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The Contest With the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:1-40) January 20

First, we should take inspiration from the godly and heroic example of Obadiah (not the same as the author of the biblical book by that name). Next, Elijah extends an invitation to a grand test to show who is the true God and who are His servants. Elijah told the people that it was time for them to stop sitting on the fence—faltering between two opinions by the syncretism of intermingling the worship of the true God with the worship of Baal. The same message applies today to the participants of modern Christendom, who, however unwittingly, mix elements of pagan worship—such as crosses, Christmas trees, Sunday observance, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies—with the worship of the God of the Bible.

The contest Elijah arranges was designed to apparently give every advantage to the Baal worshipers. Mount Carmel, near the modern city of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast, was considered sacred to Baal. The answering by fire apparently referred to lightning—and Baal was considered to be the god of storm, with lightning in his divine arsenal. Moreover, Elijah calls for his own sacrifice to the true God, and even the firewood it was to be burned upon, to be thoroughly and completely soaked with water—an ironic touch considering the kingdom had been plagued by a three-and-a-half-year drought that had started at Elijah's command.

Moreover Elijah is just one against 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:22). It does not appear that the 400 prophets of Asherah answered the challenge (compare verse 19). Incidentally, we should consider Elijah's statement that he alone is left a prophet of the Lord (verse 22). Why would he say this, since Obadiah had just reported his hiding of 100 of God's prophets? (Verses 4, 13.) Perhaps they had been killed after Obadiah hid them, though it seems unlikely that this would have gone unmentioned in context. More likely Elijah was referring in verse 22 to himself being the only true prophet still carrying on a public ministry. The others had all gone underground.

The prophets of Baal probably begin calling on their gods by the time of the morning sacrifice. To evoke some sort of response from their god, they leap about and chant. By noon, the supposed height of the power of their sun god, there was still no answer—and Elijah begins his taunting. "Busy" in verse 27 is a euphemism. Notice the verse in the Contemporary English Version: "At noon, Elijah began making fun of them. 'Pray louder!' he said. 'Baal must be a god. Maybe he's daydreaming or using the toilet or traveling somewhere. Or maybe he's asleep, and you have to wake him up."

And rather than give up, they do cry out louder, leaping more earnestly—and they even "cut themselves, as was their custom" (verse 28). So, as bizarre as it may seem, such uncontrolled frenzy and self-mutilation were actually normal elements in their worship. This illustrates how pagan religion is often quite harmful to its participants. By contrast, the true religion God gave through Moses forbade such cuttings in the flesh (Leviticus 21:5; 19:28).

All of this continues until the time of the evening sacrifice, when Elijah finally takes his turn, beginning with the construction of God's altar and the soaking of the sacrifice. In the end, God showed Himself to be the true God over storms, with real power to control the elements—indeed, the true God over all, while Baal was proven to be nothing.

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