Character in a time of Crisis (Day 10)
“but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention
(1 Kings 18:29 ESV)
The Mount Carmel mentioned in the story of Elijah, is actually part of a high ridge reaching to the Mediterranean sea, not far from Haifa which is today Israel’s third-largest city. The effects of the drought that God had instigated through Elijah would be less apparent here than most other places. For a drought to affect Carmel was really a disaster, in the book of Amos 1:2 we read
“The Lord roars from Zion
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
and the top of Carmel withers.”
The setting is deliberate, the people can see that Carmel has indeed withered, but in a coastal area such as this, this was the place surely where the power of Baal to provide nurturing rain would be strongest too.
The contest on Mount Carmel began with the prophets of Baal taking their bull, and offering it to their god, in their manner and custom. The telling statement in the passage is though “but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention”
(1 Kings 18:29 ESV)
The narrative shows us how they were crying out to a god who could not hear them! So they danced and raved, and even cut themselves in their desire to be heard by their god, to rouse him to action, and rain fire upon their altar. Baal’s prophets must have thought they held all the aces with an overwhelming advantage in numbers as we saw yesterday of 450 -1. What is more, Baal was a nature and fertility god who was thought to control the elements of nature, such as wind, water, fire. The problem was Baal could do nothing, and in a very public and embarrassing way is shown to be a sham. Indeed Elijah doesn’t spare the Baal prophet’s blushes, even so far as to suggest ( in some versions) that their god is in the toilet at the moment and cannot hear the frenzied cries of his disciples! ( verse 27)
This sequence must have come as a shock and an embarrassment for the king and the people who had invested in the idolatry of Baal over the years. They could see now that it was all for nothing, there was no answer to the prophets, so why then were we taken in? Why then were their children offered as sacrifices on his altar? Maybe we can sense the mood of the crowd begin to change. Two things spring to mind immediately in looking at this passage.
The first thing to say is obvious. The sheer folly of idolatry is never clearer than in this passage. The people had served a god who is deaf, dumb, blind and powerless. How many in the world today still follow such a god as the prophet Habakkuk describes so witheringly;
18 “What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
when he makes speechless idols!
19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it.
20 But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him
(Habakkuk 2:18-20 ESV)
The second point is just as important, even maybe more so. We read of how the prophet’s of Baal, tried to implore their god to hear them by offering their own blood to him in devotion. We read that they ‘ cut themselves with their swords and lances as was their custom to do ( verse 28)
How different is our God who does not require from us our blood? How different is our God who gave His only Son as the once and for all sacrifice for our sin? This is the consistent teaching of the gospel, and what we call the atonement made for us through the death of Jesus. The writer to the Hebrew’s sums it all up well in Hebrews 9
’13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God’.(Hebrews 9:13-14 ESV)