AGAINST ALL ODDS
1 KINGS 18
It was the showdown a nation had been waiting for. Elijah shows up to the palace of King Ahab, who with the help of his wife; the infamous Jezebel, had led the people of Israel into idol worship. For years, the prophets of God had been in hiding, waiting for the day that they would finally be able to come out of the caves for fear of their lives at the hands of Jezebel. Elijah was in the court of Ahab, and he was as serious as a heart attack.
“Send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” Elijah, the lone prophet, was prepared to face off with an entire religion.
Ahab gathered all the people of Israel and the prophets at Mount Carmel. There stood Elijah, issuing to King Ahab the challenge: God vs. Baal. “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” Elijah was looking to make King Ahab decide once and for all where his allegiance stood, asking him to look within himself and decide who he was going to follow.
The terms of the challenge were to be as followed:
“Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.”
The people of Israel accepted, and the match was set. Elijah, ever the gentleman, chose to allow the prophets of Baal to go first. They prepared their bull, and began to cry out “O Baal, answer us!” From morning to noon, they continued to yell, cutting themselves until they were covered in blood, doing everything they knew to get the attention of their deity. But it was to no avail, as noon had passed, and not a single flicker of flame was seen on the altar.
Elijah, amused by their antics, took a minute to throw some shade in the afternoon sun.
“Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
No one answered; no one paid attention.
Seeing that the prophets of Baal had failed to elicit a response, Elijah called the people to come near to him. The repaired the altar that had been torn down, using twelve stones in its reconstruction. These stones symbolized the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob; the twelve tribes of Israel. Elijah continues preparing the altar, digging a trench around it, and asking the people to pour over and over again water upon the altar. I can imagine the faces of the people as Elijah asked them to do this. “He can’t possibly think that thing’s going to light. You can’t light wet wood!” Elijah began to pray.
“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
And then they waited for God to show up
Can you imagine the tension that was in the air for those moments? The people of Israel had clearly seen that Baal wasn’t planning on showing up to the Mt. Carmel affair, and were now desperately looking to see what the Lord God of Israel was going to do. Elijah stood in the gap between the people of Israel and their faith, waiting for the miracle to come. Was God going to show up today? Were all the stories they heard about their ancestors true, how God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt, parted the Red Sea, gave them victory over their enemies? Was this God still alive and well that day? And even if fire comes down, that altar was way too wet! Maybe Elijah had made a mistake, and had made it a little hard for God this time around…
Then, from the far reaches of the heavens, the fire of the Lord fell upon the altar! Not only did it consume the offering, but also the stones, the wood, the dust, and evaporated every water droplet that had been poured. The fire of the Lord consumed not only the water, but even the STONE!
After seeing this profound demonstration of sheer deistic dominance, the people of Israel fell to the ground and worshiped the one true God saying
“The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”
After over two decades of idol worship and bondage, the people of Israel had finally returned to God.
At the word of Elijah, the people seized the prophets of Baal, and they were slaughtered at the brook Kishon. The defeat of the prophets of Baal was complete, and not a single one escaped. During all of this, Israel was experiencing a severe drought. That day, the Lord sent the sound of rushing rain again through the land of Israel.
Trusting God can be difficult, especially when you feel like you’re alone in your fight.
Elijah was one man against 850 pagan prophets, and the people of Israel who followed them. Not to mention a king who had a reputation for separating head-from-body of anyone who defied his idols. Although he knew that God was on his side, I’m sure that standing alone before your enemies can be a lonely place. Standing in faith, trusting that God was going to show up miraculously; doubt can creep into even the strongest of faiths, especially when we feel that our answers might be delayed. Maybe through the preparation process, Elijah wondered whether or not it was a good idea to pour that much water. These are things we simply do not know, but we can only imagine.
Maybe you’re waiting for a breakthrough in your life. Perhaps you’re looking for the perfect career for you, trying to find your vocational and spiritual callings. Some of you may looking for healing in your bodies, souls, or for people you care for. And maybe it feels like you’re trying so desperately to hold on to faith, to be strong for them, but you’re beginning to notice cracks in the armor. You look around, and you see others’ prayers being answered, and maybe you’re asking God “When is my time going to come? You promised me you’d come through for me!” And it’s painful waiting, I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you. It can be a difficult thing, not knowing what the day of tomorrow will hold for you. But one thing you will know for sure is that God will always keep his promises. When in doubt, look at what He’s already done in your life! Look upon the blessings, the people he’s brought to you, the locations He’s placed you in: God knows what’s best for you before you even know it for yourself, and his timing is perfect. In hindsight, we can always see God’s provision over our lives, but for some reason it doesn’t always translate well for us as we look forward into the great unknown. Perhaps Jesus is calling you today to step out in faith where nobody else can, to stand in the gap for someone, even if the outcome seems to be a stretch for your faith.