The first verse of 1 Kings 18 tells us that we are in the third year of the drought. God tells Elijah to reveal himself to Ahab because it is time to bring rain upon the earth again. But it is not just going to rain. The rain is going to accompany a battle of the gods.
The Faith To Stand (18:1-16)
The chapter begins with a man named Obadiah. He is in charge of the palace of King Ahab. But he also greatly fears the Lord. Verse 4 reveals the faith of Obadiah who had hid and provided for the prophets of the Lord when Jezebel was trying to kill them. Three years of drought has made life difficult for Israel. Ahab tells Obadiah to search through the land for some grass so that the animals will not die. While looking for grass Obadiah runs into Elijah. Elijah tells Obadiah to go get Ahab. Obadiah asks if Elijah is trying to get him killed because the Spirit of the Lord will carry Elijah to some other place. He will get Ahab and Elijah won’t be here and Ahab will kill him. But Elijah says he will see Ahab today.
Before we leave the introduction to the story, I want us to think about the life of Obadiah. Here is a man working for the most wicked king the nation would ever know, and yet he has the faith the stand and serve the Lord. You don’t have to be a notable leader to be a leader. Obadiah is not a prophet. Obadiah is a not a king. He is an every day guy, but he is doing everything he can to be a servant of God in the capacity he can. He takes advantage of the opportunities that are in front of him to serve the Lord. We need each one to see what we can do to keep the work of the kingdom in this community going. Each of us must take a greater responsibility to invite the lost, connect to our guests, follow up after the weak, volunteer to work, and give our time to serve because God has been so good to us. It is not that we are not afraid. Obadiah has all kinds of fear, as we notice in the conversation with Elijah. But he knew what he needed to do. We are calling for you to be like Obadiah, be a leader, make a mark, and serve well.
Stop Limping (18:17-21)
Ahab arrives and seeing Elijah calls him “the troubler of Israel.” Remember in the last chapter that Elijah has called for this drought through the word of the Lord, a symbol of the nation’s wickedness. This is why Elijah responds that it is Ahab who is the troubler of Israel. The drought has come because Ahab has abandoned the commandments of the Lord. Elijah addresses all the people of Israel with an important question: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?” How long will you keep waffling and faltering between two gods. If the Lord is God, then follow him. If Baal is God, then follow him. It is far past time to end the nonsense of faltering between two gods, limping back and forth. If the Lord is God, then we cannot go back to our old lives. It is time to choose who we will serve. Far too many people are limping between Jesus and their own gods. The gods of comfort, pleasure, convenience, family, career, wealth, success, power, prestige, and the like pull us away from the true God and we are pictured as limping between the two. It is time to decide. Will we be strong in the Lord or strong in our idols? Notice the people remain silent as Elijah calls them to this moment of decision.
The Emptiness Of Our Idols (18:22-29)
Elijah offers a challenge. They are on Mount Carmel, the home field for Baal. There are 450 prophets of Baal and just one prophet for the Lord. Two altars will be used and a bull will be placed on each of them. The prophets of Baal will call out to their god and Elijah will call out to the Lord. Whichever God answers by first is truly God. All the people of Israel agree. Elijah tells the prophets of Baal to go first. From the morning until noon the prophets of Baal cried out to Baal, “O Baal, answer us!” Listen to the following words: “But there was no voice, and no one answered” (18:26). The prophets are leaping and dancing around this altar trying to do anything to get their god to respond.
Seeing this utter failure and the people of Israel watching this scene, Elijah takes the opportunity to make the point clear to the people. Notice in verse 27 that Elijah begins to mock the prophets of Baal. It seems that Baal is preoccupied at the moment. Perhaps your god is deep in thought and cannot be bothered at the moment. Perhaps he is busy at the moment and cannot respond. Maybe your god got lost. Perhaps he is going to the bathroom and cannot be troubled. Maybe your god is asleep and you need to wake him up! This mockery does not dissuade the prophets. They call upon Baal all the more and cut themselves with lances and swords to gain the attention of their god. The text tells us that they finished the day continuing to call out to Baal. But notice the words in verse 29: “But there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.”
Why can’t we see the emptiness of our idolatrous pursuits? Why do we think that we will find joy and happiness in the idols of this world? We are deceived into such foolish thinking. We think if we were married we would have joy. Or if we just had children. If we just had a better job or changed careers then life would be better. Or if we had more wealth and had more possessions then we could be satisfied. Perhaps we just need more sex, better sex, promiscuous sex, and this will bring us happiness. And so we call upon these gods to bring us what we need, to fill the void in our lives, to heal the hurt, and to make us whole and it does not work. It never works. We call upon our gods and there is no answer and no one pays attention. Our wicked hearts refuse to see the emptiness in the pursuit of this world. We are blinded by the god of this world so that we continue pursuing our passions rather than pursuing Jesus. Our idols our empty. We must stop investing in them and stop limping between our idols and our God.
The Power of God (18:30-46)
I find it amusing that Elijah seems to take his seat and just watch. He is not in a hurry like a Survivor contest trying to get fire first. He lets these prophets go at it all day long, while the weary crowds grow impatient, waiting for something to happen. But there was no response from heaven. After letting the day go by, in verse 30 we see that Elijah is ready to end this nonsense. Elijah calls for the people to pay attention to him as he repairs the altar to the Lord that had once sat atop this mountain with 12 stones representing the tribes of Israel. Then he digs a trench around the altar that would hold around four gallons. Then Elijah calls for his altar to be doused with water with gallons of water three times. They douse the altar so much that the water ran around the altar and filled the trench (18:35).
Notice the contrast of what Elijah does to what the prophets of Baal did. The prophets of Baal are screaming, shouting, cutting themselves, and doing everything they can to get their gods attention. Elijah simply prays. You don’t have to get God’s attention. You don’t have to have rituals to have God listen to you. You do not need any kind of external action to move God. Just pray. Just talk to God. The power of simple prayer.
Also notice what Elijah prays. “Let it be known today that you are God in Israel.” The point of this effort is to show the nation that the Lord is truly God. Elijah calls for God to answer to show the people that the Lord is God. But notice the rest of the prayer: “…and that you have turned their hearts back.” What a God of grace! This wicked nation that stubbornly refuses to obey the Lord is being given another opportunity to turn their hearts back. This moment is God turning the hearts of the people back to him. Do you see how sad this moment is? How sad it is that God has to convince his people that he is God! How sad it is that God has to perform a miracle to get his people to listen, believe, and obey. How sad it is that we can be like the Pharisees in the days of Jesus who constantly clamored for a sign to believe. What stubborn hearts that will not believe! But God loves his people and God will go to great lengths to turn our hearts to him.
So fire comes down from heaven and consumes the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and the water in the trench. Massive fireball consumes everything. Then the people confess: “The Lord, he is God.” Our idols are not god. The Lord, he is God. Now the Lord sends the rain. When the people turn their hearts back to the Lord, then the blessings of God are restored to the nation. The rain comes after three and a half years.
God has done a greater miracle than this in our lives. As amazing as the battle of the gods is, God has done far more for us today. The fire from heaven was an effort to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord. God will go to great lengths so that people will turn their passions away from the world and turn their passion to God. In an effort to turn the hearts of the people back to him, the Father decided to send his Son. The Word became flesh and tabernacled with us and we have seen his glory. Born of a virgin, living a sinless life, revealing the very character and heart of God to the world, and yet was killed by the people he came to save. Jesus rose from the grave three days later, conquering sin, death, and Satan. God goes to great lengths to save his people and turn their hearts to him. Turn your heart to him and confess: The Lord, he is God. The Lord is good. His love endures forever. Stop limping between God and your idols. Rip out the idols in your life. Confessing that Yahweh is God means a total life change, fully devoted to him and no longer to ourselves. See the love of the Lord and come to him.