The Lord, He Is The God!
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
Preached in PCC Worship Service, 26 February 2017
Part 2 of 3

We considered the first part of our text from 1 Kings 18:1-40 in our last article. There, we saw the reappearance of Elijah the prophet from verses 1-16. In this article, we will consider the challenge of the prophet from verses 17-29.

The Challenge of the Prophet (vv. 17-29)

The moment Ahab saw Elijah, he said in verse 17, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” To which Elijah replied, “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.”

The last time that these two men met each other was over three years ago. Since then, the terrible drought, which Elijah predicted, and the resulting famine had greatly troubled the northern kingdom. Ahab was quick to lay the blame on Elijah but he was wrong for at least two reasons.

First, Elijah was simply the messenger of God. He was not the cause of the drought and famine. But second, and more importantly, it was really the grievous sin of Ahab and his father’s house that brought about God’s judgment upon the land. The real troubler of Israel was not Elijah. It was Ahab; and Elijah was quick to remind him of that. 

Then in verse 19, Elijah told Ahab to call for a public assembly of all Israel together with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the groves or the Asherah, which was a fertility goddess who was considered either the wife or mother of Baal. They were to assemble on Mount Carmel, which was situated near the western coast of the land.

Why did he choose Mount Carmel? Well, according to some ancient writings, it appears that Mount Carmel served as a sanctuary of Baal. If that is true, then Elijah was calling for this public assembly of Israel on Baal’s own sacred ground. Or to use the language of modern sports, Mount Carmel was Baal’s home field or home ground, where the home team has the advantage of playing on familiar territory and with the support of the home crowd behind them. Generally, in sports and games, the home team has the advantage and is expected to do well. It is a great embarrassment for the home team to lose in their own stadium or grounds. Clearly, Elijah was setting the stage for that! He is leaving the followers of Baal with no excuse for the defeat that they are about to suffer.

Another thing we need to take note of is that Elijah was calling for a repeat of what happened many years ago during the time of Joshua. During the conquest of the land, Achan kept some of the forbidden items from the city of Jericho and as a result, Israel was defeated at the city of Ai. Joshua called the whole nation to assemble and eventually, Achan was identified as the culprit. Joshua said to him, “Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger.” (Joshua 7:25-26) The word “trouble” in Joshua 7 is exactly the same word that we find in our text. Elijah wanted all Israel to gather on Mount Carmel so that the true troublers of Israel might be singled out and identified and punished.

Well, Ahab agreed to this assembly and challenge, and so in verse 20, he sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel. Elijah then addressed the people, saying, “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” The word halt means to limb. The English idiom “sitting on the fence” would be a good equivalent. The people were not to sit on the fence with regard to Yahweh and Baal. If Yahweh be the true God, then they should follow Him, but if Baal be the true God, then follow him. There can and must be no merging or mixing or intermingling of the two religions and gods.  

Now one might ask at this point – what was so attractive about Baal worship? Why would the people halt or limb between the two in the first place? Well, here are a couple of reasons why Baal worship was so attractive to the people. First, it was sanctioned by the queen herself. Jezebel was an avid devotee of Baal and Asherah. If you wanted to please the queen and not go into her bad books, you had better align yourself with her religious preferences. Second, Baal worship involved sexual rites which were built into the liturgy and no doubt added to its attraction. There were always temple or shrine prostitutes to minister to the needs of the worshippers. Third, Baal worship had a long tradition. Long before Israel entered Canaan, the people of the land were already worshipping Baal. This was no novel or new invention. It went back hundreds of years. And finally, Baal worship was relevant to their everyday lives. He was after all the god of fertility and of fruitfulness. He could give what every farmer was hoping for, namely, rain and a fruitful harvest. He could give what every married woman longed for, namely, the fruit of the womb or children. 

And so for at least these four reasons, Baal worship held a certain attraction for the Israelites. But they could not continue in a state of trying to serve the LORD and Baal at the same time. The time has come for a choice to be made between the two.

In verses 22-24, Elijah presents to the people a contest that would help them to make that choice. He said, “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.”

The contest was simple. The prophets of Baal were to choose a bull, cut it into pieces, and lay it on the wood. Elijah would do the same. The worshippers of Baal were then to call on the name of their god while he called on the name of the LORD. The God who answers by fire would then prove himself to be the true God.

Next in verse 25, Elijah turned his attention to the prophets of Baal and said, “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.” Notice how in verses 22 and 25, Elijah highlights the fact that he is grossly outnumbered by Baal’s prophets. He is but one man whereas they are in the hundreds. They outnumbered him 450 to 1. If ever the truth of one’s religion or the efficacy of one’s prayers depended on how many people were on one’s side, then Elijah stood absolutely no chance.  

And so the prophets of Baal had at least two advantages over Elijah. First, they were on home ground and second, they had strength in numbers. In contrast, Elijah was the away team or should I say the away solo and he was badly outnumbered.

In verse 27, we are told that they took the bull, 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. They leaped around the altar as they prayed but to no avail. At first, Elijah was content to leave them alone, but then at noon, after several hours of fruitless praying and fervent leaping around, he decided that he had to say something.

“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.” Perhaps Baal was so preoccupied with other matters that he couldn’t give them any attention or perhaps he was meditating or on a journey or even asleep. In any case, what they needed to do was to cry louder still. They needed to increase the decibel level.

The phrase “for he is a god” in verse 27 might need a little explanation. Elijah lists it as a reason for the lack of response of Baal. Now this might seem strange to us but it wouldn’t be strange to a pagan. We need to remember that in paganism, the gods are essentially glorified human beings and they are engaged in the whole range of activities that we human beings are normally engaged in. They too need to go away on journeys, they too can be too occupied to give attention to someone, they too need to sleep and so on. The pagan gods are nothing like the true and living God. They are all made in the image of man.

Well, the prophets of Baal are not offended by Elijah’s mocking. In fact, they respond to his counsel with even more fervency and religious activity. Verse 28, “And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.” The decibel level went up several notches. They even took out their knives and lances to cut themselves until blood gushed out upon them. They were hoping that by self-mutilation, they could somehow manipulate Baal into action. All that intense prophetic frenzy went on for several hours but still nothing happened. Verse 29 says, “there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.”

In the next article, we will consider the LORD’s answer to the prophet from verses 30-40.   

…to be continued, next Issue

—Linus Chua