Summary: Elijah is an amazing example of what happens when believers pray with authority, when they come to God and ask him to do something that glorifies him.
Have you ever been in a spiritual battle where you thought that you were on the losing side? Well, you’re not alone. The Bible is full of stories of God’s people and their struggle with spiritual battles. Often they thought that God had abandoned them, when in reality he was always with them. One example is the story of Elijah. He often thought that he was alone, especially when he was running away from the evil Queen Jezebel, who wanted to kill him.
Before this, there was the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, which we heard in the reading from 1 Kings 18:20-39 earlier in this morning’s service. It shows what can happen when one’s calling from God conflicts with strong-willed people or influential people who are used to having their own way. This story has frequently drawn the comment, “One person with God is always a majority.” This story is a story about God and his promise to never leave us alone.
If anyone could answer by fire, it should have been Baal, the storm god. His worshippers believed that he controlled lightning, but when they prayed to Baal, he didn’t answer. According to their customs of Baal worship, the dancing, shouting, and self-mutilation were meant to arouse Baal from death, from sleep, or call him back from a journey. The phrase, “He is busy” was a euphemism for either going hunting or going to the restroom.
The fire from heaven dramatically revealed the power of God-the true God of the storm-who responded to a humble servant praying for Him to be known. The people fell on their faces, prostrate, in acknowledgement that Elijah’s God was real. Those who see God as He truly is will fall before Him in humility and reverence. God is real and is only known in a direct encounter with him. He is greater than all of our idols who can’t deliver as God does.
The followers of Baal could not evoke a miracle, and our modern, worldly “gods” such as money, power or sex can’t help us when times are tough. During these times God is not busy or off travelling or taking a nap. His love is changeless and constant. There will be times when he leads us through difficult situations when his joys aren’t evident, but we are always close to him, and he is always close to us.
Elijah soaked the altar, the offering and the wood with water in order to remove any chance of spontaneous combustion or any claim that he cheated once the offering was consumed with fire. God didn’t need the water. He could answer Elijah’s prayer without it. The prayer of Elijah does not centre on the activities of the followers of Baal. The prophet highlights the character of God and his relationship with God. When God answers a prayer, he answers completely so there could never be any doubt. The prayer was able to put Elijah and the people in a place to look to God and not themselves.
God wants us to study, pray and witness by our lives and our actions, but we can’t make people believe or change. Only God can do that. He doesn’t need our manipulation to get us to move toward the truth or do the jobs he sends us to do.
Some scholars argued that Israel’s enemies like the Canaanites or the prophets of Baal were evil and deserved their fate. When Baal was defeated, it marked an end to the judgment of Israel. God doesn’t punish us for sin. He chastens us in the hope that we will repent and turn to him.
In ancient times, each tribe or clan had a god, and each region had a god. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel (or Jacob) was unique in that He was identified with multiple persons, not a shrine, locale or particular clan. The people realized that the fire was a special work of God since it consumed everything, even the stones.
The core message of this passage is that the war against Baal and his prophets represents a rejection of anything that separates people from God. It is a message for us to choose wisely, especially in light of the available facts. The absolute God deserves our unconditional obedience. Elijah wanted Israel to choose who was God-the Lord or Baal-and then serve God wholeheartedly. Rather than decide by his message, Elijah sought a visible sign from heaven.
We have a similar choice today. God wants us to serve him instead of serving man. Jesus even said in Luke 16: 13, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” We can’t be indecisive or neutral. Indecisiveness and neutrality in matters of faith are sins. God turns our hearts back to him. He reaches out to us and invites us to come home. Elijah’s call to choose sides rings into our hearts today. There is no place in the Word of God for the middle of the road position.