I met an Ethiopian brother in Christ a few months ago who lived through persecution under the Ethiopian Communist government in the late 1970s and early 80s. Since then, he has worked for the U.N. in Indonesia, and is currently the head of curriculum development in the seminaries of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church.
One night over dinner, he told me this story.
“When the Communists took over,” he said, “it was very bad. The head of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church is killed. Many people are afraid, many churches begin to meet in secret.” His voice drops to a whisper. “I saw this with my own eyes. In a village, the Christians are rounded up. They are in the middle of the village on their knees, and it is night. The other villagers surround the Christians and say ‘give up your Jesus, or you will die.’ And the Christians refuse. They will not. And so, on their knees, they wait to die.” He pulls his thumb across his neck. “But as they are about to be killed—BOOM—there is loud thunder from heaven. But there is no rain anywhere. Nowhere. It is dry. Dry thunder from heaven. The thunder is frighteningly loud, and the villagers begin to argue with each other. ‘Why are we killing these Christians?’ They argue and argue. In the midst of the arguments, the Christians sneak off to their beds.” My friend laughs, and then his eyes grow serious. “God fought for us that day. After that, those villagers had no problems there.”
“God fought for us that day.”
In the darkness, when things seemed hopeless, God fought for his people—this small group of believers ready to die. After years of persecution, years of praying, years of crying out to God, years of waiting… God shows up and fights for his people just when all hope is gone.
A three-year drought, a famine, a king “who did more to arouse the Lord’s anger than all the kings before him” (1 Kings 16: 33) and an evil queen killing off God’s prophets—a hopeless situation. The people of Israel have even turned to worship other gods.
Yet, right before today’s passage in 1 Kings 18, God’s prophet Elijah and Baal’s prophets battle before all of Israel to see who is really God. They prepare the altars, and they wait… which deity will send fire from heaven?
From heaven comes fire, engulfing the sacrifice on God’s altar. God fights for his people—fights to turn their hearts to him.
In this passage for today, we see Elijah waiting, waiting for God. After years of drought, years of famine, years of watching Israel’s hearts turn away from God, Elijah waits. Seven times, Elijah asks his servant to check for a cloud, a sign that God will break the drought. Seven times. He waits. Finally, a small sign of hope appears, a tiny cloud the size of a person’s hand. A tiny sign of things sure to come.
Much like Elijah, we wait upon God at times. God’s time and our time may be different; we often want God to fix things when we want them fixed, or we desire to see God work quickly in a situation. Sometimes he does, but sometimes we wait. Still, we are assured of this—God is in control, God will fulfill his promises, and God will show up and fight for his people and his people’s hearts.