1 Kings 18v16-46.
Idolatry on trial – A Time to Choose.
All of life is made up of big (Macro) pictures and little (Micro) pictures!
ILLUS.: World economy -> National economy -> Businesses -> individuals
Or World terrorism -> which impacts individuals lives
Or Religion => Church => my Church => my personal faith
The story before us touches both these areas – the Marco picture – a contest between Baal and Yhwh => between Elijah and the prophets of Baal / Ahab & Jezebel => a conflict in the hearts and minds of the people and the need to make a choice
The story so far….
Remember Israel (Northern Kingdom) moved away from worshipping God – idolatry – Baal / Asherah – each successive king is worse than the one before.
God sends Elijah – a rugged countryman – to Ahab – “No rain until I say so!”
Then he disappears and God cares for him by a Brook and then through a widow in a foreign land – both unconventional means. Our particular traditions or religious rules do not bind God.
THEN after 3½ years Elijah turns up and tells [not asks mind you] the King and the prophets of Baal and all the people to assemble at Mt. Carmel.
The nation of Israel had moved away from worshipping God to worshipping idols. Baal was a fertility god who was alleged to have control over wind, rain and clouds and therefore over fertility. It was during the reign of Ahab that Baal worship became worse than ever.
Jezebel came from the Phoenician territory of Sidon – along with Ahab, they built a temple to Baal and made an Asherah-pole, an upright statue that represented another goddess of fertility.
These gods and goddesses of fertility were worshipped in ways the symbolised fertility – these usually involved sacred prostitution and child sacrifice.
Of course, idols don’t have to be statues – the idols of our day are far more likely to be our own lusts or desires – money, power, position, security and relationships. Maybe the easy way to identify an idol is to ask, “What do we serve?” Basically it is those things we are tempted to trust instead of God.
Israel thought Baal could meet their needs an they put him in place of God. BUT God is not mocked.
As humans we create idols to replace god – philosophies, institutions, structures and we think in them we find security and meaning. BUT there is not security in such thing – What could be more powerful symbols of human economic and military power than the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
I am NOT saying that God caused those tragedies BUT if our hope is in such things we are very vulnerable and insecure.
You see even in the OT Israel put their trust in the Temple in Jerusalem – God’s own Temple – BUT he allowed it to be destroyed because the poel allowed it to replaced God.
What is my security and faith in – my pension fund? Insurance co.? NHS? My physical strength?
This battle of the gods to which Elijah summons the nations seem, at least from a human perspective, rather one sided.
The Main players are the prophets of Baal against Elijah – 450 vs 1!
But behind theses humans are Satan’s false gods [which are not gods at all] and YHWH – the God of Israel. So it is not 450 vs 1 But 450 vs 1 plus God!
Thet contest – 2 altars with a sacrifice but NO fire – the god who sends fire is the real God.
Mt. Carmel is the place where this contest is to take place. Near the shores of the Med. near the modern port of Haifa – 1800 feet high. It is the highest point in the region – It is a stronghold of Baal worship. Baal is depicted in ancient Syrian art as holding a bolt of lightening in his right hand – the god of the storm/ rain / fertility. This is Baal territory – plus his prophets out number God’s 450 to 1.
Also the worship of Baal is well established on Carmel whereas Elijah starts with the altar of God that is in ruins. Sending fire from heaven urely shouldn’t be a problem.
Elijah then seems to make the situation worse by soaking the firewood with gallons of water – even digging a moat around the altar.
Every advantage that the prophets of Baal are given will only serve to increase the glory of the one true God.
Before we look at the outcome … what of the people.
I say observers but really they are not simple spectators. The outcome of this contest will have a profound effect on their lives.
Elijah has told them that they have a choice to make “Either Baal or YHWH!”
There is no such thing as “both – and” when it come to the worship of the God of Israel.
Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me. (NIV)
Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (NIV) – In other words you are mine!!
When it comes to the worship of God there is no room for double-mindedness –
NT tells us that such a position results in instability – James 1:8 8 … a double-minded man, [is] unstable in all he does. (NIV)
Like the people on Mt Carmel in Elijah’s day so too today, as in every generation, there is a choice to be made.
So the people are not just spectators – they are involved in this contest because they must choose!
The prophets of Baal plead and beg their god to send fire – the dance and chant and mutilate their bodies BUT no fire comes.
Elijah watches and mocks and jibes at the impotence of their god!
Then having rebuilt the altar and soaked the sacrifice and wood and surrounding earth with water he prays a simple but powerful pray.
1 Kings 18:36-38 36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. (NIV)
Then the people fall on their faces and acknowledge God as the true and only God.
The 450 prophets are killed and then God sends the rain!
Some are uneasy about the slaughter of these prophets. BUT we must not loose the significance of this event as a mini picture of history. It is a confrontation between God and all powers that set themselves up in opposition to God.
It is a picture of the Great Battle in Revelation 16 when ultimately at the end of time God will intervene in history and vindicate his name and all idolatry will be eradicated. AND those in opposition to God will be judged.
Elijah’s battle points to the final battle with evil – there is no place in God’s new heaven and new earth for idolatry.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)
Revelation 21:8 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.” (NIV)
Revelation 22:14-15 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practise magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practises falsehood. (NIV)
The utter defeat of evil – everything and everyone who sets up in opposition to God and fails to acknowledge that God is God! Elijah was just a foretaste and there remains a fearful judgement to come.
Hebrews 10:27 27 … a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (NIV)
And remember that Jesus said “If you are not for me, you are against me!”
The options open to the observers – either continue in your idolatry and face the same fate as the prophets of Baal or repent and worship God as the one true God and receive mercy and forgiveness and blessing – remember the rains followed!
The choices that the people of Elijah’s day [OT] faced are the same today [NT] –
Acts 17 – Paul speaks to the Greeks in Athens … Acts 17:29-31
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (NIV)
God’s justice will come – Carmel is a taste of that – BUT there is now an opportunity for repentance, God commands it. Failure to accept his offer will result in ultimate and infinite justice.
ILLUS.: I am uneasy about the military build up called “operation infinite justice”. Infinite justice is Gods prerogative. I am not saying there shouldn’t be a response to what happened at the World Trade Center on 11th September 2001 but we cannot and dare not play God.
Interestingly some Muslim clerics have questioned the name “infinite Justice” saying only Allah can dispense infinite justice – and they’re right!!
When we try to play God we are guilty of idolatry!! Because we are tempted to trust our own abilities and our own resources instead of God.
Yes there need to be justice but it must be measured and fair! We never have all the facts – only God does!
Elijah stood alone. His resources were limited. He beliefs were out of fashion. Everything seemed to be stacked against him.
Sometimes the circumstances of life can seem like that. Difficulties and challenges that are overwhelming and way beyond our resources and abilities. BUT so often in those situations when we feel weak and vulnerable BUT will trust him anyway that the glory and sufficiency of Christ is seen and experienced most.
ILLUS.: Over lunch we are gong to be talking about the challenges and opportunities we as Binscombe Church face in our community – What can we really do? Remember 1 plus God is a majority!!
2 Corinthians 12:8 God said to Paul ……, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
1 Corinthians 1:25 25 & 27 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (NIV)
…27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (NIV)
We may feel weak and inadequate BUT this story shows how God takes Elijah into the territory of Baal and uses him to win over the people in spite of much opposition. We do not need to be afraid to move into the world’s territory – in fact we are failing in our witness if we fail to engage with our world. NOT calling down fire from heaven!!
THE OBJECT LESSON.
What started out as a struggle between YHWH and Baal ends up as a burnt offering to God.
1 Kings 18:36-38 36 At the time of sacrifice, ……
The fire, which represented divine judgement, is also a reminder of God’s grace and kindness. A sacrifice for the sin of the people – I don’t think that Elijah’s prayer at the time of sacrifice is coincidental. God’s purpose in the event on Carmel is not so much the defeat of Baal as it is a expression of his love and reclaiming grace for his people Israel. And to show His glory!!
The greatest expression of God’s judgement in all history was the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus took upon himself God’s judgement for the sin of the world. BUT it is also the greatest expression of God’s love – it is the means by which he reclaims a people for himself.
God is not mocked And idolatry will always ultimately fail – God created the universe, including humans as the pinnacle of that creation, for His glory and his glory alone and we can share in that glory only when we, like the Israelites of Elijah’s day, declare “The Lord, he is God!”
IDOLATRY ON TRIAL – A TIME TO CHOOSE
1 Kings 18 v 16-46
God ignored – “When people stop believing in God … they start believing absolutely anything” G K Chesterton
450 against 1 …… plus GOD
There are no spectators ……
…… all must make a choice
Idols always, ultimately fail ……
…… God always, ultimately triumphs
Follow anything …… OR …… follow God
Challenges are also Gods opportunities ……
…… ‘God’s strength in made perfect
through our weaknesses’
THE OBJECT LESSON
“At the time of sacrifice …”
the fire was a sign of judgement and grace.
The cross …
… God’s greatest expression of Judgement
AND his greatest expression of love.