top of page

From Despair to Deliverance: Finding Hope in the Story of 1 Kings 18 by Dr. Terry Harman

Updated: Feb 18

Viral Despairs?

Are you ready for COVID-19 to be a thing of the past? I am. For Jews and Christians around the world our religious observances, celebrations, and regular worship services of 2020 and now 2021 have been devastated. In 2020 we were required to “shelter in place.” Our holiest seasons are meant to be a time of personal reflection and communal experiences. These special occasions are times when friends and families travel long distances to experience meaningful moments together. For too many of us loneliness, sadness and even despair have overshadowed holidays that once were filled with the making of precious memories and family traditions.

Amid living with a virus outside our doors, the political divisions that have gone viral continue to bombard us daily with negativity, through television, radio, internet, and social media. People are polarized on everything. There appears to be no hope on the horizon for a compromise, only more rancor and in-fighting. If only a heavy rain would come and wash away the political rancor and ugliness of our nation the same way a hard rain pours down and cleanses the dirty winter snow piled high in the parking lots of our neighborhood malls.

During this period, our daily vocabulary has expanded. Words such as “Zoom” and “Facebook Live” have become our go to alternatives for meeting in person. Yes, it is better than not meeting at all, but the electronic formats are a far cry from the face-to-face energy and connections made during personal interactions. We yearn for human connection and the day when all COVID restrictions have “Passed Over” us.

COVID Collateral Damages

As we travel our streets, we are aware of more closed businesses. Shops, strip malls and restaurants that once thrived may not return. Sadly, another disturbing change brought about by COVID-19 - the empty parking lots of churches and synagogues. An uncomfortable reality? On the one hand, some congregations have financially succumbed, and the doors have shuttered. On the other hand, congregations might struggle to return to full health because members of their spiritual community have become disconnected with each other and their faith. People have adjusted to the loss of being part of a community. It is not uncommon to hear the disappointment, concern, and expressions that we are living through a “spiritual drought.”

Remnants Provide Hope During Pandemics

Fortunately, there has always been a remnant during tough times that held on to hope and reinvented itself in the way prayer, study, and worship were experienced. These survivors modified existing ministries to offer the same care and message through different methods. New feeding programs, pastoral visits through Zoom and Face Time, digital newsletters, video archives of services, re-instituted old school telephone trees and card writing and even drive-by feeding programs. Religious organizations have recruited lay counselors to reach out and connect with the most vulnerable members of their community who might be experiencing loneliness, despair, and other chronic illnesses.

Remnants Find Hope in Biblical Stories

In times of “spiritual drought” and disappointment turning to the stories of the Bible can provide refreshment for our souls. The real-life experiences recorded in the Bible are not like the scripted “Reality TV” shows of our day. The writers of the scripture tell it as it is – the good, the bad, and the godly! Often, the biblical narrative starts with a gloomy situation, but the horizon reveals glimmers of hope in the small things. The lesson learned from the time of 1 Kings may provide some direction and hope for those of us who are experiencing a “spiritual drought” due to the restrictions of COVID-19.

The Political Division of 1 Kings 12

The nation was engulfed in political turf wars over taxes! During King Solomon's reign many extravagances were paid for by levying heavy taxes on the people. When King Solomon died his son, Rehoboam was next in line for the throne. Rehoboam (“the people are enlarged” or “people of width.”) interestingly, did the exact opposite of what his name implies. The kingdom of 12 tribes did not enlarge but divided into two kingdoms (Judah “let him be praised” and Israel “God strives,” “God persists,” God is upright”).

The people sought relief from their new king, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Instead of lightening the tax burden, King Rehoboam decided to increase it. Angered with new taxes, the ten northern tribes chose Jeroboam ("the people contend" or "he pleads the people's cause") as their new king and seceded from the 12 tribes sometimes referred to as the “United Monarchy.” Rehoboam and the southern tribes became Judah. Jeroboam and the northern tribes became Israel.

Spiritual and Natural Droughts

In his misguided effort to keep his people from traveling to worship in Jerusalem in the south, where they might be influenced to stand with Rehoboam, Jeroboam, the king of the North built two alternative sanctuaries and inaugurated the worship of the golden calf. Jeroboam stationed one calf in the city of Bethel (“house of God”) and the other in the city of Dan (“to judge or govern”). Jeroboam’s intention was to divert pilgrims traveling to the Temple in Jerusalem to one of the two southern kingdom’s shrines. This act of political expediency caused a spiritual drought throughout the land. If this were not enough Jezebel's spiritual bankruptcy motivated her to promote Baal worship, a cult of ungodly prophets, and to take measures to exterminate the prophets of God.

used by permission

1 Kings 18

1 Kings 18 informs us that in the north Israel experienced a physical drought. For nearly three years and one-half years no rain has fallen on the parched ground. In times past, the Mediterranean Sea was always a source of hope. All one had to do is watch the sea. When rain was on the horizon all you had to do is look out toward the sea and see the winds carrying the fresh rain across the waters of the sea.

Weather Watchers

Experienced weather watchers with a keen eye could read the signs of the wind and the clouds and easily predict when the rain would reach land and drench the dry ground and water the thirsty crops. Trained eyes could see in the distance the first signs of a coming storm long before the common villager.

But during this season it was different. The crops have dried up and withered away with no rain. With no crops to harvest it was just a matter of time before all the stored grain dwindled away. With no grain there was no flour. With no flour there was no dough to knead. With no dough there was no bread to bake. Water to drink was short on hand. The lack of food and water has created constant hunger pains and parched lips within the community. Tears flow freely as fathers and mothers loose hope of taking care of their children. Everyone was looking toward the sea, but the Mediterranean offered no hope in sight. Not a cloud in the sky.

Elijah Dismayed

Even the prophet Elijah was dismayed. 1 Kings 18:42-43 indicates he bowed his face between his knees in prayer. His posture symbolizes a renewed submission to the Lord.

And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant: ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’ And he went up, and looked, and said: ‘There is nothing.’ (JPS 1917)

The past mercies and victories of the Lord faded in the memory of many. No longer were the stories circulating of the defeat of the 450 prophets of Baal upon the mount. No longer did the people remember before the rain came to refresh the land; the fire first fell to cleanse the land. In one last moment of desperation, the prophet called the young men. These young souls had not been discouraged by the naysayers. They had not been blinded by the negativity of the community.

Six times the young men looked for a sign from the sea.

Six times the young reported to the prophet, “no sight of rain.”

Despite the lack of natural signs, the prophet Elijah could smell the rain in his soul!

Elijah could see God in the small things. Despite the negativity of the naysayers, the prophet Elijah could hear with spiritual ears the distant thunder of the Lord! Despite the dry parching wind, the prophet Elijah could feel in his spirit the cool refreshing rain!

Elijah called for the young men a seventh time. Go forth and observe the Mediterranean Sea. They obeyed the man of God. And then it came. Not a big sign. Not a powerful wind. Just a small cloud as “small as a man’s fist.”

As young men watched the cloud traveled closer to the land. Excitement grew. Hope reappeared. Finally, what was far off in the distance gradually grew from the little cloud without much promise to a certain reality upon the shore. The wind and the rain were no longer far off in the distance.

When the rain approached the dry land, it burst forth and poured out the rain and ran freely in between the cracks of the parched land. The earth was refreshed, and the hot dry soil was cooled and replenished. The thirty lands were renewed as the Elijah had prophesied!

used by permission

Many of us are experiencing a spiritual drought. Covid has separated us from loved ones. Covid has separated us from our house of worship. Covid has taken our loved ones. Covid has changed our finances and our daily routines. For some, the isolation and distancing has taken its toll on us. Our soul has all but dried up. For some depression has set in and anxiety has increased. We miss our daily routines. We miss our friends. We miss our worship. God send the rain!

In times of disappointment or turmoil many find solace in the Psalms.

In times of my deepest despair

In times when my prayers seem to not rise above the ceiling

In times when it felt like evil had surrounded me

In times when the environment bred nothing but negativity

In times when the darkness choked the light from my sight

In times when my soul was drudging through a spiritual desert

Psalms Pierce the Darkness and Enlarge the Kingdom of Light

Turn to the Psalms and not to yourself . Seek a place of solitude where no one can hear you.

Then try this. Do not just read the Psalms. Prayed the Psalms. Pray the psalms out loud!

What we now call the book of Psalms was once the songs and chants of ancient Israel. Many of these psalms were sung by the Levitical choir as part of the worship in the Temple service.

Photo by Dr. David Hamilton Mishkan Ministries and Gallery - Mobile, Alabama

What we have in our Bibles today is a collection of Israel’s top 150 hymns, prayers, and songs. Each psalm records more than the lyrics of a nation. The psalms reveal the deep yearning of a people reaching out to their Lord in times of joy, times of turmoil, times of deliverance, times of thanksgiving, times of sin and times of worship. The heart felt lyrics were sung in their worship at the Temple. These words echoed in their homes as people gathered with their family in times of trouble, grief, and sorrow as well as in times of victory.

These ancient Hebrew songs gave rise to voices of the people.

· deep personal feelings

· their longing for better days

· praise for ultimate deliverance

Psalm 13:1-7 (JPS 1917) is one of my go to psalms when it looks like it can't get any worse when the bottom has fallen out and it seems like everything is against me. This psalm helps when all I can say is "How long oh God. How long?"

For the Leader. A Psalm of David.

How long, O LORD, wilt Thou forget me for ever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart by day? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Behold Thou, and answer me, O LORD my God; Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say: ‘I have prevailed against him’; Lest mine adversaries rejoice when I am moved. But as for me, in Thy mercy do I trust; My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation. I will sing unto the LORD, Because He hath dealt bountifully with me.

Psalms learned as young children, now in times of turmoil replayed in the minds of adults.

· while they walked

· while they prayed

· while they sang

· while they worked

· and yes, while they cried

Like the songs we love with a catchy tune, these psalms most likely replayed and were rehearsed in their mind throughout the night and day. These psalms give voice to our inner most longings. When we pray the psalms, we share our intimate experiences with an all-hearing God who listens to our pain. We must learn to hear the psalms with our heart and our soul not just our mind.

Reflect on 1 Kings 18

Let us return to 1 Kings 18. The prophet Elijah stood alone and spoke the truth. He was not shaken by his circumstances.

1 Kings 18:43 – “look toward the sea.”

· Typical source of rainstorms in Israel.

· Do you feel like you are in a dry space?

· Do you feel like your soul is dry and parched?

Look back in your past when the Lord metaphorically defeated the 450 prophets of Baal in your life! Look back in your life when the spirit rained and refreshed your soul. Look back to the source of your blessings – not with the natural eye! Look back not to the work of your hands. Not back to your natural sources such as your job, your friends, or your family. Look back when the spirit descended upon you and spiritually brought you through the natural circumstances.

1 Kings 18:44 – “small as a man’s hand”

* The smallness of this cloud signifies an unnatural and unlikely provision of rain.

* You may have a source of refreshment that has gone unnoticed.

* Insignificant. Small like a little cloud out on the Mediterranean Sea.

* Look back to when you were a little boy and knew God was real.

* Look back to when you grasp a parent's hand and walked to the house of the Lord.

* Look back to the time when you listened to the choir and sang the songs of the Lord.

* Look back to that small cloud off in the horizon . . . just before your breakthrough

* Look back to that small cloud off in the horizon . . . just before your blessing was realized

* Look back to that small cloud off in the horizon . . . just before ________________!

Look back to the place when you could hear the spiritual thunders rumbling in your soul. Look back right before the rains and showers of blessing poured out on your soul in such a way that you knew the source was only the Lord, when your heart was full and satisfied!

Can you hear the thunder off in the distance?

Can you smell the rain in your soul?

Song Rain Dance

In closing I leave you with the words to a song written by David and Nicole Binion. I wish I could sing it for you but then you might start praying Psalm 13 "How Long Oh God, How Long must my ears endure this pain! The title of the song is “Rain Dance.” It is powerful. It pierces the darkness and enlarges the Kingdom of God. It is reminiscent of Joel 3:28-29.

Rain Dance

We believe the promises spoken by the prophet Joel about the former and the latter rain.

When it comes and floods our thirsty soul.

We’ve been praying for the rain.

Praying for the rain to fall.

Fall upon our cities Lord.

Come and overtake us all.

You don’t want to miss your chance. Everybody rain dance.

We’re talking about the rain. Rain down from heaven.

We need some Holy Ghost.

Rain down from heaven. Lord we need the rain.

Lord, we’ll never make it without the rain.

You don’t want to miss your chance. Everybody rain dance.

We’ve been looking to the sky.

Seen a cloud just like a hand.

Heard it with our spirit ears.

Abundant rain will drench the land.

So, we’re gonna nudge the heart of God.

Who holds the waters in a heap?

And move it with some crazy praise.

That breaks the fountains of the deep

And wakes the waters from their sleep.

You don’t want to miss your chance. Everybody rain dance.

Rain down from heaven.

We need your rain.

Lord, we’ll never make it without the rain.

You don’t want to miss your chance. Everybody rain dance.

We don’t need any more dry land.

We need the rain!

146 views2 comments
bottom of page