Please Note: Due to problems with the recorder, this audio lesson is made from two different sources; so there is a noticeable change in quality.
God sent Elijah to Ahab, the king of Israel, who is considered the worst king that ever reigned over Israel. The message was simple and clear. It will not rain until Elijah says so. After saying those words, he disappears. The drought which brought about the famine was to be understood as a judgment from God. God said that Israel was to understand that the drought was a picture of the people’s disobedience to the covenant. This brings us to 1 Kings 18 and we are told in the first verse that we are more than three years into the drought. The three years of drought indicates that no one is turning back to the Lord. No one is seeking God. No one is considering their ways. No one is thinking about why things are the way that they are.
Elijah Returns (18:1-19)
After more than three years the Lord tells Elijah to go show himself to Ahab because God is ready to send rain on the land. The next few verses want to tell us how bad things are going in Israel. Verse 2 tells us that the famine is severe at this point. Things are so bad that verse 5 tells us that Ahab is wandering the land trying to find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive. Even the king is losing his livestock because of this drought. But Ahab has a person in charge of the palace named Obadiah. He is not the same Obadiah that wrote a book in the Bible. But we are told in verse 3 that Obadiah greatly feared the Lord. In fact, Obadiah has been doing a great work during the reign of Ahab. While Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took 100 prophets and hid them in a cave, providing them with bread and water. So Ahab sends Obadiah one way to look for some grass for his animals and Ahab goes another way looking for the same.
As Obadiah was on his way, Elijah met him. Elijah tells Obadiah to go tell Ahab that Elijah is here. Listen to what Obadiah says in verse 9. “How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?” Obadiah continues in verses 10-14. Ahab has sent people all over the place looking for you. When they returned unable to find you, he would make them take an oath that they had not found you because that is how desperate he is to find you. So now you tell me to go tell Ahab you are here. As soon as I have gone, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you somewhere and I do not know where that will be. Then Ahab will kill me because he cannot find you even though I have feared the Lord from my youth. I have been saving the prophets of the Lord all this time and now you are going to get me killed.
So Elijah makes an oath to Obadiah that he will show himself to Ahab today. So Obadiah goes and brings Ahab to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw Elijah, he said, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” Calling Elijah a “troubler of Israel” is not a small title. Achan was called the troubler of Israel in Joshua 6:18 and 7:15 because his actions caused the death of many. Saul was also called a troubler of Israel by his son, Jonathan, in 1 Samuel 14:29 because of the rash oath that he took in the middle of the battle against the Philistines. So Ahab is casting the blame for the doom of the nation at Elijah’s feet. This is why Elijah responds that Ahab is the troubler of Israel. Ahab is the reason for the disaster in the nation because he has abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals (18:18). But God’s people are always ridiculed and outnumbered. The world will think that the followers of God are the problem when, in fact, the people who have rejected the Lord are the reasons for all of societies’ problems.
But I want us to see what Elijah does. He asks for Israel to gather at Mount Carmel along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah. Now it is important to realize where this gathering is located. Baal was worshiped on high places and mountains. Being on a mountain, this would be considered the Baal’s home turf. So the advantage is completely slanted to Baal for this gathering.
Time To Choose (18:20-40)
But the key to what is happening is found in verses 20-21. Elijah comes to the people with a question. “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?” Stop going back and forth. Have conviction! Be decisive! How long will you sit on the fence and remain lukewarm. “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” But I want us to see the surprising response of the people. They do not have an answer. “And the people did not answer him a word.” They do not know which is god is God or do not want to commit to either, or both. Elijah’s point is simple. You need to choose. Stop being lukewarm and sitting on the fence. But now Elijah is going to help them make their decision.
Elijah first notes that he is outnumbered. There is only one of him but there are 450 prophets of Baal. So theoretically the prophets of Baal should have an easier time invoking their god. They are to choose one bull for themselves, prepare it, and put it on wood but do not light the fire. You call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord. The God who answers by fire, he is God. The people agree with the showdown. Elijah tells the prophets of Baal to go first. So the prophets of Baal call on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” Notice the power of verse 26. “But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.” Total silence. We come back to the prophets limping around the altar.
But Elijah uses this as an opportunity to mock the situation. Look at verse 27. Shout louder since he is a god. Maybe your god is deep in thought. Maybe he is relieving himself. Maybe he has gone on a trip. Maybe he is asleep and needs to be awakened. Elijah says this to make a point. What kind of god is this? You have been calling out for hours and nothing has happened. But this does not stop the prophets of Baal. Now they shout even louder, cutting themselves until their blood flowed in an effort to get their god to listen. They kept doing this all afternoon. However, there was no voice. No one answered and no one paid attention. Finally, Elijah is ready to put them out of their misery.
In verse 30 Elijah tells for the people to come near him. But Elijah does not build a new altar. Rather he rebuilds an altar to the Lord that had been torn down in the past. Elijah took 12 stones, representing the tribes of Israel, and built the altar. He made a trench around the altar that was large enough to hold a few gallons. He arranged the wood, prepared the bull, and put it on the altar. Then Elijah calls for them to pour four jars of water on the altar. Then do it a second time. Then do it a third time. There is so much water poured that it even filled the trench around the altar. But then Elijah prays. Notice that he prays for God’s glory. Lord, let it be known today that you are the God in Israel and that I am your servant who has done all these things according to your word. Let this people know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back. Please do not miss this. What is about to happen has a purpose! God is turning the hearts of the people back to the Lord through Elijah.
With this, the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and the water that was in the trench (18:38). The desired effect occurs. All the people said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord he is God.” Then Elijah has the prophets of Baal executed according to the command of the Lord in Deuteronomy 13:1-5.
There are two great pictures that I want us to see in this lesson. Next week, Lord willing, we will come back to this text and see one more picture. But two pictures to see in this lesson. First, please see the beauty of God. God is attempting to draw the people back into a covenant relationship with him. God says that he is turning the hearts of the people back to him. This whole show is to see the Lord as God who wants his people back because he desires a relationship with them. In fact, the event looks like a burnt offering as a bull is put on the altar and completely consumed by the Lord. God is making atonement for his people. Further, they are on Mount Carmel for the fire of the Lord to come down on, which is like when God did this on Mount Sinai during the exodus. God is turning the hearts of the people back to himself, making atonement for the people, and renewing the covenant on the mount because he does not want to destroy his people but wants them all to come to repentance. The repairing of the Lord’s altar pictures this. God is repairing the relationship with his people. This is what is supposed to cause the people to stop limping between two opinions.
This is the second picture from this text that we are going to consider. The people have been limping between two opinions and God making atonement and renewing his covenant is supposed to cause the people’s hearts to turn to him. But the picture of limping is important. In verse 26 we see the prophets of Baal are limping around the altar as they cry out to their god. The word “limping” is important. It is the same Hebrew word as back in verse 21 when Elijah told the people to stop limping between two opinions. As an aside I will note that this is one reason why I like the ESV so much and cannot change translations, as much as I try to. The ESV shows that this is the same word in verse 21 and verse 26. The other translations do not. The other translations read “waver, struggle, hesitate, falter, or paralyzed.” In verse 26 the prophets are not dancing around the altar. The word does not mean “dance, leap, or jump.” The word means to be limp or crippled. So we need to ask why this word is used. This must be an important word with an important message.
The point that Elijah is making to Israel by saying they are limping between two opinions shows that they are making themselves lame with their indecision. They are wrecking themselves by not giving themselves completely to the Lord. You are not healed and you are not whole. You are living your life with a limp because you refuse to give yourselves completely to the Lord. This is now exemplified with the prophets of Baal who are limping around the altar while the Baal does not answer. They are cutting themselves, bleeding out, and limping about as they try to get their gods to answer. They are destroying themselves. They are only harming themselves by refusing to commit to the Lord as God. So long as their allegiance is divided, they are going to be limping through life. Elijah can point to the prophets of Baal and ask how it is working for them? How is it going for them by depending on their idols and false gods? They are limping and bleeding. Israel, why are you hurting yourself by limping between the two?
This is the message to us. We are only hurting ourselves and limping through this life so long as we limp between two opinions. Your life will be a mess and you will not have the healing and hope that God wants to give to your life when you have one foot planted with the Lord and one foot planted with your own worldly desires. Jesus warned us that we cannot serve two masters. But we sure do try to do so. Jumping between two opinions leaves us limping about in life, unable to enjoy and experience what God wants us to have. One of the most frequent ways we limp between two opinions is when we choose God and when we do not. When we are in prosperity and good times, we frequently forget the Lord and do what our desires want, consumed by our lives and schedules. But when bad times come, we limp back to the Lord. So we limp back and forth depending on how good or bad life is. God is telling us that this limp is coming from our own failure to completely devote ourselves to the Lord. James declared that the double-minded person is unstable in all their ways and should not expect anything from the Lord (cf. James 1:6).
God has acted to end our divided allegiance like he acted for Israel on Mount Carmel. God has worked to turn our hearts back to him. He has made atonement for us on Mount Zion through the offering of Jesus, renewing the covenant with us, so that we will openly confess, “The Lord is God; the Lord is God.” Stop limping through life and return to the Lord to be healed.