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Israel's Current Spiritual Condition - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Romans 11:1-10

  • 2019-05-12 AM
  • Romans
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  • If you're familiar with the Scriptures at all, you are familiar with the name 'Baal.' Baal was the primary God in the ancient Canaanite religion. The word 'Baal' simply means 'lord,' and he was considered to be, by the Canaanites, the lord or the god of the storm and of the rain. Of course, very important in agricultural society where you depend on the rain for your success. There was no central sanctuary in the worship of Baal, but there were elaborate temples; but more than that, altars to Baal could be set up on virtually every hill. In the Old Testament, these came to be known as the 'high places,' the ones that were constantly condemned by God's prophets. So the high places then, when you come across that expression in the Old Testament, they were simply altars to Baal, originally located on or near the summit of hills. And the reason they were located on the high places was to be closer to the gods because Baal worship was particularly sexual and particularly exhibitionist. Baal and Asherah were voyeur deities whose own libidos were excited by viewing orgiastic rights or sacrificial acts of bloody brutality; and believe it or not, the reason for the high places, the reason for the elevation, the raised platform, was to allow the gods to watch more clearly. You can see how our culture is profoundly like that of Baal worship.

    But incredibly, as you read the Old Testament, you learn that a majority of the people of Israel fully bought into the worship of Baal. How could God's people do that? But it was in the middle of such times that the prophet Elijah ministered; and because of that, it's understandable that Elijah developed what has become famously called the 'Elijah Syndrome,' "I alone am left." As we learned from Paul, this morning, the 'Elijah Syndrome,' however dark the times in which you live, is always wrong; it's always wrong.

    We're in Romans, chapter 11, and just to remind you of the context as Paul explains in chapters 9 through 11, why so few Jewish people have come to believe in their Messiah, he wants us to understand in chapter 11, that the current situation will not last forever. So he reminds us in this great chapter of God's faithfulness; God will be faithful to His promises to Israel. Her story is not over! That matters, by the way, for all of us who profess Jesus Christ; because if God somehow broke His covenant with Israel, then what keeps Him from breaking it with us? And so this issue is profoundly significant to our eternity.

    Now in chapter 11, verses 1 to 32, Paul develops this idea of God's faithfulness in two major sections. Last Sunday, we began to consider the first section in verses 1 through 10, we were learning about, "Israel's Current Spiritual Condition," Israel's current spiritual condition.

    Now he begins by making the point that when you look at the nation as a whole, there is within it a remnant that is being saved by God's grace; that's the message of verses 1 through 6. He begins this with a rhetorical question, verse 1, the question is simply this, "Has God permanently rejected Israel?" Notice verse 1, "I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?" His answer is absolutely not, verse 1, "May it never be!" And then he begins verse 2, "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew." In spite of her rejection of the Messiah and His gospel, Israel is still the people of God.

    Paul then goes on, beginning in the middle of verse 1, down through verse 4, to provide the proof of that. He puts forth four convincing pieces of evidence to prove that God has not rejected His people. Last week, we examined three of those; let me just remind you of them briefly.

    The first piece of evidence we saw is personal. Paul's own conversion to Christ proves that God hasn't rejected His people. Notice verse 1, "For I too am an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." Paul's own experience in becoming a Jewish Christian makes him living proof that God has not abandoned His people in spite of their unbelief because, in the first century, there was no Jewish person who was more caught up in unbelief than Paul, that is then Saul of Tarsus, who killed Christians, tortured them, tried to force them to blaspheme Christ, and yet God saved him. There is a powerful reminder that God has not abandoned His people because of their unbelief.

    A second argument or second piece of evidence that he presents is biblical, and that is God's Old Testament promises not to forsake His people, those promises are evident, and they're here in this text. I reminded you that the wording of the question in verse 1, "Has God abandoned His people," and the answer in verse 2, "God has not rejected His people," the wording of both of those comes from the Old Testament; and in the Old Testament, we looked at several texts where God explicitly states, in those exact words that He will not abandon His people. One example is 1 Samuel, chapter 12, verse 22, "…the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself." So Paul borrows the very language of the Old Testament to say, "It's not going to happen. God will not do it."

    A third piece of evidence we considered was theological, in verse 2, God's electing love of the nation of Israel. Notice how it states it, "God has not rejected His people [Notice this.] whom He foreknew." And I'm not going to go back through and give you all the arguments, but he's talking here about Israel as a nation, the totality of the ethnic descendants of Abraham is, "God's people whom He foreknew." Not every Israelite, not every Jewish person is saved; he's arguing against that in this very text. He means, as a people, God set His special love upon them to be His witness nation to bring His Word to the world and through whom His Son would come into the world.

    The word 'foreknow' or 'foreknew' means He predetermined to have a relationship with her and Paul's argument is this. "Listen, if God deliberately and graciously chose Israel to be His people, it's impossible for Him to reject her. Now, that's where we left off last time.

    Today, we come to a fourth piece of evidence that God has not abandoned His people, the Jews. And it is also biblical in its nature; and specifically, it is God's response to Elijah the prophet. Beginning in the middle of verse 2, running down through verse 4, Paul interacts with this account from the life of Elijah. Let's read it together, verse 2, you follow along in your copy of the Scripture:

    God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have torn down your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life." But what is the divine response to him? "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal."

    Now Paul quotes this passage to emphasize the biblical reality of a doctrine he's already introduced to us back in chapter 9. It is the biblical doctrine of the remnant; that is that God redeems a remnant of people for Himself.

    Go back to chapter 9, verse 27. Paul quotes Isaiah here, "Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, 'though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant [There's our word.] that will be saved.'" It is the remnant!

    What is a remnant? You know, we speak of a remnant off of a bolt of cloth that's been cut, just a small little piece; it's a remnant. The Greek word means a 'relatively small surviving group.' In the Old Testament, it's commonly used of a spiritual remnant; a small number of people out of the whole who come to exercise genuine saving faith in God and who are forgiven of their sins.

    Now this Old Testament doctrine of the remnant kind of cuts both ways. It is a message of judgment on the one hand, but a message of hope on the other. It's a message of judgment because it means that only a remnant will be saved; most of the physical descendants of Abraham will be judged. But it's also a message of hope because it promises there is a remnant that will be saved. So in chapter 9, Paul uses the idea of a remnant negatively, only a remnant will be saved. But here in chapter 11, he uses it positively, there is a remnant which proves that God is continuing His faithfulness to Israel and the promises He made to her.

    Let's look at this together. Now, beginning in verse 2, Paul begins to develop this idea of the remnant from the Old Testament from one specific passage and story. Look at verse 2, "Or do you not know that the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah?" Paul here is eager as always to prove what he's teaching from the Old Testament; he wants us to know that the accusations that Christianity is some sort of an odd addition to Judaism that doesn't really fit. No, he says, "What I am teaching is exactly what the Old Testament teaches, what the Hebrew Scriptures teach." And here's the point he's making, what was happening in the first century with just a few of the Jewish people believing in Jesus and trusting Him as their Messiah and coming to genuine faith, that wasn't something new; that's always been true. It was true throughout the Old Testament as well; it occurred repeatedly during Israel's history. "Or do you not know what the Scripture says [Notice what he says.] in the passage about Elijah." You'll notice the words 'the passage about' are added by the translators, so literally it says, "what the Scripture says in Elijah."

    Now just in case you didn't know, Elijah is not a book in the Old Testament. This was simply a common rabbinical way to cite a passage of Scripture. It simply means it's in the section of Scripture about Elijah. Notice he goes on to say, "What was written in Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel." The Greek word for 'pleads' means 'to appeal' or 'to intercede.' In fact, we have met this word twice before in the book of Romans in a positive sense. It's normally used in a positive way, meaning 'to intercede on behalf of someone' or 'for their benefit.'

    You remember back in chapter 8, verse 27, it says, "…the Spirit…intercedes for [us] according to the will of God," same word. It's used in chapter 8, verse 34, "Jesus…Christ…intercedes for us." So it's used positively often and normally, but here it's used in a negative way meaning 'to intercede with God against Israel.'

    Now why would Elijah, a prophet of Israel, a prophet of God, be interceding against the people of God? Well, understand that and the point that Paul is about to make here, we need to step back for a moment and make sure that we understand some of the historical background to this story. And when I say 'story,' it's important understand I don't mean in the sense of a fairytale; these were real incidents. You can still visit the places where they occurred. In fact, those of us are going to Israel will see some of this even this fall. But here's what happened; you remember King Solomon. Well, after the death of Solomon, his son, Rehoboam, inherited the United Kingdom of Israel, one massive country there in the center of the Middle East, one piece of land that was Israel's. But through his foolishness, the monarchy was shortly divided into two parts as God had prophesied that it would be. So two parts now, with Rehoboam, there's rebellion, there is division, and you have two parts. You have first of all the Southern Kingdom, and that was made up of just two tribes, Judah and Benjamin. We refer to it often as Judah; it's where the Davidic line of kings ruled.

    But then you had the Northern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom was a federation of the other ten of the twelve tribes. It included, geographically, the areas that we think of as Samaria and Galilee. The Northern Kingdom, in Scripture in the Old Testament, is usually called Israel; and the Southern Kingdom is usually called Judah.

    Now, let's come back to the North because that's where this story unfolds, so we're talking about the ten tribes in the North, this Federation called Israel. The first king of the North was a man named Jeroboam, and Jeroboam created, immediately, his own apostate religion. And here's why, Jeroboam reasoned this way, he said, "Look, if three times a year with the required Feasts of Israel, my people are going from the north, crossing the border going down into the south, going to Jerusalem to worship, they're going to interact with people in the south; they're eventually going to want to be reunited because worship connects them, and I'm going to lose my power." And so what Jeroboam did was he said, "We're not to have any of that; no going to the south; no going to Jerusalem." He created a substitute worship and two alternative worship centers. One of them was in the far north of the Northern Kingdom, a place called Dan. You can still visit, by the way, the center that he built there, and we will this fall, those of us who are going to Israel. Dan, you recognize that, the Jordan River, that just means the river of Dan; it has its origin up north in the territory of Dan. And so way up there in the north of his territory, he built one worship center. And then down in the very southern end of his region of the Northern Kingdom, a place called Bethel, he built the other; so, these two worship centers. At these two sites, he erected gold images of calves.

    Now don't misunderstand what's going on here yet. At this point, Jeroboam is still supporting the worship of Yahweh. In fact, after he puts the calves up, he says, "Here is your God, oh, Israel who brought you out of the land of Egypt." What's he doing? He is, at this point, saying, "Let's worship Yahweh, but let's do so in a new way. Let's do so in a way that kind of fits with the people around us, with the Canaanite worship. We can still worship God, but we'll do so in a way that makes them comfortable." This is sort of the beginning of seeker sensitive worship. Sorry, that's probably a little bit of an overstatement. But you get the idea.

    The calves, by the way, in this way didn't represent Yahweh, so don't think the calves were like a picture of Yahweh. Instead, they were animals on which Yahweh stood in invisible form. This was a common Canaanite conception of the god, Baal. So the calves themselves were either images of the Canaanite deities or possibly symbols of their presence, like the Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God's presence.

    What's going on? Jeroboam's approach was essentially syncretism. He wanted to marry the worship of Baal with the worship of Yahweh, and he was very successful at it because every one of the eighteen kings, in the North that followed Jeroboam, also followed his idolatry. So much so, that throughout the book of Kings, if you read the book of Kings, you have read this constant refrain about king after king, "He did evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel sin."

    But as always happens with idolatry, it doesn't stop there. It doesn't stop with saying, "Let's worship the true God through these new means." Over time and not very much time, it became the focus of worshiping Baal instead of Yahweh, and Baal worship reached its zenith in the north about fifty years after Solomon, under the reign of a man named Ahab, the son of Omri.

    Turn back with me to 1 Kings. I want to show you a little bit about this man. It factors into the story. To really understand what Paul is telling us in Romans 11, you need to see this. 1 Kings, chapter 16, and notice verse 25, "Omri [This is Ahab's father.] did evil in the sight of the Lord and acted more wickedly than all who were before him." This is quite a spiritual heritage; your father is the worst so far, verse 26, "For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and in his sins which he made Israel sin, provoking the Lord God of Israel with their idols."

    Now let's meet the son, verse 29:

    Now Ahab, the son of Omri became king over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, [That's down in the Southern Kingdom.] and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel [That's in the north.] in Samaria twenty-two years. Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord [Now watch this.] more than all who were before him.

    So he's even worse that his dad. His dad was the worst and Ahab was even worse than him, and how? Verse 31, "It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat." In other words, he still kept those idolatrous centers with the golden calves, "We're worshiping Yahweh." Not Ahab, notice what happens with him, "…he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians." Stop there for a moment. So he goes outside of Israel, contrary to the law, and he marries this girl from the area of Phoenicia, modern Lebanon, and he brings her down, her name is Jezebel, one of the most wicked women ever. Her father, you'll notice here in the passage was a man named Ethbaal. You know what her father's name means? 'Baal lives!' Her father was actually a priest of Baal up in Phoenicia and killed his predecessor to get his throne, fine family heritage! And so, Jezebel marries into the Northern Kingdom, and things go from bad to worse under Jezebel.

    Notice verse 31 goes on to say, "[And Ahab] went to serve Baal and worshiped him." Now we are abandoning Yahweh altogether. We're saying, "No more worship of the true God; Baal lives!" He married a woman whose father's name meant that, who was a Baal worshiper, he worshiped him but that wasn't enough. Verse 32, "…he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria." In other words, Baal worship became the authorized state religion, funded by the state itself. So now we've gone from, "Let's worship Yahweh through, you know, kind of new means and not be so opposed to the people around us," to "Let's forget Yahweh and let's worship Baal."

    Ahab and Jezebel had a twofold mission, twofold. Number one, to promote the worship of Baal; and by the way, don't forget where I began this morning, don't forget what Baal worship is like. It's bloodied brutal sacrifices, not like the Old Testament sacrifices where there was a clean sweep of a knife across the animal's throat. It was a satanic substitute intentionally as brutal as possible because the gods enjoyed it. It was ritual prostitution of both sexes so the gods could watch. It was even at times child sacrifice—this is what this couple has brought to Israel.

    So they wanted to promote the worship of Baal and secondly, the other part of their mission was to erase the worship of Yahweh entirely from the land. So look at how this continues, verse 33 says, "Ahab also made the Asherah. [This is the partner of Baal, his sexual partner.] Thus, Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him."

    What I want you to see is that was the nature of the times in Israel; that's what it was like. It's, "Let's force the worship of the true God out, and let's enforce everybody to worship Baal in the horrible ways I've just described." That was the time in which Elijah the prophet came on the scene.

    Notice chapter 17, verse 1, "Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab." Stop there, there are incidents in the Bible, there are accounts that occurred that I would love to have been there for or to have a video of. This is one of them because you have to appreciate what's going on here. Ahab has built a temple and an altar in the capital of the Northern Kingdom for the worship of Baal to do the things I've just described, and he's married a woman named Jezebel whose father's name means, 'Baal lives!' They're doing everything they can to eradicate the worship of the true God from the entire land; and into the middle of that, comes a man announced at the palace, Elijah. In Hebrew, his name is, 'Eli-Yahew,' which means, 'My God is Yahweh.' Can you imagine when that name was announced at the palace? And he comes in, verse 1, and he says this to Ahab, "As (Yahweh), the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, [By the way, that's right in his face isn't it? It's not Baal, Yahweh is the God of Israel, and as He lives before whom I stand,] surely there [will] be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."

    You see, Elijah had read the Old Testament; he had read the Law where God had said that he would send a curse on the land if the people rejected Him, and they wouldn't receive the rain for their crops, and He would remind them that He was God in order to bring them back to Himself. And Elijah prayed (James 5 says) to that end and God heard and stopped the windows of heaven so that there was no rain. "Except by my word," verse 1 says.

    Go to chapter 18, verse 1. "Now it happened after many days [three years] that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, 'Go, show yourself to Ahab, and [now I'm going to end the drought.] and I will send rain on the face of the earth.'" And so Elijah does this, verse 17, "When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, "Is this you, you troubler of Israel?" I love this response, verse 18:

    He said, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of (Yahweh) and you have followed the Baals. Now then send and gather to me all Israel at Mount Caramel, together with [the] 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, [Notice this.] who eat at Jezebel's table."

    In other words, there were 850 false prophets of Baal and his consort, Asherah, on the government payroll. This is state-sponsored religion.

    So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Caramel. Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If (Yahweh) is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people did not answer him a word.

    So as you know, Elijah proposes a contest. "Let's build two altars, let's put the sacrifice on them, and then let's see which God sends fire to consume them." Verse 36:

    At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, [This is 3 o'clock in the afternoon.] Elijah the prophet came near and said, "O (Yahweh), the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel…that I am Your servant…[that] I've done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O (Yahweh), answer me, that this people may know that You, O (Yahweh), are God, and that You have turned their heart back again." Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. [And] When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "(Yahweh), He is God; (Yahweh)…He is God!" Then Elijah said to them, "Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape." [This may have been the 450 or it may have been all 850.] So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.

    By the way, some have said, "This is murder. This is not right. How could God command this?" Remember, he is judicially executing the people who had murdered the prophets of God; this is a judicial execution.

    Now as a result of all of that, beginning in verse 41, God sends rain. Verse 45:

    …the sky grew [dark] black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower…Ahab road and went to Jezreel, [from Mount Caramel, down to Jezreel]. Then the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and [he] girded up his loins and [ran the 15 to 25 miles before] Ahab [and beat him] to Jezreel. Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, [That's some hundred miles further south.] which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers."

    God cared for him, physically, verse 8 says, "[Then] he arose [and went] to Horeb, [that's Mount Sinai.] the mountain of God," where they had received the Law of God at the time of Moses. Verse 9, "Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, 'What are you doing here Elijah?'" Now here it is, verse 10, he said, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."

    Notice how God responds, God says:

    "[I want to go] stand on the mountain before the Lord." …behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. What's going on here? God is saying, "Look I don't always work in dramatic ways."

    Then verse 12 says:

    …[and] after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. [and] When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.

    He was supposed to have learned; he was supposed to have learned God doesn't always do the dramatic like sending down fire on the altar at Mount Caramel. Often, he works in small, quiet, seemingly insignificant ways. But Elijah didn't learn because he responds the same way. When God says, "What are you doing here?" Verse 14, he says exactly the same thing. Now, that's the background for our text.

    Turn back with me to Romans, chapter 11; Romans, chapter 11, verse 2, "…do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah? [Now you know] how he pleads with God against Israel." Now, Elijah, in his plea is quoted here, first of all, makes an accurate assessment, an accurate assessment. Verse 3, "Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have torn down your altars." Almost everything Elijah says to God in this verse is accurate; this is an accurate assessment of the spiritual state of the Northern Kingdom. Things were bad; they were really bad.

    Notice how Elijah describes it. First of all, "they have killed your prophets [with the sword]." Jezebel had done that, 1 Kings 18:13. Obadiah, another character in the story says to Elijah, "…Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, and I hid a hundred prophets of the Lord by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water." He's right; they were killing the prophets. Notice he adds the end of verse 3, "and they are seeking my life [to kill me]."

    We just read from chapter 19 of 1 Kings, that was true too. Jezebel said, "I'm going kill you just like you killed those prophets." So this is right. Notice he adds, "They have torn down your altars." There was supposed just be one altar in Jerusalem; but because Jeroboam was forbidding the people of God from going to Jerusalem to make sacrifices, the prophets apparently were allowing them to build altars in the north and to make legitimate sacrifices to God. But not only were the Israelites in the north wanting to worship Baal with Ahab and Jezebel, they were also antagonistic to the true God and those who wanted to worship Him. Isn't that the way false religion always is? It's never tolerant; it's always intolerant. So it says they tore down the altars to Yahweh. The Hebrew word back in 1 Kings is 'total destruction.' They razed them to the ground.

    Now, folks, so far Elijah was completely accurate in his assessment of the spiritual situation in Israel. But from that, he draws a mistaken conclusion. Look at verse 3, "and I alone am left." As one writer puts it, "This is the classic example of the folly of a pessimism which rests on judgments based on appearances, pessimism based on judgments based solely on appearance." You see, Elijah here chose to focus on his circumstances, not God's power. He magnified the pain of his circumstances, the evil of the people who were against him, and he minimized or ignored God's power and God's faithfulness to His promises, and that brought even the prophet Elijah to depression and to despair of life. You see, Elijah had been absolutely right about Israel's spiritual condition; but when he concluded, "I alone am left," he was terribly mistaken.

    And so notice in verse 4, God's surprising correction, "But what is the divine response to him?" The divine response, that expression, is one Greek word and it used only here in the New Testament. It means 'a divine oracle' or 'an authoritative divine answer.' In other words, what comes next is from God. And then Paul quotes God; and God, in this quote, makes three separate points that we need to grasp and understand.

    Point number one, He has always had a remnant; he has always had a remnant. God tells Elijah his math is all wrong. He's not the last man standing. Notice the wording carefully, "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men." Notice, God was the one who kept the seven-thousand men. He wasn't merely making the point to Elijah that seven-thousand true believers were left, rather that He Himself had accomplished it. The Greek word for 'kept' means 'to cause something to remain in existence, to cause something to be left over.' So there's an actor here and it's God. God says, "I…kept." God's declaring His faithfulness to His promise to save His people, a remnant from among them.

    Then notice, Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, adds a prepositional phrase that's not in the Old Testament to explain what the Spirit meant in the Old Testament. An apostle has the right to do that; he speaks for Christ. He adds that little phrase, "…for Myself, I…kept [them] for Myself." It refers to God's attitude toward His own. He has a special relationship with them; they are His people. He considers them His special treasure.

    Listen, if you're a follower of Jesus Christ, this is God's attitude toward you. He has kept you for Himself. You are His special treasure. God kept a remnant in Elijah's time. He kept a remnant throughout the rest of the Old Testament. If you're familiar with the Old Testament, you're familiar with that again and again, that's true. And when it comes to the first century, God, in saving Paul and other Jewish people, was keeping a remnant for Himself. If you're a believer in Jesus Christ as you sit here today, understand this is true of you.

    We live in a world where most people do not believe in Jesus Christ; they have not come to believe and to follow the true God. You are part of a remnant that God has kept for Himself.

    By the way, if you're here this morning and you've not come to believe in Jesus Christ, you can be part of that remnant today. We saw, at the end of the last chapter of Romans, (Revelation?) God with His arms outstretched, with an open invitation saying, "Come, come!" That invitation is still open to you if you are willing to leave your sin and to put your faith in the life, the perfect life, the substitutionary death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ as your only hope of being right with God. Then you can be a part of that remnant today. It will prove, if you're willing to do that, it will prove that God has kept you for Himself. So God was telling Elijah that He's always had a remnant.

    Secondly, another point God was making is this, the remnant is always larger than we think. Elijah thought he was the only true believer left or at least one of a few; it may have been slight hyperbole. But what's clear is he had absolutely no idea about the existence of this many believers. But God kept for Himself seven-thousand, but are you ready for this? God also kept a whole lot more than seven-thousand. How do we know that? Because notice it says, "seven thousand men." There are two Greek words, common words for men. One of them is 'anthropos,' it's a generic word. It can be like 'mankind,' it can be man or woman. That's not the word used here. The word used here is the word 'andros,' which is specifically of males. God says to Elijah, "I have [preserved]…seven thousand [males]." That means there were also probably just as many or more women, and there were children as well. God had preserved a large number of people. You see, the remnant is always larger than we think.

    A third point that God made here is that the true believing remnant doesn't bow to Baal; the true believing remnant doesn't bow to Baal. Notice again verse 4, "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men [And then he adds this.] who have not bowed the knee to Baal." Bowing the knee is a symbol of submission. If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, you have bowed the knee in submission to His Lordship; it's recognizing someone as your spiritual Lord. True believers don't worship Baal.

    You say, "Well, of course not, that's not even a thing." By the way, it is still a thing, but it's not a big thing in this country. You probably haven't met any Baal worshipers, so what do you mean, "We don't worship Baal?" Well, why did people worship Baal in the Old Testament? It wasn't about the golden calves; it was about two things that they got out of it. It was about the pursuit of sexual pleasure because they could worship and engage in that; and it was about materialism because, remember, Baal was the god of the rain supposedly; and in an agricultural society, what did you need to have a lot of crops and be very successful? You needed rain, and so the worship of Baal was entirely self-serving. It was for the pursuit of sexual pleasure, and it was for the pursuit of materialism, that's it!

    So you tell me, "Do we still have remnants of Baal worship in our culture? Not just remnants; it's the dominating pursuit of the world in which we live, sexual pleasure and materialism. But true believers, while they may be tempted in these ways, they may even give in from time to time to these sins, they will never submit to the sins; they will never worship these things like many in our culture do.

    So look again at verse 4. Here's God's correction, "I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal."

    Now, what are the lessons from this passage for us? Let me give them to you very quickly. Number one, and this is the point that Paul's making in this passage, this is why he sights this; God has not forsaken Israel. Just like He didn't in the Old Testament, He had a remnant; He has still got a remnant. He hasn't forsaken His people; it's now just like it's always been, a believing remnant, small number who have become true believers in the true God and have been forgiven.

    John Murray writes, "Notwithstanding the apostasy of Israel as a whole, yet there was a remnant whom God had kept for Himself and preserved from the idolatry of Baal's worship. This example is offered to prove that God has not cast off Israel as His chosen and beloved people."

    Number two, God is saving more Jewish people than we think. You know, we look around us, and you know, our hearts go out to them as God's beloved people that so few have come to know Him and that's true; there is just a remnant. But guess what? It's always more than we think. It was, in Elijah's time, he miscalculated. It was in Paul's time, Paul got it right, and it is in our time as well.

    Number three, and now let's go beyond the Jewish people and let's enlarge our application here. Third lesson, God always, in the fullest terms, has a larger remnant than we think. Folks, we live in dark and difficult times, and it seems like the true faith may eventually perish from the earth; that's what it feels like in the times in which we live; and like Elijah, we can be tempted to be discouraged, to feel alone, certainly that's increasingly true in our nation, and certainly in the world as a whole. To make it more personal, we can often feel like we are alone in our workplace or in our schools or even in our families. It's easy to lose hope, to become discouraged, pessimistic, even despairing. Maybe you've been tempted to say with Elijah, "I alone am left and they seek my life to take it away."

    Listen, you can choose to sit under your juniper tree and feel sorry for yourself. But, no matter how dark the world may become, God is still at work, and He is still redeeming a people for His Son. If you're tempted to look at the news headlines and be discouraged, if you're tempted to see what's going on in our culture around us and to lose heart, listen, don't! God is at work, and He always has a larger remnant than we think. John Calvin, in his commentary on this very passage, says this:

    It follows, therefore, that those who evaluate the church on the basis of their own opinions are in error. If that distinguished prophet who was so endowed with the light of the Spirit was deceived in this way when he desired to reckon the number of God's people by his own judgment, what will be the case with us? For our highest discernment when compared with His is nothing but dullness. Let us, therefore, form no rash decision on this point, but rather let this truth remain fixed in our hearts, God has a way accessible to Himself but concealed from us by which He wonderfully preserves His elect even when all seems lost.

    Number four, the spiritual majority are never right; the spiritual majority are never right. I'm not talking about within Bible believing evangelical churches. I'm talking about the world as a whole. Look at the vast religions that sweep across this planet; the spiritual majority are never right; in Elijah's day and in Paul's day, the majority of the world were dead wrong; even the majority of the Jewish people were dead wrong. And that's the way it is in a fallen world, and it always will be, so don't ever think that because you're in the minority, you must be wrong. Look at what all those people are saying; that's how it has always been; that's how it always will be.

    The question is, "What does the Bible say?" That's where we have to stand, with God and with the truth, "Let every man be a liar, God Himself is true." In a famous poem against slavery, James Lowell wrote these famous words, and I love them and it's so true. He said, "Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne." Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. That's the way it's always been; that's the way it always will be until our Lord returns and righteousness is restored to this planet. So get used to it; get used to being in the minority; it doesn't mean you're wrong; it doesn't mean that you're not the people of God; it's been the minority who have been the people of God, who followed what the Scriptures say.

    But that's not the spirit of our age. The spirit of our age says, "Go with the numbers."

    Lloyd Jones says:

    The whole atmosphere is against this at the present time. They are teaching in terms of amalgamations, numbers, and who are you to stand out so you will get vilified and criticized. Don't worry, my friends. Don't think in terms of numbers; it is truth that matters not numbers and not popularity.

    Listen, if you're going be a follower of Jesus Christ, if you're going to believe the Word of God, then you will stand in the tradition of every true follower of Jesus Christ and of the true God throughout human history, and you will stand with a remnant, with a small minority of people.

    Number five, and I love this one. God most often accomplishes His purpose in quiet and seemingly insignificant ways rather than the dramatic, just like he showed Elijah at Mount Sinai.

    Listen, He's not in the wind. He's not in the violent things. He's not in the dramatic. Oh, He does that at times; there was Mount Caramel; but most of the time, God's work is done in quiet, seemingly insignificant ways. The point is Christ will continue to build His church. He will do so quietly, one soul at a time, for the most part, using ordinary means like us and like His Word, like your sharing the gospel with someone or someone reading a tract or sitting in a service like this and hearing the gospel preached, and He will continue to do His work, quietly in ordinary ways. But here's the point, nothing can frustrate His plan. So work hard, pray and share the gospel. But, folks, don't worry about God, He will be okay. He has a plan and nothing will stand in the way of that plan. Leave His cause in His hands! This is His purpose and don't ever forget the truth that we have learned together from this text; God always keeps for Himself a remnant, and it's always larger than you think.

    Let's pray together. Father, we adore you. We stand in awe of your greatness, and we fall before you in adoration of your love and your grace and your goodness. Thank you that you have kept us for yourself, Lord, that we are your treasure. For all who are believers in Jesus Christ, we are your people, that you will hold us through this life, and you will usher us into your eternal presence. Thank you that you do that through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; that He will hold us fast. Father, help us to remember that you will accomplish this, and the remnant is always larger than we think.

    Lord, I pray for those who may be here today who are not in Christ. Help them to see; open their eyes to see the futility of their idolatry, whatever it is they're worshiping, if it isn't you, that it doesn't satisfy, it never will. And Father, help them to see the beauty and attraction of you. Bring them to yourself through your Son today. We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.