Troubler of Israel
17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”
(1 Kings 18:17 ESV)
It is now the third year of drought and famine ( 18:1) that Elijah had predicted at the beginning of chapter 17 , and Ahab has asked his servant Obadiah , to go and look for pasture for his horses and mules, as the severe drought would have had a great effect on available grassland. At the heart of Ahab’s kingdom was the valley of Jezreel which in modern-day Israel is a green oasis of very fertile farmland, but without copious irrigation would quickly turn into dust. Ahab is getting desperate, he needs water, as he needs horses for his military. There is no mention of the people, horses were more important to Ahab. Elijah confronts the king as he has said he would and strange as it may seem the king pays heed to his instructions. The stage is being set for the great confrontation which lay ahead on Mount Carmel. But before this takes place, the conversation between the two in verse 17-19 is telling.
For Ahab to describe Elijah as ” you Troubler of Israel “ was in effect to pronounce a death sentence on him. Accusing him of crimes against the state, or even treason , the word of the King was law and would in ancient times lead to a quick and summary execution. ( See Haman’s fate in Esther 7:8)
The real clue as to who actually is the troubler of Israel is found in what scripture has to say of Ahab himself. The context of Elijah’s story is found in the previous chapters of 1 Kings, 1 Kings 16 gives us a potted history / biography of several kings of Israel, and unsurprisingly Ahab is deemed to be the worst of them. Ahab was the son of Omri , an able but evil king , who fortified Samaria and made it his impressive capital city. ( 1 Kings 16:24) The record of Omri is that although admired by even other nations , he did evil in the sight of the Lord ( 1 Kings 16:25) . However he was as nothing compared to his son , as Ahab did more evil than all who were before him’ ( 1 Kings 16:30) The book of second kings describes Ahab in these terms ( There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. 26 He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel. (1 Kings 21:25-26 ESV)
So Ahab is ‘ the troubler of Israel ‘ not Elijah, and Elijah is not slow in pointing out this fact to the king, again an act of great courage. Ahab’s comment to Elijah is a somewhat typical stereotype of Christians. In the Scottish Context the historian Tom Nairn once famously said: “Scotland will never be free until the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.”( A well-known Scottish Sunday newspaper). This might be an extreme view, but it is one that I am sure many of us will have come across that the reason for society’s ills is god bothering Christians. Think of the caricature of Christians in some British Soap operas . I am glad I don’t watch soaps now, but I remember Mrs Mack from High Road, Dot Cotton from East Enders and others being portrayed as old-fashioned, backward busybodies.
You may have had that thrown in your face quite recently even, that our faith is simply a crude superstition that is stifling progress and even a threat to social cohesion, or that Christians are simply bigoted, hypocritical and intolerant. The truth lies in the story of Ahab and Elijah, the troubler of Israel is not the man of God. The Christian who is walking in God’s light and in obedience to His will, is never the source of trouble and strife. There may be times when this attends our days, simply because of our lifestyle and faith, but the Christian is never the troubler of Israel. The antipathy of a God hating world comes at us because of Jesus Christ who said “ If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.(John 15:18 ESV)
So who is the real troubler of Israel ? Well as we will see the real troubler of Israel is found at Ahab’s side and in his bed (See 1 Kings 18:19).