Tag Cloud
: Mothers Abandonment Abomination of Desolation Abortion Abuse Accounting Activism Adoption Adultery Affection Affliction Afterlife Alliances Altar America Angels Anger Anointing Apologetics Apostasy Armor of God Ascension Ashamed Atonement Authority Baal Babylon Bad Baptism Betrayal Bible Bitterness Blasphemy Blessing Blessings Blindness Boasting Body of Christ Bondage Borders Born Again Bridegroom Calling Capital Punishment Celebration Character Childbirth Children Children of God Chosen Christ Christian Life Christians Christmas Church Civil Disobedience Clay Cleansing Comfort Commands Communion Community Comparison Compassion Complacency Complaining Conception Condemnation Conduct Confidence Conflict Conformity Confrontation Confusion Connection Conscience Consequences Contentment Conviction Cornerstone Correction Cost Counsel Courage Covenant Coveting Creation Creator Crisis Cross Crowns Crucifixion Culture Curse Darkness David Day of the Lord Death Deceit Deception Decisions Defense Delegation Demon Demons Denial Dependency Design Desolation Destruction Devil Direction Disaster Discernment Disciple Disciples Discipleship Discipline Discontentment Discouragement Disease Disgrace Disputes Distraction Diversity Divine Division Doctrine Double Fulfillment Doubt Drought Drugs Duties Duty Earth Earthly Earthquakes Easter Edom Education Elders Elect Emmaus Emotions Employment Encouragement End Times Endurance Enemies Enemy Environmentalism Equality Equipped Eternal Eternal Life Evangelism Everlasting Life Evil Evolution Exaltation Exalted Exclusion Excuses Exorcism Expectations Eyes Failure Fairness Faith Faithful Faithful Servant Faithfulness False Christs False Doctrine False Gods False Prophet False Religion False Religions Family Famine Fasting Father Fathers Favoritism Fear Fear of the Lord Feasts Fellowship Fig Tree Finances Fire First Coming Firstborn Flesh Flock Folly Foolishness Foreigner Foreknown Forgiveness Fornication Forsaken Foundation Freedom Friends Friendship Fruit Fruit of the Spirit Fruitfulness Future Gentiles Gentle George Wood Giving Glory God God’s Word Godliness Godly God's Will Good Good Shepherd Good Works Gospel Gospels Government Grace Gratitude Great Commission Greatness Grief Growth Guilt Hardship Harvest Hate Hatred Healing Heart Heaven Heavenly Hedonism Hell Herod Hidden Holiness Holy Holy Spirit Home Homosexuality Honor Hope Hopelessness Humility Husband Hypocrisy Ignorance Image Immanuel Immigration Impossibility Incarnation Individuals Indulgences Inheritance Injustice Inner Battle Instructions Insults Integrity Intercession Israel Jerusalem Jesus Jewish Temple John the Baptist Joy Judas Judgment Judgments Justice Justification Justify Key Keys Kids Kindness King Kingdom Kingdom of God Kingdom of Heaven Knowledge Lamp Law Lawlessness Leader Leaders Leadership Leftism Legalism Leprosy Lies Life Life-Span Light Like-minded Lord Lost Love Loyalty Lust Lusts Luxury Malachi Manipulation Marriage Martyrdom Martyrs Mary Master Materialism Maturity Meditation Men Mentoring Mercy Messiah Metaphor Millennium Mind Mind of Christ Minister Ministry Miracle Miracles Mission Mocking Money Mothers Mystery Nations Natural Gifts Naturalism Nature Near-Far Fulfillment Necessities New Covenant New Man New Testament Obedience Obstacles Obstructions Offense Old Man Old Nature Old Testament Omnipresence Omniscience One Mind Outcast Pagan Pain Palm Sunday Parable Parables Paranormal Parenting Passion Passover Patience Patriotism Peace Peer Pressure Pentecost People of God Perception Perfect Persecution Perseverance Persistence Personal Testimonies Perspective Perversion Pestilence Peter Pharisees Philosophy Piety Pilate Politics Poor Position Possession Possessions Posture Power Praise Prayer Preaching Preparation Pride Priority Privilege Prodigal Promise Proof Prophecy Prophet Prophets Protection Protestant Reformation Proverbs Providence Provision Punishment Purgatory Purpose Questions Racism Rapture Reason Rebellion Rebuke Reconciliation Redeemer Redemption Refuge Regeneration Rejection Rejoicing Relationship Relationships Reliability Religion Remember Remnant Renewal Repentance Reputation Resolve Rest Restoration Resurrection Revelation Revenge Revival Reward Rich Riches Righteous Righteousness Rights Riot Risk Rivalry Robbery Roman Catholic Church Rule Sabbath Sacred Sacrifice Saint Salvation Sanctification Sarcasm Satan Savior Schemes Science Scripture Seasons Second Coming Secret Seed Seek Self Self Control Self-centered Self-Control Selfish Ambition Self-Righteous Servant Servant-Leadership Serve Service Serving Sexual Immorality Sexual Sin Sexuality Shame Share Sharing Shepherd Sickness Signs Signs and Wonders Simplicity Sin Sincerity Singing Singleness Sinners Slavery Sober Society Sojourner Sojourners Son Son of God Son of Man Sons of God Sorrow Soul Source Sovereignty Speech Spirit Spirit Realm Spirits Spiritual Spiritual Battle Spiritual Birth Spiritual Gifts Spiritual Growth Spiritual Rulers Spiritual Warfare Stewardship Strength Stress Strife Stumbling Block Submission Suffering Supernatural Supper Surrender Syncretism Tags: Patience Taxes Teacher Teaching Tears Technology Temple Temptation Temptations Terminal Illness Test Testimony Testing Tests Thankfulness Thanksgiving The Curse The Day of The Lord The End The Fall The Holy Spirit The Law The Way The Word The World Theology Time of Visitation Times of the Gentiles Tithing Tongues Tradition Tragedy Transfiguration Transformation Traps Treachery Treasure Tree Trial Trials Tribulation Trifles Trinity Triumphal Triumphal Entry Trouble Trust Truth Uncertainty Unity Unpardonable Sin Utopia Value Victory Vigilance Vindication Virtue Virtues Voice of God Volunteer Warning Warnings Wars Watching Water Baptism Weary Wicked Wickedness Widows Wife Wineskins Wisdom Witness Witnesses Women Word of God Word of the Lord Works World World View Worry Worship Worth Wrath Yahweh Yeast YHWH Yoke Zion

Weekly Word

Entries in False Gods (3)

Tuesday
Mar132018

The Fire of God's Judgment

2 Kings 1:1-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 11, 2018.

Speculation and predictions are everywhere in our society today.  Everyone has an opinion about politics, business, religion, or society.  It is easy to become cynical like Pilate was before Jesus when he said, “What is truth?”  However, no matter how confusing the times of speculation are, there always comes a time when God makes clear the wisdom or folly of those speculations.  A case in point would be the many who predict that religion is on the way out and that Christianity is in its death throes.  Of course, if we are talking about dead religion that only masks itself with outward show and yet has no life, then we should be the first to say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”  However, I challenge us all to hear the word of the Lord and recognize that, when the dust settles, those who have put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will survive the fire of His judgments.  But those who thought they had the best understanding of the future and how to control it, will find themselves trapped in their own folly.  If we learn anything over these next two sermons, let us understand that the consuming fire of God brings down the wicked who rebel against Him, but it raises up the righteous who walk in faith with Him.

God’s judgment on the house of Ahab continues.

The clash between the wicked, political power of Ahab’s family line and those faithful to Yahweh continues in this passage.  But this clash is ultimately orchestrated by God Himself, and not the prophet Elijah.  The first stage of God’s judgment on Ahab took place with Ahab’s death in the last chapter.  The next stage will involve the death of Jezebel and the death of all male heirs to the throne.  You would think that this would happen quickly after Ahab’s death.  However, it is going to be 12 years after Ahab’s death that this is all fulfilled.  So it is important to recognize that, even as God’s judgment is falling, He leaves room for those involved to repent or show their true colors.  The judgment is stretched out in order to give room for either one.  So when God’s judgment is held off longer then we think, it is easy to slip into thinking that it won’t come at all.  There are many today who have convinced themselves that this idea of Jesus coming back and the judgment of the world is all a fairy tale.  They believe that because another year has gone by, and another presidential election has taken place, that things will continue moving forward as they always have.  They believe that they have time to pursue their own designs for the future.  We must take warning.  Today is a day for repentance and not for doubling down on abandoning God.  Our culture ignores this at its own peril.

We are told in verse one that the kingdom of Moab had rebelled against Israel upon the death of Ahab.  This kingdom was on the eastern side of the Dead Sea.  Though Ahab had some strength as a leader, he had none morally.  We can blame the deterioration on his son, but the truth is that the roots of this downfall are in Ahab’s life.  He has brought judgment on his own dynasty.  Northern Israel does not need a strong “leader” as the world thinks.  What they need is a moral leader that would lead them to repentance and turning back to God.

We are told that Ahab’s son Ahaziah has a serious “accident.”  He falls through a protective lattice and down at least one floor if not more.  He is injured so badly that he is concerned that he may not live.  Being Ahab’s son, it is no shocker that Ahaziah would turn to Baal for help.  Specifically he sends messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub, a local deity in the Philistine city of Ekron (it was about 50 miles away).  Here is a brief primer on the Canaanite religion.  Baal was considered to be the primary deity that humans interacted with.  The term Baal simply means master and so is used in a superlative sense, The Master.  The Canaanites also believed in local deities that were lesser than The Baal, however they were usually referenced as the master of “insert place name or descriptive term here.”  Thus Baal-Peor referenced the local deity of Peor who of course answered to The Baal.  In this passage the Philistine city of Ekron had a local deity they referred to as Baal-Zebub.  Over time this local deity had become known for having healing powers.  This is why Ahaziah asks his servants to inquire for him of this deity.  By the way, the phrase literally means Lord of the fly, where we get the term Lord of the flies.  Over the next 800 years this name became synonymous with Satan, the prince of demons (aka flies).  Thus, in the gospels Jesus is accused of casting out demons because he was in league with Beelzebub (alternate spelling of the time).

As the men travel towards Ekron, God sends Elijah to tell the men that God is not pleased with Ahaziah’s inquiring of a foreign, false god.  Thus a message is sent back to Ahaziah from Yahweh, the God of Israel, that he will not recover, but die.  It is presented in a way that shows his action of inquiring of Baal-Zebub seals his fate.  We will come back later and deal with this question about why Ahaziah seeks Baal-Zebub and not Yahweh.  When Ahaziah hears the story of the prophet from his servants he asks about what the prophet looked like and from the description he knows that it is Elijah.  Thus God confronts Ahaziah with his foolish decision through Elijah.  I guess we could say, like father like son.

Next we see that king Ahaziah sends a squadron of 50 men to capture Elijah and bring him in.  Notice that Elijah is not running this time.  He takes the position of sitting on top of a hill, waiting for them.  The captain addresses Elijah, “Man of God, the king has said, ‘Come down!’”  The command and threatening posture of Ahaziah’s troops does not show any humility or repentance.  Thus Elijah speaks out the request.  Let God decide which of us should be taken in judgment.  If I am a prophet of the Lord, and therefore quilty of nothing requiring the king to arrest me, then let fire come down from heaven and destroy you.  Of course God gives a clear decision as the 50 soldiers are killed by fire.   Ahaziah then sends a second detachment of 50 soldiers with the same mission.  That captain calls out to Elijah, “Man of God, thus has the king said, ‘Come down quickly!’”  Again there is no humility or repentance in the actions, and Elijah puts forth the same public challenge.  Let God decide which of us should “Come down quickly!”  Of course, fire falls from the sky again and kills the soldiers.  In a classic action of folly, Ahaziah sends a third detachment of soldiers to apprehend Elijah.  Clearly Ahaziah has no care for the troops that he sends to their doom.  Yet, this third captain is different.  He begs mercy of Elijah, and really of God Himself.  This captain humbles himself and shows that he understands whose judgment is to be feared.  Now these judgments with fire falling from the sky literally happened.  However, they also have a symbolic nature.  The Bible tells us that God is a consuming fire.  Judgment and decisions about His creation are part of His nature.  The decisions of God or the fire of His decisions can be a benefit to us or harm.  Just as fire can warm a person and prepare their food, so it can destroy them and take their life.  It is a healthy respect for fire that allows us to approach it and benefit from it.  Now God is more than the analogy of fire allows for.  God is a sentient being that can analyze our intent and hold us accountable for it.  Thus the same consuming fire of God that can destroy us in judgment, can also give us life.  It all has to do with how we approach him.  The humility of this captain saves himself and the life of the men under his command.  It is too bad that Ahaziah could not find the same humility within himself.

Elijah concedes to go with this third captain. He is brought before king Ahaziah and repeats what we have heard now for the third time:  “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-Zebub?”  Clearly there is a God in Israel who has proven Himself time and time again.  In fact the fire falling from the sky should be a clear reminder of the Mt. Carmel incident over 5 years ago.  For whatever reason, Ahaziah has followed the footsteps of his father in disregarding the power and proofs that God had given to them and rebelliously persisted in approaching the Baals of the Canaanite religion for help.  When we are not living for the Lord, we live in a state of fear and doubt.  We search and find the things of this world that can help us, whether through protection, or information for the future.  What are the things that I look to in order to determine how things will go?  Ahaziah knew he dare not approach Yahweh because he hadn’t been serving Yahweh.  So he tries to skirt around God by going to some other power.  Do I turn to my favorite business journal, or TV talk show host?  Do I turn to my favorite blog or internet website?  Do I search out prophetic voices that give me a sense of where things are headed?  Ultimately what we need is to turn to the Lord and seek Him.  Only then can we have the confidence that does not come from knowing the details of the future.  But what if I haven’t been living for Him?  Do what this third captain did.  Instead of hardening your heart towards God in pride, humble yourself and beg His mercy.  It is not the future you need to know.  Rather, you just need to know the One in whose hands your future lies. 

Today we see that those who make themselves enemies of God eventually will be taken in the fires of judgment.  But, next week, we will see that the same fiery judgment that brings down the wicked, lifts up the righteous.  Let us live for Jesus, not just on the outward, but within our hearts.  Let us put our trust in His ways and mercy, and not the ways of this world.

Fire of God's Judgment audio

Monday
Dec112017

Confrontation of a False God-II

1 Kings 18:30-39.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 10, 2017.

Last week we saw how the prophets of Baal, a false god of the Canaanites, were unable to get an answer of fire from the heavens.  Today we will look at Elijah’s turn, but in truth it is the One, True God’s turn to prove who He is.  As the day is well past, Elijah steps forward and starts the process of setting up the sacrifice, so that he can call upon the God of Israel to show Himself to the people watching.

Israel is drawn back to God

Several phrases throughout this passage make it clear that God does not want to “wow” the crowd.  Rather, He desires to draw Israel back to Him.  We see this in Elijah’s initial address for them to “come near” and also in Elijah’s prayer that Israel would understand that God is turning their hearts back to Him.  This is an important theme throughout the Bible.  Sin has separated man from God, but God calls out to mankind to draw near to Him through His sacrifice, Jesus the Christ.  Every time a person turns to the Lord in repentance, or a group of people turn back to Him in revival, it always begins with the grace of God turning our hearts and calling us to Him.  Of course people must respond.  God will not force people to come back to Him.  But it always starts with His grace to make it possible.  This call comes through the prophet of Elijah.  Come near, and see what God will do.  They deserved judgment for abandoning God and worshipping Baal.  But, instead, God is going to give a great demonstration of His power to them, while calling them back to Him.  Elijah is not the only prophet whom God did this through.

This same theme is highlighted by Jesus and His Apostles after Him.  Let us draw near to the throne of God for mercy.  In John 7:37-38 we see, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Also, in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all of you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  The Spirit of God is continually calling us to draw near to Him.  He wants to satiate our thirst and give us relief from the burden of our sins.  But do we hear him?  And, better yet, do we respond to Him?  He calls us near so that we can experience the goodness of who He is.

Before Elijah can set up the sacrifice, he has to repair an altar of the Lord that already existed on that site.  It had fallen apart and was in disrepair because of the abandonment of worshipping Him.  The people had grown weary of sacrificing and praying to Yahweh, and so had left off for more popular altars.  Never forget that when we abandon the things of God, their disrepair is a symbol of our lives spiritually.  Think about the abandonment of God’s exclusive institution of marriage for life.  All across this land are the tattered remnants of broken marriages left in the dust, which give us a picture of the hearts that have abandoned it.  We see the same thing with the raising of children.  Broken homes and children raised by single parents and grandparents have become the norm.  The broken kids who come out of dysfunction help us see our hearts.  Of course, we should encourage and help those who step up and care in a situation that is not optimal.    But that does not counter the point I am making.  How about the many churches around the country that are empty and in disrepair?  Sure, some of it is the fault of the churches and those who lead them, but not all of it.  There are many good churches around the country that are preaching the truth of God, but people don’t want to hear it and have abandoned being connected to a church.  The disrepair of such places becomes a prophetic symbol of our hearts and lives.  So Elijah repairs the altar because the altar is the place where an individual or a people gather to meet with God.  How is your altar today?  Is it in disrepair?  I am not talking about a literal altar.  We no longer sacrifice animals as they did in those days.  Our altar is a spiritual thing.  Wherever we draw near to God in prayer becomes our place of altar.  But the altar is about more than prayer.

First it is a place of preparation.  Yes, Elijah repairs the altar.   But then he has to put the wood upon it and then prepare the animal and lay its parts out.  Elijah also adds a strange aspect to this sacrifice.  He has a trench dug around the altar and has water poured out over the sacrifice and filling the trench.  Notice that the altar is not a speedy quick-order place.  It is a place where we spend time preparing ourselves to hear from God.  Don’t be so quick to walk away from the altar when it seems like God isn’t listening.

Of course, the altar is also a place where a sacrifice is made.  The secret is not the animal used, but the heart that prepares it, and the God to whom it is sacrificed.  God had told people to approach Him in that way.  It seems strange to us, but it is highly instructive.  First, it highlighted for them and for us the coming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, as the Lamb provided by God.  It is also instructive because it always costs us something to approach God.  When our hearts are willing to give to God that which is valuable to us, He sees it from heaven and smiles upon us.  Elijah sacrifices a bull, but it is not the only thing being sacrificed.  The water is very precious on the heels of a 3.5 year drought.  I don’t know if it came from King Ahab’s personal stash, but everyone watching could not help but think of this as a tragic waste.  So what do we sacrifice today?  We no longer sacrifice animals because Jesus is the “once for all” sacrifice for our sins.  We put on the altar of our heart those things that would separate us from God.  Some of those things are sinful.  We should put them on the altar so that God’s fire can burn them out of our lives.  However, some of those things are not sinful in and of themselves.  We still put them on the altar and let them go because we would rather have God than those things.  Some of those things that we put on the altar, that are not sinful, will be given back to us.  We see this with Abraham and the near s sacrifice of Isaac.   When God saw that Abraham would rather have God than the son whom God had promised him for so long, then God told Abraham to stop and gave him a substitute sacrifice.  This is an amazing picture of Christ.  But it also shows that God is not interested in taking things from us.  But rather, He wants our heart to be in right relationship to those good things in our life.  They are not God and they are not our source.  Only God deserves that highest place in our heart.

The altar is also a place of humility.  Elijah publicly risks himself.  Ahab can now put him to death or in prison.  What if this public demonstration fails?  Elijah does not have the ability to bring fire down from heaven.  He hasn’t been practicing in the desert and is now ready.  It took great trust, faith, and humility for Elijah to stand up in the face of a whole nation and declare that the God of Israel is greater than the false god Baal.  The altar is never about our great ability to approach God.  It is about our desperate desire to know God and His great grace to respond to our faithful obedience.

Lastly the altar is a place of prayer.  Once Elijah has everything in place, He calls out upon the Lord.  His prayer is in verses 36-37.  He makes it clear that this is about raising the honor of God and the truth about what has been going on in Israel.  He also makes it clear that this is about God turning the nation’s hearts back to Him again.  Oh that our hearts would be turned towards the Lord in the country, rather than to the world and what we want to do.  There is no shortcut to these things.  There is only a continual going back to the Lord, preparing ourselves in humility and speaking to God about those things in our life.  What is your will Lord?  I trust that You will answer, even when I go long periods of silence.  In fact, when we are waiting for a word from the Lord, it is easy to forget to be faithful to His last set of instructions.  God has told us to live lives that are faithfully following Jesus, not our imaginations of Jesus.  We are to be faithful to Jesus and to share the Gospel with the world around us.  You no longer have to climb up into the heavens to reach Him; He has come down to us in our worst hour.  Instead of running from Him, draw near!

At the end of Elijah’s prayer God responds in great power as fire falls from heaven upon the sacrifice and burns up everything even the water in the trench.  This causes all the people watching to break out in shocked praise of God.  The Lord, He is God!  This phrase is shouted by the people several times.  There was no question on that day just who was God.  It is indeed an amazing time when God demonstrates His great power.  But this demonstration is leading somewhere.  God is about to allow the rains to come back to Israel.  Men love to give credit to everything but the One True God.  In those days they would have accredited it to Baal the storm god, this was precisely his area of strength, water and fire the elements of storms.  Yet it wasn’t Baal who answered by fire that day, and thus the people would know later when the rains begin, that it was Yahweh, not Baal, who had done it.  In our day we would be giving the credit to nature, or to our scientist’s ability to manipulate it.  But, we should remember that God is the God of nature.  As the creator, He is the One who is ultimately in charge.  Nature is following the laws that He put in place from the beginning.  Now we cannot just run out and try to force God to show up in power.  Elijah states clearly that he is following the instructions that God has given him.  So what are our orders?  Though this is a real event that literally happened, there are also spiritual lessons here.  We can use this event as a metaphor for ourselves.  God needs faithful believers who will risk their lives on the altar and publically stand up for Him, whether He promises a powerful sign or not.  When we sacrifice our lives publically before the world and through prayer call upon the God of heaven, the fire from heaven will come down upon us.  This is the Holy Spirit of God.  Instead of destroying us, we are filled with the power to live godly lives and speak powerfully to the world around us.  This is the way that God has determined to turn hearts back to Him.  May we take time to repair the altar in our lives and begin walking with the Lord, rather than telling Him how He should be running things.

Confrontation II audio

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