Summary: In the showdown on Mt. Carmel, God demonstrates that he is the one true God who is worthy of our attention.
Last week we started a sermon series entitled: “Seer Wars”. The purpose of this Star Wars take-off is to show that God combats the forces of evil today as he did in the prophet Elijah’s day some 2800 years ago. In Episode I: The Phantom Menace, we saw God try to turn King Ahab away from the worship of the idol Baal by sending a drought. Today in Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, God takes on the 450 prophets of Baal (the clones of our story) and exposes their religion as worthless. Ready for Episode II? Here we go.
Some of the scenes in the Star Wars version of Episode II take place on the planet of Tatooine. Tatooine is supposedly the home of Anakin, and later, Luke Skywalker. It’s a planet that’s dry and dusty – much like what Israel must have looked after three and a half years without rain. Rain had not fallen at Elijah’s insistence because of King Ahab’s support and worship of the storm-god Baal. Conditions were so bad in Israel that Ahab himself went out looking for green pastures for his horses.
It was under these circumstances that God directed Elijah to make his second appearance before Ahab. You would expect Ahab to be happy to see Elijah. Especially since Elijah had come to announce that rain was on its way. But even though Ahab had been humbled to the position of grass-finder, something normally only a stable-hand would do, the king remained impenitent. When he saw Elijah he said: “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17)
Have you ever done what Ahab did? Have you ever thought of faithful messengers of God as troublemakers? We all have. When parents discipline their children for misbehaving they’re considered to be “mean”. When an uncle dares to tell his nephew that it’s not God pleasing for him to live with his girlfriend before marriage, he’s called a “meddler”. Whenever someone points out sin in our lives, our first reaction is to think, “Who are you to tell me how to live?” We get angry with that individual and think that life was just fine before they came along to tell us that what we were doing was wrong. But friends that’s like C3-P0 getting mad at R2-D2 for telling him that the path he’s chosen to take will lead him to danger. Even when C3-P0 did listen to R2 and turned around, he did so with much grumbling as if it was R2’s fault that he was having to exert extra energy when all along it was C3-P0’s fault for straying from the path of safety to begin with. Friends, don’t be an Ahab. Don’t blame faithful messengers of God for your troubles. Don’t get mad at them when they tell you that how you’re living is not God pleasing. Instead thank them when they rebuke you for your sins for they are only putting you back on the right track.
Because Ahab still blamed Elijah for his problems, the prophet should have disappeared for another three and a half years and let Ahab languish in the drought. Elijah didn’t take off, however. The drought would end in spite Ahab’s obstinate attitude towards God. This was an act of God’s grace. Ahab received the opposite of what he deserved. He did not deserve to receive rain, yet that’s what God was going to send – not because Ahab was good, but because God’s goodness towards his people never wavers. Think of how gracious God is to us. Do we really deserve the homes in which we live? Do we deserve the families we have? No. We, like Ahab are often unthankful and ungrateful and yet God continues to bless us.
Rain was coming but not before it was made evident to Ahab and to all the people of Israel that the Lord, and not Baal was responsible for it. How would God accomplish that? God accomplished that through a showdown between his prophet, Elijah, and the 450 prophets of Baal. They met on Mt. Carmel where Elijah and the false prophets each readied a bull for a burnt sacrifice but didn’t actually set fire to it. That would be up to whichever god was the real one.
The prophets of Baal must have thought that winning the showdown would be a cinch. After all, Baal was not only the god who supposedly caused rain, he was also believed to be the god of fire. Plus there were so many of them and only one prophet for the God of Israel. The scene on Mt. Carmel must have looked like one of the scenes in Star Wars where a lone Jedi faces a large number of battle droids or storm troopers. Sure the prophets of Baal thought that victory would be easy but after they had prayed for three hours there was still no answer from their god. So Elijah began to taunt them. He urged them to pray louder saying that their god might be on a journey, sleeping, or deep in thought. When Baal still didn’t answer their amplified prayers, the false prophets began to dance around the altar and cut themselves hoping this would rouse their god to action. This went on for another three hours but to no avail. The sacred writer said of their efforts: “… there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29b).