Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 21 2019 - 1 Kings 18:1-29 – The prophets of Baal

After three years of drought, Elijah is told to tell Ahab that the Lord is about to send rain on the land.

The chapter provides us with a glimpse of a divided nation: Jezebel, Ahab's wife, is busy killing off the prophets of the Lord; Ahab is devoting his energies to seeking out Elijah to kill him; meanwhile Obadiah, Ahab's palace administrator, is working secretly to preserve the lives of many of the Lord's prophets. He has found a way to serve a cruel king and an idolatrous household while seeking to remain faithful to the living God and preserve the worship of Yahweh. It cannot have been an easy path to tread, but we can thank God for Obadiah. When Elijah is later discouraged and complains that he is the only one left who is faithful to the Lord, the Lord rebukes him by saying that he had seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Obadiah doubtless played a vital role in preserving a faithful remnant among the people of God.

Ahab may not be able to find Elijah, but Elijah finds Ahab. Elijah meets with Obadiah who reluctantly returns with a message to tell Ahab where Elijah is waiting to meet with him. When Ahab sees Elijah he greets him with the words, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?" (1 Kings 18:16). Elijah tells Ahab that he is the one who has brought trouble on Israel by abandoning the Lord. Ahab is to summon all the people, the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the female god Ashterah to meet Elijah on Mt Carmel. This is to be the scene of a decisive contest.

We are familiar with the dramatic story. Elijah challenges the nation to make a clear decision, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him" (18:21). The true God will demonstrate his power by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice prepared for him. It will be a demonstration of the power of the living God and the powerlessness of idols and will show that the living God is a God who hears and answers prayer. The people all agree that the god who answers by fire will be their God.

Elijah allows the 450 prophets of Baal to go first. Wood and a slaughtered bull are laid out upon their altar; everything is just waiting for the fire. For half a day the prophets of Baal leapt around the altar, calling upon their god to answer them, but nothing happened. Elijah mocked them, suggesting that Baal may be asleep and perhaps if they shouted louder they would wake him up. In their desperation they slashed themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed, hoping their fervour would gain the attention of their god. The passage records, "But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (v. 29).

Psalm 135:15-18 declares,

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
    made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
    eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
    nor is there breath in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
    and so will all who trust in them

Could there ever have been a more powerful demonstration of the powerlessness of idol-gods than there was there that day on Mount Carmel?

Father God, we praise you because you are the living God. When we were lost in sin and in danger of death and judgment you heard our cry and came to our aid in the person of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He gave himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin and, by his resurrection, demonstrated that you are the living and life-giving God. Help us to show the world that you alone can hear and answer the cries of their hearts.

Peter Misselbrook