A Holy Showdown
by C.A. Phillips
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 (NLT)
Push had come to shove. Enough was enough. In fact, the writer of 1 Kings was sure to mention that King Ahab, who was ruler of Israel from roughly 870-850 B.C., “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.”
Think about that. Up to the time Ahab became king, Israel was governed by some of the most despicable, rotten, idol-worshipping men in recorded history. And, Ahab did MORE EVIL than any of those before him. Not something you’d likely advertise on your LinkedIn profile.
The Lord, in His perfect timing, had reached the end of his rope – not only with Ahab, but with the 450 false prophets of Baal – a supreme god of the Canaanite people who was believed to control fertility – and another 400 prophets of Asherah – the mother goddess of the Canaanite religion. It was time for a showdown.
Enter Elijah, a true prophet of God (in fact, the name Elijah means “Yahweh is my God”). Elijah had been out of the picture for a while. The last time he had words with King Ahab, he had the distinct pleasure of sharing the news that there would be a severe drought in the land until the Lord decided to end it. And, then he vanished, hiding from Ahab for nearly three years.
Upon his return, Elijah had a new message for Ahab: God is going to bring rain. But, first things first. The people need to know WHO is bringing the rain. So, how about an old-fashioned duel. Well, maybe an ancient duel. Here were the rules Elijah laid down:
- You 850 prophets are one team. I alone am on the other team.
- Go get two bulls. You choose whichever one you want, and cut it into pieces, and lay it on an altar – but don’t set fire to it.
- I’ll take the other bull and do the same, placing it on the altar and not setting fire to it.
- Call on the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord. The God who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!
- There’s so many of you, I’ll allow you to go first.
For several hours, the prophets called Baal, but they were met with silence. Then they began to dance around the altar, perhaps thinking that Baal needed some Disco moves in order to respond. Silence again.
At noon, Elijah began to mock them, saying maybe Baal was busy, distracted, or possibly asleep.
The false prophets, not to leave any stone unturned, then resorted to self-mutilation, cutting themselves until blood gushed out. This went on for many hours until the evening. No response from Baal.
Elijah already knew he had an unfair advantage. I mean, the God of creation was on his side. So, he seemingly further stacked the odds against himself. He asked the crowd around him to fill up large water jugs and pour them over his altar – soaking the meat and the wood thoroughly. They did this three times, filling up the trench surrounding the altar.
The false prophets had to be scratching their heads at this. What fool would douse his sacrifice in several gallons of water for a fire challenge?
You likely know the outcome. Elijah boldly asked the Lord to answer his prayer – that by bringing down fire, the people would know that He alone was God, and that He wanted to draw them back to Himself! And, that’s exactly what happened. The fire even licked up all the water surrounding the trench, and when the people saw it they proclaimed Yahweh as the true God!
What’s the lesson here for us? Well, there are several lessons we could take away, but the one that has been impressed upon me is that even when all the odds are stacked against me, I can absolutely trust that God is with me in the battle, and that He alone can bring me victory if my heart and motives are pure.
Despite the entire nation turning away from Him during Ahab’s reign, He still pursued His people Israel, and would stop at nothing to show them Who He is!
And, then it rained.
C.A. Phillips is a lifelong sports enthusiast and youth baseball coach, and currently serves as the Communications Pastor and Director of Men’s Groups at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Ga. He lives in Kennesaw with his wife, Amy, and his two sons, Chaz and Chandler.
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