I Kings 18:21
A. King of the mountain
Who will control the Mountain? When I was a little boy, we would play a game called King of the Mountain. One boy would place himself on a mound and declare himself king. Then each boy would attempt to climb the mound one at a time and take over the mound by throwing the king off. When a boy had succeeded in removing the king, he became king. In the sermon for today we see not a game, but an actual battle over who will control Mount Carmel. However, the fight is not between two boys, or even two men, the real battle is between God and Baal. The battle is not just over a mountain, it is over the people. Who is the king? Who is God? If Yahweh be God, choose him! If Baal be god, choose him!
B. A good man in a bad place
One day an unexpected visitor appeared at the court of Ahab. He was as unwelcome as he was unexpected, for he rebuked the king and told him to his face that there should not be rain or dew upon the earth during the coming years except at his word. He then turned and left as abruptly as he had come. During the days that followed, the gardens withered, the fields parched, death came and the whole nation became a desert.
After being gone for three years, Elijah suddenly appears to Obadiah. Yes, for three long years, King Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel have been looking for this lone prophet so that they might rid themselves of him altogether by having him killed and then, just maybe, rain would come. Meanwhile, Elijah had been fed by ravens and by the widow for whom God caused her meal to increase within the barrel. Famine and drought has its clutches on the land of Northern Israel and the worship of Baal, Jezebel’s religion, has its grasp upon the people. Due to the famine, Ahab and his servants are out looking for fodder to feed his animals.
It was during this scene that Elijah met Obadiah, requested that he go tell Ahab that he was present, but Obadiah refused. Obadiah begged that he not be required to go because he thought God would remove Elijah while he was gone and then upon his return with the King, he would be killed for misleading the king. Obadiah goes on to explain how he has been a servant of God in a difficult situation. He informs Elijah that he has hidden 100 men of God in a cave and fed them during the time Ahab and Jezebel were killing the prophets of God. In essence, he said, “I am a good man in a bad place.”
Possibly this could be the predicament of many a man today. Many a college student will find that he is in this condition. Removed from family, church, and conservative educational ideas, he finds himself face to face with men and women of great intellectual ability who deny God. If he confronts these intellectuals with criticism, because of his immaturity and lack of ability, he is either made to look like a fool or given marks that will reflect poorly on his college records. What is he to do? He cannot leave college and he cannot place himself in direct confrontation with these professors. Shortly he must confront another problem, that of war. He does not want to fight in a war, yet be feels an obligation to his country! He really does not want to die for the Iraqi people, yet he realizes that America cannot immediately withdraw herself from Iraq and leave thousands of people to be annihilated. He does not want the war to be enlarged, yet he is aware that if something is not done, the terrorists will continue to advance until they overrun not only Iraq, Afghanistan, but advance to Europe and America. Many a good kid is in a bad situation.
Mandell Creighton once said, “Christianity beautifies many an individual life and sheds a luster over many a family. Its influence is less conspicuous in the life of business; it pales in the sphere of what is called society and is still dimmer in politics. In the region of international obligation, it can scarcely be said to exist.”
C. What can the individual do when he finds himself in a bad situation?
The individual has two possibilities, either to remove himself from the situation or to stay within and do whatever possible to influence for the good. His choice will always have to be determined by the particular situation. There are times when the Christian should get out of the business. For example, if a man in the liquor business should become a Christian, he most certainly would want to get out of that business. This, of course, could be said for several other occupations. However, for the most part we should remain within our sphere of life and fight for good. Suppose you are in politics and find corruption even on the higher levels. You certainly would not want to say, “I’ll get out and leave politics to the devil and the professional.” Already we have done too much of this. Someone said to me the other day, “Preachers ought to keep Christianity within the church, and leave politics to the professional.” Evidently he had a gross misunderstanding of both. Jesus never taught that Christianity was to remain in the church, but rather the opposite. He said, “Not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from evil.” (John 17:15) Christians are called upon time and time again to exert their influence to better the world. “Ye are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) “Ye are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)
Not only in the world but in the home and church, our influence is to shine for Christ and good. One thoroughgoing Christian can impart a godly spirit to a family even though every other member of it may be a pagan. A half-dozen devout members, if sufficiently devoted, can change the atmosphere of a church.
During World War II, a white officer was assigned to take charge of a company of
African-American soldiers in training for commissions. Because of his family background, the white commander was so angered by his assignment that he declared, “If any of you get commissions, it will be in spite of me.” This so incensed the African-Americans that some cried, some cursed, some were for waylaying the officer. But one quiet member of the company spoke up: “Listen fellows, we are men and soldiers. We are loyal Americans. We are black. Our honor is at stake. We represent the best that our race affords. The eyes of America are upon us. Let’s play square soldier for this man, and trust in God.” The men heeded his advice. They outdid themselves to obey instructions. As a result, 55%, a larger percentage than usual, received commissions. At the close of training, a reception was given for the new officers by the African-American community. The white commander attended, and made a public confession of his change of heart, declaring, “I’m your friend until I die.”
Upon being assured that Elijah would not leave, Obadiah goes off to find King Ahab. Into the presence of the prophet comes the king with a grand show of royalty declaring, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” Back came the daring reply of Elijah: “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have made Israel to sin. (I Kings 18:17-18)
My friends, just as sin was the problem in the day of Elijah, sin is the problem today. It was sin that dried up the land! It was sin that brought the death! It was sin that caused the starvation! Today it is sin that has caused the false teaching about morals and made situation ethics so popular.
Then Elijah, taking command, orders Ahab to call the people together at Mount Carmel. On one side are the prophets of Baal, on the other side, one lone prophet named Elijah, and in the middle are the people. Then Elijah speaking to the people asked, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If God be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.”
I. The Silent Society
A. The Safety of Indecision
For the people of Northern Israel, it was profitable, at least temporarily, not to make a decision. Should they have chosen Yahweh, they would have been outside the security of King Ahab who had acknowledged the religion of his wicked wife. Yet to choose Baal would seem to go against all they had been taught by the true prophets of old.
So often we find people not willing to choose a side due to the fact that it might put them in jeopardy. It is much safer to play the middle road. However, it is one thing to keep one’s head cool enough for impartial judgment; it is another to let one’s heart grow cold.
In the Book of Revelation, one church receives a more stern rebuke than any of the other six. To the church of Laodicea, God declares, “because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16) This church had proclaimed to the world and God that they had plenty and was in need of nothing, yet the scripture informs them and us as well that we are poor, blind and naked. If God was disgusted with this early church, what must his attitude be toward us?
B. The Source of Indecision
The major source of indecision is the devil. He will constantly say to the lost man – you certainly will become a Christian, but there is no need to rush about it. He will say to the witnesses, give your testimony at a later date. Don’t make a fool of yourself, wait until you are better prepared. To the one who is about to surrender his life in active service for God, the devil will suggest, “You had better be real sure of this.”
The devil is always the major source though he may come to us in many forms. To the Israelites, the ones who caused their procrastination were Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal. To you it could be a well meaning mother, father, sweetheart, wife, husband, or even a classmate. You must remember the words of Jesus to Peter when Peter made an attempt to dissuade Jesus from his purpose. “Get thee behind me Satan.”
C. The Sorry of Indecision
Indecision will bring sorrow because it divides our energies. This means that we cannot focalize our abilities on one thing. If a boy is to be a good football player, he usually has to choose a position and put all his ability and interest in that position. If he plays end one day, guard another day and then shifts to quarterback, the third day, chances are he will never be real good at any position.
I remember getting lost in the woods when I was a teenager. I must have walked for miles always coming back to the same place. Finally I decided to follow a certain road without leaving it and soon I located my position and easily returned home. Indecision had been my problem all along.
Once when my father carried a load of produce to the farmer’s market in Birmingham, he invited me to go along. Later during the evening he sent me to fetch a sandwich just across First Avenue, which proved to carry the main flow of traffic. I soon reached the middle of the huge street, but then the traffic came at a ferocious pace for a twelve year old boy. I suddenly froze with indecision and remained in the middle of the thoroughfare until someone rescued me. It was a matter of indecision.
Moving to a more serious illustration of indecision, may we turn our attention to Pilate? Pilate certainly didn’t want to condemn Jesus. Desiring the friendship of the Jews and not wanting to condemn an innocent man, he chose the middle road. Pilate soon found out that by his not taking a positive stand for Jesus, he did condemn Him. Many today are not aware of the fact that because they will not choose Christ as Savior, they are totally rejecting him. With Christ there can be no middle road. “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
II. The Sinning Sages
A. A Surface Religion
Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a test. They will each prepare a sacrifice and then each call on his God and whoever answers with fire will be the God of the people of Israel. Since there are 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah offers to let them be first.
To the worshippers of Baal, he was considered to be the god of fire. No doubt the religion began as a deification of the sun and then as time went on, they enlarged the religion to give more meaning. The image of this idol was a bull, probably with curls representing fire on his forehead. Possibly, this is the reason for a bull being chosen as the sacrifice. Then the religion became anthropomorphized with Baal, the male, and Ashtaroth, the female, representing the fertilizing and productive principles in nature.
This type of religion seems so absurd, but when one considers the gods of this modern world, there is hardly any difference. Gods take on various forms. For example, there is the god of wealth, the god of rank; the god of fashion, the god of ambitions and the god of pleasure.
B. A Sincere Religion
Every once in a while I hear someone say, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe just so you are sincere in your belief.” More false words were never spoken. Jesus tells us from the pages of the Bible, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)
The worshippers of Baal were sincere. From early in the morning until late in the afternoon they worded their prayers to Baal calling upon him to consume the altar with fire. They cut their bodies and let their own blood mingle with the blood of their sacrifices begging Baal to answer their summons.
It is sad today when men become sincerely wrong in their interpretation of God’s word. It is possible to prove to oneself almost anything from the pages of the Bible if a person is willing to misinterpret it enough.
C. A Silly Religion
Elijah does not bother the prophet of Baal until the noon hour and then he decides they have had plenty of time if their god does indeed have any power. Then he begins to point out how silly they are in praying to a non-existent god. Elijah in mockery cries out, “You said he was supreme god, is he a god? Cry louder, he is so stunned with the thunder of his own voice and with the voices of his associates that he cannot hear the ordinary voices of mortals. Maybe he is on a journey, so far away that you must holler your prayers. Possibly he is sleeping, so yell so you can wake him up.”
Elijah desires that the stupidity of this false religion be permanently embedded in the minds of those Israelites watching.
III. SERVANT OF SOVEREIGNTY
A. The Sacrifice Prepared
After the prophets of Baal had failed, Elijah began to prepare for the sacrifice to be presented to Yahweh. He built an altar consisting of twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. He then put the wood in place and cut the bullock into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then a trench was dug and Elijah commanded the people to pour four barrels of water on the sacrifice and the wood.
This was done a second time and then a third time so that the water filled the trench. Then Elijah quietly and reverently requested of God that he make the people aware that he was God by consuming the sacrifice. The fire of God consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the dust, and the water.
When sacrifice is mentioned I must think of the supreme sacrifice that Jesus made on Calvary. He was the sacrifice for our sins. He paid the price for our wrong. God has accepted this supreme sacrifice, will you accept it also?
A little frail old man entered the Oakland (Calif.) Red Cross Blood Donor Center. He stood patiently in line waiting his turn at the reception desk. He was immaculately dressed, hands clean and freshly manicured, hair carefully combed, and his necktie bright and now. And he was smiling. As he told the receptionist he was eighty years old, she smiled, too. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but you are too old to give a pint of blood.” The man’s face fell, and when he turned away, convinced at last they could not accept what he came there to give, he said quietly, “I was not going to tell you this if you had accepted me. I knew I would not survive a blood donation. I dressed for my funeral. I should have died happy, knowing my death might mean life for some boy somewhere far from home.” Blood to be used in such a noble adventure must meet all the requirements of medical science. The Lord Jesus-the antitype of the old sacrifices–was of acceptable age as well as character, for He was in the prime of life and the vigor of manhood. He met every requirement of divine justice. The Lord Jesus also came prepared to die, and He did die for us; and it is impossible to gauge the infinite happiness of the risen Christ, knowing as He does that His death means life to all who are far from the heavenly Home, if they put their faith in Him.
B. The Surrendered People
It was with surrendered hearts that the people then confessed that Yahweh, indeed was God. The sacrifice of Jesus is of no avail unless you surrender your life to God in response for this marvelous sacrifice that Jesus made.
There is a great need for surrender today. There are many calling for your attention, but your attention must be given wholly over to the master. He demands obedience! He must have your complete devotion!
As a show of their surrender, the people put the prophets of Baal to death. Today we must place our false gods to the side and follow Jesus.
Then God sent the rain. God’s blessing always comes to those who serve him with surrendered hearts.
Buttrick, George Arthur, The Interpreters Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954. 149pp.
Chappell, Clovis Go, Familiar Failures. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968. 114pp.
Hastings, James, The Greater Texts of the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 416 pp.
Knight, Walter B., Three Thousand Illustrations. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1947. 597 pp.
Spence, H.D.M., The Pulpit Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950. 444 pp.
Joe Bob Mizzell retired from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions in 2012. He was most recently the director of the Office of Christian Ethics & Chaplaincy Ministries. Previously, Joe served as pastor of Alberta Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa.