1 Kings 18:1-2, 15-46
Stephen Caswell © 2005
Syncretism is mixing two things together. Some things in life are made to be mixed with other things. A marriage requires both a bride and a groom. Certain food tastes better when mixed with something else; like bacon and eggs, strawberries and cream, fish and chips. But some things just don't mix. For example, petrol and water won't mix. In the Christian life, you simply can't mix light with darkness. God is holy. Unfortunately, God’s people often try to mix religions. Israel tried to mix Baal worship with Judaism. As we will see today it just doesn't work. God won’t tolerate rivals for our affection.
This morning I would like to ask the question, who is your God? The prophet Elijah asked the same question to the Children of Israel 3000 around years ago. God had called the Hebrew nation to be His own special people. He had redeemed them from slavery and given them the Land of Canaan for their possession. The Lord gave them the Law to live by and blessed their nation abundantly. Sadly, God’s people weren’t living for Him. They forgot the Lord’s goodness and followed after other God’s. This morning we will see 3 things; The Trouble, The Trial, and The Triumph.
1. The Trouble
a. Elijah – The Lord
1 Kings 18:17: Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, is that you, O troubler of Israel?
In verse 17, Ahab charged Elijah with troubling Israel. This verb is used of bringing a curse on Israel. It indicates stirring up resentment, to bring about hatred or danger. Ahab said, you’re the problem Elijah. It’s all your fault. You got us into this mess. Why did Ahab blame Elijah for the nation’s problems? Because Elijah had prophesied that a drought would come upon Israel, and then it came. 1 Kings 17:1: And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word. James 5:17 says the duration of the drought was for 3 years and 6 months.
After delivering God’s prophetic Word, Elijah disappeared for 3½ years. The drought commenced just as He said. You can be certain that Ahab was upset. He searched for this troublesome prophet in Israel and amongst the surrounding nations. He searched in vain. Had Elijah done anything wrong? No! He simply did what God had told Him to. He told the truth. But King Ahab didn’t like the message that Elijah had brought; so he attacked the messenger. Paul experienced this when he corrected the Galatians.
Galatians 4:16: Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? Sometimes people don’t like the truth. Ahab and Jezebel didn’t like it. Elijah was an obedient servant of God. He didn’t cause the drought; God did! The same thing happens today. Some people, including Christians don’t like the truth. So they oppose it. Some people shoot the messenger when they don’t like the message.
Say What They Need to Hear, Even If It Kills You
John the Baptist’s message from the wilderness was not, Smile, God loves you. It was O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Jeremiah was not put into a miry pit for preaching, I’m OK, you’re OK. It was for crying against the adultery, idolatry and other wickedness of his nation. Noah’s message from the steps of the ark was not, Something good is going to happen to you. He condemned the world and was a preacher of righteousness. Jesus Christ was not crucified for saying, Consider the lilies, how they grow, but for saying, Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites . . . children of hell . . . fools and blind guides . . . whited sepulchers . . . generation of vipers.
b. Ahab - Baal
1 Kings 18:18: And he answered, I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals.
In verse 18, Elijah sets the record straight. He places the blame right where it belongs; with King Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel. They had led the nation away from the Lord and into idolatry. Israel had forsaken the Lord’s commandments. The nation had agreed to have no other gods before them. But the king and the people broke God’s covenant. Ahab was the ring leader in all of this. He promoted idolatry in the land as his father had before him.
Firstly, he married a pagan wife contrary to God’s law. Jezebel led Ahab away from God into idolatry. Secondly, he set up an altar and a temple for Baal worship in Samaria. Ahab introduced the religion of Sidon, the country his wife came from to Israel. Thirdly, he allowed his wife to kill the Lord’s prophets. Jezebel wouldn’t tolerate any rival gods. She commanded everyone to worship Baal. Ahab was the blame for Israel’s drought. If he had read God’s Word he would have known this.
2 Chronicles 7:13-14: When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Ahab and Baal worship was wrong not Elijah and God. Verse 14 says if God’s People will humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, that He will hear and heal their land. It doesn’t say if the pastors or the politicians; it says if God’s people return to Him. He wants all of His people to repent of their sin.
The Israelites couldn’t make up their minds who to serve. The word halt means to falter, to waver, to bounce back and forth between 2 things. This had gone on for around 700 years; ever since the golden calf at Mount Sinai. So Elijah asked the question, How long will you halt between two opinions? He then gave them some advice; If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him. Elijah told the people to make up their minds, once and for all. He said, stop trying to serve 2 Gods. You must choose one now!
Ahab had troubled Israel and wouldn’t admit it. He blamed Elijah for the drought in Israel. All he did was expose the problem. Ahab didn’t like the prophet’s message so He attacked the messenger. We condemn Ahab, good. But are you shooting the messenger? Have you embraced other gods? If the Lord is God then serve Him, if Baal serve Him!
2. The Trial
1 Kings 18:19-21: Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table. So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel. And Elijah came to all the people, and said, How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him. But the people answered him not a word.
Elijah proposed a trial to prove once and for all who is the true God. He asked Ahab to gather the people and the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel for a showdown. It was foolish trying to walk the fence worshiping 2 gods. For around 700 years Israel had wavered between God and Baal. Apparently the Israelites thought that if Yahweh let them down they could turn to Baal, and vice versa. Elijah was saying that if One is the true God and the other false they should follow the true One wholeheartedly and forget about the useles impostor. They couldn’t argue with this statement, so they said nothing.
Baal was the chief god among the pantheon of the gods. He was lord over all the gods and owner of the earth. His consort was Asherah, the fertility goddess. The phenomena associated with thunderstorms were closely linked to Baal. Baal was said to appoint the season of rains. Clouds were thought to be part of his entourage. Lightning was his weapon, and it may have been his invention. The windows of Baal’s palace were thought to correspond to openings in the clouds through which rain flowed. Rain was important to Canaanite agriculture, and Baal was consequently a god of fertility — a prodigious lover as well as the giver of abundance.
If you wanted material wealth, then Baal was the god you should worship. He could bless your crops, cattle, your wife and family. The health, wealth and prosperity doctrine so popular today is not really new at all. Baal worshippers believed it long ago. To appease Baal the worshippers offered up sacrifices to Baal and bowed before him. It was a very sensual religion. They kissed him, danced, chanted, cut themselves and practiced sexual immorality. Baal was a very popular god. He placed no demands for purity on his followers. He gave wealth, pleasure and possessions to his worshippers. Many still worship Baal today. Only 7,000 Israelites remained faithful to the Lord in Ahab’s time. The extent of Baal worship in Israel can be estimated by the number of priests Jezebel fed: 450 prophets of the male god and 400 prophets of the female goddess Asherah.
Strangely enough, God had the final say. Baal was supposedly a fertility god, the one who sent rain, caused the crops to grow, and provided food for his people. He was the one who supposedly sent fire or lightning from heaven. The three-and-one-half-year drought and famine had been a great embarrassment to the worshipers of Baal. It seemed as if Elijah and his God rather than Baal were in control of the fertility of Israel. So Elijah’s test to Baal’s followers seemed like a good opportunity to vindicate their god and they readily agreed to it.
Mount Carmel was agreed on by King Ahab. It would be a fitting site since it lay between Israel and Phoenicia, the lands of the deities in question. Also Mount Carmel was regarded by the Phoenicians as the sacred dwelling place of Baal. No doubt Ahab was highly pleased with this suggested site for the contest because it would have given the Baal prophets a definite advantage; but this didn’t worry Elijah. He had no concerns at all about challenging Baal. In fact Elijah gave Baal every possible advantage.
· Home ground advantage. Mount Carmel was Baal’s home. Not Mt. Sinai or Jerusalem.
· They had 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Ashoreh. Elijah was all alone.
· They had the first go. If Baal answered by fire, Elijah wouldn’t even get a chance.
1 King 18:25-29: Now Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, choose one bull for yourselves and prepare it first, for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it. So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, O Baal, hear us! But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.
And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened. So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.
When the preparations were completed, the test began. The prophets of Baal danced around the altar. They cut themselves and let the blood flow. His prophets cried out in vain for hours. They leaped upon the altar and prayed O Baal hear us. The prophets and people expected great things from Baal, but he failed dismally for he was a false god.
Some people worship this way today. Some Churches in Australia have dancing in the services, somersaults and people running up and down the aisles. Some make animal noises and roar like the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Others fall down laughing, while some go into an unconscious state. Yet God commands us to worship Him in Spirit, not in body and soul. John 4:23-24: But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. He wants us to worship Him the way that Elijah did; reverently. We should serve the Lord with all our hearts. He’s interested in our hearts and thoughts; in spiritual worship.
b. The Lord
1 Kings 30-38: Then Elijah said to all the people, come near to me. So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, Israel shall be your name. Then with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord; and he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood, and said, fill four waterpots with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood.
Then 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. So the water ran all around the altar; and he also filled the trench with water. And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again. Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.
Israel knew that the Lord had made the heavens and the Earth. He spoke the word and the universe came into being. The word Lord, is Jehovah. This was the word God used to reveal Himself to Moses at the burning bush. It refers to Israel’s God, the God of the covenant. Elijah reminded the people that the Lord was their God. He had a special relationship with them from the time He called Abraham out of Urr in the Chaldees.
The Lord had redeemed Israel from Egypt. He led them out of bondage with a strong hand. The plagues in Egypt testify to this. At Mount Sinai the Lord came down and gave Israel the Law. They were His own special people, a holy nation. God blessed Israel abundantly. Yet they forsook the Lord and followed Baal the god of fertility and prosperity. Today people still seek Baal, the god of prosperity and fertility. When Christian’s compromise their business ethics to make more money they choose Baal over God. When they break their word to avoid personal loss they choose Baal over God.
James 5:1-6: Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
When we choose work over worship on Sunday we choose Baal over God. Who do you worship? The Lord God, or Baal the god of prosperity, pleasure and materialism?
Elijah worshipped the Lord with reverence and respect. 1 Corinthians 14:40 says: Let all things be done decently and in order. He was reverent, humble and sincere. He feared God not man. He repaired the Lord’s altar. Taking 12 stones he repaired the altar in God’s name. He approached the Lord quietly, humbly and in the appointed way. He didn’t dance around or scream out. He didn’t cut himself or leap on the altar. He worshipped the Lord in spirit and in truth. Elijah offered His sacrifice at the appointed time; the time of the evening sacrifice. He was concerned about God’s glory and that God’s people should repent. He prayed according to God’s will. The Lord heard His prayer and answered it immediately. The fire consumed the sacrifice, the stones of the altar, the water and the dust. God left no relic for the people to worship.
Israel had tried to appease 2 gods and failed. They were not loyal to the Lord their God. But before we condemn Israel of apostasy, are we totally dedicated to God? Or have we chosen material wealth over spiritual wealth? Have we compromised our business ethics to make more money? What kind of witness are we giving to the community, honesty and integrity or greed and deception? Do we serve the Lord God or Baal the god of prosperity? Are we wavering between 2 opinions? God won’t tolerate any rival gods. He is very jealous. God wants all of us; all of our love, all of our devotion and service.
3. The Triumph
1 Kings 18:39: Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!
Elijah had prayed that the hearts of the people would be turned back to the Lord. His prayer was answered. God sent fire to consume the sacrifice, the altar and the water. The people saw it and fell on their faces before God. They said the Lord, He is God, the Lord, He is God. How wonderful it is to see backsliders return to the Lord. The people had returned to the Lord. They acknowledged His sole claim to deity. They worshipped Him.
My prayer for the Tent Hill Baptist Church is that those who have backslidden will repent and return to the Lord. Sadly, many have gone after Baal, the god of wealth, possessions and pleasure. Many hearts long for the material not the spiritual. Attendance to Sunday services, prayer meetings and Christian service is steadily declining. How much time do we spend with the Lord each week? How concerned are we about the Kingdom of God? What are you doing to reach the lost? We know that we need God, but sadly He is just our fire insurance policy. The Lord is not our God anymore!
1 Kings 18:40: And Elijah said to them, seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape! So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there.
In any true revival you will find God’s people dealing with their sin. The people didn’t hesitate to kill the false prophets of Baal. They obeyed God’s Word given by the prophet Elijah. This had to be done. These false prophets needed to be silenced. They mustn’t be allowed to lead God’s people astray any longer. Let us never think that we can hold on to things that are wrong, things that are offensive to God. If we truly repent we will make amends for our sin. We will remove those things from our lives. Worldly music, immoral videos and corrupt literature must all go. Questionable business practices, compromise and ungodly relationships need to be addressed. We must remove anything that offends God. Only then is our repentance real! The question is will we confess our sin and put things right? God is the One who sends the rain, not Baal!
1 Kings 18:42-45: So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. So he went up and looked, and said, There is nothing. And seven times he said, Go again. Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea! So he said, Go up, say to Ahab, Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you. Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab rode away and went to Jezreel.
The drought didn’t break until Israel returned to the Lord. The rain came after the people repented and killed the false prophets. Having led the people back to God Elijah got down on His knees and prayed. He didn’t stop praying until the Lord had answered His prayer. He watched and prayed. Elijah’s servant kept him up to date on the situation. We can learn a lot from Elijah. He meant business with God. Before you say, well Elijah was a great prophet of God and we’re not; listen to James 5:17-18: Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. It says that Elijah was a man with a nature just like us. How long do you persevere in prayer? Do you earnestly seek God’s face?
In February, I preached from the book of Haggai. We saw how God brought a drought upon the land of Israel. He also struck them with hail, blight and mildew to lead them to repentance. The people had neglected God’s house. The drought was God’s way of getting Israel’s attention. God hasn’t changed since then. I believe the drought we are experiencing is God’s way of getting our attention. We have had very little rain since February. Why? Hasn’t it been the rainy season?
In fact, they are saying this is the worse drought for 130 years. What’s worse, there is no end in sight! The Weather Bureau offers no hope. I believe with all my heart that God is calling us to repent. To seek His face. Repentance has been talked about a fair bit recently. At the 150 years Thanksgiving Service in Gatton prayers of repentance were offered as all the Pastors and Councilors stood together in unity. It was good that the all the leaders did this. Yet, I don’t believe rain will come until all of God’s people humble themselves, pray, seek God’s face and turn from their wicked ways.
Has the Lord touched your heart this morning? Has He called you to return to Him? Is their sin in your life that you need to confess? Are there things you need to remove from your life, like questionable business ethics? Could you have neglected God’s house? Why is this drought continuing so long? Is God waiting for us to repent and seek Him? Can I encourage each of us to examine our own hearts and pray! Don’t shoot the messenger! Pray and ask God if these things are right!
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24: Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.