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Elijah & the Stand-Off at Mount Carmel

Today we are going to conclude our Great Battles of the Bible series. You might remember that we started this series with the Sunday School Classic – Joshua & the Walls of Jericho. From there we went to the not-so-familiar story of Jonathan & his armor-bearer. Then we talked about our most memorable character of this series – King Snack-of-ribs (that is, King Sennacherib) and his attack on King Hezekiah in Jerusalem. Then finally last week, we talked about Elisha and his practical joke on the Arameans. And through all that, we’ve learned (or at least have been reminded of) many different things about the character of God. We’ve learned that God is sovereign and that He is the one who directs all the affairs of man. We’ve learned that God cares about individuals as well as nations and He intervenes on our behalf. We’ve even learned that God has a sense of humor and He does things that are totally unexpected.

Well, today we’ve got one more story to look at and I trust that we can learn one more thing from this Great Battle of the Bible.

Now before we get started this morning, I have to make a clarification. There are two characters in the Bible that people often get confused. One is Elijah and the other is Elisha. Elijah and Elisha – two different people. Now, both were prophets. Both lived in Israel. Both lived during the time of King Ahab. Both were used by God in powerful ways, so you can see how easy it is to get them confused with each other. But the thing to remember is that Elisha was Elijah’s assistant. Elijah was the teacher – Elisha was the student.

Last week we talked about Elisha – the practical joking student. Today we are talking about the teacher – Elijah. So back up the clock just a wee bit from where we left off last week – probably just a few years back on the timeline – and we’ll find ourselves in 1 Kings chapter 18. We’re going to start the main text in verse 17, but before we do, let me give you just a quick summary of what’s been happening in Israel up to this point.

It’s about 100 years after King David died and the current king of Israel is named “Ahab” – we mentioned him a little bit last week. He is the King of Israel, he lives in Samaria, and the Bible says about Him – and I quote: “He did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him.” In other words, King Ahab did not make God happy. One of the things that Ahab did was He built a temple and an altar for the worship of Baal. Baal was supposedly the god of fertility and so the people thought that if they worshipped this idol of Baal, then their wives would have lots of babies and their crops would grow lots of grain. So King Ahab, in direct disobedience to the laws God had laid out for them earlier, builds this temple and encourages the people to worship Baal. Not good. So God sends Ahab a message.

This is where Elijah, the prophet of God, comes in. Elijah says to the king in 1 Kings 17:1…

“As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” 1 Kings 17:1

And that’s exactly what happened. For three years – No rain. No dew. No food. Which, by the way, is quite a slap in the face of this god Baal – who is supposed to be the god that provides good crops.

And that brings us to 1 Kings chapter 18 when God tells Elijah –  three years after this drought started – “Go find Ahab and tell him that I will soon send rain.” So Elijah goes to meet with King Ahab. Verse 17.

When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?”

18 “I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. 19 Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.” 20 So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel.

1 Kings 18:17-20

Ok, so here is the scene. Without any explanation of what He’s about to do, Elijah tells the King, “Get everybody together at the top of Mount Carmel. The King complies. So now we’ve got all the people of Isreal. We’ve got the Ahab, the King of Israel. We’ve got Elijah, the prophet of God. And we’ve got 850 prophets of these so-called gods of Baal and Asherah all gathered together at the top of this mountain for what is about to be the greatest show-down of the century. And this is how the battle begins – Verse 21:

“Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.”

1 Kings 18:21

This Elijah guy doesn’t beat around the bush. He doesn’t fluff it up or say it diplomatically. He just flat out says it like it is. “Look guys. Stop flip-flopping. Stop trying to have it both ways. If God is God – then serve Him and only Him. But Baal is god, then go ahead a serve Him. But you gotta make a decision. Who are you going to serve?”

We didn’t look at this when we looked at the story of Joshua earlier, but Joshua himself gave a very similar challenge to the people of Israel a few hundred years earlier. Joshua 24:15

“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15

So Joshua says the same thing: “It’s time to make a decision. Who are you going to serve?” The same challenge is before us today. Of course, chances are, you’re not wavering between serving God or serving some idol made of stone. No, our idols are a little different these days. Our idols go by the names of “Pride”, “Wealth”, “Comfort”, or just plain ol’ “ME”. Those are our idols. Those are the things we cling to, even while trying at the same time to serve God. And I have to admit that sometimes I find myself trying to serve both God and the idol of “ME”. I try to have the best of both worlds – living for God most of the time, but reserving the right to occasionally serve the idol of “me”. Perhaps you have some of the same idols yourself.

But the challenge is before all of us: How long will we try to serve both God and ourselves? How long will we waffle back and forth?  If “Pride”, “Wealth”, “Comfort”, or just plain ol’ “ME” is God, then serve them. But if the Lord is God, then serve Him and only Him.

Well, when the Israelites heard Elijah’s challenge, they remained silent. They had nothing to say. And so Elijah continued with his challenge.

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. 23 Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it. 24 Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.

1 Kings 18:22-24

It seems that since the people couldn’t seem to make up their minds as to which God they would serve, Elijah proposes a test. They would set up two altars with two offerings, but would not set fire to either of them. Then Elijah would pray to his God and the prophets of Baal would pray to their god, and which ever one answered by setting fire to the offering, that God would be declared the true God. It seemed a pretty simple test and all the people agreed, so that’s what they did.

25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.”

26 So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.

1 Kings 18:25-26

Pause here for a second… I imagine it was quite a scene – watching these 450 prophets jump and dance around this altar, calling for their god to answer them. But for all their dancing and yelling, there was no answer. But now look what happens next.

27 About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” 1 Kings 18:27

Man! Again, Elijah doesn’t hold anything back. He’s not being all diplomatic, trying not to hurt their feelings. He out-right ridicules them and mocks them. It’s not exactly the picture of religious tolerance that we hear about today. Well, with all of Elijah’s mocking going on, the prophets of Baal try all the harder to get the attention of their god.

28 So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. 29 They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.

30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, 32and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.

Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”

34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.

1 Kings 18:28-35

Now I gotta tell ya, this is an odd thing to do when you’re trying to start a fire. Dumping gallons of water on the offering wasn’t part of their usual sacrificial routine. Elijah was making a point. If there was going to be a fire, it wasn’t going to be accidental.

36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”

38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench!

39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”

1 Kings 18:36-39

What a powerful reminder to the Israelites and to us today that the Lord is God and there is no other!  After seeing what happened that day, what other conclusion could they come to? All they could do is fall face on the ground and cry out “The Lord, he is God. Yes, the Lord is God.”

You know, as I read that story and thought about how all the people on that mountain that day couldn’t help but acknowledge God, it kinda reminded me that one day, every person on earth will do that exact same thing. We read in Romans 14:11;

‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’

Romans 14:11

There will be a day when every person must stand before God and acknowledge that He is God. It’s not a question of if – it’s just a matter of when. And my encouragement to you, is that there is no better time than today to acknowledge God and begin serving only Him.

Maybe you’ve allowed wealth to become your idol. Maybe getting that well paying job, advancing in your career, building up wealth has become more important to you than developing a close relationship with God.

Or maybe pride has become your idol. Maybe looking important or having people look up to you has become more important to you than humbling yourself before God.

Maybe its a relationship that has become an idol in your life. Or a hobby. Or a project. Or maybe you’ve put yourself as an idol, and you simply care more about serving yourself that you about serving God.

Whatever the case may be, sooner or later, you’re going to realize that serving any of those things other than God, is as useless as worshiping a statue made of stone. So why not acknowledge God today?

If wealth has been your idol, acknowledge that all wealth comes from God and He gives it and takes it from anyone He pleases.

If pride has been your idol, acknowledge the greatness of God and think about how He humbled Himself, became a man, and died on a cross in your place.

If other relationships have been your idol, acknowledge that God loves you and created you for the very purpose of being with you forever.

Whatever the case may be in your life, acknowledge God and give Him back the place of #1 importance in your life.

You know, as we’ve been going through this series of Great Battles of the Bible, there’s been one main theme that has come through again and again. And that is that God is God, and we are not. He is sovereign – we are not. He is all powerful – we are not. He is all-knowing – we are not. The bottom line: God is God – and we are not.

So why not let Him be God? Why do we insist on running our own lives when God knows the future? Why do we refuse to trust Him when His power is unlimited? Why are we so reluctant to give our lives to Him when He gave His life for us?

If there is only one that good thing that comes out of this sermon series of Great Battles of the Bible, I would hope that it would be that you would let God be God in your life. That you would acknowledge Him as your Lord and Saviour. That you would let Him call the shots in your life. That you would trust Him. That you would go to Him when you’re in trouble. That you would go to Him when you’re not in trouble! But that you’d just let Him be God.


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