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In 1stKings we can learn how Elijah takes a stand against the prophets of Baal. Baal was a very prevalent religion in ancient Israel. Baal was a deity introduced by the Canaanites. Baal was a fertility god. Baal was also known under the name of Hadad, the god of thunder. Baal worship involved many fertility rites and often included human sacrifice. Many people in the Northern Kingdom abandoned God outright for Baal. During the reign of King Ahab who was married to Jezebel, this religion threatened to supplant the worship of God entirely. Elijah was called upon by God to take a stand and challenge the prophets of Baal.
I find Elijah to be one of the most fascinating figures in Old Testament history. Elijah emerged as a fearless figure determined to uproot the idolatrous worship of Baal. Initial introductions to Elijah would lead us to believe he was the first meteorologist in Biblical history! He spoke of an impending drought and goes on to say that this drought would last over three years. Elijah’s message to the kingdom of Northern Israel was meant to communicate all was not well between God and his people. They were about to suffer for their disobedience. Amazingly, God did not leave Elijah there to spread this message or even to seek to win the people back from their path of spiritual disaster. Instead God took Elijah away for three hidden years of an apprenticeship. We can learn through Scripture some things about Elijah during these hidden years.
First, Elijah returned to his home area as reflected in these verses from 1 Kings 17:
So Elijah went according to the word of the Lord, he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. (1 Kings 17:5-6)
Secondly Elijah came to learn that God cared for him and that God’s power was superior to any other power. The third story from these hidden years was designed by God to teach Elijah specifically that prayer can transform any situation.
Eventually the time came for the drought to be broken. Elijah went without fear to meet King Ahab, and proposed a prayer contest on Mount Carmel against the Baal prophets. In Kings, we can learn of the struggle between the two faiths. Elijah challenged four hundred fifty prophets of Baal to a prayer contest at Mt. Carmel to determine the true God. Would we be willing to go up against 450 people in any contest? The contest was in an environment where Baal was supposed to be superior as it dealt with the fertility of the land. Elijah challenged the Baal prophets to demonstrate that Baal could break the drought by bringing rain. The prayer contest was set up in which sacrifices of bulls were prepared over wood. The God who would bring fire first to their sacrifice would be declared the winner. The Baal prophets went into action. The prophets cried out over and over again to Baal, did their dances around the altar, even cutting themselves with swords and lances.
Then the real drama began as Elijah goes quietly into his ritual. An altar to God previously torn down was restored. Elijah even went so far as to pour water upon the wood. Then as he began to pray, the fire of God consumed the sacrifice. The prophets of Baal were destroyed, the drought was broken and God’s amazing power once again ruled supreme in the land. Elijah as we can witness through these events believed in God’s power against unbelievable circumstances, one person representing God against 450 others who did not believe in God.
As we continue to move forward into the remaining months of 2018, there are many things God might desire us to stand up for in life. Poverty is still prevalent. Homelessness and crime is still on the rise. Drug use and alcohol abuse is still prevalent in our society. Many people remain home on Sunday rather than being in church to worship God. There are so many things that we can take a stand for but often we are too afraid.
In relationship to this fear, Jesus’ words from our gospel lesson in Luke reveal one of the harsher truths in God’s kingdom. This truth is that not everyone will respond to the gospel. There are many hearts full of prejudice, hate and pride that will resist Christ’s offer of peace. This week has seen our Moravian Church celebrate the renewal of the Unitas Fratrum on August 13thand today through our Lovefeast we remember the wonderful blessings of our children. We can learn a lot through our children. It’s interesting to note that while a child, Count Zinzendorf, the benefactor of our Moravian Church and several of his companions formed a club at school, pledging their loyalty to Christ; promising not to slander anyone, to honor their commitments, and to live holy lives. At first they called themselves “The Slaves of Virtue” but eventually they became known as The Order of the Mustard Seed. Their three guiding principles, were:
- Be kind to all people.
- Seek their welfare.
- Win them to Christ.
Like Elijah, we are directed by God to take a stand, to identify ourselves as God’s children. As God’s children we are called to love and respect one another. Remembering the words from our passage in 1st Kings:
“If the Lord is God, follow him.”
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
August 19, 2018