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2006-10-15_Fire of the Lord_1 Kings 18.17-40

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Fire of the Lord

1 Kings 18   |   Shaun LePage   |   October 15, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   Fire is fascinating (light a candle). It is, of course, one of the classical elements along with Earth, Air, and Water. It has played a significant role in human society throughout history. It can be both helpful and destructive—depending on how it is used. Because of it’s great power, fire has represented something significant in almost every religion ever conceived by man. In Roman mythology, Vulcan is the god of fire. In Greek mythology, Prometheus is the Titan chiefly honored for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to mortals for their use.

B.    In the Bible, fire most often represents the presence and judgment of God. For example, God’s presence is represented in the “pillar of fire” that led the Israelites through the desert after their Egyptian slavery.

C.   In 1 Kings 18, fire represents God’s answer to prayer. As you and I pray, one thing is for certain. We want God to answer. We don’t want to treat God like Santa Claus and just pretend He’s answering us, but the whole time we know we’re going to have to buy the gifts ourselves. We want to pray to a real God who sends real answers.

D.   Let’s understand the context of 1 Kings 18 so we can appreciate it better.

1.     In 1 Kings 16 we’re told that Ahab became king of Israel after his father Omri died (the kingdom had divided into the northern and southern kingdoms, so “Israel” refers to the 10 northern tribes). Like his father, Ahab was an evil king. First Kings 16:30 tells us he was more evil than all the kings before him. He married Jezebel—a non-Jew, unbeliever—and made her his queen. They then tried to mix the worship of YHWH—the true God—with Baal worship (Baal was the false god of the Sidonians). Ahab actually built a temple for Baal in Samaria. He also “made the Asherah”—a pole for the worship of Baal’s queen or female counterpart.

2.     In the next chapter—1 Kings 17—along came Elijah. God’s prophet. A great man of prayer. He showed up in front of Ahab one day and made two big announcements. First, YHWH—translated in 1 Kings 17:1 as “LORD”—is alive and well and still “the God of Israel” despite the fact that Ahab has decided that God should share that role with Baal. Secondly, Elijah announces that there will be “no rain or dew” for an indefinite period of time. Then he left. God told him to go hide himself in a ravine—a cave. Obviously, Ahab wasn’t going to be too happy with Elijah and would probably try to kill him. So, YHWH sent Elijah off to a safe place and waited for the land to get real dry. He waited for Ahab and Jezebel and all the people to get real thirsty. For more than three years, God didn’t allow a single drop of water to fall from the sky. Drought and famine came and He had Israel’s attention. Then he brought Elijah out of hiding. God sent him to confront Ahab and the entire nation.

II.   Body—1 Kings 18:17-40

A.   17: “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?”

1.     Isn’t that amazing? Ahab accused Elijah of being the “troubler of Israel.” Ahab was the one who was doing evil in the sight of God, and his false worship was the reason God sent the drought, but Elijah—just a messenger boy for God—is somehow the “troubler of Israel.”

2.     That’s always been the way God’s people are treated. When we say there is only one God, and only one way to heaven, and only one authority (the Bible), somehow we’re troublemakers. We’re accused of being narrow-minded, hateful troublemakers. But, don’t be offended when people call you a troublemaker and accuse you of giving a bad name to Christianity and ruining America. Just remind them that you didn’t make all this up—which is basically what Elijah told Ahab.

B.    18: “He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals.”

1.     Elijah put the blame where it belonged. Any time anyone “forsakes the commandments of the Lord” there is trouble.

2.     Ahab “followed the Baals.” “Baal” simply means “master or lord.” It was originally a generic term, but obviously became a proper name for this false deity of the Sidonians—Jezebel’s people. There were many gods referred to as “baal” throughout history. In fact, Baal worship is still going on in the world today. The Palestinian National Authority (an administrative organization that governs the Palestinian neighbors of modern Israel) printed and circulated a postage stamp in 1998 that shows an image of Baal. In the time of Elijah, Baal was supposedly the most powerful of the gods. An ancient carving of Baal shows him holding lighting and people believed the thunder was his voice—he was the storm god who controlled nature, sent rain and caused the land to be fertile. In reality, he is nothing. He is a false god with no power and no voice—as Ahab and Jezebel and the entire nation of Israel found out the hard way.

C.   In v.19, Elijah lays out his God-given plan: 19: “Now then send and gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel, together with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

1.     Elijah’s plan was like a rumble. Everyone was supposed to come: He insisted that “all Israel” be there along with the 850 false prophets “who eat at Jezebel’s table.” These false prophets were treated like royalty while Elijah was treated like a “troublemaker.”

2.     The location of this rumble was “Mount Carmel.” Scholar Thomas Constable writes, “Elijah probably chose this mountain, as God led him, because it stood between Israel and Phoenicia geographically, neutral ground between Yahweh’s land and Baal’s. Furthermore the Phoenicians regarded Carmel as Baal’s sacred dwelling place. Storms with lightning and thunder were common on Mount Carmel, and Baal worshippers viewed them as manifestations of their deity. The name “Carmel” means “the garden land,” and it was famous for its fertility. In the minds of many, Baal had the advantage in this contest” (1 Kings study notes, Soniclight.com). This is probably why Ahab just followed Elijah’s orders.

D.   20-21: “So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.”

1.     Silence. Elijah asked, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions?” Do you see what was going on here? They hadn’t chosen Baal over the true God exactly. They were trying to worship both. They were on the fence—trying to have a mixture of YHWH worship with Baal worship.

2.     Why? Who knows? Maybe they thought Baal could give them some things YHWH wouldn’t. Maybe they thought it was narrow-minded to think there was only one, true God. Maybe they thought YHWH wouldn’t care. But Elijah made it clear—you can’t have both. To “hesitate between two opinions” is not an option forever. The people remained silent because they didn’t want to choose. I believe God wanted the people to choose Him all by themselves. To turn away from Baal worship, get rid of the false prophets and turn back to true, Biblical worship—that’s what would have most pleased God. But… “not a word.”

E.    22-24: “Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 “Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. 24 “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, “That is a good idea.

1.     Notice also that Elijah was very clear about something: “put no fire under it.” No tricks here! No illusions! This was not about who could put on the best show. It was about who was the true God. No fake fire allowed! You ask your god to answer with fire and I’ll ask my God to answer with fire.

2.     And all the people said, “That is a good idea.” Now, personally, I think this is sad. It shows how immature the people of Israel were. They didn’t speak up when Elijah asked them to say they believed in what the Scriptures had made obvious: that YHWH was and is God. But now that there’s going to be a show, the people spoke.

F.    25: “So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” Notice again, “put no fire under it.”

G.   26: “Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made.” Presumably this was about three hours of praying and leaping. Notice that very important phrase: “no one answered.” So many people in the world pray to gods that will never answer.

H.   27-29: “It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” 28 So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. 29 When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.”

1.     “Elijah mocked” these false prophets. This is such a no-no in our time. You never mock anyone else’s faith. That’s “intolerant” or even “hate speech.” In fact, Elijah’s taunt here that maybe Baal is “occupied” literally means “relieving himself”—maybe Baal is busy in the bathroom right now and can’t answer your prayers. That’s some serious mocking—and we obviously need to be careful about using that kind of insult—but listen to Psalm 2:1-4. God “laughs.” He “scoffs” at those who try to ignore Him, or try to pretend that He is not their King and Judge.

2.     If it just wasn’t so sad and pathetic, it would be laughable. But look at what the prophets of Baal did next: they cut themselves and “raved” (screamed) until the time of the evening sacrifice! From morning until evening they “prayed” and cut themselves to get Baal’s attention. They screamed. They danced. They bled…but all they heard was silence. Worship without the true God is tragic. It’s not just a waste of time (which it is), but it is also destructive.

3.     And don’t miss the fact here that numbers mean nothing! Some people might look at these numbers and say, “Wow! 850 people can’t be wrong!” But God was not impressed. God’s work was not thwarted by the fact that He only had one servant and the rest of the world—it seemed—opposed the truth. Anyone—even just one—who stands with God is in the majority. Elijah knew this and took over.

I. 30: Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32 So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. 33 Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. 34 And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. 36 At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. 37 “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.

1.     Elijah did three things here:

a)    He repaired the altar. Apparently, there had been true worship in that place before. He didn’t just build a new altar, he repaired one that was already there—“the altar of the Lord.” He was “reforming” true worship. He used 12 stones—which was according to the Mosaic law. He was going back to the Bible and showing the people how to worship God on His terms—according to His instructions.

b)    Then he prepared the sacrifice. This, too, was according to Scripture. To enter into God’s presence, to approach God—according to His Word—requires sacrifice. This was true under the law of Moses and it is still true today. But don’t miss the fact that he made them drench the sacrifice with water. Remember the drought? Where did they get this water up there on the mountain? The streams were dry. Most likely, the people had carried water with them. They were giving up their own drinking water! Imagine all those people standing around watching Elijah drench the altar with their precious water.

c)    Finally, Elijah prayed. Notice four things about this prayer:

(i)   He prayed to the God of the Bible. He called Him “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.” Everyone listening had to know that what was about to happen did not come from Baal. It came from the God of their ancestors. The God of Scripture.

(ii) He prayed for God’s glory. He said, “Today let it be known that You are God in Israel.” That’s praying for God’s glory—that everyone would know Him. He asked for this twice!

(iii)    He prayed according to God’s word. He asked that God would let it be known that Elijah was His “servant and [he had] done all these things at Your word.” Elijah had no ability to call fire from heaven. Elijah was not a god. YHWH is God and Elijah was just His messenger boy—God had told him to do these things. He prayed according to God’s will—God’s word.

(iv)    He prayed for hearts to change. Verse 37, he said “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” There was a purpose in all this. It wasn’t so God could show off. It was to turn hearts back to the true God.

2.     God answered—but don’t read it yet. Picture all this first: All day long, 850 men had been screaming, dancing and bleeding as they called out to Baal. The people sat by and watched this from morning to evening. Then, Elijah stepped up. Repaired the altar. Prepared the sacrifice. Prayed a 21-second prayer. Now look at v.38.

J.38: Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” Imagine! Put yourself there! What would you have done? Look at v.39…

K.   39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” That’s what you and I would have done! This was a shocking, unmistakable display of who was the true God of Israel. This is the answer Elijah should have gotten before—when he asked, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” They should have cried out then, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” But they were silent. But not after the fire fell! The people fell on their faces and cried out, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” Look what happened next:

L.    40 Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.” This seems incredibly drastic, but that’s what God’s Word demanded for those who practiced idolatry. It illustrates the serious nature of false worship in God’s eyes and brought about a moral cleansing. All the prophets were dead, so the potential for further sin was greatly decreased.  

III. Closing

A.   There is much for us to learn from this passage—here’s what I want you to take to heart: Let’s ask for fire from the Lord. Elijah made it clear that he did not put fire on that altar. He drenched it with water to make sure this was not a man-made event. Fire from the Lord is a real and legitimate work of God. Isn’t that what we want CBC to be? You’re not here because you want to be part of a club! I’m not here because I’ve always wanted to be a CEO! I’m here because I want to be involved in what God wants to do in Lawrence, Kansas. I’ve seen what man can do. I’m not that impressed. I want to see what God can do in Community Bible Church and Lawrence, Kansas and beyond.

B.    Elijah demonstrates for us what we should do. We can’t call down fire from heaven or make God do anything. We—like Elijah—are His servants and we can’t do anything apart from God. But, I believe God wants to do great things among us and invites us to prepare the way for Him. Here’s how we do it:

1.     Just as Elijah repaired the altar, so we must reform ourselves according to His Word.

a)    What is reformation? It’s simply a return to God’s Word. It is making our spiritual obsession knowing, understanding and doing exactly what God wants us to do—both as individuals and as a church. It is fighting our tendency to “hesitate between two opinions.” Our natural tendency is to make Christianity a smorgasbord—a little Bible here, a little of my own opinions there; a little psychology here, a little Scripture there; a little humanism here, a little theology there. Sometimes we do it with full knowledge—willfully disobeying God and rejecting what we know is true. Choosing what is false because it just appeals to us for some reason.

b)    Sometimes we just get lazy and don’t check our beliefs and practices against Scripture. We say, “Let’s not get too radical here—surely I’m doing well enough. Or “Come on, our church is a lot better than most churches—we don’t need to evaluate and assess and change and grow. Good enough is good enough.” But “good enough” is not an option. We must be on a constant, life-long quest to know God better. To serve Him more faithfully, see Him more clearly, follow Him more nearly, love Him more dearly. To do church more Biblically. As leaders we need to constantly reform ourselves as we understand Scripture better—seeking to (as Peter said) “shepherd the flock of God…not for sordid gain…not lording our authority over the flock, but serving as examples…” being servant leaders who strive to do things in such a way that every member will be equipped to use his or her gifts and abilities in a way that will build up the body. As members of this body—which is Christ’s body, not the elder board’s or mine—you need to (as Peter said) “be subject to your elders…and clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…” and ask God to show you how you need to be equipped for the purpose of ministry—constantly evaluating how you need to change and grow.

c)    We need to constantly repair the altars. I believe God wants to do great things among us—real, authentic heaven-sent work—and we will invite Him to do so by reforming ourselves according to His Word.

2.     Just as Elijah made the sacrifice, so we must offer ourselves according to His mercy.

a)    First of all, I think there is a deep, theological truth in how Elijah brought this sacrifice. Like all Old Testament sacrifices, it points to the sacrificial death of Christ for us on the Cross and we could never please God or approach God apart from Jesus’ sacrifice. I’m assuming you understand that and know that in order to be rightly related to God, you must receive the gift of Christ’s substitution on your behalf. You must start there.

b)    But the thing I really want to bring out today in regard to Elijah’s sacrifice here is that he asked the people to make an enormous sacrifice. They poured out the most precious commodity in all the land on that altar that day. After three years with no rain, water was liquid gold. This shows that on some level they were desperate—desperate enough to obey Elijah and sacrifice one of their most precious possessions.

c)    Romans 12:1 makes it clear that we are to be “living and holy sacrifices.” Listen: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Why “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice”? Because of the “mercies of God.” Has God been merciful to you? Infinitely so. And that is the basis upon which we should crawl up on the altar and sacrifice ourselves for Him as living sacrifices. What does this mean on a practical level? What does it mean for you to “sacrifice” yourself? I can’t tell you that. The best thing for you to do is get on your knees and ask God how He wants you to sacrifice. Ask God to show you what would genuinely communicate to Him that you are desperate for Him. Desperate for Him to work—genuinely work—in and through us.

d)    We need to constantly offer ourselves to Him. I believe God wants to do great things among us—real, authentic heaven-sent work—and we will invite Him to do so by offering ourselves according to His mercy.

3.     Just as Elijah prayed, so we must pray according to His will. 

a)    Like Elijah, we need to pray for God’s glory. We need to pray, “Today let it be known that You are God in” Community Bible Church and in Lawrence, Kansas. Pray that His name would be renowned—that’s His will. Pray that everyone would know Him.

b)    Like Elijah, we need to pray according to God’s word. Like Elijah we need to pray that if God does great things in our midst, it is not because we applied a fresh coat of paint to the walls. Or because we have such a great pastor. Or because we have all the right programs or the best worship team. We need to simply do things according to His word and let everyone know that our God is God—He is great and apart from Him we can do nothing—that’s praying according to His word and His will.

c)    Like Elijah, we need to pray for hearts to change. We want God to do great things in our midst—not so that the other churches in town will be jealous of CBC. Ridiculous! Pray that God will do great things among us so that lives will be changed. Hearts will be turned back to God. Souls will be saved. Marriages will be put back together. Families will be strengthened. Men and women will be called into the ministry and to the mission field. The city of Lawrence, the state of Kansas and the United States of America will have a change of heart about the one, true God.

d)    We need to constantly pray. I believe God wants to do great things among us—real, authentic heaven-sent work—and we will invite Him to do so by praying according to His will.

e)    Next weekend is our Fall Bible Conference. The complete focus of the weekend is prayer. Your elder board is leading you this year. Not because we’re the best teachers we could find, but because it is the passion of our hearts that Community Bible Church be a body that prays. Just as Elijah insisted that “all the people” join him on Mt. Carmel, I insist…I implore…all of you to join us next weekend (Mt. CBC). There are flyers on the information table that will give you the schedule. I encourage you to take one for yourself and another you can give to someone who isn’t here today—a member or a non-member. We will hear good teaching about prayer. We will hear good reminders about prayer. But perhaps most significantly, we will pray. I recognize my tendency to be overly dramatic, but I do not believe I am being overly dramatic when I say next weekend could very well be the most significant three days in this church’s history. Not because we’re going to light any fires. I promise you we’re not going to try to pass off man-made fires for heaven-sent fire. I just believe God wants to send His fire—He wants to do His great work in our midst. Will you pray with me every day this week for the conference? Will you make the sacrifice to be here?

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