Elijah’s battle with the prophets of Baal is one of the Bible’s most well-known stories. Of all the fireworks this story contains, I find my attention most drawn to Elijah’s boldness.
As I was researching this passage I found that in the 9th century BC Mt. Carmel, where the showdown took place, was at the time in southern Phoenicia, the home of Jezebel and her Baal, and considered a holy site by the worshipers of Baal. (see map here) So when Elijah suggested Mt Carmel as the site of the showdown he gave Baal the home court advantage.
Baal was the mythical god of the storm. Many images of Baal show his arm poised to throw a lightening bolt. When Elijah proposed that the ability of each god to send fire from heaven determine the winner he put the ball in Baal’s court. He didn’t ask Baal to turn water to wine as that was outside the limits of Baal’s powers. Instead he chose a competition that facilitated the strengths of Baal.
Elijah encouraged King Ahab to bring the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah supported by the royal family. (v19) He gave Baal the numerical advantage. He also allowed the prophets of Baal all day to summon their god, leaving himself a much shorter period in the evening. (v29)
Finally, Elijah doused his sacrifice with water. He gave himself no “out”, or opportunity for sleight of hand. He couldn’t pull off any trick to make his sacrifice burn. He relied completely upon God to reveal himself. That’s boldness. That’s faith!
In my sermon I defined an idol as something that detracts from God’s rightful place in our lives. Many times, our relationship with God suffers because of many little distractions (idols) we give in to. But sometimes we find ourselves confronting a giant Baal. Often this is a sin, or a circumstance that consumes us, and obscures our view of God.
The point I want to emphasise here is how often we try and defeat our Big Idols by taking baby steps. There’s a place for this. Several times the New Testament writers describe spiritual growth as a process of moving from milk fed to infants to solid food. Spiritual growth takes time as we gradually eliminate distractions and learn to devote ourselves increasingly to following Jesus. However, Big Idols cannot be defeated by slowly chipping away. They’ll crush us as we chip!
Elijah demonstrates our need to take radical steps to overthrow the Big Idols in our lives. Big Idols require dramatic actions. Jesus never called his disciples to gradually transition into a lifestyle of following him. Rather, he called upon them to leave their nets, and their tax booth and tour the countryside with him. Even 2 Peter 2:1-3 that describes the transition from milk to spiritually solid food begins in v1 with a call for people to “rid themselves of all malice and all deceit…”. That dramatic departure from the burden of a lifestyle of sin precedes the commencement of the spiritual growth journey.
I’m not saying that turning our back on our sinful habits is a one time event requiring nothing but willpower. I’m not saying that everyone who smokes can throw away their last pack and never pick up another one just because they decided to change. However, I do believe that God gives us the strength to defeat the Big Idols in our lives. God gives us the strength to confront our fears, to reject our temptations, to stare down our guilt and move forward into relationship with Him. Defeating Big Idols requires faith, commitment, and action. Victory requires boldness.
- What grabs your attention from Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal?
- Have you had to make bold changes to defeat idols in your life? What did you find the most difficult part?
- Can you suggest a better way for balancing God’s gradual transformation in our lives with the need for boldness in answering the radical call of Christ?