Becoming Elijah - Part 3
We will pick up the story of Elijah on 1 Kings 18.
According to Luke 4:25 and James 5:17 the drought Elijah proclaimed lasted three and a half years. On the third year the word of the LORD came to Elijah telling him to go present himself to King Ahab once again because God was about to send rain on the earth.
Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?”
And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” (1 Kings 18:17-18 NKJV)
I would like to point out a few important details and insights the exchange between Ahab and Elijah make available to us.
Elijah was a prophet, meaning, he delivered messages from God. Elijah was not God and did not have power in himself to cause any trouble. It was King Ahab who had power and failed to use it to guide the nation according to the word of God. The power Elijah seemed to have came from God and is available to those who live in harmony with His words. Elijah enjoyed a close relationship with God. He followed God's word even when it cause discomfort, and when the future seemed disheartening. But his relationship with God, and his faithfulness to God's word cause him to be aware of God's actions. God revealed His plans to His prophet Elijah, God also provided for all his needs.
King Ahab on the other hand found himself powerless and clueless. Ahab was blaming the wrong person. He blamed God's messenger for the consequences of his own rebellion against the explicit will of God. Ahab knew the law of God, he was familiar with the word of God, yet he allowed his kingdom to drift away from God towards false gods that clearly were powerless to help. Elijah also points out the source of the problem, the 850 prophets of false gods that ate at Jezebel's table. Jezebel clearly wanted to replace the worship of the God of Israel with the worship of her gods.
How nice of Elijah to invite everyone to a lovely hike up Mount Carmel. Maybe if they can all just sit together and talk while enjoying the nice view they can realize that the gods Jezebel is so strongly promoting are less then ideal, or more specifically utterly useless.
Once everyone was gathered atop Mount Carmel Elijah addressed the crowd.
And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word. (1 Kings 18:21 NKJV)
Elijah makes it very plain. Pick one! Figure out which one is the true God and faithfully follow Him. If I were Elijah I would have added,
"C'mon people! It has been three-and-a-half years and you have had zero rain, clearly this path is not worth pursuing! How can you have any doubts?"
Since the people have no answer for Elijah, he continues to explain to them that they have 450 prophets of Baal, while he is the only one left of the prophets of the LORD. If they are indeed unsure who is the real God Elijah proposes a test.
Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.”
So all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken. (1 Kings 18:23-24 NKJV)
The rules are simple and the people agree that this should clarify matters regarding who they should worship.
Now Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one bull for yourselves and prepare it first, for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” (1 Kings 18:25 NKJV)
Elijah allows the prophets of Baal to go first. After all they seem to be the favorites, they have been eating at the queen's table while the general population has been likely starving. Now was their greatest opportunity to prove their worth. These prophets had been living off of the people's taxes during a time of extreme drought. I bet the people were eager to see whether these prophets deserved the special treatment they received for the past few years.
Elijah allows them to choose their bull first and prepare it and call upon their god. They could do whatever they wanted, so long as they refrained from setting their offering on fire. So they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning and even until noon.
So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, “O Baal, hear us!” But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made. (1 Kings 18:26, NKJV)
The worship got exciting with leaping and everything, but there was no answer from Baal. At this point Elijah decides to "help" by giving them some suggestions.
And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.
Some could argue that Elijah was being mean, and its probably true, but notice also that he is adapting their view of what the gods were like and using it ironically in order to highlight the problems with their theology.
The prophets don't engage Elijah in a theological debate but rather take their worship up a notch by crying out loud and cutting themselves until blood gushed out. How these prophets of Baal suffered trying to get the attention of their god. I wonder if they sincerely believed in their god and were baffled by his silence. I believe this experience serves to illustrate a point.
Suppose many gods of varying power and jurisdiction and expertise exist, as some might be tempted to believe. How does a human go about getting the attention of a god? The scenarios Elijah suggested, though in a mocking manner, would be real problems if indeed they were the case. If Baal was indeed traveling or sleeping what could his prophets do to rouse him or call him to their aid? If you worship a god who is not invested in saving you, can you depend on that god?
I'm sure all the shouting and jumping and cutting and bleeding must have looked very impressive. This worship must have been a sight to behold. How often such displays draw out a crowd and look so powerful and authentic, but when the dust settles, god does not manifest himself. As the Bible describes it,
"there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention" (1 Kings 18:29, NKJV emphasis mine)
"Come near to me."
- Elijah (1 Kings 18:30 NKJV)
Now it is Elijah's turn and the first thing he does is call everyone to come closer to him. He wants everyone to see he has no tricks up his sleeve. He wishes to teach, to educate, to disciple, so he invites them to look closely.
Elijah then repairs the altar of the LORD which was broken down. There are remnants of the worship of the true God present, they just need to be restored. Elijah is not introducing anything new, he is only calling them back to the truth they once held so dear. Elijah invites them to rediscover the true God, their God, the God who has loved them from the very beginning.
With twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, Elijah builds an altar in the name of the LORD. But then Elijah does something odd. He digs a trench around the altar large enough to hold 15 liters of or 13 quarts of seed. Elijah then continues to prepare the sacrifice, placing the wood in order, cutting the bull in pieces and laying it on the wood. Then Elijah does something odd again. He asks for four waterpots full of water to be poured out on top of the sacrifice and the wood and the altar. Elijah asked for this to be done three times. By the third time the altar, the offering, the wood were all drenched. There was so much water that even the ditch was full of water. There was no way anyone would light that offering on fire anytime soon. It would take a miracle for that wood to catch on fire.
And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”
(1 Kings 18:36-37 NKJV)
At the time of the offering Elijah comes near and prays, he talks to God. He does not shout, he does not jump, he does not cut himself, he is not concerned about getting God's attention because he knows that God cares. Elijah knows that God remembered to send the ravens with food for him twice a day every day until the water of the brook dried up. Elijah knows that God remembered him and sent him to the house of a widow. God then provided for Elijah, the widow and her son, every day, never allowing the oil or the flour to run out. Elijah knew that God cared about him, God cared about a widow in Zeraphath, and God cared about the widow's son. God cared enough to raise the widow's son from the dead.
Elijah knew that God was mighty, Elijah knew that God cared, Elijah prayed knowing that the God who created the universe, the true God, his God, heard and answered prayers! Knowing all this Elijah prayed
"Let it be known this day that You are God in Israel!" (1 Kings 18:36 NKJV)
Elijah simply asked God to reveal Himself and let the people know that He was God, that Elijah was His servant and had no power in himself, and that God was the one who had the power and He had turned their hearts to Him again. Elijah places all the heavy lifting upon God.
"God, you lift the weights, I am only your messenger."
"God, You make it known, You turn their hearts back to you, You show them that You are their God!"
Elijah knew that his job as a prophet, as a messenger, as a child and a servant of God was simply to obey God's word. All the amazing things Elijah did were done at God's word.
"Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench."
(1 Kings 18:38, NKJV [bold mine])
God heard Elijah's prayer. Elijah prayed for something that was according to God's will. Elijah prayed for something that would bring God glory and honor. Elijah prayed and fire fell from heaven!
How did the people react?
Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”
(1 Kings 18:37 NKJV)
Now there was something that needed to happen. Once it was established beyond a shadow of a doubt who was worthy to be worshiped, there was no longer any room for the false prophets. They had their chance, they had their time in the palace enjoying the good life while others suffered with the drought. Now it became clear they were the cause of the drought. Their gods were no match for the God of Israel. Those prophets needed to be executed before rain could fall. Those prophets of Baal and Asherah should have never come to Israel where there were clear laws against the worship of any other god.
In my life I have witnessed God providing for me. I have had experiences similar to the oil and flour not running out. I have had similar experience to receiving help from ravens, when I received help from unexpected and unlikely sources. I am here today because God has been there for me.
I would like to believe you have experience similar miracles in your life. Too often we attribute it to dumb luck. Too often we turn away from God to things that never manage to fulfill our deepest needs. No amount of success on this planet will ever take the place of God. Sooner or later we find ourselves in a situation where all our efforts and all our gods can't help us.
Let us turn to God. Learn to lean on Him. To trust in him to provide. And let us do away with anything else that might compete with God in our lives. Get rid of the false prophets. They never solve anything. Whatever you turn to when you're hurting, scared, or alone, those substances and addictions. Give them to God and allow Him to set you free.
God is real. He is powerful. God cares.