Fourth in a series on spiritual warfare: Elijah and the power of obedience
“Consider well the seed that gave you birth: you were not made to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge” (Dante, ‘Inferno,’ Canto 26). The spiritual life is a constant battle to remember where we came from and where we must go.
Satan’s strategies, as we’ve seen in my last three columns (1, 2, 3), revolve around refusing to accept legitimate authority (the Jezebel strategy), refusing to exercise legitimate authority (the Ahab strategy) and refusing to worship worthily (the Cain strategy). All three satanic strategies are rooted in a form of identity theft—all would rob Christians of their identity as adopted sons and daughters of God, who are heirs to his Kingdom. Satan would have us believe that we are orphans ejected into a hostile world. But (so the lie goes), Satan understands our pains, fears and aspirations, and we can cut a deal with him to get what we deserve.
Jesus warned that we would be under constant attack (Luke 22:31). Our Heavenly Father hasn’t left us defenseless. For each of the three satanic strategies described above, God has provided a holy weapon, a divine remedy to stand firm against the schemes of Satan.
Jezebel, we read in 1 Kings, is the seducing pagan married to Ahab, the feckless king of Israel. She badgers and cajoles, and finally establishes the diabolical cult of Baal in Israel. God’s weapon against her is the great prophet, Elijah.
Jezebel personifies disobedience to the proclaimed word of God. Father Richard John Neuhaus said, “The only remedy for disobedience is more obedience.” Elijah personified that obedience. He received the word of God, and delivered that word as God commanded him to deliver it, even at great peril to himself. He wouldn’t remain silent or overlook the harm done to Israel through the idolatry promoted by Jezebel.
The challenge for us today is that the work of the prophet, as shown through Elijah, contradicts the false peace with which we try to comfort ourselves as we rationalize our disobedience. Having received the word of God, Elijah was “judgmental,” “divisive,” and anything but “inclusive.” The call to holy obedience, as embodied by the prophets and illustrated by Elijah, was perfected by Christ.
Satan tried time and again to divert Jesus from the cross. He tried to offer Jesus a better deal than the will of our Heavenly Father. In other words, Satan tried to steal the identity of Jesus, to make him forget that he was a son. Secure in his identity as the most beloved and only-begotten son of our Heavenly Father, Jesus, who is the Word of God, obeyed the will of our Heavenly Father and accepted the cross as the instrument of our redemption.
That triumphant and fruitful obedience of Jesus is memorialized in the glorious hymn of Saint Paul’s Epistle (Philippians 5:2-11):
“…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What is the holy weapon of prophecy, and how is it to be wielded against the satanic Jezebel strategy? In its essence, prophecy is a ready hearing and acting upon the word of God by one who gives himself completely to the will, wisdom and goodness of our Heavenly Father. It is a readiness to evaluate—and then praise or denounce—all that we find in light of the Word God has spoken to us.
Prophecy will not negotiate with idolatry or disobedience. It will not barter away God’s promises for the seductions of the world and the lies of Satan. It will not allow to be stolen what can only be given by God.
Advent is an especially graced time to immerse ourselves in the words of the biblical prophets, and to recall God’s fidelity to his promises. It is a time to embrace our identity as sons and daughters of God. It is a time to resolve to complete the journey to our only true home—the heart of our Father—where already a banquet is prepared for us. This Advent, let’s unencumber ourselves from whatever will hold us back from making that journey.
When I write next, I will consider a second crucial weapon in the divine arsenal for waging war against Satan. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.