Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Showdown at Mount Carmel

Elijah versus the 450 Prophets of Baal

The Old Testament book of Kings tells the tale of the vicious cycle of God's chosen people backsliding, and eventually repenting, only to backslide again. Through all of those cycles, more often than not, the national tone was set by the King who was in power at the time. Both Judah and Israel had kings who followed the LORD, and those who did not, at various times in their history, though it seems that Israel always had more than their share of wicked kings. When you consider the wicked kings, most would agree that Ahab was the worst of the worst. His bad reputation is perhaps only exceeded by that of his wife Jezebel.

That is the backdrop for 1 Kings 18. Ahab and his wife Jezebel reigned over the nation of Israel. They had caused the people to worship a false god named Baal, and had even broken down the alters of the one true God.

And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim.
 Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table. So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.  1 Kings 18:17-20

Here we have the Biblical version of the showdown at the OK corral, or as my title suggests, showdown at mount Carmel.

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. 1 Kings 18:21

Why do you suppose that the people did not answer him? The answer is right here in the verse. They didn't answer because their opinion was divided. On one hand they were the children of Israel, God's chosen people, and they remembered that. But they also had been led away into idolatry, mixing worship of the God of Abraham with worship of the gods of other nations; in this case the Phoenician deity Baal.

Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.  1Kings 18:22-27

Now, who says a Christian should never use sarcasm? Should never mock false gods? It seems that Elijah thought it was proper!

And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.  And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.  And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.  And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.  1 Kings 18:28-33

Elijah did not want there to be any doubt about what was about to happen. No one would be able explain it away as some natural phenomenon. This was to be unmistakably the hand of God at work. We just saw Elijah command them to pour 4 barrels of water onto the wood, next verse he says this:

And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. 1 Kings 18: 34-35

At this point one might be tempted to think Elijah is just showing off, but certainly there is more to it than that. We already heard that Elijah took 12 stones to build this alter, which represented the 12 tribes of Israel, who were chosen by God to be his people. Here we see that three times, four barrels of water were poured over the sacrifice - in other words a total of 12 barrels. Now if those 12 stones represented Israel and the worship they should have given God, then I think the 12 barrels of water may just represent Israel's resistance to that worship.

And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.  Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.  1 Kings 18: 36-39

Just a couple of observations and applications. The LORD our God is a jealous God who is worthy of worship. When we elevate some one or some thing to a place of more importance, or even equal importance to God, we are guilty of idolatry just as the nation of Israel was here in our story.

There is judgment coming. Just before Elijah called down the fire God, he prayed that Israel's heart would be turned back to the LORD. But the prophets of Baal were given no such option. You see, the people were guilty of backsliding and involved in idolatry, but they were still God's people. In the following verse, which tells of how the Prophets of Baal fared after the sacrifice was burnt, we see this:

And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.  1 Kings 18: 40

The prophets of Baal were not just Israelites who had veered off course and mixed idol worship in with worship of the one true God, they completely rejected the LORD. They were enemies of God.

The big question is, which side are you on? Now, unless you are a prophet of Baal, or have otherwise set your heart solidly in opposition to God never to be changed, then it is not too late. If you will turn from your sin and trust in the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, believing that he paid for your sins on the cross and arose from the dead, then you too will become one of God's people. The miracle that the LORD will work in your heart will be just as dramatic as when Elijah called fire down from heaven!


budoka said...

Awesome post. I loved it.


St. Lee said...

Thanks Dan!