Sermon delivered July 10, 1999

by Pastor Donald J Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical Quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Elijah: Baal Buster

I Kings 18

Today I would like to continue our series on Elijah. Part 2. And today is Elijah: Baal Buster. We're going to get into Mount Carmel. A very good experience which is basically found in 1 Kings 18.

Ahab was a very proud king. His zealous wife was named Jezebel. He lived in a palace that other men could only dream about. He commanded two thousand chariots. He had ten thousand soldiers. Ahab and Jezebel lived in that huge fortified city of Samaria. It was situated on a hill three hundred feet high. It was surrounded by two walls. The inner wall was five feet thick and the massive outer wall was nineteen feet thick. That's pretty fortified, wouldn't you say. Life had been good.

Good, except for one thing. The weather was bad. They hadn't had any rain or dew for three years or more. It was awful. Farms were scorched, animals were dying, the land was brown and dust storms made life miserable. Even his own sleek horses were at their ropes end. And, Baal was the rain god. That's who they served. People were sacrificing their children to Baal just to get some rain.

One man was to blame for all this vexation. His name was Elijah! He was the fly in Ahab's ointment. Ahab was supposed to be in charge. Ahab was the king. But, here Elijah was in charge. He didn't like that. Three years ago the Prophet had popped in to Ahab's throne room itself, unannounced, unafraid, and had said, Unless you repent there isn't going to be any rain and no dew." Like a thunderbolt the message of impending judgment fell on the ears of the idolatrous king and Elijah was gone and he hadn't been seen since. No rain or due had fallen since that awful day.

Elijah was among the ten-most-wanted-men, now, in the kingdom. In fact, ambassadors had been sent to outlying nations, there was an all points search, demanding that Elijah be extradited, but no one could find what God had hidden. God was using unclean birds and an unclean widow to feed His faithful prophet. Elijah had dined very well in Zarephath, which was Baal's Country.

Urged on by his quibbling queen Ahab employed every known mechanism to find the hated prophet. He used the FBI, the CIA. He used witchcraft. He used every means he could think of. I want to tell you that when God hides his people He hides them very well. You don't have to worry in the time of trouble. Have you ever worried about that? People are worried about Y2K and all these wonderful things. Do you know what caused the Dark Ages? Y1K. So don't worry about Y2K. People are worried that in the time of trouble God can't hide them. He hides His prophet very well.

People had been told that if only they could exterminate the hated remnant of these faithful prophets the troubles in the land would stop. Infuriated Jezebel determined to liquidate every known prophet of Jehovah. They have to be killed so that this weather would get normal again. And so, she tried to kill every one of them. But Faithful Obadiah, at the risk of his life, hid one hundred of God's prophets in a cave where they were able to survive. Jesus spoke of Jezebel - in Revelation 2:20 ...: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality... Temple prostitution, that's what it was.

It is amazing that God did not give up on His wayward people, Israel. They had gone over fool's hill. Why didn't God just give up and create somebody else or go with another group? God re-commissioned his wayward people by calling the prophet and retaining His wisdom. He made one more effort to save them. He still does that. At the smallest reaction of the sinner to the drawing power of God, our God will quickly forgive and recall His judgments and heal their land. His grace is vast, His love will surround us. God is quick to forgive. Aren't you glad to serve a God like that? A wonderful God!

One day Obadiah appeared before Ahab and announced that Elijah had returned. You can read this in I Kings 18:16. In the Septuagint it says that Ahab "Ran Out" to meet Elijah, to confront the troublemaker. The parched cracked trail exploded with dust as the Ahab's entourage hurried down that road to meet the waiting prophet.

I Kings 18:17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?"

verse 18, "I have not made trouble for Israel," Elijah replied. "But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the Lord's commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table."

Ahab possibly thought, "You know, I am the king and here's this prophet telling me what to do. I don't like that. I'm the king. I give the orders around here. This is outrageous. I am the King and Elijah acts like he is in charge. He's telling me what to do..." But, somehow he complied with Elijah's request.

Verse 20. So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Apparently the four hundred prophets of Baal came, but Jezebel's prophets did not come.

But, in fact all Israel came. All of God's people came to witness this cosmic courtroom because there was a trial. Who is the true God? We're going to find out. The trial will examine the facts and make the verdict. Weakened by famine they came by the thousands to see the great showdown. Mount Carmel was an ideal location for this cosmic courtroom. It was a high place, a place where people worshipped Baal. It had groves and in these groves they committed all sorts of heinous acts. Mount Carmel overlooks the bay of Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea. It's a beautiful place. But now it was not very beautiful because we are told that the trees had no leaves on them. This famine was so bad that here they were just gaunt ghosts like telephone poles, dead sticks sticking out of the ground. And what had gone on, all those sinful acts that had gone on on Mount Carmel under the cover of all those trees were now exposed. And God has a way of exposing sin, and He exposes the sin in our lives.

This trial was one of many acts in the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Judgment day had arrived. Gruesome sins were committed under the cover of the wooded slopes on this notorious high place. But the famine changed things. Now the groves of sin were leafless. Sin was fully exposed.

Now, two sides were represented there that day. Elijah stood unashamed and unterrified. And on the other side was the idolatrous king and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, false prophets. The trial started. And with two simple sentences Elijah argued his point.

Look at I Kings 18:21 Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." Can you imagine a true prophet of God saying, "Well, if Baal is God I want you to follow Baal." That's what he was saying.

There was a man named, Freddie Fulcrum, who weighed everything too carefully. He would say, "On the one hand... but then, on the other," and he could never make a decision. And his arguments weighed out so evenly he never did anything. When Freddie died, they carved a big zero on his tombstone. He had accomplished nothing. If you decide to fish -- fine. Or, if you decide to cut bait -- fine. But if you decide to do nothing, you're not going to have fish for dinner. Not to decide, is to decide not to. Friends, you must decide who you will serve, and let it be the Lord.

If you don't make up your mind, then your unmade mind will unmake you. Christians can't dilly dally around, vacillating between right and wrong. We have to come out on the side of God. God wants us to do that. God can do anything for the person who has made up his mind to follow Him; He can do little or nothing for the double-minded.

Ronald Reagan learned the need for decision making early in his life. Ronald Reagan didn't have any shoes. A kindly aunt took him to a cobbler to have a pair of shoes custom-made for him. The cobbler asked, "Do you want shoes with round toes or a square toes?" Young Ronald hemmed and hawed and said, "I don't know." Well, eventually he said, "I'll decide and let you know tomorrow." So the cobbler said, "Come back in a day or two and tell me what you want."

A few days later the cobbler saw young Reagan on the street and asked what he had decided about the shoes. "I haven't made up my mind. I haven't figured it out," Reagan answered.

"Very well," said the cobbler. "Your shoes will be ready tomorrow." When Reagan got the shoes, one had a round toe and the other a square toe. And Reagan said: "You know, looking at those shoes every day taught me a valuable lesson. If you don't make your own decisions, somebody else will make them for you."

I Kings 18:21 Elijah said, "Choose this day who you will serve." But what did the people do? Did you see that? But the people said nothing. They didn't make the decision.

Now the odds were four hundred fifty to one. Elijah was alone. Right? Not at all. Elijah was not alone. Legions of heavenly representatives (angels) were there. One with God is a majority. You never have to worry about that. Alone is the most acrimonious word in the dictionary. Are Christians ever alone? NO! Elijah was the moral majority because he had God. He was on the side of God.

The rules of the trial were simple. The God that answered by sending the fire on the sacrifice would be the true God. Elijah allowed the priests of Baal to go first. "Go ahead. You can go first." This stacked the odds heavily in the favor of the prophets of Baal. They realized this. Now, if Elijah had gone first the contest would have been over before the they even got a chance. The backdrop of failure would have been missing at which God could show His omnipotent power. This was a unique teachable moment.

They called on Baal, who was their rain god. But do idols bring rain? Jeremiah 14:22 Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, O LORD our God. So any time it rains on your garden, you give God the credit.

Their incantations echoed and re-echoed through the dead trees to the surrounding heights. They screamed and screeched, they tore out some of their hair, they foamed at the mouth, they leaped and jumped hysterically, yelped and danced. They did everything they could think of. All to no avail. Their prayers were effectual, weren't they? Were there prayers fervent? Were they? Yes, they were fervent, but they were unrighteous. It makes a difference, doesn't it. Their worship was not acceptable. There worship was hybridized with the latest contemporary style. But it was devoid of God.

Some of the four hundred fifty were very sneaky, very crafty, and continually tried to sneak over and light the fire by hand. (See Prophets and Kings pp. 148-150 - EG White.) Elijah watched every movement. If they managed to get a fire lit, he would instantly be torn to pieces. God was also busy preventing the devil from kindling unauthorized fire.

You can read in these verses. Comedian Elijah began to offer advice. "Shout louder! Maybe Baal is taking his afternoon siesta." It was believed that Baal was also a vegetation deity who had to be awakened each spring from his winter hibernation. "Give him a wake up call." You might not like this: the Hebrew language says: "Maybe he is going to the bathroom..." (Verse 27 NLT- "he may be relieving himself...") The modest NIV says "maybe he's traveling." But it's actually in the Hebrew.

So they shouted louder. They gouged and stabbed themselves until the ground was red. By now Baal will surely answer the prayer of four hundred fifty who are bleeding to death. For eight long hot hours they continued in the sweltering sun. The bull lay on the altar, chopped up into five or more parts. By now the flies were buzzing the bloody mess. It was awful.

I Kings 18:29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. It was obvious that Baal was not the true God. Finally the hoarse, voiceless Baal workers gave up. When you have tried the world and it does not work, you might as well give up on the world. You need to try the Lord!

Verse 30 Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins.

It was Elijah's turn. The very first thing he did was call the people to sit on the front pews. Let the people come as close as they like. Truth can stand close scrutiny. Next Elijah rebuilt the old vandalized, broken-down altar of God. If you need God to act in your life today, if you need something done, you need to rebuild the altar, the altar of prayer. Is your prayer life dead? You need to rebuild the altar of WORSHIP! Family worship. The family altar. Sabbath Worship. In fact, let me ask you a question: You can't have answers to prayer while skipping church. True or false? If you know you're supposed to be here, if you know you're supposed to worship God but you skip out on that, how can you expect to have the fire fall in your life? And you need to be rebuilding the altar of SACRIFICE! Your heart needs to be on that altar. Your time, your talent, your offerings, your entire being. Notice that Elijah put all twelve stones back on the altar. There was a little division here among the tribes. What he was saying was "My goal is to re-unite our country, to re-unite the twelve tribes into one kingdom." Verse 36: "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known that you are God in Israel..."

Elijah methodically laid the wood on the altar. He took the remaining bull and sacrificed it. Elijah dug a trench around the altar. Fifty three gallons of scarce water were laboriously lugged up the mountain and poured on the altar. Representing Christ, the water of life on the altar was our sacrifice.

No danger of spontaneous combustion here. He could have poured water for eight hours. God doesn't need any help. Nothing can stop God.

Why did Elijah use an ox? Have you ever thought about that? There is a good reason here you won't want to miss. This is powerful! Elijah could have chosen a goat or dove or lamb. Why did he chose a ox. There's a reason here. According to Leviticus 16:6 when Aaron or anyone else wanted to make personal atonement for his own personal sins he chose an ox. He could have put a lamb there and made an offering for the whole crowd, but he would was making atonement for himself.

He chose the ox because he wanted to be personally clean before his God. You can't ask God to do a miracle in your life unless the sin your life is taken care of. You need to be personally clean. The people were still unrepentant. A lamb could have been placed on that altar for them, but it wouldn't do any good. Just as Jesus' sacrifice on the cross will not save anyone unless they accept it. The cross won't cover what we will not uncover.

The altar was saturated with fire-killing water. A dozen boy scouts with blow torches could not have lit that fire very easily. But the true God doesn't need any help.

Finally the time was at hand. It was time for the evening sacrifice. This happened at the right time. Jesus died on schedule, didn't he. This happened at the right time. True ministers do not need to put on a show to be spiritually effective. Elijah stepped forward and prayed a sincere two sentence prayer. It doesn't go on for hours and hours and hours. It doesn't have to. Two sincere sentences. That tells me that gut-wrenching music and charismatic showmanship- like preaching are not needed. We don't need hype. We don't need contemporaneous newfangled methods. What we need is a true revival of the heart. What we need is Jesus Christ in our lives. We don't need to become like the world, like the TV. We need to become like Jesus. True revival is free from extravagance. Just a simple two sentence, sincere prayer. Elijah was a man of God. You can see why Elijah was chosen to stand with Moses as they joined Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration. (See Luke 9:29-31.) He was a great man!

I Kings 18:38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. My, that's amazing, isn't it.

The brilliancy of the lightning like fire illuminated the mountain all around. It dazzled the eyes of those thousands of people that were there. It could be seen for miles around. It was bright and hot and blinding. The ox, the wood, the stones, the water, the dirt were gone in a flash. The fire atomized all of that. Fifty three gallons of water were flashed into live steam. What a cloud! Like a boiler explosion. Can you just see the people backing up? God had acted.

Don't ever call Baal the god of fire again. He can't do it. Baal was busted. Baal doesn't even know what a spark is. The searing heat from God's fire surely drove the people back. The altar of twelve stones no longer existed. That was a lesson, because God could easily squelch and burn off and eradicate those twelve tribes the same way. Each stone was symbolic of one tribe. The message was clear. God could destroy all of Israel and just might if they did not repent. It was a warning to them of what they faced if they did not repent and continued in sin. Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A few stunning seconds and it was over. Yet that day would be the talk of thousands of tongues around a thousand campfires for thousands of years. It was awesome. God had acted!

Why did God act? He has zero interest in putting on a fireworks show to entertain the crowds. God sent the fire to save His people. If you look at the last sentence of Elijah's prayer the prophet is calling for the whole nation to repent. For all twelve tribes to come back to God.

I Kings 18:37 "Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."

No wonder Elijah is the predecessor of John the Baptist. He's calling for repentance here. After the steam cloud and dust disappeared, Elijah surely broke the silence by saying "The Lord He is God." The entire nation fell in repentance. They took up the chant. "The Lord He is God!"

The four hundred fifty prophets stood there, guilty. The knowledge of the truth condemned every one of them. Baal was not a god at all. They were professional deceivers. They had prophesied lies. The people had sacrificed their own youngsters to nor avail, to a prevarication. Just think of the children that would never grow up because of their false testimony. Youth had lost their innocence in Baal temple prostitution. Judgement day had come. They were seized by angry hands, and capitol punishment was administered. The river in the valley below was reddened. Bad blood flowed back to Phoenicia where it came from.

Elijah contributed nothing to the arrival of the fire. It came by faith and by simply asking his forever friend, God. We contribute nothing to our salvation. God's righteousness comes free to those who ask in faith, trusting in Jesus. It's my opinion that we need fire from heaven today. We desperately need to be touched by the coals from the altar of God.

Years ago at Yosemite Park, each night the rangers would stand at the foot of the great falls. The ranger would finally shout: "Let the fire fall." A hail of sparks and flame would appear as burning logs were pushed over the top of the falls. Just as if the ranger had supernatural power. Imagine the feelings of the skeptical Israelite fence sitters... those who refused to wholeheartedly adopt either Baal or Yahweh as their God. Elijah, the rustic backwoods man called fire down from heaven.

We need fire from heaven today. As we enter the 2000's Baal worship still continues, here in the United States. People are worshipping Baal. Wickedness abounds. God needs a people who will stand for the truth with unflinching faithfulness. God needs a remnant who will pray expectantly and live courageously the Christian life. Then our King will reveal Himself in the sky. I want to be like Elijah, and you can be like him, too.

 Opening Hymn: #61, God is Here!
Scripture: 1 Kings 18:36-39
Closing Hymn: #590, Trust and Obey

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