Character in a time of crisis Day 11
After the prophet’s of Baal had tried and failed to rouse their god from slumber, and answer their prayers for fire on the altar, it was now Elijah’s turn. It is interesting how Elijah begins this task. The first thing he does is to ask the people to come near to him (verse 30), they would be witnesses to all that would happen; there would no trickery or smoke and mirrors. Then Elijah begins to repair the altar that had been thrown down ( verse 30). Before he even got round to cutting up the bull or before he had started to lay the wood in order or dig the trench, there was something else he knew he had to do; he repaired the neglected altar of Jehovah God of Israel. Verse 31 makes it very clear that Elijah built an altar in the name of the Lord. He didn’t use the pagan altar that the prophets of Baal had used. Instead, Elijah did something remarkable, something which would have spoken volumes to those who witnessed it that day.
Elijah took twelve stones “ according to the number of the tribes of Jacob “. We can imagine him carefully and deliberately placing them, and naming them to himself, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali, Gad, Dan, Asher, Joseph. Ten stones for the tribes of the north, but then something we might easily miss, eleven Judah, Twelve Benjamin. At this time Judah and Benjamin were a separate and hated kingdom in the South. Judah was a different kingdom with a different king, Jehoshaphat was king of Judah ruling from Jerusalem, as Ahab ruled from his ivory palace in Samaria. What Elijah did though would have spoken volumes to all those watching. The word of the Lord had come to Jacob and his sons saying ‘ Israel shall be your name’. How could they be Israel if two tribes were missing? Elijah was deliberately ignoring politics and local sensitivities in favour of the word of God, which said that Israel would be one.
Elijah is highlighting the need for unity among God’s people starkly. Never has this truth been more necessary. We have to recognise schism and division in the church as the sin that it is in God’s eyes. God hates division among his people, and much as we would like it otherwise does not recognise our petty divisions and denominations. He desires His people to be one, as God Himself is one. In John 17:11 we read in the words of Jesus’
“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”
We are familiar with the words of the psalmist in Psalm 133, the blessing of dwelling together in unity life that shall never end.
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
Elijah offers a complete sacrifice on a whole altar. He offers the bull ( and it would not be lost on people that what Elijah was doing was offering a sacrifice for himself as a priest would. Exodus 29/ Leviticus 1 show) not, particularly for the people. It is as if saying “ Whatever else Lord, I want to be right with you’. He arranges it carefully; it is to be a whole burnt offering, offered on a complete altar before the Lord.
The application of this verse is every bit as challenging as it was in the day of Elijah. It is challenging, but it is also apparent, everything has to be laid on the altar before God if we would have an answer from Him. The question is do we do that? Or is just too hard to do so? Offering a complete sacrifice is costly, it means that something has to die, and a price has to be paid. Years before King David had learned that, he was not prepared to build an altar that cost him nothing ( 2 Sam 24:24). There is a price in making this sacrifice; there is cost, there is a Cross to be carried if we are to follow Jesus.