the seductive gods of politics whose promises are too often false.
These texts remind us what happens when leaders are not held accountable. They remind us that when we are weary and exhausted from the struggle to be faithful in trying times, when hope seems in short supply, God is still the God who sets a table before us and invites us to the feast of God’s presence.