Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” (1 Kings 18:43)
If you’re a baseball fan, you probably remember sports announcer Chris Berman, who, when announcing a home run, often cried, “Back-Back-Back-Back-Back . . . GONE!” Well, the word of encouragement I have for you today doesn’t come from an American sportscaster, but rather from the prophet Elijah of the commonwealth of Israel.
The drought that Elijah predicted had run its prescribed course of three years. He had been ministered to by the widow of Zarephath and returned the blessing by raising her son from the dead. Then God directed Elijah to go and tell Ahab, the king of Israel, that rain was on the way. After Elijah confronted the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, he sent his servant to the top of the mountain to look toward the sea and report whether or not rain was coming. Elijah sent his servant back . . . back—back—back—back—back—back seven times, refusing to give up on the promise of God. And, sure enough, the seventh time the servant came back with these words: “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” (1 Kings 18:44 ESV).
Elijah’s perseverance in prayer is a model for all of us today. He knew what God had promised and He knew he could count on that promise, simply because of the One who had made the promise to him. Elijah’s faith is even more remarkable in light of the immediacy of the answered prayer he had just experienced, when he had shamed the priests of Baal and God sent fire from heaven, consuming the wood, the burnt offering, the twelve stones of the altar, and even the water that filled the trench (1 Kings 18:30-39). This time, however, instead of an instant answer to Elijah’s supplication, there was a long delay. Clearly, God’s immediate answer served a mighty purpose for all who were on Mount Carmel and witnessed His power, and it is just as clear that this delay served a mighty purpose in the heart of God’s great prophet Elijah.
If you’ve spent much time in Scripture, you know that the number seven represents God’s number for perfection. It is certainly no coincidence that Elijah sent his servant to look seven times. The message is clear. God answers every one of our prayers instantly; He may answer with “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” Elijah was to wait upon the Lord to deliver His promised blessing in His perfect timing. Elijah would be strengthened in his waiting, and he was not to grow weary, because God’s plan is absolutely perfect to accomplish its purposes.
Notice that the faith of Elijah was rooted in expectant hope. He expected to hear about the coming rain every time he sent his servant to look for it; when he did not, Elijah sent him back again and again and again. Every report of “No rain” by the returning servant simply fueled Elijah’s faith to plead all the more. I am certain that, if the seventh time there was still the response of “No rain,” Elijah would have sent him back again.
What does your prayer life look like today? Do you have a firm grip on the promises of God, and do you refuse to let them go? Notice what was first seen by the servant: a little cloud, which was finally followed by a heavy rain. Have you looked closely at the results of your prayers?
What “little cloud” has God sent to encourage you to stay the course because the heavy rain is on the way? Go back—back—back—back—back—back—back, plead the precious blood of the Lamb, and trust God for His answer in His perfect time and in His gracious, loving way.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!