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?” 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. 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)
6. SOME FURTHER APPLICATION
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’ . (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?