It was a terrible time to live in the land of Israel. The evil queen Jezabel reigned with her husband. She instituted practices that would lead the people away from the worship of the one true God and into a wicked worship of the false god Baal. Baal didn’t have any real power. It was just an idol crafted as fine as human hands could sculpt it. The false god Baal couldn’t speak. It had no throat. It had no lips, no mouth. It was mute. This false god had no hands. It could not extend it’s arm to save. It didn’t have ears. It couldn’t hear the prayers of the people. It had no eyes. It couldn’t see the people or the sacrifices they made on this Baal’s behalf. It only appeared to have these things, but in reality it was powerless. Yet the wicked Queen Jezabel had prompted the people to worship this powerless and impotent god.
One often wonders why men would offer their hearts so freely to something they made with their hands. Surely they understood that they were the power brokers in this situation. Surely they must have known that they were the one’s yielding control over the blocks of wood and figures of clay, silver and gold. This false god only contained the power given it by the weak minds of men… Perhaps that is why the people of Israel were so quick to follow Jezabel in this idolatry. There is an upside to having a less than sovereign god. A false god could easily be manipulated, cajoled, or extorted… providing the worshiper with the real power. Like a doll in the hands of a little girl a false god would have to be cared for, comforted and helped.
We shouldn’t be quick to condemn the ancient Israelites. We do much of the same thing with money. We think that if we have a little more, we will be happy. We try to bring ourselves comfort by stocking up, spending wildly or even stretching our dollars. We think that if we have enough of these that we will be safe… that we will be “okay.” But dollar bills don’t have eyes to see your need. They don’t have ears to hear your cry. Your bank account can’t hear your prayers, much less answer them. Your credit card doesn’t really solve any of your problems. In many cases… it creates them. But somehow we still think that if we can manage these bills, get enough money, get a higher paying job or even turn the economy around… then, then we will be okay. But money doesn’t buy you time, health or even happiness. In fact the over-pursuit of money can steal from your time, your health, your family and even your happiness. We really aren’t much different than the ancient Israelites at all.
Whatever the reason the worship of Baal was in and the worship of God was out. Jezabel had done her best to hunt down the prophets of God and have them killed. She wanted no competition for her false god, Baal. But there was one thing she didn’t count on… You see God wasn’t like her false god. He not only had eyes to see, but he created the human eye. He not only had ears to hear, but he created the human ear. He not only had a mouth to speak, He actually had spoken the whole earth into existence. Her god Baal was false. The one true God was real… and you can’t get rid of him by killing a few prophets.
Elijah stood on the side of the mountain and challenged the 400 prophets of Baal. They were doing their best to get a god who didn’t really exist to light a fire that wasn’t happening. Elijah mocked them, telling them to call out a little louder because their god Baal was perhaps asleep or maybe he was in the bathroom. They tried everything, but in the end, the god whom they so desperately wanted to respond was incapable of responding.
So then it comes Elijah’s turn:
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering 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 said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.
(1 Kings 18:36-40 ESV)
Elijah prays a three part prayer. He confidently asks God to reveal himself as the one true God in Israel, to reveal that Elijah is God’s true prophet, and for God to mercifully allow the people to repent and turn to Him at once.
You see, not only were the people worshiping a false god, but they were rejecting the worship of the one true God. Not only were they calling on a god that couldn’t hear them, they were being offensive by forsaking God alone as their provider and sustainer of life and giving respect and homage to a little statue in His place.
Much like many of us seek to control our lives through the spending, saving, and moving around of our money without a thought or prayer as to how God would have us live our lives. We pursue P-R-O-F-I-T-S but not P-R-O-P-H-E-T-S. It is not as though we have rejected God completely. Our money still says that we trust Him, but we do not seek His will for our lives. We seek OUR will for our lives and if He or any other god can help us get there, then we are game. But in our day and age we don’t worship at the altar of Baal. We worship more often at the altar of consumerism.
Elijah prays that God would reveal Himself as the one true God in Israel. That the Israelites would no longer seek a false god who cannot hear their prayers (that much is obvious from the demonstration of the 400 false prophets.) Perhaps the most loving thing God can do is let us come to the end of our rope after we have tried it our way and then come in and show us who He really is.
Even though these people rejected God, he did not reject them. It gives me hope in the character and nature of God, because I know my own heart. I know how often and easily I am tempted to pursue small pleasures that don’t even satisfy. I know I need God.Even in the midst of the people’s rejection of God, He loved them enough to send them a righteous prophet who would show them the way and turn their heart back to God.
Elijah prays secondly that the people would know He is God’s servant and has done everything at God’s word. God had not left himself without a witness in Israel. While the rest of the nation was worshiping an idol, God had kept for himself the prophet Elijah and others who refused to worship a false god.
Elijah’s job was then to call the nation to repentance. They needed to see the futility of worshiping an idol when they had a special relationship with the one true God. They needed to see that it wasn’t Elijah’s will to hold off the rain, it wasn’t Elijah who would light the fire, it wasn’t Elijah who could call a nation to repentance in just a moment. It was God who called Elijah to the task at hand.
God uses people much in the same way today. When we have opportunity to share our faith with others we are really only doing a small thing. We are telling others about who God is and what God has done on their behalf. The real power to save someone is accomplished by God. He is the one who made us in His image. He loved us enough to send Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and raise him from the dead. He is the one who takes up residence in our lives once we become believers. It’s by his authority and in his power that we tell others about him.
Elijah was just being obedient to God. He was the right man, at the right time to call a nation to repentance. The people not only heard Elijah’s prayer, but they saw a holy and awesome display of God’s power. They knew immediately that there was one true God in Israel and they had been following after the false god of Baal. They immediately fall to their faces in repentance declaring that God was God and no one should take his place.
However they didn’t just repent with their lips, they also repented with their actions. They obeyed Elijah and killed the 400 prophets of Baal. God had already given them the command way back in Deuteronomy that if anyone came proclaiming to be a prophet for a false god that they were to be put to death. Israel needed to clean house and that started with killing the 400 false prophets. This was at once an act of obedience to God and a way of reducing the temptation to go back to Baal worship by removing the promoters of Baal.
Question: What is it in your life that competes with God? What needs to be removed so you can worship God more freely?