Monday, March 14, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 43. Showdown On Mount Carmel, Part 2

Prophets And Kings
Day 43
Showdown On Mount Carmel
Part 2

Elijah asked King Ahab to assemble all the leaders of Israel and the prophets of Baal and Asherah up to Mount Carmel. Then Elijah told the people it weres time to decide which god is God because they keep waverin between the God of Israel and the Canaanite god Baal. Today the Lord is gonna show the people which god is God.

1 KINGS 18:22-46
We stopped yesterday with Elijah saying to the people, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people stood there mute, unwilling to make a move in either direction. So now Elijah is going to force some action, but he's not doing it by his own will or through his own power. He's doing it at the direction of the Lord and in His power.

"Then Elijah said to them, 'I am the only one of the Lord's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets." (1 Kings 18:22) We know, and Elijah also knows, that there are at least one hundred of the Lord's prophets still alive, because yesterday Obadiah told him he had hidden away one hundred prophets in two caves. But Elijah is the only prophet still willing to make a public stand for God. He's the only one out in the open, courageous enough to look Baal's four hundred and fifty prophets in the eye, in addition to the four hundred prophets of Asherah. When Elijah says he's the only one of the Lord's prophets left, he's telling the truth, because he's the only prophet who is still performing the works and duties of a prophet. He's the only one still in office, so to speak. 

He goes on to propose a contest between gods. "'Get two bulls for us. Let Baal's prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire---he is God.'" (1 Kings 18:22-24a) Elijah lets the prophets of Baal choose their bull and build their own altar. That way they can't accuse him of tampering with their sacrifice. He doesn't touch anything involved in their sacrifice so that they will know if it refuses to burn, it's the fault of their god, not because of anything he has done to it. 

This sounds like a good deal to the people. They have fallen for the lie that there are many gods and many ways to heaven. They have been deceived into believing one god is much the same as any other. But they are curious to see if maybe Baal is more powerful than the God of Abraham. If Baal sends fire down and the God of Israel does not, Baal will become the only god worshiped in the land. They will be vindicated in their idolatry and their pagan practices. "Then all the people said, 'What you say is good.'" (1 Kings 18:24b)

Elijah is a gentleman, insisting the prophets of Baal go first in attempting to call fire down from heaven. He also understands the value of going last when you intend to go big. "Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, 'Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.' So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noon. 'Baal, answer us!' they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made." (1 Kings 18:25-26) The Israelites probably thought lighting a fire was easy work for a storm god like Baal. They expected the sky to turn dark, the thunder to roll, and a flash of lightning to strike the wood and the sacrifice and burn it all up. But they pray to Baal from morning until noon without any letup and without any answer. So they ramp up their worship service by adding in some interpretive dance. A lot of energy is being employed for nothing. Baal doesn't answer them because Baal isn't there. He's not impressed with their prayers. He's not pleased with their wild gyrating around the altar. He doesn't exist and therefore can't hear their prayers or see their expressions of devotion.

Elijah, standing alone for God and greatly outnumbered, endures this display for many hours before being overcome with dry amusement. The absurdity of what these people are doing leads him to mock them. "At noon Elijah began to taunt them. 'Shout louder!' he said. 'Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.'" (1 Kings 18:27) Confident in the power and protection of Almighty God, Elijah says, "Maybe Baal is hard of hearing. You need to shout louder. Or he might be busy with other more important tasks. Maybe he's on vacation and can't pick up a good signal from the resort. Perhaps Baal is a sound sleeper and you aren't yelling loud enough to wake him." If Baal were a real god and if any of these things about him were true, he would hardly inspire worship. A god who is too busy to hear the prayers of his people? A god who sleeps on the job? A god who goes on a trip and leaves his followers to fend for themselves? If this is who Baal is, he's a far cry from the God the psalmist praises, "He will not let your foot slip---He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you---the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm---He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore." (Psalm 121:3-8) 

Driven to near madness by Elijah's taunts and by Baal's failure to answer, the people take it up a few more notches. "So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention." (1 Kings 18:28-29) Dripping their own blood on the altar was thought by Baal worshipers to elicit his favor. Wounding themselves in their fervor was supposed to encourage him to respond. But he cares nothing for their wounds because he doesn't exist. The real entity that's behind all false religions, Satan, cares nothing for their wounds either. He wouldn't care if they sacrificed their own lives and spilled blood all over Mount Carmel because Satan's scheme is always to "steal, kill, and destroy". (John 10:10) He pulls people in by promising them the good life filled with worldly riches and carnal pleasures but the true motive is to use people up and leave them for dead.

The prophets and the people cry out fruitlessly to Baal for what is probably a minimum of six hours. It's likely they began at 9am or earlier and then they cried til noon when Elijah taunted them. After he taunted them, they continue on until the time of the evening sacrifice. Many scholars believe this was 3pm; some say 6pm. It's generally thought by a majority of scholars that the lamb of the evening sacrifice was put on the altar daily at 3pm in Jerusalem, the same time that Jesus died on the cross. 

God is about to accept the evening sacrifice from the hands of Elijah. The long day of pointless and idolatrous shenanigans of the Baal worshipers is soon to come to a dramatic end. "Then Elijah said to all the people, 'Come here to me.' They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, 'Your name shall be Israel.' With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood." (1 Kings 18:30-33a) Before Solomon built the temple, the people built altars to the Lord on the high places, but since they have fallen into Baal worship the altars to the Lord have been torn down. Elijah uses twelve stones to remind God and the people of the covenant between them. The trench he digs around the altar will hold about twenty-four pounds of seed and he intends to fill it with water as further proof that God alone is God. The people will never be able to claim a sudden flash of lightning burned up the offering because it's going to be drenched with water. They won't be able to claim Elijah somehow tampered with the offering to make it more flammable. Before their very eyes he's going to saturate the altar and everything on it to make it impossible to catch fire. Impossible for man or for nature, that is, but nothing is impossible for God.

"Then he said to them, 'Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.' 'Do it again,' he said, and they did it again. 'Do it a third time,' he ordered, and they did it a third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench." (1 Kings 18:33b-34) Elijah doesn't even handle the jugs of water, further distancing himself from any accusations of funny business with the sacrifice. 

"At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: 'Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and have done all these things at Your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that these people will know that You, Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again.' Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench." (1 Kings 18:36-38) I was curious about the temperature needed to burn the stones so I looked it up. In order to melt stone, a fire would have to burn at least as hot as 3,762 degrees. God, the Maker of heaven and earth, was able in a split second to generate that much heat. The nonexistent Baal, during a whole day of receiving prayers and wild gyrations from his faithful ones, didn't even generate a warm breeze. The Lord did more than was asked, for He not only accepting the offering by consuming it with fire, but He also burned up everything around it, something nobody had ever seen before. 

This climactic turn of events brings the people to their knees. "When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, 'The Lord---He is God! The Lord---He is God!'" (1 Kings 18:39) In the face of such proof, what else could they say? We will find their hearts only temporarily turn back to God, but there is no doubt in their minds that God is real. There is no doubt He is more powerful than Baal. The God of Israel is the only God who answered that day, the only God who heard prayers.

"Then Elijah commanded them, 'Seize the prophets of Baal. Don't let anyone get away!' They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there." (1 Kings 18:40) While the people are overcome by the power of the Lord, Elijah commands them to seize the false prophets and slay them. This witchcraft and idolatry must be removed from the land and in their temporary conversion the people obey him.

"And Elijah said to Ahab, 'Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.'" (1 Kings 18:41) The Lord had said through this prophet that it would not rain again except at the word of Elijah. I doubt anyone assembled there actually heard the sound of heavy rain but I believe Elijah heard it by faith. During the three years of drought, God has been faithful to supply Elijah's every need. This is now the third miracle Elijah has done through the power of God. Now that Baal and his prophets have been embarrassed and deposed, there's no need to withhold rain from the land. I love this simple and beautiful statement of faith, "There is the sound of a heavy rain." Right now, as I sit writing this on Sunday afternoon, I hear the sound of rain falling outside my window. And I imagine what a sweet sound it was to a parched and dusty land, to a broken and weary people. What a welcome sound, what a blessed sound, the sound of answered prayer. The rain is going to fall like a benediction on the cracked earth. The rain is going to fall like redemption on a repentant soul.

"So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. 'Go and look toward the sea,' he told his servant. And he went up and looked. 'There is nothing there,' he said. Seven times Elijah said, 'Go back.' The seventh time the servant reported, 'A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea.' So Elijah said, 'Go and tell Ahab, 'Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'" (1 Kings 18:42-44) The cloud was small but it indicated big things coming. Elijah's faith in the rain from God's hand was so strong that he warned Ahab to get down off the mountain while he still could. It was going to come quickly and turn the trail to mud, making it impassable by chariot.

"Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel." (1 Kings 18:45-46) Energized by the Spirit of the Lord and what the Lord had done that day, Elijah outran Ahab's chariot. The long weary day of crying and fasting by the followers of Baal has left the people drained but Elijah has waited on the Lord and has found renewal of strength. "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

When Elijah prayed for the son of the widow to revive, he called out to the Lord three times before the Lord answered, and if it took more than three times I think he would have kept calling out. Today Elijah prays and sends the servant seven times to look for the coming rain and I think he would have kept on praying and sending the servant to look. He's an example to us not to grow faint when the Lord doesn't answer immediately. He's an example to us to pray in such faith that, even when no cloud has yet appeared, we can say, "There is the sound of a heavy rain."

Below is a song link to go along with today's study.

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