When Omri died, his son became king. The new king, Ahab, brought new possibilities. Perhaps he wouldn’t be as evil as his corrupt father. Perhaps he would lead the nation of Israel in a massive revival, and turn from the worship of pagan gods to the worship of the true God. All of these hopes were crushed almost immediately. Instead of turning to God, Ahab built a massive worship center to Baal. Instead of obeying the commands of God, Ahab married a princess of the pagans, Jezebel. Seeing this corruption must have been so discouraging to all those living in Israel at the time. In response to this wickedness, the prophet Elijah took a trip to see King Ahab. In boldness Elijah (whose name means “my God is Jehovah) shocked King Ahab by saying, “Until I say, there will be no rain in your entire country.” In a subsistence culture, no rain meant massive starvation, bankruptcy, and ultimately political unrest. This proclamation was a devastating one, and for three years, the wickedness of Ahab was met with the punishment of a God-sent drought. Eventually, Elijah prayed to God, and asked Him to suspend the curse and allow rain to come again. In a torrent, the rains came rushing in, and washed the dry and parched Israel.
What power! Many would see Elijah, and perhaps conclude, “What an incredible miracle he just performed.” But the truth of Scripture is that Elijah did not accomplish this great task. As we read Scripture, there is only one with the power to control the weather, and that is God. Elijah was the mouthpiece who proclaimed the work of God, and as we read the book of James, we see that Elijah was the one who prayed that God would hold back the rain and then send the rain, but the one with all of the power was God. Elijah prayed, and God accomplished.
In James 5:13-16, James sees the Christian life as a life that should be lived with this Elijah-like, God-ward perspective of trust. There is no circumstance that does not need prayer. James spent much time in his epistle speaking to those who are suffering, and helping them to see that they must endure with patience so that God would accomplish a great sanctifying work in them. Now, James continues his message to these sufferers by saying, “If any among you suffer, let him pray.” The natural response in suffering should not be murmuring or complaining like the Israelites in the wilderness, rather, knowing that the supreme God of the universe is fully capable of helping and strengthening, we should turn in prayer to Him.
Finally, James addresses those who are physically sick. In verses 14 and 15 we find a text that many have argued over, and perhaps many more have misinterpreted. The words “anointing him with oil” leaves the reader perhaps imagining an Old Testament ceremony where someone poured oil over the head of another while blessing them, or giving them a promise. The word here used for “anoint” has nothing to do with ceremony, but is instead a salve or an ointment for a treatment. James is not speaking of mystical powers in these verses. The oil does not heal, rather, in verse 15, if there will be any healing of the sick, it will be God that raises him up. Those who peddle healing oils or those religious charlatans who proffer themselves as “faith-healers” are little more than snake-oil salesmen. Their “anointing oil” has no more power to heal than does a quart of 5W30 at the auto-parts store. It is not in their power that the sick are raised, rather, like in the prayer of Elijah, it is only the God of heaven who hears and answers prayers offered up from a clean heart and a clean life (a righteous man) that will heal.
Reflect: Describe each word in the following phrase from James 5:16, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” See Romans 10:10 for some help.