Wednesday, January 26, 2005

You Can't Have the Fire Without the Water

1 Kings 18:16-39 (New International Version)

Elijah on Mount Carmel

“16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?"
18 "I have not made trouble for Israel," Elijah replied. "But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the LORD's commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table."
20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."
But the people said nothing.
22 Then Elijah said to them, "I am the only one of the LORD's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 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."
Then all the people said, "What you say is good."
25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire." 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "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." 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD , which was in ruins. 31 Elijah took 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." 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD , and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs [
a] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, "Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood."
34 "Do it again," he said, and they did it again.
"Do it a third time," he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD , God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 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."
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.
39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD -he is God! The LORD -he is God!"

This is one of the most fascinating confrontations in all of Holy Writ. Ahab the king has called Israel’s prophet Elijah and four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, the fertility god of the Canaanites to Mt. Carmel. There is a question to be decided – whose god is the only true God. The prophets of Baal are to take a bull, cut it into pieces and lay them on wood prepared for fire. Elijah is to do the same thing. The question before the people will be answered by the god who consumes the sacrifice by fire.

The prophets of Baal begin the contest. They set the wood on an altar. They prepare the bull for sacrifice. Now they are to call on their god, but they are not to set the fire themselves. From early morning till noon they cry out and pray to their god with all the earnestness they can muster. There is no reply. Elijah taunts them. “Maybe he’s sleeping or maybe he’s hunting.” He knows his opponent well. Baal is a notoriously lazy deity. He loves to sleep and he loves to hunt. “Pray louder,” Elijah says. So they do. Not only do they begin to shout, but they begin to cut themselves with swords and knives. Maybe Baal will see their acts of self-flagellation and answer. This grisly scene continues until the time for evening sacrifice. But Baal is silent.

Now it’s Elijah’s turn. He has an altar prepared and stacks wood on it. Then he does something that boggles the imagination. He has the people pour four jars of water on the wood. He has the process repeated two more times. Now the water even fills the trench around the altar.

It seems impossible. How can wood that is completely doused with water be set on fire?

I’ve always heard that God was doing the impossible that day when He answered by fire. But I look at the incident from a different angle. On that day the only way that it was possible to start the fire was to douse it with water. In essence, you couldn’t have the fire without the water.

The impossibility was what the prophets of Baal were engaged it, not Elijah.

I believe the story has a lesson for us today. God isn’t looking for people who equate acts of self-flagellation with faith. He’s not looking for people to “crawl across cut class to make a deal.” He’s looking for people who would be willing to pour water on the wood, hay, and stubble of their lives.

The lesson of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is this. If we truly want God to answer by fire in our lives today then we must not engage in the types of pyrotechnics that the prophets of a false god demanded. That god is much like the gods of our age, demanding that we scar ourselves in order to meet their demands. It’s a relationship in which its adherents lose their humanity, their dignity, and in the end, their lives. Our God, the God who answers by fire only asks us to pour out the water. He’s not asking us to do the impossible. He’s asking us to do the only thing that is possible and sensible, to walk by faith.

Read the account, dear reader, and reflect on the words. You’ll see that they are trustworthy and true

1 comment:

sdleisher said...

Well put. I think that this passage also shows that it's "ok" to be bold in your faith and not ashamed of God...something that seems unpopular these days.