Summary: Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal to show that Only Yahweh is the true and living God.
By Rev Bill Stewart
As we have just heard, in today’s Scripture reading the prophet Elijah was called by God to go to Mount Carmel which is situated in the North of Israel. It is not an especially high mountain but it does have a great view. In fact, it’s a bit like the lookout on Mount Dandenong. You probably can’t make it out on this picture but on a clear day you can see the Mediterranean Sea. I had the priviledge of going up Mount Carmel a few years ago. I was really looking forward to it. However, I had only been there a couple of minutes when six busloads of tourists, pulled up, took a few snaps, got back on the buses and headed off to Burger King for lunch. I’m afraid it tarnished the occasion somewhat and now I can’t go past a Burger King without thinking of Mount Carmel for the wrong reasons!
There was a lot in the reading, wasn’t there? I want to focus mainly on the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in verses 21-40. Then I want to try and say a couple of things about some of the difficult questions I think this passage raises for many of us. For three years Elijah has been protected by God from King Ahab and then suddenly God sends him to confront the king: straight into the heart of the enemy camp, so to speak. If I could sum up in one verse what this contest is about then it would be verse 21. As we saw last week there is a bigger battle going on than just Elijah versus Ahab and his wife Jezebel and their prophets. And the big question to be decided is: Who is God?
I WHO IS GOD?
Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." (v. 21)
Last week we saw Yahweh, the God of Israel, demonstrate to Elijah and to the Widow of Zarephath that he is the God who controls the world. Now he is going to do the same thing before the whole people of Israel. And Elijah is sent to Ahab and he proposes a contest to see who really is God: Baal or Yahweh?
v. 24: Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the LORD; the god who answers by fire is indeed God."
Did you notice how in the desription of the contest the author repeatedly emphasizes the differences between the prophets of Baal and Asherah and the prophet of Yahweh, the God of Israel? Firstly, there are many prophets of Baal and Asherah:
v. 19: Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.
Secondly, the prophets of Baal and Asherah repeatedly seek action from Baal: they called on the name of Baal from morning until noon; they limped about the altar that they had made; they cried aloud and they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. And not only that but they had to put up with Elijah heckling them while they worked:
v. 27: At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened."
And, "As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation ..." But, thirdly, the prophets of Baal and Asherah do not answer. Twice, in verses 26 and 29 we hear the result of all their efforts: "But there was no voice, and no answer."
This is all a complete contrast to the actions of Yahweh’s prophet Elijah. Firstly, Elijah repairs the altar by making it with 12 stones symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel – the people "to whom the word of the LORD came", the people Yahweh, the God of Israel, not Baal, had saved. Elijah reminds the people of the history of what God has done for them. Then Elijah has water poured on the altar. Obviously, this makes it less likely that the meat on the altar will burn: "Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood." "Do it a second time". "Do it a third time". Four jars of water poured on the altar three times equals 12 jars! This might have been intended to show that God would use the meat as a sacrifice to purify the 12 tribes of Israel from their idolatry.