After a week’s break we pick up and continue with…
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 18. 1 Kings (2)
1 Kings 18:21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
OK I cheated! Yes, I made it sound in the previous meditation of this series that I would take the two highlight verses of the book together and then we would move on. Yes, I know, that was the implication, but as I went to move on to 2 Kings I realised that one of the greatest prophetic action highlights of the Old Testament was still there later in 1 Kings, and it involves Elijah, and so we must not miss him!
The action of Elijah on Mount Carmel must be one of the greatest showmanship examples of the whole Old Testament. Elijah seems to appear from nowhere in 1Kings 17 with his first recorded prophetic announcement” “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1) He is clearly a prophet who comes from somewhere east of the Jordan. Ahab was a bad king, a very bad king, king of the northern kingdom with his palace in Samaria, so presumably Elijah first contacted him somewhere in that region. A three year drought follows and the story tells of how Elijah survived it (1 Kings 17). After three years the Lord tells him to go and confront Ahab again (18:1,2). Now he clearly has a divine strategy in mind because when he meets Ahab he tells him to get all the false prophets and turn up at Mount Carmel – which was over on the coast (18:18,19).
Thus we find this amazing confrontation. The drought and subsequent famine still continue so perhaps Ahab goes along with this and instructs all the prophets of Baal and Asherah to turn up at Carmel. Elijah has also instructed that people from all over Israel should be called there and so there is this mighty national gathering with a king, lots of ‘prophets’ and lots of people – and Elijah.
Before he does anything else Elijah challenges the entire ‘congregation’ with this challenge found in our verse above: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (v.21) i.e. half these prophets say Baal is the deity to follow but this is Israel, a nation called into being by Yahweh. Choose who you will acknowledge is the true God. He then goes on to set up this exercise to prove who is the true, real, living, existing and powerful God. Let’s get two bulls, he says, and slaughter them. You prophets of Baal go first and offer one of them to your god and call on him to send fire to burn up your offering. I’ll do the same thing and the God who answers by fire is truly God. Off you go, you go first.
And so they set up their altar with one of the bulls on it and spend the whole day calling on Baal, but to no effect. Elijah makes fun of them but then takes over and sets up his own altar with a bull on and, as if to make a point, has lots of water poured all over it, and then stands back. Fire comes from heaven and Elijah wins and the prophets of Baal lose and are shown to be charlatans and are killed (see 1 Kings 18:22-40).
Now the canny modern scientist might say, “Ah, a high point, lots of water that would possibly attract lightning. Obviously a natural phenomena!” Possibly. But that does not deny Elijah getting wisdom from God of how to go about it. The only other problem is that in what follows, there is obviously a clear sky and a storm does NOT come for some time (see v.41-46). No, sorry, act of God!
And that’s where the challenge comes from this amazing story. Act of God or natural phenomena? That’s not the challenge. The challenge is why do we so often try and explain away the miraculous works of God? Why is the world scared silly of attributing miracles to God? Well if you have ready these meditations for any length of time, you will know that I define Sin as ‘self-centred godlessness that is inherent within us, which leads to unrighteous thoughts, words and actions’. Because we are all tainted with this propensity we all still have this tendency to be self-centred and godless because we want to be the ones who determine our destiny. Thus we question God’s existence and His actions.
It is only when His own Holy Spirit piles up the evidence before us and we become convicted of our self-centred godlessness and of the truth about God, that we surrender our lives and accept the saving work of Jesus Christ and are born again. But, as we have noted recently, we are still tainted with this thing called Sin but now have the resources to overcome it. But beware, it is still lurking there in the background and you become aware of it when you start recognising such thoughts as, “Was this a natural phenomena or was this God?” and you recognize you are trying to erase Him from the story.
But there is also a second challenge to this story. Elijah thought he was the only prophet of God left (v.22) yet the Lord was later to point out to him that there were yet seven thousand in Israel who were NOT Baal followers (19:18), but that did not stop him standing out with this amazing act of faith to confront what he saw as the whole of the rest of the population from king down. The fact that he believed he was utterly alone makes this even more incredible. So here is the challenge, regardless of whether we are alone or there are other believers in our vicinity, will we remain faithful to the Lord and obedient to His leading. It is unlikely that the Lord will call any of us to such dramatic action until we have walked with Him some time and had our faith built up. That had happened with Elijah as the previous chapter showed.
Today, of course, we know we do not stand alone for we are part of the body of Christ, the Church, and within that body there are mature leaders and mixed ministries, all there to support and encourage us in our personal calling.
The question we might ask is, if we believe we have heard from the Lord with a new task, perhaps a new mission, do I have people around me to whom I can submit this for checking? Beware the ‘lone wolf’ syndrome. As I have testified in others of these meditations, I have been privileged to step out in relatively minor escapades, as some might see them, but even more importantly been part of the checking process for some fairly large and dramatic ‘Elijah-type’ evangelistic activities. If we cannot submit our calling to others, we need to question why that is. I do know of those who have ‘freaky lives’ but they are freaky not so much because of the weird things they do, but more because they are lone wolves who refuse to submit to others. (Check out 1 Cor 16:15,16, Eph 5:21, Heb 13:7) Resist this lone-wolf mentality, get the support, encouragement and wisdom of others and then step out into the acts of faith to which God calls you.