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“That We Might Have Hope” (Rom. 15:4)

First Kings, Chapter Eighteen

“How long will you waver between two opinions?”

It is not surprising–knowing the political and religious climate in Israel at the time–that the people didn’t answer Elijah with so much as a word. The fierce animosity that King Ahab (and Queen Jezebel!) had for Elijah was not a secret. In the three years since it had rained last, Ahab had left no stone unturned in his quest to find Elijah, whom he blamed for the drought. We read in this chapter that Ahab had sent someone to every nation to hunt for Elijah, going so far as to compel them to take an oath that Elijah was not there.

Of course, the truth of the matter was that the drought had come as a result of God’s judgment on Ahab and Jezebel’s promotion of heathen worship. In the time since the resulting famine began, Jezebel massacred the prophets of the Lord (except for the 100 prophets hidden by Obadiah, Ahab’s servant, who worshiped God secretly himself). And in their place the monarch and his wife had taken on 850 other prophets to serve the Canaanite idols Baal and Asherah.

The people were no fools. From Elijah’s question it seems that both the worship of the true God and that of Baal and Asherah were going on simultaneously; and we can imagine how that happened. With the political establishment being pro-Baal, the people paid at least lip service to him in order to save their jobs, their homes, perhaps even their lives. They saw what had happened to the Lord’s prophets. They saw the huge numbers of people employed in heathen worship. Many found trying to “serve” both the Lord (in secret) and Baal (publicly) was the thing to do.

No, it isn’t surprising this is what happened, but that does not make it right. Jesus once spoke of how impossible it is to divide one’s loyalties. In Matthew 6:24 He says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” God also addresses this scenario in the first commandment in which He forbids worship of any other so-called god: “You shall have no other gods.”

But was it ever difficult to do what was right! The philosophy of “might makes right” was carrying the day. Almost one thousand priests, plus the king, plus the queen, made a powerful majority that was very hard to take a stand against. Not one of the people stood up. There on Mount Carmel it was only Elijah who stood up before Ahab and his entourage of religious leaders.

God Answers

And it was through the hand of that lone prophet that the Lord gave unmistakable proof of His existence as the only true and real God in that miracle so well-known to us. Both “sides” made the same preparations. Each built an altar, laid wood on it, and slaughtered a bull which was laid on the altar for sacrifice. The challenge was this: “You call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God” (18:24). What happened would be hilarious, if it weren’t so pitiful–those prophets of Baal spent the entire day pleading and dancing and leaping, “cutting themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. . . . But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention” (18:28).

It was then, after dousing his offering three times with buckets of precious water, that Elijah offered a simple prayer. God’s answer was quick and complete: “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. . . . Now when all the people saw it, . . . they said, The Lord, He is God!” (18:38-39)

What a patient, long-suffering God the Lord is to help His people in their weaknesses! Once again we see Him going way out of His way to help them, not to stomp on them; to build them up, not to tear them down.

It is for you and me living in these latter days for whom such an account is recorded. It is not hard to see the vast majority today bowing down before the altars of money and convenience and pleasure and recreation. And we know how strong the temptation is to fit in–to hide our worship of the true God simply for the sake of avoiding what we see as potential problems: ridicule, questions, etc.

You may have heard it said: “I and God are a majority.” God give us the spiritual strength to stand up with an Elijah and proclaim God’s name without fear.

But also for those many times in which we show our sinful weaknesses, may our God give us of His grace and kindness and patience and forgiveness in Christ. May He speak to us loudly and clearly through His Word, as He did to those Israelites through that miraculous sacrifice; may He reconfirm us in our trust in Him–the Lord who is God!

–Pastor Paul Krause