Summary: Part 4 in Elijah series - idolatry, even in the lives of believers, and how to spot it and kill it.
1 Kings 18:16-29,40 – Worshipping an Empty God
There is a story about the President of Labatt’s Brewery, who went over to the Vatican for a private audience with the Pope. The meeting went something like this:
“Holy Father, we are prepared to make a donation of $10 million to the church if you would simply replace ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ with ’Give us this day our daily beer.’”
“I’m afraid, that’s not possible, my son.”
“Could you do it for a bigger contribution, say $25 million dollars?”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, my son.”
“Holy Father, here is my final offer. Change ‘bread’ to ‘beer’, and I will write you a cheque right now for $100 million dollars.”
The Pope picked up the phone and said, “Cardinal Mancini, how firm is our contract with Pillsbury?”
Ah, the temptation to compromise, to sell out to the highest bidder, to try to bring together “what is right” with “what I want.” We are not the 1st civilization to try to synthesize the 2. The day of Elijah was the same. Elijah faced stiff competition from a group of people who were sold out to serving the enemy. But Elijah had very little to say to them. Elijah had the strongest words for people who wanted to serve the false god Baal in addition to the true God YAHWEH. Let’s read 1 Kings 18:16-29,40 to look at the contest on Mt.Carmel.
As we continue to chew on this passage of scripture, we can see that Elijah was up against the 450 prophets of Baal. I want to take a few minutes to look at the worship of false gods in Israel. Now, even though our 21st-century minds are far more advanced than these folks’, I believe that we have fallen into the same worship as the ancient Israelites, even the same worship as the false priests of Baal. What did Baal worship look like back then, and how is it that we are guilty of the same thing today?
Well, Baal was the chief god of the Canaanites. He was lord of the pantheon – that is, the culture’s collection of deities. He was a storm and weather god, the god of good crops. He was the master of wind and rain, thus of fertility of the land and the earth. Now, religions that deal with fertility place great emphasis, of course, on reproduction – in the land, in the crops and in the womb. This explains the stress on sexual conduct in the context of Baal religion.
I mean, in worship of Baal, besides the child sacrifice, the snake-reverence and the bodily mutilation, there was a lot of sex. Erotic frenzies and erotic dancing would be included in worship. As well,
Baal worship involved temple prostitutes. That is, to have success in battle or some other need, men would go to the temple to visit priestesses. It was considered good luck to have relations with these priests, which in the original Hebrew meant, “holy ones”. It was as if their holiness and anointing would fall on anyone who slept with them. It certainly was a religion that said, “If it feels good, do it.”
One of the many things that separated Baal worship from YAHWEH-worship was the idea of “who made whom”. The Bible says that God made man in His image. But Baal worship flip-flopped that. Baal worship attributed man’s characteristics to their god. That is, Baal was a god with the same needs and hungers, same emotions, same appearance as man. In ancient paintings by Baal worshippers, it is extremely difficult to tell which ones are humans and which are gods. They thought that Baal was just like them, except perhaps stronger and longer-lasting. In essence, they made Baal in their image. Thus, the gods expected what people would expect. People did what they figured the gods wanted, which was what they wanted. Baal worship, boiled down to its simplest components, was doing what you want. Worship of the gods was equal to worship of self. They called it religion, but it was really self-gratification.
Which brings us to today. This country is filled with people who live to please themselves but call it religion. It’s sanctified selfishness. They say, “Live for Jesus!” but they mean, “Make me feel good.” They think that going to church means getting a warm feeling. They think that their opinion is the only right one. They think that it’s everyone else who is unspiritual. They think everyone else has to change, but never them. Folks, that is not worship of God, but worship of yourself.
Elijah addressed this in v21. I love his words. The literal translation of this is: “How long do you mean to hobble first on one leg and then on the other?" or "How long will you continue to hop back and forth on 2 branches?” The wording suggests jumping around, never getting situated in one spot. It also suggests a bird bouncing around from branch to branch, never knowing where to settle. It pictures worship of Baal – the pleasure, the lust, the fun, the greed, self. And it also pictures the worship of God – the contentment, the peace, the forgiveness. And Elijah said, you can’t have both. You can’t worship self and God and expect to enjoy it or take pleasure in it. Famous preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote these words, commenting on this passage of scripture, from the viewpoint of how Satan would see us.