“I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (Romans 11:4)
As Christians, it’s easy to look around and feel grieved by the compromises we see in churches and the lives of other believers; sometimes disillusioned by the moral lapses in both pews and pulpits; sometimes offended by the lack of depth and commitment to the cause of Christ; sometimes dismayed by the focus on light, sound, and fog in the weekend productions.
In Romans 11:4 Paul draws on a remarkable story from 1 Kings 19.
The prophet Elijah is in a low place. He’s discouraged and overdosed with self-pity. After a great triumph over the prophets of Baal, he’s on the run from Queen Jezebel who would dearly like to kill him. In his misery, Elijah even asks God to take his life (v.4).
There he was, hiding in a cave, complaining to God that nobody in all of Israel is faithful to God, except Elijah himself. He’s the picture of short-sighted faithlessness, and self-absorbed self-righteousness. And the Lord gently says to the embittered Elijah, “Oh by the way, there are 7000 in Israel who have not bowed their knee to Baal.”
7000? I don’t imagine they formed a community in hiding. I expect that they spread across that tiny land in many places. Yet, Elijah hadn’t seen them; didn’t know them; didn’t even know about them.
In those moments when I want to complain to God about the state of the church or the lives of other believers, and start to feel a little “righteous indignation,” this story makes me pause.
In Romans 11, Paul affirms that Christ is Lord and God is Sovereign. We think we see it all. We trust our experience and wisdom. But we only ever see part of what is really happening. Behind the scenes, beneath the surface, God works. He gathers His people in unexpected ways and from unexpected places. He achieves His purposes without us, and sometimes despite us.
Just when I want to complain to God that the church is weak, compromised, uncommitted, lukewarm, hypocritical, and shallow AND that there aren’t many left who are cut from the glorious cloth that I’m cut from, He whispers through 1 Kings 19 and Romans 11, “All is well. My people — earnest, committed, sacrificial, dedicated, and true — are everywhere. Do not despair. I’ve got it!”
Perhaps on this Lenten day we might remind each other, and ourselves: “7000 remain.” Be encouraged. Be hope-filled. Christ will not let the gates of Hades prevail against His Church!