Who is God? (Mount Carmel)

The ancient land of Israel is a testimony, evidence if you will of the greatness what God did in that country. A testimony to the truth of the words that we find in the pages of the Bible. As history went on, it became more and more apparent that the people of God were simply unwilling to live according to the life style that God had called them to. And so God sent to those people prophets, great men and women who came to speak on behalf of God and to call people back to his ways. One of the greatest of those prophets was Elijah. Probably the event that defined the ministry and life of Elijah more than any other, was the confrontation he had with the prophets of the Baal god on mount Carmel.

I. The place

A. Not a particularly strategic place: B. The bread basket of Israel:

Beyond that is the Jezreel Valley. It is safe to say that you could call that the bread basket, of Israel, at least in Biblical times. So Mount Carmel was part of a very fertile area. In fact the word Carmel meant God’s vineyard. And I think if you look at it, you might see why they would name it that. You’ve got olive vineyards and orchards and fertility all around. Throughout the Bible, this mountain is often used as a symbol of fertility.

C. A bible symbol:

And when the prophets pronounced judgment on the people, they often said “Mount Carmel will not be fertile”. Or if they pronounced blessings they would say, “It will be like Mount Carmel, in all its glory and all its spender”. You can understand why they would choose to refer to this particular location in their prophecies when you look at all the fertility that is here.

II. The main players of the story:

A. Ahab:

And I’d like to set the stage by talking about three different characters. When Solomon died, the kingdom broke in half. The northern part of the kingdom, of which this was a part, became and independent state called the nation of Israel. Now into history a ways, to about the year 875 BC, the king of these 10 tribes was Omri. He was the one, very important man, who came and established a new capital, south a ways, at a place called Samaria. He died and his son Ahab was appointed king. I’d like to pick up with that and read to you just the very short report that the Bible gives in I Kings about Ahab.

It says, “Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel and he reigned in Samaria for 22 years. (Fairly long as kings of Israel went.) Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat (who would be the first king of these northern ten tribes) but he also married Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar to Baal in the temple of Baal which he had built in the city of Samaria. Ahab also made and Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel to anger, than did all the kings of Israel before him.” 1 Kings 16:29-33

Now that sets the stage. The king of Israel is a man, who according to the Bible account did more to take the 10 tribes away from Gods way into a different way, than all the kings before him. Already it’s a very, very negative stage set.

B. Jezebel:

His wife, whose name was Jezebel, came from Phoenicia. The Phoenicians worshiped a radical form of Baal worship. And when the queen mother, Jezebel became a Baal worshiper, at that point we can say that Baal worship became a very dominant religious form, if not the predominant one.

What is interesting, highlight this point, about Ahab is that Ahab did not sell out entirely! He had sons who had Yahwistic names. For example, he named one Joash (1 Kings 22:26) and another, Jehoram (2 Kings 1:17). Both of those names contain part of the name of God. Don’t forget that in Hebrew God was called Yahweh or Jehovah. So the beginning of his sons’ names partly were made with Yahweh in it. It indicates in some way that Ahab was hanging on to his own religion past, and combining that with the introduction of that particular new religious cult, that we call the Baal cult.

So that kind of sets the stage from the kings’ point of view. He was ruling this part of the country and gradually he introduced Baal’s cult into the every day lives of the people, along with his wife who probably worked more radically on it. This was a very modern religion in a way, glorifying the cheapening of human life, glorifying human sexually. Yet it was a religion that was very, very attractive to the common people. And we can honestly say, the archeology insists, as does the Bible, that the population of this kingdom of Ahab, and this part of the country was defiantly buying into the Baal cult.

C. Elijah:

Appearing on the scene for the first time is a new prophet. In fact we could say he is as great of a prophet as Moses was. His name is Elijah.

Now I like this name Elijah, because the word means, Yahweh is God, or God is Yahweh. And the question that was being asked then by the people was, “who is really our god? Is Baal the god who is responsible for this? Or is Yahweh the god who is responsible for this?” And Ahab was saying, “Both!” And Jezebel was saying, “Baal!” And Elijah comes, and his name, simply by pronouncing it, was making a declaration that the God responsible for their blessings was only Yahweh.

The Bible tells the story of a confrontation on this matter between the king and Elijah, who was saying, “No, its only Yahweh”. One day Elijah shows up from Tishba in Gilead, across the Jordan River, and he says to Ahab, “As the Lord, God of Israel lives, whom I serve, and there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years, except at my word.” 1 Kings 17:1

III. The confrontation on Mount Carmel

Now, you need to appreciate what Elijah is saying. It was not just a matter of saying, “Ok, God is going to discipline you with no rain” to punish you, it was a matter of what God they were to seek out, what God was the true God of rain. And so what Elijah was doing, was taking the Ace, the power of Baal, and saying, “God is bigger than that!” So the best thing that Baal had to offer, God was going to prevent.
It was not going to rain. Now for a Baal worship that was going to create an identity crisis. Because if Baal was the god of rain, and it wasn’t going to rain, then who or what was Baal? That was really the point.

Finally after 3 ½ years, God comes to Elijah and says, “Go back, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” 1 Kings 18:1. So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. And Ahab said, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel, you pest?” “I have not made trouble for Israel”, Elijah replied, “but you and your father, and your fathers family have. You have abandoned the Lords commands, and followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel, and bring the 450 prophets of Baal and the 450 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebels table. I just want to highlight that. You're talking 850 prophets of that particular religion, 450 Baal prophets, 400 Asherah prophets, and they assembled on Mount Carmel.” 1 Kings 18: 17-20

“Elijah stood up in front of the people and he said, “How long will you waiver between two opinions? What Elijah is confronting, is not people who have rejected the God of the Bible, but people who are adding to the God of the Bible the god of their own creation.” And he is saying, “How long will you waiver between those two opinions?” 1 Kings 18: 21

If the Lord is God, follow Him. If Baal is god, follow him. Now what I find very interesting at that point, and very sad in a way, is the next line, of that verse, which says, “But the people said nothing”. The people said nothing.

Now, I would like to take you back to an earlier covenant, made south of here, not very far, about 20 miles away, by Joshua. Where the people assembled on a mountain, made a covenant, and then Joshua said this, “Fear the Lord, and serve Him with faithfulness. Throw away the gods of your forefathers, which they worshiped beyond the river and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of your forefathers severed, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. Similar kind of question, but notice that time their reaction. The people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord and serve other gods. It was God who brought us out of Egypt; it was God who brought us into this land. We will serve the Lord because He is our God.” In Joshua 24:16, there were no questions! But when Elijah comes and he says, how long? How long are you going to go back and forth between this and that? The people said nothing. Elijah said to them in1 Kings 18: 22-24, “I am the only one of the Lords prophets left. But Baal has 450 prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, 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. And you call on the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord.” It doesn't say my God, it says, I will call upon the name of the Lord. “The god who answers by fire, he is God. The people said, “What you say is good.” (v.24c). In other words put God to the test!, said Elijah. Are you willing to do this today?

They did back then. So Elijah said to the prophets, v.25 “Choose a bull, you can have which ever one you want, 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 and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noon. Answer us Baal, they shouted, but no one answered, there was no response.” And they danced around the altar they had made and Elijah started to make fun of them, and you remember the story. He said in v.27-28, “maybe he is sleeping; maybe he is in a far country. Midday passes and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for evening sacrifice, but there was no response.”

Finally Elijah said in v. 30-33, “Come here to me. Then they came to him and he repaired the altar of the Lord which was in ruins. He took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descendent from Jacob, to whom the Word of the Lord had come, saying your name shall be Israel. With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord and he dug a trench around it, enough to hold about 10 gallons of water.” Apparently there as an altar to the Lord up there, that had degenerated, it wasn’t even used any more. There is a side point to make here for our faith lesson. We need to realize that what gave Elijah his power was the fact that Elijah had established a relationship with God. That’s how he had access to the power of God. Where as for the people, their altars to Yahweh had been broken down and there was no longer a relationship existing between themselves and the Lord.

So then Elijah said in v. 33-37, Now what Elijah is doing is not simply demonstrating his access to great power, but what Elijah is saying is, “What is important to know, through me, is who is God.” Here is the idea that God puts his servants in various cultures to do what God calls them to do at their time, and in their place, so that people will know who is truly God.

Then we read the rest in verse 38 and I love this, because you have to imagine a day with few clouds in the sky, a very clear day, remember it hasn’t rained in 3 ½ years. And it’s the time of sacrifices, which probably means 3 o'clock in the afternoon. We read, “Then the fire of the Lord fell, burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, and even licked up the water in the trench.” And there probably was silence. “When the people saw this they fell flat and cried, the Lord He is God. The Lord, He is God!” (v.39) Now, do you recognize what they are actually saying? “Elijah, Elijah!” And I love that connection, because in a sense, at that moment, to see Elijah in action, is to recognize God.”

So they cleaned up their mess. In verses 40-42 we read, “Then Elijah commanded the people; take all the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away. They seized them and Elijah brought them down to the Kishon Valley and had them slaughter there. And Elijah said to Ahab, go eat and drink for there is a sound of a heavy rain. So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel, bend down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” So Elijah climbs all the way back up here again, bends down and prays. Verses 43-46“Go look towards the sea he told his servant, and his servant went and looked. There is nothing there he said. Seven times Elijah said, go and look. The seventh time the servant reported, a cloud the size of a man’s hand is rising from the sea. So he said, Go and tell Ahab, hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you. Mean while the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on, and Ahab road off to Jezreel. And the power of the Lord came upon Elijah and tucking his clock into his belt he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.” Not only did he climb down and then back up, he climbed back down and he ran clear to Jezreel, ahead of the chariot, and got there before Ahab did.

And I wonder, what happened to Ahab and Jezebel after that miracle? Were they converted or did they still keep sinning? Very clearly from the Bible, neither Ahab nor Jezebel was persuaded. In the very next chapter Elijah had to run for his life. He got down in the Negev, he laid on a juniper tree and he said, “God let me die!” 1 Kings 19: 4. In the next chapters (21) Ahab steeled the very nice vineyard of Naboth, and Jezebel had Naboth killed to finalize the theft, for which Elijah ultimately condemned Ahab and Jezebel to God’s judgment for what they did. So, very clearly neither of them were persuaded nor convinced, nor interestingly were the people of Israel. That demonstration of God’s power did not do it. Their conversion was short lived.

IV. What are the lessons we draw from all of this?

First that God is truly Yahweh. There is no other God, and he is ready to be put to the test. Just give it a try if you want. Live for a while with him and you will see if you don’t start being blessed and profoundly transformed and convicted. See John 7:17

Second, we are called to be his ambassadors. If people are to know what God is like, they ought to be able to watch you. If you want to know what God is like, you ought to be able to watch me and so on. Now unfortunately, honestly, the Christian community has not been particularly good at that historically. There are a lot of times in my history and in your history maybe, but certainly in the history of Christianity where we wouldn’t want people to watch us to see God. But that is what God wants.

And so for you, for me, our calling is to be what God called us to be. Now we've talked about how that ought to be in the shaping forces of the culture, and that would be wonderful. But in today's point is more, simply to say, God has called you to be, if you do it for Him, people will see Him.

I am struck looking at this story, by the power of God and I wonder how much we tap into that power that we could have. We have access to that power all the time, according to God’s promises. We have all kinds of people here today, mothers, fathers, homemakers, doctors, teachers, nurses, students and business people of all kinds. All of us have been given a gift from God. (1 Peter 4:10) and the Lord says in the scriptures that if we use that gift for him, in what we do, we will show people what he is like.

But I think we need to realize too in some ways, that our living in the presence of God is not suddenly going to persuade everybody that He is real. That’s our third lesson. Though the true God is Yahweh and though he is active, not everybody will be persuaded and some who will might end up with a short term conversion. No matter what evidences, some hearts love too much the deprived life style to respond to the gospel message. It isn’t always a matter of evidence, it is also a matter of how twisted my vision of things may have become with years spent in the jail of sin.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, let us finish with this prayer: “Dear God I thank you for what happened on this mountain. It’s very easy for us to have our allegiance to more than just you. It’s easy to trust in ourselves and in our own strength and our own power and our own money and in our own abilities. But you have shown us here today that there is only one God and that is You. And I pray that we would live in such a way, that what we do and what we say, how we live and how we act would make clear to people that you are God… You are our God… and that you are working through us. I just pray that you would fill us with your strength as we leave here today, and that we might be convinced that we can be Elijahs to the world we live in.