Bible Study: 1 Kings 18:17-39
Is God truly greater than any of the other things people can choose to serve? Can we fearlessly and adamantly declare our faith in the power of God and know we will not be disappointed? Should we stand up for what we know is right even if we will be the only ones to do so? Will God really support us if we try all this?
The answer to all these questions is a resounding "yes" as demonstrated in the story recounted in 1 Kings 18:17-39. This dramatic encounter between God's prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal stands as one of the most vivid descriptions of faith and power the Old Testament offers. Elijah proves that one person standing for God possesses incredible power.
The passage begins as Elijah comes before Ahab, king of Israel. A good summary of Ahab is found in 1 Kings 16:29-33. The son of King Omri, Ahab became the seventh king of Israel and reigned 22 years. Scripture describes him as doing more evil and more to provoke the Lord to anger than any of the kings before him. When you consider some of the evil those before him had done, this is a pretty amazing accomplishment.
One of Ahab's greatest sins was the acceptance and promotion of Baal worship in Israel. In order to promote commerce, Ahab had married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon. Ethbaal apparently was also a priest of the god Baal or Baal's female counterpart Asherah. Thus, to keep his wife and new father-in-law happy, Ahab established a temple to Baal in Samaria, complete with an Asherah pole. Such evil did not go unnoticed by the Lord, and Elijah had been sent to deal with Ahab.
Elijah demanded a confrontation between himself and all the false prophets before all the people of Israel (v. 19). They met at Mount Carmel where Elijah offered a direct challenge. Let the prophets (understood as all the prophets of both Baal and Asherah) prepare a sacrifice to offer to Baal. Elijah, as the only remaining prophet of God, would prepare a sacrifice to him. Whichever one consumed the offering by fire would be revealed as the true God (vv. 21-24).
At this point, let us re-examine the opening questions of this study. Elijah must ask himself if God is greater than Baal and Asherah. Can he openly declare his faith by making such a bold commitment? Does it matter that he is one man against 850 and in front of an entire nation? Will God be there when he calls on him?
We face the same questions in our lives today. While the people around us do not generally serve Baal or Asherah, they serve just about everything else. Elijah really was not the only remaining prophet of God; it just seemed that way to him. Sometimes it seems that way to us as well. Do we dare stand up for God in such an environment, and if we do, will we be successful? Is our faith, and our God, powerful enough to withstand such a test?
Elijah's was. He gave the false prophets the chance to prove themselves first (v. 25). He mocked them and their gods (vv. 26-29). When he had finally had enough, he sat them down and proceeded to make his own task even more difficult by drowning his sacrifice with water. Then he calmly, faithfully called on God and let him do the rest (vv. 30-37). Elijah was not disappointed. God did everything Elijah asked of him and more (v. 38).
Then, as now, God was eager to prove both his dominance and his reliability. God is ready to reveal himself today as conqueror of all other idols in the world. He is prepared to expose everything else people worship as worthless, inept impostors. The power he desires to display now is even more dazzling than the brilliance shown to the nation of Israel that day. God moves to do more than consume a wet bull by fire. With the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, God destroys the harness of sin in our lives and offers grace unto eternal salvation. From the charred remains of our old lives God can raise transformed believers. These believers know that they can fully rely on God for everything in their lives and are ready to give evidence of this dependence. God does not miss such opportunities to prove his power and worth.
Is such a display enough? When the people saw what happened on Mount Carmel, they fell on their faces in recognition of the Lord as God (v. 39). People are prepared to do the same today when confronted with the awesome power of God. That power is readily available in your life as a Christian. The question now must be whether you believe in it as much as Elijah did. Are you willing to place as much faith in your God as Elijah placed in his? If not, maybe it is time to examine whether or not you are serving the same God.
Van Christian is pastor of First Baptist Church in Comanche, Texas.