Elijah and the prophets of Baal

One Man Against the World – 1 Kings 18:1-40

In our day and age, have you ever felt as if everyone is against us, as Christians? With immorality spreading, does it feel like many people are against the truth of the Bible? Elijah felt the same in his day. In the time of Elijah, the nation of Israel was ruled by King Ahab, who did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord, along with his wife Jezebel (1 Kings 16:30; 21:25). In fact, King Ahab did “more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33). He led the people to turn to Baal, a pagan god, and reject the Lord as the one true God. The people of Israel were divided.

The problem in Elijah’s day is very similar to the problem in our day. It’s not so much that we have rejected God, we have just made Him a very small part of our lives. He’s our Sunday God. He’s our church God. We put Him in a little section of our life, but not as the one and only true God. We worship Him, but we also worship other things: success, financial achievement, popularity, and so on. Our lives get filled up with gods and we try to share those gods with the one true God, Jehovah. But you cannot serve two masters.

The Showdown on Mount Carmel
During this seemingly hopeless time in Israel, God called Elijah to perform one of the greatest miracles described in the Old Testament. Elijah issued Ahab a challenge to gather all the prophets of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel (verses 18-19). In fact, he told Ahab to invite the whole nation. Elijah wanted nothing short of a showdown on top of the mountain. On the mountaintop, in front of a crowd of witnesses, they would each pray to their god and ask for fire from heaven to burn the sacrifice on the altar. The true god would be the one who sent fire.

Elijah’s Challenge to Get Off the Fence
At the beginning of the event, Elijah addressed the people in 1 Kings 18:20-24. He was essentially calling to the people to fully commit to God and to stop dividing their heart between Baal and God. Elijah wastes no time in drawing a dividing line in verse 21: “And Elijah came to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’” He challenged the people of Israel to get off the fence. When Elijah used the word “falter,” it was a Hebrew word used to describe a lame man. He is literally saying, “Quit limping back and forth between two opinions!” They were halfway serving God and halfway serving Baal. There was no more room for compromise.1

No Response from Baal
At Mount Carmel, after the prophets of Baal call on their god, nothing happens. They cut themselves, and they cry out to Baal for hours but there is no response. You can read in 1 Kings 18:26, “But there was no voice; no one answered.” Baal was a non-entity. Baal was nothing. And nothing can do nothing—nothing can’t answer you when you call out!

One of the Greatest Miracles in the Old Testament
So then it’s Elijah’s turn. He is going to win this contest in such a way that there is no way anyone can doubt that God prevails. 1 Kings 18:30-35 details the meticulous preparation that Elijah required for his end of the showdown. Why did he continue to make them drench the bull and fill the trenches with water? Well, Elijah wanted to make sure that when the fire fell, nobody would doubt it was the one true God. So to eliminate any possibility that the altar might be ignited by anything other than a miracle, Elijah saturated the wood with twelve pots of water and literally drowned the wood, the sacrifice, and all of the space under the wood.

Then Elijah offers up a mighty prayer in verses 36 and 37. It is a very simple prayer. It is only 63 words long and you can pray it yourself in thirty seconds. The power of prayer doesn’t reside in the prayer, but in the God to whom the prayer is addressed. Elijah didn’t have to say a lot of words because he knew the God to whom he was praying was real and alive and listening.

For those of us who are familiar with this story, we know what happens next. Verse 38 tells us that the fire from the Lord consumed the sacrifice, the wood, stones, water, and everything surrounding it. The fire consumed everything! In verse 39, the response to this miracle was undeniable: “Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!’”

Four Lessons from Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
1. All Religions Are Not the Same

There is a modern assertion that all religions are the same. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). There aren’t many ways to heaven–there’s only one way!

2. Activity and Enthusiasm Are Not Always Signs of Spirituality
There is no doubt that the prophets of Baal displayed a lot of enthusiasm and activity on Mount Carmel. They were sincere in their efforts, but how many of you know you can be sincerely wrong? Mount Carmel proves that powerfully.

3. The Act of Faith Is Not the Most Important Thing
Faith is not the important thing. That may strike you as an odd or blasphemous statement, but faith is not paramount. It’s the object of faith that is the most important thing. The people who followed Baal surely had a kind of faith. They had worshiped this god all of their lives. They believed in Baal. They had faith in Baal. But their faith was worthless because the object of their faith was worthless.

Faith doesn’t get you into heaven unless it is faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. This lesson teaches us that only those who believe in Jehovah end up on the winning side. There is no other in which to place your faith.

4. The Faith You Live by Better Be Good Enough to Die By
If your faith doesn’t bring you hope and help you in your crisis, it’s not of much value to you. God built up the faith of Elijah in the quietness of a brook, the confines of a widow’s home, and walking in the wilderness. So when he needed his faith in the big moment, when he drew a line in the sand and chose a side, his faith came through because he truly trusted God.

So which side are you going to be on? Are you going to live for God and be His follower? Or are you going to keep living for the other things that motivate you in your life? That’s the challenge from this story to all of us, and I hope we will hear it.

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