An Altar’s Fire

What is the purpose of an altar? An altar is a place of fire. It’s where the fire of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3) begins its work of testing and refining (See Zechariah 13:9).

When Elijah revealed himself to Ahab, he spoke immediately of the 850 prophets of other gods who ate at Jezebel’s table. What did eating at the table represent? Their lack of being refined. Elijah was insinuating that the prophets seemed blessed to the eye were really only blessed on the surface. Their experience was only as deep as the food on their plates. These people honored by the King’s wife never had their faith tested and tried. Their food had been handed to them.

Elijah said, “Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table (I Kings 18:19, NIV).” How had Elijah gotten his food? By the hand of the Lord! Elijah went to a ravine. (See I Kings 17.) He drank water from the ravine and was fed by ravens. No queen prepared him a meal every day. The income of an earthly king didn’t sustain him. His faith was tested and tried. He was provided for by his Heavenly King.

When the brook ran out, Elijah listened to God and asked a widow to sustain him. Think about the humbleness that such a request required. A widow would be on the lower end of society in Israel. Having a hardworking man as your husband gave women their status. Why should she take in a shiftless drifter?

If in today’s economy an unemployed man dared to ask provision from a single woman trying to support a son on minimal income, what would likely be her answer? A resounding, “No!” And she would probably add, “Get a job.”

But it was through this relationship with the widow and her son that God sustained Elijah for the last half of his testing.

Psalm 26:2 says, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart (KJV) The NIV says, “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind. There are three verbs in this statement. The first verb to examine (KJV) or test (NIV) means to test as if a person scientifically tested a metal. The general way metals were tested in biblical times was by fire. How strong was the metal? Could it be molded? Could it be melted and refined? So the Psalmist was saying, take me to the altar and send me through the fire.

Elijah during the famine was tested like metal. Did he have the faith to get through a tough time and still believe? God put him through the test of fire.

The second verb to prove (KJV) or try (NIV) means to try by adventure. Isaiah 48:10 says, “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction (NIV).”

In Elijah’s statement about the prophets that sat around the table with Jezebel, he implied that have had everything given to them, but Elijah had been tested by adventure. He had lived through the need for food and had seen his body not only sustained, but kept in continuous health.

The third verb to try (KJV) or examine (NIV) by fusing or refining. Not only was the metal tested but it was tested to the point of refining. It went all the way through the process and came out better, different, stronger on the other end. So David, the author of the Psalms, was saying, take my whole being through the complete testing process.

God brought Elijah through the complete process. When his testing was over and God was preparing to send him back to King Ahab, the ruler who had ordered him to be killed, Elijah had been made stronger. He was ready for the task.

The widow whose food had sustained Elijah said, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is truth (I Kings 17:24).”

The verb “know” extends the idea that she had observed and considered carefully the testing, the adventure, and the refining process of this man. Now she believes.

Elijah needed to hear that woman’s statement of belief. Her words would not have been in the Bible in that particular place, if they weren’t important to Elijah’s belief or ours. Her statement puts into words what God had placed in Elijah’s heart. Sometimes we need what is placed in our hearts confirmed in the words of another person. We don’t need the will of God projected into our lives, but we will receive encouragement when our internalized words of God are confirmed.

Elijah had been through the fire. Through fusion of God’s Word into his life and the refinement fires, he had come out stronger. The thoughts of his heart had been confirmed through the widow. He was now encouraged. He was spiritually and mentally ready for the next step.


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