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Elijah

Between Two Opinions

1 Kings 18:16-46

No scene in the Bible more clearly shows a confrontation between good and evil as this. As such, it has much to say for modern times. Let’s see the ancient version of the story first:

(1 Ki 18:16-46 NIV) So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. {17} When he saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?" {18} "I have not made trouble for Israel," Elijah replied. "But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the Lord's commands and have followed the Baals. {19} Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." {20} So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. {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." But the people said nothing. {22} Then Elijah said to them, "I am the only one of the Lord's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. {23} Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. {24} Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire--he is God." Then all the people said, "What you say is good." {25} Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire." {26} So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. {27} At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." {28} So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. {29} Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. {30} Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. {31} Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, "Your name shall be Israel." {32} With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. {33} He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, "Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood." {34} "Do it again," he said, and they did it again. "Do it a third time," he ordered, and they did it the third time. {35} The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. {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. {39} When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD--he is God! The LORD--he is God!" {40} Then Elijah commanded them, "Seize the prophets of Baal. Don't let anyone get away!" They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there. {41} And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain." {42} So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. {43} "Go and look toward the sea," he told his servant. And he went up and looked. "There is nothing there," he said. Seven times Elijah said, "Go back." {44} The seventh time the servant reported, "A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea." So Elijah said, "Go and tell Ahab, 'Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'" {45} Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. {46} The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

Ahab Meets Elijah

Ahab is a remarkably modern man – at least in his reaction to meeting someone who is righteous. Trace the interaction here and see if you don’t hear the same thing going on in the world around you:

  • His first reaction is to state – quite clearly – that this is all the fault of the righteous man. After all, if you hadn’t pointed out my sin, and God’s judgment of it, I wouldn’t be in this fix. It reminds me so much of the candidate for Surgeon General who announced that right wing fundamentalists were responsible for the AIDS epidemic. After all, if they weren’t so judgmental, we’d have had lots more money for research, and we’d have fixed it by now.
  • The man of God reacts calmly – with the facts. Had he been here in our day, he might have pointed out that spending on AIDS (per patient) was triple that of spending on cancer.
  • At the last, Ahab never acknowledges that Elijah is right – but he does what he is told. This is the power of the Spirit, to convict the world of sin and judgment.

Contemporary Parallel

In the Los Angeles Times for Friday, January 26, 2001, there is an article by Lynn Smith entitled, “In France, Adultery Has a Certain Air of Je Ne Sais Quoi.” (The error in the French is in the original). Subtitled, “Will puritanical, Victorian America ever be continentally blasé about cheating?”, the article brings out (as fact) four commonly held opinions about adultery:

  • First, that adultery is a “liberating concept.” It is the oldest of lies, dating from the Garden.
  • Second, that marital fidelity is to be laughed at. The faithful husband is stupid; the faithless wife the heroine of the play – and he is to be ridiculed for the fool he is.
  • Third, that anyone who defends marital fidelity is “obviously” a hypocrite.
  • Finally, that – though we have come a long way – we still have a long way to go before our attitude towards adultery is “correct.” What this country needs is more marital infidelity.

I bring this to your attention not because I believe this tripe – but because it so cutely summarizes what’s wrong with our attitude. It says quite clearly that the wife who is abandoned by her husband in favor of his next cute young thing – while she gets the care of the children – just has the wrong attitude. She should welcome this. Right.

What is amazing about this article is that so many Christians – including those wives just mentioned – so often take exactly the same point of view. How often I have heard from Christians such things as:

  • “I have a right to happiness, and I had to seize the opportunity when she came along.”
  • “Something so beautiful as sex can’t be wrong.”
  • “What did she expect? She’s no babe any more.”

God sees this and will not be silent on the subject. We shall see, through the lens of Mount Carmel, just how God deals with this.

God’s Indictment

It is important to understand that God’s accusation is against his own people. Those who say “In God We Trust” had very much better do so. Hear God’s indictment here:

  • First, that you waver between two opinions. Either God or the world is right; both can’t be. It is foolish to try to please both – because it won’t work.
  • Next – like the drought here – that God has sent upon you “natural” disaster as his warning. The epidemic of teenage, unwed pregnancies; the horror of abortion; the divorce rate which is higher in the church than in the world; the spread of sexual diseases – all these are related to our attitudes. Marital fidelity would wipe out all these plagues.
  • Finally, that his case against us is so solid, so sure, that He need send but one man against the nattering of the crowd.

The Confrontation

Why are the prophets of Baal so confident here? Why did they agree to such a test against the man who prophesied the drought?

  • First, all the external factors are in their favor. They outnumber the man 450 to one. Just as today, politically correct thinkers dominate our educational and journalistic institutions – and therefore need pay no heed to what some preacher says. He’ll never make it into the paper anyway.
  • Next, they are probably sincere. And it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere, does it Linus? Since they’re just as sincere as Elijah; outnumber him - and especially because all truth is relative – surely their view of reality will prevail. Right? I’m sure they had an explanation for the drought, just as today’s thinkers can explain our sexual epidemics (must be those darned right wing fundamentalists again).
  • Finally, we must remember that Satan can work miracles – if God permits it. They’ve probably seen some. But this is how God delivers judgment. When he decides that judgment is at hand, he stops preventing the foul consequences of our actions. When adultery was sin in this nation, the sinners had consequences. When adultery became politically correct, the nation had consequences. God permits Satan to strut to a point – and if we fall for his lies, the consequences come.
The price of service to the Devil

I live across the street from a high school. Each morning I see students coming to school; many dressed in symbols of witchcraft. Listen to the music; see the frantic state of those who are listening to it. Look at the drugs used to induce it; see the body piercings. You’re looking at the prophets of Baal – in today’s culture. The price of service to the devil is very high.

The character of God’s answers

God’s answers are shown here, and they are significant in his character:

  • God answers immediately upon the prayer of his chosen leader. His purpose cannot be delayed by Satan.
  • God answers at the time he appoints – in this instance, the evening sacrifice.
  • God answers – but his answer comes to his servants, not to the world. The world can only look on.

It will be interesting to see the appointed time.

Intolerance

To the horror of modern advocates of tolerance, Elijah now orders these false prophets killed – as the Law of Moses demands. Why is such intolerance demanded?

  • It is first a reaction to the holiness of God. Holiness carries the idea of being kept separate; God can have no agreement with Satan.
  • Next, so that nothing might come between God and his people. God must come first with all of us, or we are not his.
  • Finally – environmentalists to the contrary notwithstanding – some vermin should be totally exterminated. The man who wipes out smallpox is a hero, not a villain.

As Calvin Coolidge is reputed to have said, “Sometimes being open minded is just being too lazy to make up your mind.” Our relation with the Holy God demands that we make up our minds.

Go Again

Just so Elijah carries the point home with himself, God instructs him to get Ahab moving – so he won’t get stuck on the traffic jam in the rain. This comes – literally – out of a clear blue sky. Why does God arrange this?

  • After the triumph, the test. Satan likes to attack right after we’ve had some sort of spiritual triumph.
  • Elijah meets the test – he sends the man to see seven times. Seven is the number of God’s completeness, signifying complete faith.
  • But ask yourself: how did that servant feel, looking for something that was plainly not there? Elijah’s confidence kept him going back.

Challenges for us

  • Are we double minded? Do we want a “continental” attitude towards sex for ourselves (but not, of course, for our spouses)? Do we want to have it both ways?
  • Are we intolerably tolerant?
  • Do we have the faith to “look again?”

It is a time of testing, of judgment. We should at least know that the trial is in progress.

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