Fire From Heaven


(Elijah Series, week 4)

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Feb. 14, 2010

Review first three weeks.

Drought – Fed by ravens

Famine – Widow’s oil and flour that do not run out

Widow’s son dies – he is restored with the breath of life.

Week 4:  Elijah versus the prophets of Baal.

The literal sense was touched on in the children’s talk.

The Lord ends the drought. Elijah comes out of the wilderness and returns to Samaria.

Elijah goes to Ahab and Jezebel and challenges them to a contest. It will be Elijah against 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Ashtoreth.

Baal seems to represent a “male” idol. Gifts to Baal led to prosperity in your farm or business.

Ashtoreth is a “female” idol, and was often the centre of so-called “fertility” cults. Gifts to Ashtoreth were to ensure fertility for wives and farm animals.

Why hold the contest? The reason is simple. To prove once and for all whether Baal is god, or Jehovah.

And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If Jehovah is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1KI 18:21).

The rules of the contest are simple. Each group is to prepare an altar with a burnt sacrifice. Each group will call on their god; the one who answers with fire “is God.”

Elijah allowed the prophets of Baal to go first.

From morning until noon, the 450 prophets pleaded and leaped about their altar. But “no one answered.” (18:26)

Elijah mocks them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (18:27).

From noon until evening they prayed even harder, cutting themselves with knives until their blood flowed. “But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention” (18:29).

That’s such a powerful line. When you worship idols you will find that, in your time of need, that there is no voice, no one to answer, no one pays any attention.

Of course the result was spectacularly different when Elijah called on Jehovah, as we read in the children’s talk.

Then the fire of Jehovah fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench (18:38).

Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “Jehovah, He is God! Jehovah, He is God” (18:39)!

Game over, gold medal awarded!

This particular story has a number of applications on several levels.

Simple version:

God is real and He has real power.

Worshipping idols (whatever they may be) isn’t going to work in the long run.

Longer version.

When a temptation, test, or trial sends you into a “wilderness state.”

Even though you feel completely powerless and alone, yet the Lord keeps you going with bits and hints of love and truth.

As you heal and gain strength, as you gain a clearer vision of what the problem is and what you may have to do to fix it, you move out of the wilderness and into a state of simple obedience where you find a greater abundance of more satisfying spiritual food, the widow’s flour and oil.

Not scraps brought by scavenging birds, but actual tasty, nourishing bread.

As your state improves, delightful things that you thought had been lost for ever have new life breathed into them.

Now, having had time to think about the situation, to prayerfully seek an answer in the Word, to gather the strength of your resolve to do what needs to be done to get things back on the right track, and with the Lord standing shoulder to shoulder with you, you confront the evil that drove you into the wilderness in the first place.

Mt. Carmel – a range of low mountains from the Mediterranean Sea to the south-east, known from ancient times as a place of vineyards. The name in Hebrew literally means “God’s vineyard.”

As a mountainous area, it also attracted Canaanites who loved to worship Ashtoreth in the “high places.”

AR 316 “Carmel” signifies the spiritual church because there are vineyards there.

It’s the perfect place to stage the contest, because it represents the spiritual church and a centre of idolatrous worship.

A picture of a mind with mixed motives, a place where the holy and profane both exist at the same time.

But can they live there forever, or will not one have to win out over the other?

Just as the prophets of Baal danced and pleaded all day, but no one paid them any attention at all, we discover that evil doesn’t have the power it once had over us. We look it in the face and see that it is nothing when in the presence of the Lord.

The fire that Elijah calls from heaven?

AR 599. …the greatest signs [in the Word] were made by fire from heaven; whence it was a common expression among the ancients in confirmation of anything, when the attestation of truth was spoken of, that “they could bring down fire from heaven and testify it;” by which was signified that they could testify even to that extent.

In modern language, we sometimes talk about “lightening striking” someone to represent their sudden, blinding awareness of the truth of something. And what is lightening but “fire from heaven?”

We climb the mountain – approach the Lord – and turn to Him in His Word, and in a flash of clarity, like fire from heaven, we see the true path, the potential for new spiritual life that has been eluding us while we were mired in our evils.

And we need to remember what the whole point of this contest was:  it was to determine what was going to rule your life. Baal and Ashtoreth represent the different kinds of falsities and evils to which we are all inclined, and they can be conveniently grouped under “the love of self.” There are 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 followers of Ashtoreth arrayed against Elijah.

Standing opposed to all that power is Jehovah in His word – represented by Elijah. Just Elijah.

We know how that feels, to try to hold to something right and good when the tide of culture and public opinion is going the other direction. It’s hard. It’s lonely. It’s Elijah on Mt. Carmel.

And we find that that’s enough.

The light dawns, the lightning strikes, the fire comes down from heaven, and we see and feel the power that comes from going to the Word for guidance, and then putting it to work in our life.

AC 3417 a single angel has greater power than myriads of infernal spirits, yet not from himself, but from the Lord; and he has it from the Lord in the proportion that he believes that he has no power from himself, thus that he is the least;

This brings us around full circle. Elijah shows us that we have power, real power to effect change in our internal, spiritual lives. But where does this power come from? It comes from the Lord, and the more we acknowledge that the power comes from the Lord the greater it is.

And isn’t that, in fact, the point of the story? That our real spiritual power comes when we turn away from the loves of self and the world. – when Jehovah wins the contest over Baal and Ashtoreth!

Now would be a good time for a lightening flash.

But the flash is not enough. AC 3417 finishes with:  and this he can believe insofar as he is in humiliation and in the affection of being of service to others, that is, insofar as he is in the good of love to the Lord, and of charity toward the neighbour.

Once you come to the place where you can love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your strength, and all your mind, you will then be able to begin to love your neighbour as yourself, to begin to live in mutual love, which is the life of the angels in heaven.

This is what the Lord teaches in every story of the Word. Amen.

First Lesson:  (Children’s Talk)

Second Lesson:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [or “riches”]. (Matthew 6:24)

[The two disciples on the road to Emmaus finally recognized Jesus and knew He had risen.] And they said to one another, Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32)

Third Lesson:  TCR 403, 399

When our love for heaven constitutes the head, our love of the world constitutes the chest and abdomen; and our love for ourselves constitutes the lower legs and feet, then we are in the perfect state we were created to be in. In this state the two lower categories of loves serve the higher category the way the body and everything in it serves the head.

Therefore when the love for heaven constitutes the head, this love flows into our love for the world, which is chiefly a love for wealth, and takes advantage of that wealth to do useful things; our love for heaven also flows through our love of the world into our love for ourselves, which is chiefly a love for having a high position and takes advantage of that high position to do useful things. Therefore an inflow from one love into the next allows the three categories of love to join forces in order to do useful things. (True Christian Religion 403)

There are two loves from which all the kinds of good and truth come into being, as from their sources; and there are two loves which are the sources of all evils and falsities. The two loves which are the sources of all the kinds of good and truth are love to the Lord and love towards the neighbour. But the two loves which are the sources of all evils and falsities are self-love and the love of the world. When these two latter loves are dominant, they are the exact opposites of the two former loves. (True Christian Religion 399)

The Widow’s Obedience


(Serving God First)

Living Courageously Week 2

Olivet Church, Toronto

Rev. James P. Cooper

I.       This sermon is the 2nd in a series of 7 in the “Living Courageously spiritual growth program based on the events in the life of the prophet Elijah.

A.   Last week we were introduced to the main characters in the series, and learned that it takes place in the 9th Century BC in the northern kingdom of Israel. 

1.     Elijah is the prophet of the Lord.

2.     Ahab is the king of Israel, and he is married to Jezebel.  They are both worshippers of the Canaanite god Baal (2 syllables).  Even worse they are trying to encourage all the people in their kingdom to worship Baal too.

B.   This shocking lack of true faith on the spiritual level has representatively led to a drought on the natural level.

1.     Ahab and Jezebel blame Elijah for the drought, so he has fled into the wilderness where he hides, being fed by ravens.

2.     We learned that the mixture of good and evil, true and false in the representative setting indicates a human state where the motives behind our actions are mixed and need to be examined.

II.    The drought was severe. There are almost no “artesian” well or springs in Israel. Except for those few living on the shore of the Sea of Galilee or the banks of the Jordan River, all the drinking water is captured and stored rainwater.

A.   Because it didn’t rain, the crops died. Soon there was neither water to drink nor food to eat, and the people were dying.

B.   Rain represents the way the Lord flows into the world from heaven with the truth that we need to do what is good. The drought represents that this inflowing truth has stopped – but what stops it?

1.     Whenever the Lord sends a prophet to announce a drought in the land, it is always in response to some horrible evil being committed by the people, or by a king who is leading his people into evil. 

2.     Although it seems that it is the Lord who is withholding the good rain, the fact is that it is the evil that the people are doing is causing the drought.

a.     …For it is well known that every good of love and every truth of faith flows in out of heaven, that is, from the Lord through heaven, with man, and that it flows in continually; … These both flow in so far as evil and falsity do not obstruct; it is these that shut heaven so that there is no influx; AE 644:2

b.     …That the rain was withheld, and consequently there was a famine in the land of Israel for three years and a half, under Ahab, because they served other gods and killed the prophets…. was a representative, and thus a significative, that no Divine truth flowing in out of heaven could be received because of the falsities of evil, which were signified by “other gods” and by “Baal,” whom they worshiped. “Killing the prophets” signified also the destruction of the Divine, for a “prophet” signifies in the Word the doctrine of truth from the Word. AE 644:8

III. The Widow

A.   The drought in the land of Canaan represents the spiritual state of people who are being disobedient.

1.     The results of turning away from the Lord, of being in a state where there is a spiritual drought is pictured by the widow gathering sticks with which to prepare the last meal for herself and her son.

a.     And yet it is this woman, at the end of a deadly crisis, who is to be the one to save the life of the prophet Elijah!

B.    … The famine that was in the land because there was no rain, represented the vastation of truth in the church; the widow in Zarephath represented those outside of the church who desire truth; the cake which she was to make for him first, represented the good of love to the Lord, whom, out of the little she had, she was to love above herself and her son; the barrel of meal signifies truth from good, and the cruse of oil charity and love; Elijah represents the Word, by means of which such things are done. AC 4844:12

C.   … That “a woman a widow” denotes one who is in good, and longs for truth, is evident from … what is related of her in the first book of the Kings…. [7] Obedience, and the longing of good for truth, are described by her giving water to the prophet at his bidding, and afterward by her first making a cake for him out of her own little supply, and then for herself and her son; and that thereby she was enriched with the good of truth is signified by “the barrel of meal not being consumed, and the cruse of oil failing not;” for in the internal sense “water” denotes truth; “meal,” truth from good; “oil,” the good of love; and “a cake” made of these, truth conjoined with its good. From all this it is clear that “a widow” denotes one who is in good and longs for truth. Good and its longing for truth is described by the charity toward the prophet, which was greater than toward herself and her son. “The prophet,” as before shown, denotes the doctrine of truth.   AC 9198:6,7

1.     A wife generally represents good, and her husband represents truth. A widow is a woman whose husband has died. A widow then represents someone who would like to do what is good and right but cannot because she doesn’t know how.

D.   Where is her salvation?

1.     She longs for truth – the knowledge to put her loves into action, but there is no truth for her, symbolized by the lack of rain – no truth from natural sources.

2.     So the Lord provides the truth that she longs for through another way – the prophet Elijah. And, is sometimes the case when we go to the Word for help, the answer is not what we expected or wanted.

E.    Remember when Naaman, the Syrian commander, came to Elisha looking for a cure for his leprosy (2KI 5:1-19)?

1.     Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan and he was terribly insulted. He was a big, important man, and he was expecting a big, important cure!

2.     Fortunately for him, one of his servants convinced him that since he would have done the big thing, he should at least try the little thing – and he was cured because he was obedient to the higher authority of the Lord in the Word and did not continue to be led by his own feelings of what “ought” to be.

F.    Rather than giving the widow the food which she believes she needs, Elijah demands that she give him what little food she has – with the promise that if she does, she will have all the food she needs – a symbol for eternal life. This is the real test of faith, the ultimate temptation.

1.     Elijah represents the Word

2.     He tells her to do things that sound strange

3.     She’s starving, and he asks her for her food

4.     But when she obeys anyhow, acting in a way that seems to be against her own enlightened self interest, against her own human prudence, she is saved.

G.   We note that a similar thing happens just a few chapters later, where Elisha causes a widows oil and flour to continue without ceasing so that she could sell it and prevent her sons from being sold into slavery (2KI 4:1-7

1.     On several different occasions, I have spoken with people who told me of personal experiences that have a similar feel, people who, in spite of deep financial problems, were moved to take the Lord’s words to heart, and to give freely of what little they had, and in each case their lives were blessed in some unexpected way.

H.   These incidents are similar in that they all revolve around our trust in the Lord.

1.     We must have confidence that the Lord wants only what is good for us, we need to trust that He knows what is best, what will lead us to heaven. 

2.     We can’t always understand why the Lord asks us to do something. Sometimes the things He asks of us seem strange or unreasonable.

3.     We need to remember that without the Lord, without the truth of the Word to lead us, our eternal spiritual life is at risk.

4.     If we obey the Lord in simple faith, He will literally save our lives.

5.     If we reach out to others by compelling ourselves to do what is good, even when it seems to us to be contrary to our own personal needs, we will find that our good will be multiplied like the widow’s flour and oil, and our spirits will be nourished until the drought is over.

IV.What’s coming next week.

The widow’s son dies, and Elijah brings him back to life, a picture of how things we lose sight of things that we once believed to be good and true, but if we turn back to the Word, shunning evils as sins, new life can be breathed into them.

Second Lesson:

(Mat 6:1-4)  “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. {2} “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {3} “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, {4} “that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

Third Lesson:

TCR 746:  It is written in the wisdom of the wise that no one is wise or lives for himself alone, but for others also; whence comes society, which otherwise could not exist. Living for others is being useful. Uses are the bonds of society; these bonds are as many as there are good uses, and in number uses are infinite. There are spiritual uses, which pertain to love of God and love to the neighbor; there are moral and civil uses, which pertain to love of the society and community in which a man lives, and of the companions and citizens with whom he lives. There are natural uses, which pertain to the love of the world and its necessities; and there are bodily uses, which pertain to the love of self-preservation for the sake of higher uses.