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Battle of the Gods
Scripture: 1 Kings 18:1-2, 17-19; 1 Kings 18:25-39
Track 5 of 10 in the Elijah: The Humble Hero series
Running time: 1 hour, 01 minute, 55 seconds.

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

View all sermons by this speaker.

There is something about a showdown that Americans can’t resist, especially today. Almost everything in our culture revolves around competition. In a big way, that is what makes America the great nation in the world. We realize that in reality there are winners and there are losers. But in our society today, the concept of winning and losing is shrouded in the idea of the greatest contest ever. Everything right now is viewed as a battle, a contest, a bought of competition. Almost every show on TV lately has something to do with a group of people competing for a grand prize.

Can you give me some examples of the competitive nature we have in this country? Super Bowl, March Madness, The Olympics, The World Cup, The Greatest Loser, Your Momma Can’t Dance, The Apprentice, Bad Girls, America as a super power and the list goes on and on.

Is competition good or are we better off if we try to live a life where there is no competition and everyone is the same? Isn’t there less stress in life if there is no competition? Do we teach our children too much about competition?

We are always looking for or thinking in terms of the greatest. It was interesting right before we went from 1999 to the year 2000 all the shows that were on TV dealing with what were the greatest things in the last millennium. There were lists like who were the greatest people, what were the greatest discoveries, the most important inventions, the best athletes, the best film actors, the worst disasters and so on.

If Time magazine or People magazine had been around in 700 BC, would they have included Elijah on one of their lists, if only for one major event in his life? Our lesson today will look at one of the best “fight to the finish” events probably ever seen. Can you imagine if the battle between the Gods took place today, what kind of media hype it would receive? It would be a fight between the pagan gods of the earth and the living God in the heavens. I wonder if the modern news media today would even cover it since the outcome wouldn’t be what they wanted to happen.

Today, if you go to Israel and go to the top of Mt. Carmel, there is a large statue of Elijah holding a knife in his hand raised high above his head with an inscription that refers to this unforgettable conflict. It is on this mountain that Elijah stood toe to toe with the priests of Baal in competition to prove which one was the true and only deity, deserving of human worship and worthy of obedience.

Let’s remember where we are with Elijah, he is still in Zarephath living with the widow and her son. In our last lesson, the son died and Elijah, thorough the power of God raised the son back to life. Up to this time in the Bible, no one had ever before been raised from the dead. Elijah was the first to ever think about asking God for such an event to happen let alone actually have faith in believing it was possible and expecting God to do it. But he did and the son was brought back to life. It has been three years since God told Elijah to tell Ahab there would be no rain.

1 Kings 18:1 After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”

Can you imagine what that encounter was like. Elijah was the most wanted man in Israel. Ahab had been looking for Elijah for three years and all of a sudden, here stands Elijah face to face with Ahab. I doubt if Elijah had to wait very long in the waiting room before he got to see Ahab.

1 Kings 18:2, 17 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”

The Hebrew verb that means “to trouble, to bring calamity” is here translated troubler. There are times when in the Hebrew the word is used to mean “viper, asp, or snake”. So in a way, Ahab is calling Elijah a snake. This leaves no doubt how Ahab feels about Elijah. To him, Elijah is a snake for causing so much trouble to Israel and its people.

Can you tell me what Quincy would look like if our country never saw rain for three years? What could we expect to see here? What would be going on? What might we expect to read in the newspapers or see on TV?

I expect the reception Elijah received from Ahab was quite heated. I don’t think the name Ahab called him was said in a polite tone. But imagine what Elijah had to go though to actually present himself before Ahab. It had to take a lot of courage to go and face the man who was really out after your hide. Some would think he would have been a little intimidated but scripture tells us that Elijah was not at all intimidated by Ahab.

1 Kings 18:18 “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.

Elijah squarely puts the blame for what happened on Ahab and his family. You’re the reason why there hasn’t been rain for three years. Have you ever noticed that politicians are really slow to accept blame for the actions they take? Usually when something bad happens in our economy or some event takes place like Katrina, the government always looks to see who is to blame and most of the time it is them. I would love to see sometime in one of those hearings we see on TV someone get up and say, you idiots caused this because you don’t follow your own laws and don’t use common sense.

That is exactly what Elijah did. But he doesn’t stop there; he calls the gods of Baal out and challenges the priests of Baal to a duel, your many gods against the Almighty God. Elijah sets up a dramatic showdown between idolatry and the living God.

1 Kings 18:19 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.”

It is one thing to challenge an evil king to a duel, it is another thing to challenge his evil wife with the intent to make her look bad. It is a very dangerous thing to do but it was a very interesting way to do it. Elijah attacks where the enemy is the weakest, he attacks their pride and vanity. He knew they would jump at the opportunity to show themselves as superior.

But why would Ahab and Jezebel take such a chance and agree to the battle? Surely Ahab knows the history of Israel and God and what he is capable of doing. Why go thorough with it? What does 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah tell us about where Israel is at this point in time and the status of idolatry in Israel?

1 Kings 18:20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel.

Don’t skip over this verse too quickly. It is important that we notice that two groups of people were assembled at Carmel. There were the people of Israel (the general public) and the prophets of the false gods. Not everyone in Israel worshipped idols and not everyone believed that God was no longer God but there were several who listened to Ahab and turned from God and worshiped Baal. Elijah not only wanted to strike down the evil prophets but he also wanted to win the people back to God. He panned to demonstrate to all the people who the one true God really is.

1 Kings 18:21 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.

This verse says a lot to us as to what was going on with the people. From Elijah’s statement and the reaction of the people, give me the spiritual state of the people themselves? Even though the people were hard core into idolatry, yet they were still divided and indecisive. Some followed Baal, some followed Asherah. Some still half heartedly followed the God of heaven. They were decided, they were lukewarm about their faith.

What is significant about the reaction of the people when Elijah challenged them? The easiest thing to do at the hour of decision is to do nothing and remain uncommitted. Just linger in the neutral zone. Do we have this problem in our own church? How do we get people out of the neutral zone and back to real living?

Imagine the scene, Elijah is totally outnumbered. He has 850 priests against him, Ahab and Jezebel are against him and he has an uncommitted nation of people all around him waiting to devour him should God fail. All around there were probably several idol shrines erected. Most likely the reason why Carmel was chosen because it was a place where a lot of idol worship was conducted as was the case with many of the mountain tops in Israel during that time in history. Elijah was definitely in enemy territory but there is no hint that Elijah was intimidated by the scene.

1 Kings 18:22-24 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’S prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 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. 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.”

There were a lot of ways Elijah could have set this competition up. But to me it seemed too easy for the worshipers of Baal to win, why? Notice that the people thought this also was a good idea, why?

There is significance to this method of competition. Baal was worshiped as the god of the sun (the fire of the universe) and he was the all-controlling god of the crops and the productivity of the land. It is interesting that after three years of no rain, I wonder how the all-controlling god, Baal, was looked upon as everything probably dried up and there was little to no crop and land production. By the time of the competition, things were probably pretty dry. One would assume that the god of the sun could at least star a little fire especially under very dry conditions.

1 Kings 18:25-26 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.” 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.

It is too bad lighters weren’t invented yet. It would have been very easy for someone to quietly “flick their Bic” and start a fire. I bet the prophets probably thought about it since their conventional methods weren’t working. For 3-4 hours the prophets prayed to Baal and there was no reply.

When your kids wanted your attention but you weren’t paying attention to them, what were some of the things they would do to get your attention? Is this what the prophets were doing?

One thing about the Bible I really like is some of the humor that is found there especially when the foolishness of man is being displayed. It must have been fun watching the scene for Elijah. He had to be smiling and laughing to himself watching the worship of Baal. Talking smack is nothing new that our generation invented. They talked smack back in Elijah’s day.

1 Kings 18:27-29 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.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 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.

All day these pampered prophets, these fakes who ate at the queens table while the people suffered through a terrible drought, prayed to Baal for fire to start and nothing happened. It had to be an unforgettable scene, a scene of chaos and madness. But in reality, that is exactly what worshipping false gods is all about and the final result. Nothing good comes from it, It leaves the worshipper with a life out of control, unsatisfied feeling as though no one is listening, no one cares.

Think about all the false gods Americans worship today and the results from following them. Are you allowing idol worship in your household? Are you following after false gods? Are you teaching your kids or allowing your kids to follow after false gods in their lives?

1 Kings 18: 30-39Then 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. 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.” 32With 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 of seed. 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.” “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. 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. 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.”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. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!”

There are two principles I want us to consider and always remember:

- Divided allegiance is as wrong as open idolatry – Elijah asked a very pointed question to Israel, how long will you hesitate between two opinions. Commit to God an commit to a church an start serving.

- Never underestimate the power of one totally dedicated life – This whole event happened around one totally dedicated life. It made no difference how outnumbered Elijah was, his total dedication to God unleashed God’s power to work. If you want God to work through you, then get dedicated to God and to Him only.