************ Sermon on 1 Kings 18:30-40 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 19, 2003
1 Kings 18:30-40
"Fire From the Lord"
Israel was on Mount Carmel. Elijah confronted them with a question: "Who is God, Baal or Jehovah"? He said,
(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."
Israel, if you remember, attempted to worship God and Baal. They set up altars to both gods. They prayed to both gods. They sacrificed to both gods. But when it comes to a god a choice must be made. Jehovah is a jealous God. He demands of His people that they worship Him alone and no one else.
"But the people said nothing" (1Ki 18:21).
Last week we looked at the contest Elijah proposed. He proposed that both he and the priests of Baal set a bull on an altar. And, "The god who answers by fire–he is God" (1Ki 18:24).
Elijah gave the priests of Baal plenty of opportunity. He let them go first, which was the favored position. They had come hundreds strong to pray to their god for fire. Elijah granted them their full rights and permitted them to drag out their prayers for hours for they believed they would surely be heard on account of their many words (cf Mt 6:7). "But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (1Ki 18:29).
We notice here the beginning of an answer to the question, "Who is God?" It is clear, at least, that Baal is not God for he was unable to answer with fire. But what about Jehovah? Is He God? Is He able to answer with fire? Baal may be powerless but this does not prove anything about the Lord.
I The Altar of the Lord Repaired
A To give the proof that the Lord is God we read that Elijah "repaired the altar of the Lord, which was in ruins" (1Ki 18:30).
Kings of Israel like Jeroboam, Baasha, and Omri closed Israel's border with Judah. This was done so that the people of the northern kingdom of Israel could not worship in the temple in Jerusalem. This meant that true worshipers had to find other options. The true believers did what Samuel did – they made an altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices on that altar. The altar on Mount Carmel was one of those altars.
This altar, we are told, "was in ruins." It was probably broken by the priests of Baal and the followers of Jezebel. The fact that the altar was allowed to be broken, and the fact that no one repaired it, was a sad commentary on Israel's relationship with God. Israel's relationship with the Lord was as broken as the altar. No one offered sacrifices or prayers to the Lord anymore – so they did not need the altar and there was no reason to repair it.
Do you understand the sad situation in Israel in those days? Baal had altars built to him, but the altars of the Lord were torn down. Smoke and fire and the smell of sacrifices rose from the altars of Baal, but the altars of Jehovah were in a state of disuse and disrepair.
A word of warning, congregation: what happened in Israel is what happens whenever the church and the world intermingle. In such a situation it is not the church that sets its stamp on the world but the world that sets its stamp on the church, until the church eventually disappears.
The smoke that rose from Baal's altars provoked God and made Him angry. The broken altars of Jehovah called down His judgment upon the world.
Those who violate the altars of the Lord have no more ties with heaven; they have burned all their bridges behind them; they no longer want anything to do with the Almighty. Where the Lord's altars are broken, man stands with his back turned to God. He has spurned God and will die.
B Standing by the altar, Elijah called the people to come near to him. In other words, he was calling the people to come back to the Lord's altar. The message given was that God wanted to commune with His people again. God wanted the relationship between Him and Israel to be restored.
The sign that Elijah had proposed was directly bound up with the altar: the true God was the One Who would make the altar smoke. After all, that was the question of the day: for whom would altars be established, to whom would sacrifices be offered, which god could rightfully demand the service of the people, to whom would the people and the land and everything else in Canaan be devoted? These questions could only be answered by the Lord at the altar. That was why the people had to gather around the altar. Those who wanted an answer from God had to come to the place He had chosen to speak.
C Before the relationship could be restored, however, the altar first needed to be repaired. A broken altar symbolized a broken relationship; a repaired altar symbolized a repaired or restored relationship. With the altar repaired the people could once again sacrifice to the Lord and pray to Him as the incense of their sacrifices went up to heaven.
The Bible carefully describes the way in which Elijah had the altar repaired. The altar was rebuilt with twelve stones, "one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, 'Your name shall be Israel'" (vs 31). The twelve stones were a message from the Lord. They were a message that the Lord did not approve of the spiritual division that existed between Israel and Judah. By God's design and command, under King Jeroboam there developed a political separation between the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel and the two tribes of the southern kingdom of Judah. But Jeroboam took the division a step further. He extended the political separation to include a spiritual separation as well. He refused to allow his people to worship in Jerusalem at the temple. He set up golden calves for Israel at Dan and Bethel. Ahab and Jezebel took this sinful division even further – they encouraged the people to worship Baal. By means of the twelve stones God was telling Israel that their religious and spiritual separation was wrong. They may have been divided politically but spiritually and in worship they should still have been one.
The altar rebuilt by Elijah on Mount Carmel, then, was a protest against the two kinds of altars: one in Judah and another in Israel. Seen in this light, the twelve stones were a call to unity. When it comes to the service and worship of the Lord all of God's people must be one. There is no room for division, separation, and disunity.
D After the altar was repaired Elijah put wood upon it. He cut the bull in pieces and laid it upon the wood. Then he did something that he did not demand of his rivals, the priests of Baal. He poured water – lots of water – upon the altar; and he did this three times. The water assured those present that Elijah was not pulling any trick – no one could say that he had somehow hidden fire under the altar.
Everything was now ready. The altar has been repaired. The people have been called to come to the altar and the Lord. The bull has been killed and its pieces arranged as a sacrifice. Only one thing was left: would the Lord show Himself to be God by sending fire?
II Elijah's Prayer for Fire
A To get an answer from the Lord, to get fire from heaven, Elijah turned to God in prayer: "Answer me, O Lord, answer me ..." (vs 37).
What a contrast there was between Elijah and the priests of Baal. The priests of Baal ranted, raved, danced, sliced themselves with knives, and went half out of their minds trying to make Baal answer. In contrast, all Elijah did was quiet, sincere, believing prayer.
When Elijah prayed for fire he was convinced the Lord would answer. It was not necessary for him to do all the things the priests of Baal did. Elijah prayed out of faith. He prayed with the assurance that God would hear and answer with fire.
B Many people wonder why Elijah had to pray at all. If God predetermines all things why should we pray? If God knows all our needs before we ask why should we bother with prayer? God knew what was at stake on Mount Carmel – so why did Elijah have to ask God to do what God was going to do anyway? We have to understand that the prayer of the believer is a link in the chain by which God realizes His promises. We know from the Bible that the Lord has inseparably bound our prayers with His blessings.
C You should realize that in his prayer Elijah was not asking the Lord to do something new or different. After the tabernacle was first built and consecrated to the service of the Lord fire was sent down from heaven to consume the burnt offering and the fat upon the altar (Lev 9:24). When the temple was consecrated, after Solomon's prayer, fire once again came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offerings and sacrifices (2Chron 7:1). When King David repented of counting the fighting men of Israel the Lord once again sent down fire from heaven to consume the offerings (1Chron 21:26).
D I want you to notice, too, the time of Elijah's prayer. We are told that Elijah prayed "at the time of sacrifice" or "evening sacrifice" (vs 36; cf vs 29).
Do you know what this is referring to? The reference is to the time of the evening sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem. Elijah prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel – to the God of the twelve tribes – at the very moment when the priests in Jerusalem were approaching the altar of Jehovah in order to light the sacrificial flame. Two things are emphasized here. First, that the people of God should be united in their worship of the one only true God. Second, that the God of the altar in Jerusalem was also the God of the altar at Mount Carmel.
E Elijah asked for four things in his prayer.
First, "let it be known today that you are God in Israel" (vs 36). Baal has been shown to be a fraud. Fire would show that the Lord God of Israel is the one only true God.
Second, "let it be known ... that I am your servant" (vs 36). Elijah had been internationally defamed and hunted. He had suffered for the Lord's cause. He wanted the people to recognize the he had received his calling and office from the Lord. Fire from heaven would show his calling.
Third, "let it be known ... that I ... have done all these things at your command" (vs 36). He wanted the people to acknowledge that he was faithful to God's commands. He was not a crazed fanatic whose intent was to create trouble for Israel and its king. Many knew Elijah to be a man of power and obviously believed that Elijah had used his powers maliciously against Israel. They were saying Elijah pronounced the drought out of personal malice and ill-will rather than God's command.
Fourth, "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" (vs 37). Elijah hoped that if the Lord answered by fire the children of Israel would answer back in faith and belief. That was the whole reason for the confrontation on Mount Carmel – to make the people return to the Lord, to restore and repair their relationship with the Lord even as the Lord's altar was restored and repaired.
I want you to observe that this was the only part of Elijah's prayer which did not get a full answer, and later caused his despondency and grief (cf 1Ki 19:4-14).
III The Lord's Answer
A What happened to Elijah's request for fire? Can it be said of the Lord God of Israel what was said of Baal – there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention (vs 29)? Did Jehovah show Himself to be the one only true God?
Listen carefully to the words of our text because what happened was absolutely amazing:
(1Ki 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.The Lord spoke and He spoke loudly. He spoke clearly. He spoke convincingly. He sent down fire from heaven. His fire was so intense that it burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, and dried up all the drops of water.
B The people of Israel witnessed the fire. They knew what it meant. So they fell to the ground before the altar of the Lord and cried out, "The Lord–he is God! The Lord–he is God!" (vs 39).
The fire of the Lord did not have this effect on everyone. The bulk of the people cried out their new found faith in the Lord. Not included in this choir, however, are the prophets of Baal and Asherah.
Here the two groups parted company. Until now, the priests and the people joined in sinful association around the altar of Baal. Elijah even complained that he stood all alone by the altar of the Lord (vs 22). But the fire of the Lord burned those sinful bonds and ended the wicked alliance between Israel and Baal. Israel now stood with Elijah beside the altar of the Lord. The priests of Baal were now the ones who stood alone.
That's not all that the fire of the Lord did. The fire hardened the hearts of Baal's priests and prophets and closed their hearts to the grace of the Gospel. The fire made the priests bite their lips and clench their teeth rather than open their mouths and rejoice in the Lord. God revealed His power and His glory and they persisted in their unbelief. Through His servant Elijah God could have only one response – the death of those wicked priests of Baal.
C Our age has a strange tenderness for evil. All sorts of people protest capital or other punishment for criminals. Yet, they remain silent about victims' rights or about persecution of Christians in other lands. These same people are revolted by what Elijah did to the priests of Baal. Elijah commanded that the priests of Baal be brought down from the mountain to the dry streambed of the brook Kishon so that soon the flowing waters from the coming rains would wash them and their blood away.
The death of Baal's priests was gruesome. But, don't forget, they were the persecutors and murderers of God's prophets. They were guilty of idolatry. They were given the opportunity to repent and they refused.
Also, don't forget, Elijah was a forerunner of Christ. And Christ, too, brings death upon those who do not repent. This is how John the Baptist put it:
(Lk 3:17) "His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
God succeeded where Baal failed. God sent down fire from heaven and showed Himself to be God of earth below and heaven above.
He alone, congregation, is worthy to be worshiped. He alone deserves our praise. He alone hears us when we pray. He alone is God!
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page