Showdown on Carmel (Part One)

1 Kings 18:25-40

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27 NIV).

The scene before us in this text is one of the most dramatic and moving in the Scriptures. Picture what happened in your imaginations. Four hundred fifty richly robed prophets of Baal versus one simply and sternly clothed prophet of the Lord. And there sits the powerful king of Israel, Ahab, who is surrounded by his court and people. The crowd anxiously waits to see who will win this contest.

What we have here is a tremendous act of mercy on the part of the Lord. To think that he, the Creator and Preserver of all things, would stoop to allow himself to be so tested! Yet he did this for the benefit of those people, and for us as well. Come, let us worship the Lord who displayed his glory at the showdown on Carmel.

The contest opens with exposure of the false gods. After the terms of the contest were accepted, Elijah allowed them to go first. What happened next was a worthless effort by the pagan priests.

The writer described them in two ways. First, they had a unity of purpose. Unity can be used by evil as much as division. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (cf. Acts 19:34) The majority was in full agreement among themselves, but the majority was wrong. Second, they were sincerely and seriously devoted to their god. They called on Baal, they shouted, they danced, they slashed themselves, they frantically prophesied. What zeal; what ignorance! For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge (Romans 10:2 NIV).

In spite of their efforts, they failed. Sincerity and seriousness of purpose is no evidence of truth. You can seriously and sincerely take medication, but if it is useless as a remedy for your illness, your seriousness and sincerity do nothing to help you. They might even harm you. Ritual involvement and emotional displays lack value before the Lord. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV; cf. Matthew 15:8). Many in our day place a high value on grand displays of ritual or exciting entertainment in religion. The prophets of Baal will always offer such flesh-pleasing diversions. You should ask instead, “Is the grace of God in the gospel of Christ being preached in truth?”

They received a stinging rebuke by Elijah. He used sarcasm to help expose the ridiculous nature  of their false religion.   Sarcasm is a dangerous verbal weapon and should be used only with great caution. But there are times that it must be used to expose error and to convince people of their sin in pursuing a lie. His mockery of Baal’s priests represented the Lord’s attitude toward false religion. The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them (Psalm 2:4 NIV; cf. Proverbs 1:22-27).

Why did the false prophets and priests fail? They did not serve the only one true and living God (Psalm 115:1-8). There is no reason to fear false gods. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good (Jeremiah 10:5 NIV).

Is your trust in the living, sovereign God?

Grace and peace, David

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