Israel although blessed by God and treated with divine favour again and again had the habit of falling into apostasy and idolatry. From the time Israel left Egypt she was provoking God by her constant bickering and willful disobedience to his commands. It would seem no amount of goodly treatment could keep Israel from backsliding into her bad old ways and here she is at a low point in her relationship with Almighty God. Here the majority in Israel is now serving Baal, the god of Canaan and the prophet Elijah is sent by God to confront the nation.
Before proceeding further with our contemplation, that is based on 1 Kings 18: 20-40, let us pause and look at some of those major provoking times in Israel's short and inglorious history, in particular:
The provocation in the Desert of Sin; over lack of desert food. (Exodus 16: 1-17)
The provocation at Sinai; when Moses stayed long in the mountain. (Exodus 32:1-10)
The provocation in the Paran Desert; over the giants in Canaan. (Numbers 14:1-6)
The provocation in the Desert of Zin; over the shortage of water. (Numbers 20:1-11)
Let us now turn our attention to this confrontation between good and evil, between God and Satan, between Elijah on the one hand and Ahab and Baal's prophets on the other in this showdown for supremacy.
FIRST LET US LOOK AT THE BONDAGE OF ISRAEL
We examine Israel's divided allegiance
Were these incidents happening in New Testament times the words of Jesus, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24) would resound with terrifying force but here Elijah boldly pointed out to them their divided allegiance, "And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21a).
The Israelites had God's name and an illustrious history of worshipping God but lived just like the heathens around them which reminds us of what is taking place in some churches. They were torn between two conflicting ideas living by the flesh or living by the spirit for Baal the Canaanite god was a symbol of sexual depravity and human sacrifice along with his fellow god Ashtoreth. God knew the things that were destructive of Israel and so warned them not to follow the immorality of the Canaanites, "The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God." (Deuteronomy 7:14)
We note the prophet's strong admonition
It was not that Israel was neutral for she was serving both God and Baal at the same time; mixing false, pagan practices with the hallowed traditions handed down by the patriots and here Elijah warns them of their unacceptable position before God, "...if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word." (1 Kings 18:21b). He urges them to make a clear choice, if they want Baal, then choose him but if they prefer God, then make that choice and be resolute. The same choices are given to each and every human being for no one is pre-destined to damnation in spite of what some people may think.
Those who think they can stand in the middle between good and evil are deluding themselves for even if they so decided to stay neutral by refusing to choose God they would be choosing Satan. However tough the choice may be whenever the choice is between God and the devil then a bold choice is required, like Joshua's, "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15)
We observe Israel's full acceptance
A proposal to remedy a situation is nearly always the way forward and Elijah gives them details of the contest and sets out the terms clearly for all to see, "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." (1 Kings 18:22-24).
The numbers were all in favour of Baal's prophets and against Elijah.
God's 1 prophet against 450 of Baal's prophets
One bull for each side
Each side to prepare the sacrificial bull its own way
The God that answers by fire is the true God
The people accept implying their willingness to go along with the prophet, but also their desire to put God to the test
NEXT LET US EXAMINE THE BOLD MEASURES OF GOD
Let's understand the pointless pleadings to Baal
Elijah gave Baal's prophets first bite of the apple as it were, gave them the opportunity to deliver the knock-out punch, enabling them to dominate from the outset; to end the contest swiftly and decisively in their favour, "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." (1 Kings 18:25).
From morning till noon till eventide they pleaded.
They shouted and screamed but to no avail.
Elijah mocked their futility.
They slashed themselves with swords and spears.
They got no response from the mythical Baal just like worshippers of false gods everywhere; no matter how self-delusional the time will come when futility is self evident.
Let's appreciate the powerful prayer to God
In contrast to the pointless, pitiful pleadings to Baal, Elijah now takes centre stage and prepares for service to God Almighty.
He repairs the broken altar that was damaged by the frenetic pleadings of Baal's prophets
He lays twelve symbolic stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
He soaks the sacrifice with water again and again and again, three times so no one can blame him of trickery or subterfuge; wet wood does not burn.
Elijah then says a short prayer of 61 words, "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." (1 Kings 18:36-37).
God, unlike Baal, heard the prophet's prayer demonstrating God's willingness to hear his people and affirming effectiveness is unrelated to the length of prayers.
Praying in accordance with God's will is always heard and I have dealt with this here http://www.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=151117.
Let us consider the powerful demonstration by God
That God is real, neither dead nor deaf was amply demonstrated when God heard and answered Elijah's prayer by sending fire as Elijah requested, " 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" (1 Kings 18:38) which consumed the sacrifice. It also consumed all the wood, the stones and the loose soil (how very amazing) and licked up all the water (when God acts He does so abundantly!)
Notice carefully that the fire fell from heaven and notice also how it burned; it burned systematically so that no one could doubt that it was God's doing for it consumed everything from the top downwards starting with the bullock, then the wood, then the dust then the water.
FINALLY WE SEE THE BIG DECISION OF ISRAEL
They seized humility
In the presence of Almighty God humility and awe are fitting. Before the awesome power of God Israel humbled itself, the people prostrated themselves on the ground for they understood that punishment was deserving. They had failed God in spite of all his exceptional goodness to them and forced him once again to prove himself but they were sufficiently aware to invoke the principles of submission, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" ( 2 Chronicles 7:14)
If anyone is to benefit from God's mercy then humility is essential for "God resisteth the proud but gives grace to the humble" (Proverbs 3: 34)
They seized the opportunity
Israel showed a desire to be reconciled to God having clearly demonstrated their choice by abandoning Baal and deciding to go with God. This was yet another opportunity Israel had and in this case she chose wisely but they were other opportunities she had where she chose badly. God is merciful and gives us opportunity to seek and find him and every one reading this article is in that position right now. To delay is to risk hearing awful words like, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." (Jeremiah 8:20)
Would that all those not committed to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ would follow these same three steps to salvation; desire God, choose Him and start living for Christ.
They seized their enemy
At the command of Elijah, Baal's prophets were seized, "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) thus demonstrating a clear choice of loyalty and a renewed vigour for establishing godliness by at last recognizing the real enemy.
Many in the world still do not know the real enemy; they even fight against the church.
Alas many in the church still see other churches and other denominations (and each other!!) as their enemy rather than the culprit Satan. We should be aware that, "The enemy that sowed them is the devil" (Matthew 13:39)
None of Baal's prophets escaped, not even one, and the work of regeneration must be similar; complete, all or none, for God requires wholehearted allegiance and commitment if we are to serve him successfully and it demands that we destroy and forsake all ties to the world for this is the true sign of genuine conversion. The church thrives when its members are aware of this for the Bible teaches it (Isaiah 55:7) and Jesus requires it (Matthew 19:27-29).
As we have seen in this contemplation where on Mount Carmel the forces of good and evil struggled for supremacy in the lives of Israel many lessons can be learnt.
We see first that God is displeased with all forms of idolatry whether it be the old fashion kind as seen in this lesson or the modern variant with materialism and pop idols of all sorts.
We also see that God is merciful and instead of punishing Israel for her waywardness and disobedience instead offered them a chance to repent and be reconciled.
Not least of the lessons learnt is the decisive way Israel repented and destroyed the source of their troubles with God. They at last recognized and destroyed the real enemy affirming their goodly sorrow.
God's people should be encouraged to know that God answers prayer and it is my prayer that all of those not yet committed to God will do so now while there is still time and those in the church get their act together and do not send mixed, uncertain messages to the dying world.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013