Monday, April 8, 2013

1 Kings 18: 20-40 :" “The God who answers …He is God”

TEXT:    1 Kings  18:  20-40

TITLE:  “The God who answers …He is God”

DATE:   7th April    2013

I have  divided our text into  6 parts : The Commission, the Challenge , the Con-god exposed; the Covenant God vindicated, a  Conclusion and an  Application.

1. The  Commission :

18: 20-21: “So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. So, Elijah  was  commissioned  by God  to  speak to a  double minded  people  who, in   John Bunyans’ picturesque language in Pilgrim’s Progress   might be described as  Mr. Facing both ways“. They were like  the man who rows  his boat in one direction, but who in so doing faces the opposite direction. Elijah challenges  the people of Israel   who  since  Abraham’s day  have called themselves the LORD’s people,     to stop  limping  between two opinions.  Here are two opposing systems of religion which they  attempt  to cling to, but the fact of the matter is that  they cannot both be right. You cannot serve  God and Ba’al  just, as Jesus  says,  you cannot serve  God and money  (Matt 6:24). You must choose whom you shall serve. (Joshua 24:15).   YAHWEH is  revealed  in the Bible as a jealous God. The first two commandments  (Ex  20 : 3-6)  deal explicitly with  this fact.  Idolatry is  the most basic  expressions of our human sinfulness, and that is why the moral law addresses  it as a matter of  first importance. Notice  that “the people did not answer him a word“. It might be  due  to indifference, but I do not think so. Their consciences were spoken to, and as such they had no answer to Elijah’s penetrating challenge.

2. The Challenge:

V.22 “Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal's prophets are 450 men.”  Well, it is not quite true that Elijah  was the only  one left  of the Lord’s prophets. In  18:4 we learned that  there were in fact  one hundred of the Lord’s prophets that were hidden  away in a cave by  Obadiah, ironically a  servant in king Ahab’s household. But let’s face it. Prophets  who are in hiding  are  of no use in this situation, and as such  Elijah would be the only prophet  facing this  menacing multitude. The ratio, 1:  450 is awesome. One prophet of God  versus  450  false prophets of Ba’al! Once again we see that numbers don’t count with God. He has done this before in Israel. With God’s help,one in Israel could cause a thousand  flee. (Deut. 32:30)   
A.W. Pink says: “… truth cannot be judged by the numbers….: the Devil has always  had the vast majority on his side. And is it any otherwise today? What percentage of present-day preachers are uncompromisingly proclaiming the truth, and among them how many practice what they preach?”[1]  God’s army has always been a Gideon’s army. 

The modern  church,  despite  popular claims of  having billions of people is in fact  a very small minority.  But, in God’s economy, popularity and numbers  never  determine  the  final outcome. The Jesus who had commissioned  11  poor ( and according to  the opinion of the learned in Israel , ignorant ) men,  shall reign!  Thus, Elijah  is able  to stand before this formidable  and intimidating  group of priests , people and king. He begins by  putting  a firm proposal  before the people:

Vv. 23-25  : “Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”    Notice: Elijah  dictates the terms  and the outcome  of this contest:  let us  both prepare a bull as for a sacrifice, without  putting fire to it. Here is the challenge. Let us call upon our respective  (G)god, and the God  who answers  by fire,  he is God.“ The people agreed, and Elijah  being God’s gentleman, tells  them – “You may go first!”  The contest  was  to be validated through fire. This is deeply significant. Ba’al  was  worshipped as the god of the sun, and his  worshippers   frequently brought him  sacrifices burned in the fire, which included   even  the sacrifice  of their sons and daughters- something that YAHWEH  had  never commanded! 

I remind you  that YAHWEH  had also   manifested Himself  in the history  of  Israel through fire[2]. Fire  is the evidence of the Divine presence (Ex. 3:2). Fire  is the symbol of His sin-hating wrath (Mark 9:43-49). Fire  is the sign of His acceptance of an appointed and substitutionary sacrifice (Lev. 9:24). By fire the  Holy Spirit announced His coming  (Acts 2:3).  When Jesus returns, it will be "in flaming fire , inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess. 1:8). And  in Matt 13:41, 42  it is written:  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  At Christ’s  second coming  this will be true:  "if anyone’s  name  was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown  into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:15).  Hebr.  12:29 speaks about our God being a consuming fire.

3. The  Con-god exposed

Vv. 26-29 : “And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.”

The  religious ceremony  to induce  a response from Ba’al   was accompanied by  a lot of shouting and screaming  and  activity. But it in the end it  does not bring about a response from Ba’al. If the truth be told, he doesn’t exist. The prophets  in Israel’s history  had  repeatedly said  that these idols  were products of the  worshippers imaginations! (e.g. Isa. 44:9-20;  Jer. 10).It is no wonder that  the idols cannot answer.   "There was no voice, and no  one answered." What a proof that idols are but "the work of men’s hands." No doubtthat  Satan could have sent fire (Job. 1:9-12), and he would have, but he could do nothing except what  God allowed him to do. In the face  of  Ba’als  impotence, Elijah’s mocking of them in v.27  is actually very funny!

4. The  Covenant God vindicated

Vv. 30-38  : “Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your 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 seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water. 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.”

Such was  the confidence  of Elijah in the living  God who answers prayer  that  he  even encourages  them to  drench the  wood and sacrifice in water! Wet stuff doesn’t burn. This will have to be a  real miracle , and notice that  Elijah doesn’t shout and perform. He briefly  and trustingly directs himself  in prayer  to YAHWEH , the  God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob) – the living God of the Universe. And the fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, accepting Elijah’s sacrifice as the true sacrifice, and thereby  vindicating  Himself as the  true God , the faithful covenant keeping God of Israel!  The One true God isn’t deaf!

5. The  Conclusion 

Vv. 39-40: 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.

Say no more!  The God who answers by fire wins, and there  was no doubt who won  this contest on Mt. Carmel.  This, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ,  is a  picture  of the final   scene at Christ’s coming when, like here, there shall be  no  atheists, when  at the  name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth, and  every tongue confess that Jesus Christ  is  Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10)


The assumption on which the  prophets of Baal operate is this: “God will  answer us   if we  get  a flurry of passionate  religious activity going.”  The commentator D.R. Davies has a very penetrating  analysis  by which  he  offers a  disturbing critique of  what he calls ‘evangelical Baalism’ [3].  (We)… believe  that God will surely work if only we… (a long list of activities follows).

“All this  Christian busyness is as exhausting as Baal worship, even minus the gashes. Most of these (back to the long list)  are  not illegitimate  activities… but might an illegitimate  rationale (motive)  drive them? Are these means of grace or gimmicks designed to manipulate, impress or stir up God?  You may not be a prophet of Baal, but you may think like one. If only we…, then God will…

Jesus makes the same point in Matthew 6:7-9. Pagans pray a certain way because pagans think a certain way (v.7), but if you know the real God, your Father who knows what you need before you ask Him (v.8) then (v.9) your praying is different. Then you can pray briefly, simply, comprehensively as in vv. 9b-13.

Theology not Psychology explains Elijah’s simplicity (vv. 36-37) on Mt. Carmel. Because he knew the real  God he had no need to ape the antics and hype of Ba’als prophets.

Do you see the relief that enters your life and ministry when you serve the real God?


[1] A.W. Pink , Elijah  p.129

[2] e.g. Ex 3:2 ; 13:21; 19:28 ; Lev 9:24; 1 Chron.21:26 ; Acts 2:3

[3] D.R. Davies : 1 Kings , pp 239-240

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