The lines were drawn, it would be the battle of all battles. Will the real God please stand up? On one hand was a lone Elijah, claiming to be a prophet of the one true God, and on the other hand 450 prophets of Baal, the god of fertility believed to enable the earth to produce crops and people to produce children. If the outcome was dependent on the number of supporters, then it looked like the prophets of Baal had a landslide victory in their hands.
Sounds of clashing swords were heard, shields were seen glinting in the morning light and the tension in the air palpable. It was the day of reckoning.
Not quite. The scene played out quite differently. A challenge was thrown, simple enough considering we are talking about gods … they are powerful right? Each party was to set up an altar and offer a bull. This was nothing new, animal sacrifices were common place. There was one difference though. There would be no fire. The God who would answer by fire would be God. This would be a supernatural event.
Wrestling gods and fires from heaven might sound a bit too mythical for our modern ears. What do they have to do with us? I am not particularly religious or spiritual, one might say. Another might ask what does it matter so long as I am sincere in my worship?
The prophets of Baal took the stage first. They got down and begun to pray. They pleaded, begged, danced, self-lashed up to midday, to no avail. Was their God asleep? Indisposed maybe? Elijah wondered, with a bite of sarcasm, no doubt.
And then it was the turn of the lone prophet. He was not without drama. He ordered the alter drenched with water. I guess the people needed to pay attention so they would see that his God was the true God, in contrast to the silent Baal. Elijah must have been confident that it was no harder for God to ignite a wet sacrifice than it was for Him to set a dry one ablaze. He then bowed and prayed to his God who answered by sending down fire, not any small spark, but one big enough to burn up the sacrifice and lick up the water around the altar.
Old literature is filled with stories of gods at war. Our modern ears dismiss those legends as ancient and without any bearing on us today. And yet these battles are happening all the time, peel your ear just a little more keenly and you will hear the clash of swords, the thunder and lightning as the gods have a go at each other.
Like the Baal, we know what it is to trust something or someone to bring us fulfillment. We know what it is to wait, to call, to dance around, to even slash ourselves and they do not come up to scratch. We might not want our Gods to answer by fire, but surely we would want them to prove they are real? That when pull comes to shove they will deliver? Can they be relied on at our time of need?
Will our money give us happiness? Shouldn’t our family give us understanding and belonging and stand with us forever. Our education should secure us a job. Our beauty and physical strength should be enough to secure us acceptance and validation. Modern medicine should cure us. Our philosophies should guarantee us peace about what happens after death.
How can we know which god will do this for us? Maybe we still need them to answer by fire!
The prophets of Baal had a energetic prayer life. Their worship was filled with enthusiasm and activity. Yet because it was not directed to the real God, their prayer meant nothing. They were sincere and completely devoted to their religion to the point of expressing it in blood. They sadly were worshipping an imaginary god and so in the hour of need, there was no one there to answer. They did not have a God in heaven who could answer by fire. How futile!
Elijah’s petition on the other hand, lasted less than a minute but produced spectacular results. The difference lay in the One addressed. We all know how it is for our gods to ‘ghost us’. When all the people and ideas we thought we could depend upon leave us holding our raw sacrifice and remain silent despite the energy we spend on them.
Our worship has to be directed to the real God, but who is the real God? How do we know the real God?
Consider the God who chose to come down and live with mortals. The one who chose to battle death so that his followers need not live in fear of that enemy. The one who was forsaken so that his followers will never have to experience silence from heaven. The one who rose from the grave so that it can be known once and for all who the real God is.
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