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.

Jun 21 2013 - Acts 13:42-14:7 – The light of the world

Paul was invited to come and speak again at the synagogue the following week. However, when the day arrived, practically the whole of the town gathered to hear what Paul had to say. This drove the Jews to jealousy – they had never had a congregation like this for their own preaching. So they opposed Paul and contradicted all that he was saying, speaking abusively against Paul.

Paul declared that since the Jews were now rejecting his message he would turn to the Gentiles, for that is the command God had given him. Paul then cites the command, quoting Isaiah 49:6, "I have made you [singular] a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth."

Isaiah 49:6 is one of the passages about the Servant of the Lord. In this verse, the Lord says of his Servant that it is too small a thing for him to rescue the children of Israel and restore them to their inheritance: God will make his Servant a light to the Gentiles/nations that his salvation may reach the ends of the earth.

Jesus came into the world to take upon himself the calling of Israel and to be the light of the world. He is the Suffering Servant through whom the salvation of God shall reach the ends of the earth. He is the one in whom the promises to Abraham find their fulfilment; in him all nations on earth shall be blessed.

But that salvation shall reach the ends of the earth through the testimony and ministry of Jesus' disciples. Paul understands this well when he takes this verse from Isaiah as a command to himself: as a follower of Jesus Christ he must be a light to the nations; he must take the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. In taking this as God's call upon his own life, Paul is doing no more than following the teaching of Jesus who called his disciples to follow him in being "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).

Paul’s words provoked a mixed reaction. Many of the Gentiles who had gathered to hear him were glad. Paul had made it clear that the good news about Jesus the Messiah was good news for them. The grace of God knows no bounds; in Jesus, God is embracing people of every race, language and culture and making them members of the one great family of his people. Many Gentiles gladly put their trust in the Saviour. They were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

But this same message stirred up others to oppose Paul more violently. The opposition was from both Jews and Gentiles, men and women – though, interestingly, it seems to have been predominantly from among the ruling class from within the city. Paul and Barnabas were driven from the city and from its immediate region. Their expulsion had the effect of bringing the good news concerning Jesus to other cities and other audiences.

Paul had understood that the calling of Christ is also the calling of his disciples. He is the light of the world and his disciples are called to be a light to all nations, to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. This is our calling. God's saving plan for the world is put into effect through the testimony of our lives and our words. The salvation of the world awaits our shining testimony.

Lord, fill me with the joy of the Holy Spirit and help me to shine today. And when those who prefer the darkness seek to douse the flame and extinguish the light, keep me shining still.

Peter Misselbrook