************ Sermon on 1 Kings 18:16-29 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 12, 2003
1 Kings 18:16-29
"Who Answers When We Call?"
Let me remind you of the setting of our Bible reading. Because Israel and her king worshiped Baal the prophet Elijah announced that neither dew nor rain would fall except by his word. After 3.5 years of drought and poverty the Lord announced He was going to send rain. But, He would do so only after a meeting between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. There, on Mount Carmel, the Lord confronted His people through Elijah:
(1Ki 18:21) "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."
Let me also remind you of the people's response: "But the people said nothing." They refused to answer Elijah. They did not want to make up their mind between Baal and the Lord God. They wanted to have it both ways by worshiping both as god. So they kept silent.
The Lord could not allow this situation to continue. He wanted His people to decide between Him and Baal. So He took steps, through Elijah, to force a decision.
I He Who Answers is God
A Elijah proposed a contest between the two gods. If the people could not decide, let the gods themselves decide the issue:
(1Ki 18:23-24) Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. (24) Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire--he is God."The people of Israel thought this was a good and fair way to answer the question of "Who is God?" So they answered Elijah, "What you say is good" (vs 24).
In this contest Elijah gave the advantage to the enemy. As he himself put it,
(1Ki 18:22) "I am the only one of the Lord's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets."So, it was 450 against 1. Furthermore, Baal was supposedly the god of nature, the god of rain and thunder, the god of cloud and lightning. Fire and storm came under his special control.
B A key word in our passage is the word "answer." Elijah used this word when he declared the contest: "The god who answers by fire--he is God" (vs 24). In their prayers sent up hour after hour the priests of Baal said, "O Baal, answer us!" (vs 26). When Baal failed to send fire Scripture says, "But there was no response; no one answered" (vs 26,29). When it was Elijah's turn to pray, he cried, "Answer me, O Lord, answer me ..." (vs 37).
The struggle in front of us is for an answer. The main issue is this: Who will answer? Will it be Baal or will it be Jehovah? The fate of heaven and earth – indeed, of the whole universe – hinges on it. Who will answer?
C The god who answers through fire – he would be acknowledged as God. Elijah meant this in an absolute sense. Some have thought that the real issue on Mount Carmel is who would be recognized as the God of Israel, which God would be served in the Promised Land. But this was not the issue at all. For Elijah there was only one God – Jehovah; there is no other god in the entire universe. And, it isn't just the people and land of Israel who were subject to this God. All people and all lands were subject to this one only true God. So, the issue to be decided at Mount Carmel is this: "Who is the god of the universe?" Who is the god who answers?
D Our God, congregation, is a covenanting God. This means He answers His people when they call to Him. There is contact and interchange between Him and His people. The shouts and cries of His people do not die away unheard; they meet with a response.
Furthermore, God always take the initiative in answering us. It is not His will our lives should unfold without answers from Him. In the covenant which God established with Adam already the Lord indicated His desire to communicate and fellowship with His people.
However, the covenant relationship is not a one-way street; it is not a monologue on the part of God. It is meant to be a dialogue: God speaks, we respond. That is the glory of man – to hear God and to continually respond. This interchange lies at the heart of the covenant. With no other creature has God established such two-sided communication. This is a privilege given only to man.
Man has cried out and God has given us His answer in Christ. Whoever hears this answer of the Lord in his life and believes is delivered from sin and misery and the doors to heaven stand open. I had an opportunity to present the Gospel this past week to someone who was scared he could not be forgiven. I reminded him and assured him that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21). The Lord God answers when we call and does not remain silent!
II Attempt to Get an Answer
A Elijah gave the priests of Baal the first opportunity to get an answer. He also let them pick out the bull they wanted. "Then they called on the name of Baal" (vs 26).
We can distinguish four elements in their quest for an answer. First, there was the matter of prayer. The prophets of Baal cried out to Baal for hours. With growing intensity their cries became louder and louder. With every passing hour the sacrificial flesh dried out and became less and less pleasing as a sacrifice.
Second, they "danced around the altar they had made" (vs 26). It was some kind of religious dance.
When Baal still did not answer a third element entered the picture: the priests of Baal "slashed themselves with swords and spears ... until their blood flowed" (vs 28). Those priests thought that their blood mixed with the blood of the sacrifice would prove irresistible to Baal.
When there still was no answer the fourth element came into play: that of "frantic prophesying" (vs 29). In this stage the prophets of Baal were almost delirious from heat, exhaustion, dehydration, and constant yelling.
It is fair to say that the prophets and priests of Baal threw themselves heart and soul into getting an answer by fire. They went to the very limits of their strength and power. There was nothing more these priests could have done. They had given their all.
Yet, what was the result? Scripture tells us: "But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (vs 29).
B All these things Elijah observed with biting and sarcastic comments to the people about Baal:
(1Ki 18:27) "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."Elijah suggested that Baal had broken off contact with his people for some reason or another.
It is foolish, of course, to believe in a god with whom one can lose contact at any moment. A god who loses contact with his people is worthless as a god. What assurance have you, then, that you can reach him in times of trouble? How do you know he is always there to help you? Elijah's mockery knocks big holes in the worship of Baal. Elijah's mockery shows how foolish and vain it is to believe in and worship Baal.
Compare Baal to Jehovah. The Bible tells us that God sees and hears everything:
(Deut 11:12) the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on [the land] from the beginning of the year to its end.The point: the Lord never loses contact with His people. He is always there to answer and to help and to keep safe.
(2Chr 16:9) For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
(Ps 121:4) ... he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
(Prov 15:3) The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.
C Some people would question the morality of Elijah's mockery. They maintain there is an element of truth to every religion and there is no room for mocking or making fun of anyone's beliefs. In their view, Elijah was an insensitive and boorish clod when he mocked those priest of Baal.
In answer to this we must look to Scripture. There we see that our God engages in mockery. In Psalm 2 we are told that God mocks the heathen and wicked who try in vain to rebel against Him: "The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them."
The prophet Isaiah also engaged in mockery: he mocks those who worship idols and carve images. He demonstrates that the idols are nothing and that those who worship them are fools. Mockery reaches a climax as he describes how the same piece of wood used to build a fire is also used to make a god:
(Is 44:16-17) Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire." (17) From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god."
In light of this we see that Elijah had every right to mock the belief of the Baal worshipers. He was not being insensitive and boorish. Elijah knew there is only one God. He knew that Baal was and is nothing. And, he knew that to worship anyone or anything aside from the one true God means everlasting hell fire.
III No Answer
A The worshipers and priests of Baal were put to shame that day. They tried their best and yet "there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (vs 29). One could hardly ask for stronger proof of Baal's impotence and the foolishness of idolatry. Baal had no answer to give because he was totally incapable of giving an answer. Baal, you see, was not a god. His powers were totally the imaginations of sinful human hearts.
B It is horrible if the god one believes in no longer answers. When someone's god does not answer that person is cut off from life and breath and his soul is condemned to death. When your god does not answer you are left alone. When your god does not answer you are cast adrift on the sea of life without compass or bearings. When your god does not answer you have no support.
In the night before his death King Saul was tormented by the fact that God was silent. The silence was too great for him to bear. He had to hear from God because he could not bear the awful burden of being on his own. In desperation Saul went to the witch of Endor for help, even though God had banned witchcraft and he, Saul, had enforced that ban.
C We look at King Saul and we can well imagine what the priests of Baal went through that day. There they stood by the altar. They were exhausted and their bodies were caked with blood. But there was no fire on the altar. The priests were now a desperate band of miserable men. The horror of the silence covered them. Heaven had let go of them and the earth did not offer any support either.
"But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (vs 29).
If the priests of Baal had only listened, though, they would have heard an answer – not from Baal but from God. They would have heard God declaring He is one only true God and that besides Him there is no God. The priests of Baal, however, did not want to hear this answer.
Topic: PrayerWhat a strange and foolish person, we say, but isn't this the way the priests of Baal prayed. They wanted an answer but they were not willing to hear it. And, isn't that the way many of pray as well? We tell the Lord all about our needs, but then fail to "hold the line." As a result, we miss the joy of answered prayer and the thrill and reward of a persistent faith.
Subtopic: Causes of Failure in
Title: Hold the Line
A woman telephoned the manager of a large opera house and told him she had lost a valuable diamond pin the night before at the concert. The man asked her to hold the line. A search was made and the brooch was found; but when he got back to the phone, the woman had hung up. He waited for her to call again, and even put a notice in the paper, but he heard nothing further.
The scene in front of us finds its completion some 700 years later. Once again there was a great crowd that wanted no part in God's answer. They rejected the Messiah and were cast into the realm of eternal silence.
Those who forsake God's answer have much to fear. Those who hear God's answer and respond in faith find themselves surrounded by the Lord's blessings.
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