Summary: Elijah calls fire from heaven on Mount Carmel to reveal God's presence and power.
1 Kings 18:20-39 “God Above All Others”
There’s nothing like a good old, knockdown, drag out fight to get the adrenaline flowing and the heart pumping. It might be a school fight where the student body gathers around to watch to opponents duke it out. Or it may be the more refined and profession fighting of WWF Wrestling, or boxing.
Today we have a duel between the priests of Baal and the prophet Elijah. It’s a fight to the death; a do or die brawl.
Usually we don’t learn a lot from fighting. There is, however, several lessons on which the chronicler wants us to reflect.
DIVIDED LOYALTIES (1 Kings 18:20-21)
King Ahab has allowed his wife, Jezebel to bring her gods to Israel. She is a devoted follower of Baal. As a result, the people of Israel have several choices of gods. Many of the people hedge their bets and worship several gods with the hope that one of the gods will grant them their requests.
Elijah challenges the people. He doesn’t believe that a person can serve several gods. You either love the Lord (Yahweh) your God with all of your hearts, soul, mind and strength, or you don’t. You’re either a Packer fan or a Bears fan—you can’t be both.
We may not have idols—images and totems—pieces of wood or metal that cannot see, hear, smell or feel. We still can have divided loyalties, though. Martin Luther wrote that anything in which we place our trust and hope becomes a god to us. There are many things in the world today that tempt us to do just that. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are challenged to keep our loyalties pure and to serve only Yahweh.
THE BATTLE (1 Kings 18:22-29)
The battle lines are drawn between the priests and Elijah, but it is not a level playing field.
• The battle takes place on Baal’s home turf.
• There are 450 to 1
• The bull is an offering of Baal, it is not used as an offering to the Lord.
• Baal is the god of lightening, so they priests are praying that Baal would do something that he has been credited with doing.
There is no answer—of course because Baal is only and idol. Elijah becomes sarcastic. “Baal might be meditating” he says. “Perhaps he’s indisposed or went on vacation.”
We know that Baal won’t answer. Wood and stone objects can’t answer. Our God’s can sometimes answer us. Money might provide some of our dreams for us. Being a workaholic may enable us to achieve the career position that we crave. The other gods in our lives demand something from us, though; their gift comes at a price.
The priests of Baal limped around and cut themselves. Baal worship also included child sacrifice. Our gods may demand that we give up relationships (remember Scrooge), or miss important events in our children’s lives. They may demand that we sacrifice our ethics or prevent us from worship or serving the one, true God.
Yahweh comes to us and opens up a relationship with God. God blesses us so that we can share those blessings with others.
GOD COMES THROUGH (1 Kings 18:30-39)
To demonstrate Yahweh’s power as compared to Baal’s when it is his turn, Elijah builds an altar to the Lord and has the people pour water on the sacrifice three times. The altar looks like a flood scene taken from the record rainfalls in the East United States.
Elijah then prays. He doesn’t limp nor does he cut himself. Elijah simply prays and God answers Elijah’s prayer. Fire comes down on the altar and devours the sacrifice, the altar and vaporizes all of the water. God has won the day and the priests of Baal pay a heavy price—their lives.
The problem is that God doesn’t always come through. Certainly we found that out as we struggled to build a worship and community center. There are times when God doesn’t answer our prayers for healing or for the safety of our children.
Another story about Elijah follows this one in chapter nineteen. Jezebel swears that she will kill Elijah. Elijah runs for his life. Even during his flight God ministers to him with angels. God then demonstrates that God really isn’t found in the glitzy and glamorous. God is found in the silence. God embraces God’s people with God’s love and we catch a glimpse of God’s presence.
Few days go by when we don’t have a fight or struggle on our hands. Sometimes God answers our prayers quickly and miraculously. Most of the time, though, God answers us with God’s love, grace, forgiveness and presence. God claims our loyalty because we have been touched by God’s love.