Looking Back Into the Future
By Richard W. Medina and Rubia B. Medina
Every year Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druzes visit a cave, traditionally identified as Elijah’s, nestled on Mount Carmel, to pray for special favors and make vows to God. Nowadays many have reduced religious life to prayers and vows in a shrine or chapel, being indifferent to living the message found in God’s Word. In contrast, the Bible tells of a remnant, that is, a minority of believers who keep God’s instructions, including the Ten Commandments, and trust in the prophetic word or Spirit of Prophecy (Rev. 12:17; 19:10; 2 Peter 1:19), which, Adventists believe, has been manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White.
As a way of looking back into the future, the Old Testament narratives of King Ahab, Obadiah, and the widow of Zarephath help us, through contrast and comparison, to get a glimpse of the character of the end-time remnant of God.
Transgression of the Indivisible Truth
The admonition “Trust in the Lord your God and you will be upheld, and trust in His prophets and succeed” suggests that the Word of God and the prophetic word constitute one indivisible truth (2 Chron. 20:5-20).1 In the case of Ahab and his people, this truth somehow was ignored. Scripture says that the people (including the king) transgressed the “commandments of the Lord,”2 and rejected Elijah the prophet (1 Kings 19:10, 14; 16:30; 18:18; 21:20, 22, 25). They worshipped Baal, even going to the extreme of building a temple for him in Samaria and making standing (wooden/stone) images of him (1 Kings 16:31-33; 18:22, 24; 2 Kings 10:26, 27). Most likely they profaned the Sabbath as well. When trying to gain control of Naboth’s vineyard, the king, the elders, and the townsmen took God’s name in vain, embraced covetousness, and engaged in false witness, murder, and theft (1 Kings 21:8-16, 19). Even more troublesome, Ahab considered Elijah a troublemaker and personal enemy, often opposing his mission (1 Kings 19:1; 18:17; cf. 21:20; 22:17, 29). In our everyday interpersonal relationships, how often do we become victims of our own ideas and ambitions and resist living the commandments? How do we relate to the counsel of God’s prophet(s)?
Veneration of the Complacency Cult
One may wonder why the Baal cult was so attractive for Ahab and his people. In the ancient world Baal was the Canaanite storm god and the lord of the sky, who provided rain and fertility. He was also the warrior who fought against Yam (the sea god) and Mot (the god of death). That he was worshipped in lieu of the Lord in Israel demonstrates that people believed that he possessed similar power to that of God or even more. The Baal cult demanded vows of libations and animal sacrifices as well as prayers. In turn it offered the worshipper “moral freedom,” a licentious life. This explains why Ahab served Baal and thus did evil before the Lord (1 Kings 21:20, 25). The outcome of this apostasy was severe drought and famine that reached even to Zarephath (1 Kings 17:1, 7; 18:2, 18). It seems that Baal is still around today, though dressed in new garments and bearing the name of science, technology, or the entertainment industry. If it meets my needs, if it provides a sense of belonging and security, it must work—and God’s commandments and His prophetic message may sound awkward or old-fashioned! Have you also experienced the superficiality and emptiness of modernity’s cult?
Living of the Indivisible Truth
When the majority had opted for a self-centered living after Baal, the Lord preserved a faithful remnant. He “caused to remain in Israel 7,000, all whose knees did not bow to Baal and all whose mouths did not kiss him” (1 Kings 19:18). Among them was Obadiah, the steward of Ahab’s palace. He revered the Lord greatly from his youth and trusted in his prophet (1 Kings 18:3, 7, 8, 12, 16). Even risking his own life, “when Jezebel was killing the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and provided them with food and water” (1 Kings 18:4; see also verse 13). In the same way, a non-Israelite widow along with her household, including a number of relatives and servants, worshipped the Lord (1 Kings 17:15, 17). They lived in the Phoenician city-state of Zarephath, close to Sidon (in modern Lebanon), under the government of Jezebel’s father, King Ethbaal (1 Kings 16:31; 17:9).3 Consistent with the meaning of the king’s name, Baal was the national god of Zarephath. In spite of the religious status quo, the widow courageously chose to serve the Lord (verse 9). Accordingly, her household’s needs of food and water, safety, love, and esteem were amply met when elsewhere there was only despair (verses 15, 16). The Zarephathian woman was not a neophyte. She long believed in God and was familiar with the view of divine retributive justice. Before Elijah she confessed: “The Lord is living” (1 Kings 17:1, 12); and faced with the sudden death of her child, she said: “You have come to me to recall my iniquity” (1 Kings 17:18; cf. Ps. 109:14; Isa. 64:8; Jer. 14:10; Hosea 8:13; 9:9).
Whereas Ahab and his people transgressed the Ten Commandments, this remnant lived faithfully serving others. The stories of the Zarephathian woman and Obadiah in particular are sandwiched within the Ahab narrative (1 Kings 16:28-22:40) to contrast the true character of living faith with the emptiness of pagan religiosity in a time of theological polarization, natural catastrophes, and political unrest—somehow this list sounds very familiar! In a word, they prefigure the individuals who characterize the end-time remnant.
By living the commandments of God and having confidence in the prophetic word, we too find security, comfort, and guidance in life. The worship of “Baal,” disguised in whatever form of idolatry, may be alluring, but soon becomes a self-destructive choice. Our mission is to live and proclaim divine truth. “At all times and in all places” “God’s denominated people are to take a firm stand under the banner of truth.”4 This is a call to a faithful remnant!
1 All translations from Scripture in this article are the authors’ own.
2 The compound “the commandments of the Lord” appears six times as the object of obedience for the possession of the land (1 Chron. 28:8), as transgressed (1 Sam. 13:13; 2 Kings 17:19; 2 Chron. 24:20) or abandoned (1 Kings 18:18; 2 Kings 17:16) by the kings and the people.
3 Ironically, Ethbaal’s name means “with Baal.”
4 Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, p. 246.
Richard W. Medina and his wife, Rubia, are graduate students at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel. Richard studies Semitic languages, and Rubia pursues Islamic and Middle Eastern studies.