Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17, N.K.J.V.)
Ahab was the king of Israel, which was the name the Jewish northern kingdom took for itself while the southern kingdom called itself Judah. Ahab reigned for 22 years as king of the northern kingdom after succeeding his father, Omri, who had reigned over it for 12 years (1 Kings 16:21-29). Ahab was a wicked king who married a Phoenecian princess named Jezebel for purely political purposes (1 Kings 16:30-31).
Upon becoming queen, Jezebel brought her fanatical worship of the false god Baal to the northern kingdom. Ahab soon joined her in her religion and threw his full support behind it by having a Baal temple, complete with an altar, built in Samaria, the northern kingdom’s capital (1 Kings 16:32). He also had a wooden shrine built to honor Ashera, the false goddess who was thought to be Baal’s female consort (1 Kings 16:33). Ahab and Jezebel employed no less than 450 prophets to lead their citizens in the worship of Baal (1 Kings 18:19), and ultimately Jezebel even had the land’s true prophets of the Lord massacred (1 Kings 18:4).
Ahab and Jezebel’s actions set the stage for the prophet Elijah. One day Elijah showed up unannounced at Ahab’s palace and said to him, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1, N.K.J.V.). Then Elijah left Ahab’s presence and wouldn’t be seen again for more than three full years. As soon as Elijah left, Ahab must have thought to himself, “Who was that nut? How did he even get in here?” The funny thing was, though, there was no dew on the grass the next morning, the morning after that, the morning after that, etc. And it didn’t rain, either. Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. Years passed. But not even a single drop of rain ever fell. By the time three-and-a-half years had passed, it still hadn’t rained a drop (James 5:17).
It was at this point that God told Elijah to pay Ahab a second visit (1 Kings 18:1). By now Ahab’s kingdom was deep in the throes of the severe drought (1 Kings 18:2). As Elijah was making his way there, he happened to meet up with Obadiah, a godly man who was what we might call the manager of Ahab’s royal palace (1 Kings 18:3-15). Obadiah arranged a meeting between Elijah and Ahab, and Ahab went to the meeting place (1 Kings 18:16). Upon seeing Elijah, Ahab uttered the words of our text verse: “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?”
I’ve taken the time to provide all this background information for the quote because I want you to understand that Ahab, not Elijah, was the actual troubler of Israel. He was the one, along with his wife Jezebel, who had brought Baal worship to Israel. He was the one who had built a temple to Baal. He was the one who had allowed Jezebel to slay God’s true prophets. And yet, in his mind, Elijah was the problem.
In God’s work, it is typical for the one who delivers God’s message of rebuke or condemnation to get labeled as the one who causes the trouble. Rather than accept the delivered message in the spirit in which it is given and repent of the sins, the person who receives it typically continues in his or her sin and goes gunning for the messenger. As evidence of this, there soon came a time when Jezebel put a “hit order” on Elijah. As further evidence of it, consider these other scriptural examples from the Old Testament:
- The prophet Micaiah was imprisoned upon the orders of the same Ahab after delivering another message that Ahab didn’t like (1 Kings 22:1-28).
- A seer named Hanani was imprisoned for delivering a message that Asa, the king of Judah, didn’t like (2 Chronicles 16:7-10).
- A prophet named Zechariah (not the writer of the Bible’s book of Zechariah) was stoned to death for delivering a message that Joash, the king of Judah, didn’t like (2 Chronicles 24:20-21).
- The prophet Elisha had his life threatened by Jehoriam, the king of Israel, because he thought of Elisha as being the spokesperson for the God who had allowed the Syrian army to lay siege to Samaria and create desperate conditions within the city (2 Kings 6:24-31).
- The prophet Jeremiah spent virtually his entire ministry being persecuted and living under the threat of either arrest or death for preaching and prophesying things the people of Judah didn’t like (Jeremiah 11:18-23; 18:18-23; 20:1-18; 26:24; 37:11-21; 38-1-13).
- The prophet Uriah verified and proclaimed the prophecies of Jeremiah and was put to death by Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, because of it (Jeremiah 26:20-23).
- The prophet Amos was insulted by Amaziah, the priest of the northern kingdom’s city of Bethel, who told him to, “Go back home and do your prophesying there” (Amos 7:12-13).
Moving into the New Testament, the well-established pattern continues. Since I provided seven examples from the Old Testament, here are seven from the New Testament:
- John the Baptist was imprisoned and eventually beheaded for delivering a message that Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias didn’t like (Matthew 14:3-12).
- Jesus was crucified by the Romans at the request of the Jewish religious authorities.
- All the apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching Jesus and healing in His name (Acts 5:17-40).
- Stephen was stoned to death for delivering a message the Jewish Sanhedrin didn’t like (Acts 7:1-60).
- Herod Agrippa I killed the apostle James and arrested the apostle Peter with the intent to kill him as well (Acts 12:1-4).
- The apostle Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra for preaching Jesus and healing in His name (Acts 14:8-20).
- Paul and Silas were jailed and whipped in Philippi for preaching Jesus and casting out a demon in His name (Acts 16:16-24).
As you can see, the Bible leaves no doubt as to the reaction the person who delivers God’s message, a message that cuts against the grain of those in authority, can expect. At best, those in authority will reject the message and ridicule the messenger. At worst, they will reject the message and seek to imprison or in the most extreme cases kill the messenger. This, Christian, is the territory you can expect when God makes you a troublemaker in His service. The good news, though, is that such perilous assignments carry with them incredible eternal rewards, rewards that you just can’t earn through more pleasant types of service. And I’ll offer Jesus’ own words concerning those rewards as the close to this post. They read as follows:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12, N.K.J.V.)