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Monday
Dec042017

Confrontation of a False God-I

1 Kings 18:20-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 3, 2017.

In our passage today, we will start to look at a powerful confrontation between Yahweh (or Jehovah), the God of the Israelites, and Baal, a false god of the Canaanites.  Now we are taught in the Bible that even though idols are not really representations of real gods, there are demons (evil spirits of some sort) that lie behind the worship of those idols.  These demons use the dedication and devotion of those who play their religious “games” to obtain permission or authority over those people’s lives.  So don’t be deceived.  Magic, the occult, Wicca, and any form of using spirits to manipulate the material world around you, is a system designed by evil spirits to manipulate the lust of mankind for power over others.  This game, as I have called it, is simply seeking your permission to operate in your life, even to the point of dominating your life totally.  As we will see today, such spirits should not be listened to.  In the face of the One, True, and Living God, they are impotent.

We have a tendency to mix religious ideas

Throughout history humans have proven to have the natural tendency to mix religious ideas.  Israel in the Bible is a classic example of this.  However, there are many more.  The Romans would not destroy the temples of those nations that they conquered.  Instead they would fix up the temple, even build new ones, and add their god to the growing pantheon they had accumulated.  The underlying premise is this: we will accept your god/s as long as you accept ours.  Now this tendency may seem to be good in some ways.  However, it is not a sign of wisdom to mix things that should not be mixed.  Many of the ancient religions had similar ideas and gods who differed only by the name used of them.  The world view was often the same.  So, such mixtures were not a big deal.  But the God of Israel and the world view of the Bible was a cosmic clash with these religions.  Thus to mix them was, and still is today, asking for trouble.

In our passage today the prophet Elijah is setting up a confrontation with Ahab and his prophets of Baal.  This confrontation is for the purpose of proving to the people of Israel that the God of Israel was greater than this foreign god Baal.  Elijah calls out to the people in verse 21.  They are faltering between worshipping the God of Israel and worshipping Baal.  So how had they come to such a situation?

It started when the northern 10 tribes broke free from Judah and the kings of Jerusalem.  Solomon’s son did not inherit his great wisdom and tried to increase taxes with an ungrateful attitude.  This created a civil fracture with the northern kingdom going by the name Israel and the southern going by Judah.  When this happened the King of Israel was afraid that if he let his people go to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices at the temple, they would switch allegiance back to Judah.  Because of this fear, the king decided to build two different shrines in the north and told the people not to go to Jerusalem, but to offer their sacrifices in Dan and Bethel.  This was in direct disobedience to what God had spoken through Moses.  Over time this was not enough.  King Ahab had married Jezebel, daughter of the King of Sidon, for a political alliance.  He built her temples for her God Baal, and then began to promote worship of Baal while stamping out those who worshipped the God of Israel.  Instead of listening to God, they had continued to walk as the masters of their own religion.  It is popular today for people to treat spirituality like a kind of stew that they create from the different ideas of all religions.  If it doesn’t taste good, then they throw this out and add that in.  The mixed or syncretic system that each creates becomes their own personal recipe.  Now I would agree that it is a bad thing for governments to force their people to observe a particular religion, but it is an equal folly for people to think that they can determine truth or error, in regard to spiritual things, by their own tastes.  God has proven His word throughout history and also tells us that people can only see the wisdom of His word by the help of the Holy Spirit.  Thus we see in this passage the end of a typical cycle.  It starts with fear, and then fear leads to compromise and disobedience.  Disobedience over time can lead to apostasy (falling away from the faith).  Once faith is undermined by fear, we become captive to a sea of intellectual quicksand and easy prey for the devil’s schemes.  This leads us to the next point.

Elijah challenges the people to quit playing both sides.  They have to get off the fence.  Now Ahab and Jezebel have made their decision clearly.  But the average person in Israel was still in doubt.  In fact, this whole event is more about the people then it is about Ahab or the prophets of Baal.  God is calling them to repentance.  In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other.”  Although Jesus is speaking about the choice between God and wealth, the principle applies here.  They could not stay on the fence forever.  Elijah is calling to them like Joshua did when he said, “Choose this day whom you will serve.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  If you are faltering in the valley of doubt and indecision, and you have a long past of compromising what God says with what the world / your flesh says, then hear the Holy Spirit calling to you today.  It is time for you to quit faltering between two opinions.  These things will not mix together.  Jesus Christ alone is God’s answer for the sin and wickedness of the world, and for your own too.

Yahweh puts Baal to the test

Throughout this passage, but especially in verse 21, you might notice that the word “lord” is in small caps, i.e. “Lord.”  You may also notice that back in verse 13 Obadiah refers to Elijah as lord, but it is in lowercase letters.  This is the interpreter’s way of showing us that two different words are being used in the Hebrew.  Lower case lord is the term adoniy and means one who rules or is in charge, regardless of the scope.  It could be used for the man of the house, a mayor, a king, or even of God.  The term is relative and contextual.  It is similar to the Spanish word “senor.”  They sometimes refer to God as El Senor, i.e. the Lord.  But, when the word is spelled in small caps, the word that lies behind it is the name of God that was given to Moses back in Exodus 3:13-14, when he met God on Mt. Sinai in the Burning Bush.  The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt.  Meanwhile they had turned to worshipping the gods of the Egyptians.  When God sends Moses to deliver them, Moses asks God what name he should use of God.  God’s reply was “I am who I am,” thus you shall tell them “I Am” sent you.  This shortened form was the letters YHWH.  Historically it has been spelled as Jehovah or Yahweh.  It is the name of God that delivered Israel from Egypt and gave them the Law.  He is the “I AM.” 

Elijah is not acting on his ideas.  It is Yahweh, the God of Israel that is putting Baal to the test and has told Elijah what to do.  He is following the orders of the Lord.  Thus, this story which appears to be a clash of humans, is even greater a clash of gods.  It is a confrontation between the God of Israel and the god of the Canaanites that Ahab and Jezebel were pushing on the people of Israel.  The test is simple.  They will both prepare sacrifices on an altar.  But, instead of lighting it on fire, as is usually done, they will each pray to their god and whichever god answers by fire will have proven that they are greater.  Fire has to come down out of the sky and light the sacrifice on fire.

What can be lost in this story is the fact that God does not give such dramatic proof on demand.  Imagine our success at evangelism, if God always responded with fire from heaven.  We could fill Safeco field in Seattle or any local ball field with the promise that they will see God answer with fire from heaven.  Atheists themselves can think that they are smart to use this against Christians.  Come on, let’s see if your God can do this!  Prove your God exists by doing it again.  Now we must recognize that God is not some kind of “dog on a leash” that does tricks on demand.  He is God and He chooses the timing and audience of the proofs of His power.  The truth is very few of the people alive on the earth in those days saw this proof.  Of those who saw this proof, it did precious little to stop Israel’s slide into idolatry and disobedience to God.  Sure, people who are scared to death by such events may be in church tomorrow.  But, over the long period of life in which God does not do this, over and over again, they will follow the same course of fear, doubt, compromise, disobedience, and apostasy.  Over time God has given many proofs of His existence and power, but it is too easy to say that we would believe if He would just do it for us.  We can miss the forest for the trees.  We want to see a particular tree, when we are surrounded every day by proofs of God’s existence and power.  The universe is crying out every day that such ordered power could not exist without a designer that is greater than it.  The spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into vastly different cultures shouts out the existence, truth, and power of God.  Also, in the hearts of individuals surrounding you, every day, is the testimony that God’s Spirit is speaking to their heart through these things and delivering them out of their own bondage to sin.  Yes, we ignore mountains of evidence everywhere around us and demand that God show us something that we dream up.  Such a person does not deserve a miraculous sign because they are not a person of faith.  So let’s look at the attempt of the prophets of Baal.

We get a glimpse into the ideas of the Canaanite religion.  They get to start first and it appears to be some time in the morning.  They begin calling on Baal to light the sacrifice on fire.  It is interesting to note that Baal was seen as not just a god of fertility, but also of storms.  So to cause lightning to fall from the sky is supposedly right in his wheelhouse.  They began leaping around the altar in some kind of ritual dance as they pray.  After hours have passed we reach noon.  At this point Elijah begins to mock the prophets of Baal.  He tells them to cry louder; surely Baal is really a god.  Maybe he is meditating, busy (a euphemism for going to the bathroom), or he went on a long journey.  He might be sleeping.  Cry louder so you can wake him up!  These taunts may seem to be in bad form for the servant of the Lord, but the taunts are not for the prophets of Baal.  Elijah is speaking for the benefit of the people who are watching.  He is trying to get them to think about what they are seeing and what possible explanation can be given for Baal’s impotency.  We don’t need to mock people’s religion, however, we do need to get people to think about what they are believing and the inability of the religions of this world to overcome the sin nature.  Only the gospel of Christ has shown itself to have the power to overcome the sin of an individual.  Yes, there are people who pretend to follow God, but this has never been the Gospel (Come, pretend to believe in Jesus!)  No, the Gospel is an invitation into a relationship with God, not a new set of rules.

At this point the prophets of Baal become more desperate.  We are told that they cut themselves with knives and pierced themselves with lances.  Surely, Baal will answer now that he sees how strong our devotion is to him.  Again we see the common belief among the ancient religions that if I cut myself, or sacrifice my child, then the gods will act on my behalf.  Such gods demand that people suffer and hurt themselves in order to receive good from them.  Though the One True God may allow us to suffer from time to time, it is no so that we can curry His favor.  He allows us to suffer so that we can identify with His suffering and that we can participate in His overcoming victory over all sin and suffering.  What a sweeter victory we shall have because of our difficulties and sufferings in this life.  God responds to us when we have a broken and contrite heart (repentant heart).  This is the heart he hears.  The volume of your prayers is irrelevant.  The sacrifices you make are irrelevant, if they do not come from a broken and repentant heart.

The prophets of Baal kept it for at least 3 more hours.  We are told that at the time of the “evening sacrifice” Elijah took his turn.  It is not the prophets of Baal who have failed.  It is Baal who has left his followers in the pinch.  The time of the “evening sacrifice” is not clear.  If you go by the words alone then you would think of it happening at twilight as the sun goes down.  However in the days of Christ we are told that the evening sacrifice happened around 3:30 in the afternoon.  Regardless, the prophets of Baal have used up most of the day without success.  Verse 29 is a sad verse.   I say that not because Baal fails, but because it demonstrates the plight of all who leave God behind in search of something better.  “There was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.”    You see, they weren’t looking for a voice per se.  The “voice” is a metaphor for fire from heaven.  Just like pictures speak a thousand words, so fire coming from heaven and consuming the sacrifice would speak volumes to the people.  However, Baal was silent that day.  We will look at Elijah’s success next time.  But let us pause and analyze this failure.

There is a part of us (that modern, scientific part) that would think that gods are fictions of the mind.  Of course no fire fell from heaven.  But we need to recognize that the same Bible that records no fire falling that day warns us that Satan is capable of “lying signs and wonders.”  In Revelation 13:13 we are told that the False Prophet, who leads the world to worship the Antichrist, will have the power to call down fire from heaven in the sight of men.  Thus, we need to recognize that even though Baal is not a literal god, the evil spirits behind the worship of Baal do have the power to wow people.  So why did no fire fall that day?  It seems that would have been a perfect time to do so.  The biblical answer is as it always has been.  They were restrained by God.  They were told by the Lord of the Heavens to stand down.  Even today we are told that the Antichrist, or man of sin, would come forth if he could.  But God is restraining what the devil is able to do.  What a shock people will get in the days ahead.  After years of rejecting the truth and proofs of God, they will get a show from a deceiver who calls down fire from heaven.  In this sense we see that it isn’t about dramatic and miraculous proofs.  It really is about truth.  Jesus is Lord and no amount of great signs in the heavens and fire from the sky can change that.  The devil is a liar and is not leading the world to progress and godhood.  No, he leads them to destruction.

Christian, today, though we see evil all around us, we must recognize that the devil is being restrained by God, to some degree.  This is not the time for fear and doubts.  This is not the time for compromise and disobedience.  This is not the time for slack hands.  Today is a day to be sharing the Truth of God with the world around us.  Yes, many will mock and throw it back in our face.  However, the gods of this world are impotent in their lives.  And, there are some, knowing the impotence of that which they follow, who will believe, if we only stand for the Lord.

You know what, this world does not need fire from the heavens to fall in a stadium and burn a bunch of meat on some sticks and stone.  What it needs is a man or woman of God who will sacrifice their reputation and let the fire of the Holy Spirit come down upon them.  When we let the Spirit of God work through us, we become the proof that people are seeking (if they are honestly seeking).  Let’s be about our Father’s business, but not in our own strength, but in His strength and power.

Confrontation I audio