Summary: In the Bible, God seems to allow confusion about who he is to last only so long. Eventually, the issue has to be settled.
Today is the 4th of July.
When I was teaching at Bluffton College, I sometimes gave a test to my students to see how well they were listening. Here are some of the questions:
1. Does England have a 4th of July?
2. How many of each animal did Moses take into the ark?
3. How many 2-cent stamps are there in a dozen?
How well you answer depends on how well you listen.
And I also gave my students a perception test to find out what they saw in this figure: (Figure of Greek vase)
Many times it is important to be able to see something in two different ways. It is helpful to see things from the point of view of someone else. Wednesday evening we learned that in real fellowship, people experience sympathy for each other. The Bible tells us to share each other’s troubles and problems. How can we do that if we can’t see what they see or walk where they walk?
The test in today’s scripture passage, though, has no ambiguous answers. In some ways it is like a final exam. The lessons have been presented and it is time for the test. And there is no fudging on the answers.
Beginning of story
We have been preaching through the Bible and today we come to this story in I Kings 18 in which the prophet Elijah conducts a test on Mt. Carmel, the results of which are so dramatic that the people who experience it can come to only one conclusion, that the Lord indeed is God. Are you able to say that this morning?
The story really begins at the end of Chapter 16 where we read about King Ahab. The author of I Kings doesn’t mince words about Israel’s kings. As we pointed out two weeks ago, all of the kings of Israel disobeyed God and led God’s people into sin. But we read at the end of Chapter 16 that “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.” (33) He not only married pagan queen Jezebel, he built a place of worship for her gods, and even went to worship there. As a result, the people of Israel were led down the path of disobedience and unfaithfulness.
Now before you drift off and say, “This doesn’t apply to me. I’m not a king, nor do I have that kind of power over others,” let me remind you that everyone of us has some kind of influence. Someone looks up to you. When you help someone make a decision about what to eat or what to buy or what to wear, you have influence. When you make a decision to attend church, you have influence. So you need to have your heart turned in the right direction and your head screwed on straight or you will send someone down the wrong road.
God used King Ahab’s disobedience to remind him of the authority of his Word. God sent his messenger Elijah to say that as a result of his sin, “there shall be neither dew nor rain except by my word.” In other words, expect a long dry spell.
Challenge to Baal
Three events highlight the contrast between God and Baal. The first is Elijah’s message that there would be no rain. This announcement served as a direct challenge to the so-called gods that Jezebel and Ahab were worshipping. These gods were more materialistic than spiritual. People who believed in these gods were supposed to prosper materially. If you worshipped them your crops would be great and you would become rich. The Baal god they claimed to follow was a storm god. This god was seen as the one who provided the rain for the crops. This god was supposedly in charge of nature’s forces that made things grow. But now God said there would be no rain. So who is really in charge- Baal or Jehovah God?
As you can tell, a contest was already shaping up. Who has the power to create this world? Who provides life and energy and growth? Who sends the rain? Until Ahab understands that the gods of this world have no power, that the Lord indeed is God, Ahab’s political power doesn’t mean a thing. And we too need to realize that God is the source of our blessings. The Bible says, “God provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (I Tim 6:17) Have you counted your blessings today?
Story of the widow
Last week we read the story of the widow in Ch. 17, who was also feeling the effects of the drought. This is the second event that contrasts God and Baal. Elijah asked this widow to make some bread for him even though she had only a little bit of meal and oil left. Even though she was not an Israelite, by faith she did as Elijah asked, and God rewarded her with enough oil and meal to keep her household going.