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The "Troubler of Israel"
A master class in prophetic ministry from Elijah the Tishbite
“He said to them, ‘What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?’ They answered him, ‘He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’” (2 Kings 1:7–8)
The power and potency of the saints has always consisted in their ability to remain distinct from the world. Just as the usefulness of leaven consists in the fact that it is not the dough, so the usefulness of the saints is found in the fact that they are not the world. They are an alien substance, a foreign ingredient; a people altogether different in character, message, and conviction — and yet, by virtue of their difference, the means God uses to exert a preserving and correcting influence on idolatrous societies.
The examples of this are many. Whether we think of Moses in the court of Pharaoh (Heb. 11:26), or Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 1:8); whether Elijah and John the Baptist (2 Kgs. 1:8; Matt. 3:4), or Paul before Agrippa (Acts 25:23); whether we turn our eyes to history and think of Polycarp and Ignatius, Latimer and Ridley, Alfred and Asser, Bunyan and Ryle, the case is always the same: the usefulness of the saints in their particular generation was not found in their ability to conform to the assumptions and practices of their day, but rather in the degree to which they lived, by faith, in principled and public defiance of them. Indeed, that is the very essence of martyrdom. And as Tertullian famously commented, it was the blood of the martyrs — not the respectability of the saints — that was the seed of the church.
What this means is that Christians today must remember their identity and calling. We are not competing, as one fellow said, for a “seat at the cool table.” Rather, our lot is in the fens and marshlands outside the city limits (Heb. 11:38). We are “strangers and exiles,” and thus we are those called by our Lord to join Him outside the camp to “bear the reproach he endured” (Heb. 13:13). This is not to say, of course, that we should abandon the world to its idolatrous and suicidal whims, but it is to say that we should content ourselves with nothing less than total nonconformity to it (Rom. 12:1–2). Nebuchadnezzar’s, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,” after all, only came from his lips when they first refused to bend the knee to his idol (Dan. 3:28, 12).
Until the church begins to recover a sense of this, there will be no more hope for us than lamps that are tucked away under bushels or salt that has lost its saltiness. Utter and embarrassing irrelevance will be our portion until we remember the power of godliness. If, on the other hand, we turn to God in repentance and faith and embrace the prophetic role He has given us, I don’t doubt the wonders He will do.
May God therefore raise up a multitude in our day who are marked by a sterling and stalwart faith. Men and women who are less like the world and more like Elijah the Tishbite, that hairy and eccentric prophet who resisted kings and remained for all his days the great “troubler of Israel” (1 Kgs. 18:17).
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