Yahweh vs. Baal

(Elijah Part Four)


By God’s grace we have been considering the life of Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, and we shall continue this consideration this morning. Our Scripture reading is I Kings 18:1-40. 


Elijah had been staying with a heathen widow in a pagan land for two years or more. There, a miraculous provision of flour and oil was supplied by God to feed Elijah, the widow, and her son. The son died but Elijah resurrects him and comforts the widow. She comes to know that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the true God.


It is the third year of the famine now and the Lord speaks to Elijah and gives him two short commands. The first one is, “Go.” While others are starving, Elijah, his host and her child are in a safe place with food. It is now time for Elijah to leave this place of comfort. The second command is, “Show yourself to Ahab.”


Ahab is the wicked king of Israel who has the authority to put the prophet to death. This possibility was most certainly in Elijah’s thoughts. But God adds, “I will send rain upon the earth.” He was to bear good news. Misery was about to be lifted.

Ahab has a man in charge of the palace and his household named Obadiah. Obadiah was one of God’s faithful servants. He “feared the LORD greatly.” We should note here that God’s people can serve in ungodly governments and be used to do much good. Our government today is corrupt and it has an evil agenda. But Ahab’s reign was worse. Yet, we see Obadiah serving under this wicked king and saved the lives of hundreds of people.


Ahab sends Obadiah to search for some grass in order to keep the horses and mules alive. As Obadiah is searching he meets Elijah and falls prostrate in deep respect and calls him “lord.” Elijah tells him to “tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’” Obadiah reveals to Elijah that the king has been searching for him for a while and if he tells him that he has found Elijah, but then Elijah is not where he found him, he fears that he will be killed by the king. Elijah assures him that he will show himself to Ahab.


Obadiah tells Ahab and the king went out to meet Elijah. In verses 17 and 18 we read:


            When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals.


[I.] One event has two interpretations. One understanding of the event is false and one is true. There was trouble in Israel. The trouble was a drought and a famine. It was a severe drought and famine. Ahab interpreted the trouble as being caused by Elijah. In one sense it was. Remember that Elijah had said to Ahab, “As Yahweh, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years except by my word.” (17:1) But, in a deeper sense he was not the one causing trouble. The drought and famine were the disciplinary consequence, from God, of Ahab’s idolatry – an idolatry that was embraced by most in Israel.


Ahab was the true troubler of Israel because he abandoned the commandments of the LORD. Do you remember when Adam and Eve sinned and they were confronted with their sin by the Lord? They blamed others for their sin. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. That has been a human characteristic ever since. Ahab blames Elijah.


Events often have more than one interpretation. Jesus Himself was the subject of more than one interpretation of Who He was. Some said he was insane. Others said that he was possessed. Still others said that he had power because the prince of demons had given it to him (Mark 3:21-22). Another time the Father’s voice was heard audibly after Jesus’ prayer. Some said it was an angel. Others said it was just thunder.


Therefore, do not be surprised when people offer alternative explanations to the truths of the gospel. It has been happening for thousands of years. We only need to be faithful to tell people about the reality of sin, the consequence of sin, and the way out of sin.


We need to understand something about Ahab. He was not a pagan as his wife Jezebel was. He was an Israelite. He knew who Yahweh, the true God, was. His view was that one could worship both Yahweh and Baal. Baal was the god of agriculture and fertility to the surrounding nations. He was supposed to be the god of the rain. This is why Yahweh chose a drought to chastise his people. They would know that only the one, true God controls the weather and all things.


[II.] Ahab thought it acceptable to worship both Yahweh and Baal. Ahab was a pluralist.  But it was not just Ahab. Most of Israel followed his example. They prayed to Yahweh, but they prayed to Baal as well. This is the way God’s people can be and we must check ourselves and we must be perceptive about our own hearts.


In many places today the Christian faith is practiced alongside rituals from a pagan religion or contact with shamans or mediums, especially in times of sickness or trouble. When Catholic missionaries arrived in the Philippines in the early 1500’s they discovered that the majority of that country was pagan, practicing a kind of animism mixed with Hindu and Buddhist elements. They also discovered that Muslim missionaries had preceded them by 200 years and that Islam had taken a strong foothold. The Catholic missionaries had the advantage of the Spanish army accompanying them, who forcibly drove the Muslims out of the central regions into Mindanao, the southernmost major island. Though the Muslims were pushed out, they found that it was difficult to get the population to give up their rituals and superstitious beliefs and they allowed many of them to continue. Even to this day one finds this kind of syncretism in the more isolated areas of the PI. This problem is not just one observed in the history of the Philippines but is seen everywhere in the world when the Christian faith spreads into regions where paganism is dominant.


In the West, we may think that such primitive idolatry is a problem far from us. Yet, we do have it in a more subtle way. It may be subtle but it is real. How do Christians in America succumb to the drawing power of false gods? The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is seen as important in church and in family life, but in the worlds of business, politics, and academia God is often left out. In the quest for personal prosperity the moral directives that God has given in his word is often ignored. One hears that “God does not belong in business and politics.” And, “Faith is a private thing.” The idea of the separation of church and state is understood to mean that there cannot be any depiction of faith in the public square at all (like Nativity scenes) rather than what Thomas Jefferson meant by it, namely, that there should not be a federal government sponsored religion to the exclusion of others. Interestingly, the states at that time did have government-established Christian denominations and no one thought it unusual or contrary to the Constitution. Our nation has actually turned that noble idea upside down and it now means the exact opposite of what it was intended to mean.


We should not be surprised by the rulers of this world, of our country, most of whom are worldlings (unsaved) – that they should resist God and His truth at every turn. However, God’s own people have bought into the lie that God is for these parts of our lives – church and family – but should be excluded from other parts of our lives. Elijah challenges every generation! If Yahweh is the only God then He is the:


  • God of every sphere of life
  • In every place
  • In every age.


If Jesus is Lord, he is:


  • Lord of every sphere of life
  • In every place
  • In every age.


There is no part of our life where Jesus does not say, “I am Lord of this!” There is no part of our life where Jesus does not say, “This is mine!”


We may not be worshipping Baal, but we may be worshipping other gods. Their names are Convenience, Entertainment, Success, and maybe the most common of all: the god known as I-want-people-to-like-me. That god keeps our mouths closed when we ought to be speaking.


Ahab thought it was acceptable to worship Yahweh and Baal. Many Christians today think it is acceptable to worship Jesus and Convenience. They think it is acceptable to worship Jesus and Entertainment. They think it is acceptable to worship Jesus and Save-My-Face.


It is not wrong to seek convenience when it does not violate the moral directives of God. It is not wrong to see or hear entertainment. When do they become “worship?” The answer to that is when your heart loves them more than it loves God. But, our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). So, how can we tell what and who we love more? I tell you, it is where we spend the most time. You will spend the most time with the thing that you love the most. If you are spending more time with entertainment than with God then that is your god. If you are spending more time in becoming successful than with God then that is your god.


Elijah challenged Ahab and the people of Israel. But Elijah challenges every generation!


[III.] When all the prophets of Baal and the people come to the place of confrontation we read this:


 And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word. (I Kings 18:21 NKJV)


Elijah expresses in strong terms that it is wrong to have divided loyalties when it comes to the Living God.  He addresses all the people. No exceptions! And, he calls them to give themselves one way or another – either to the true God or to Baal. He calls them to make a choice!


Divided loyalties have been a challenge to God’s people throughout the ages. It was a challenge to them in Egypt. It was a challenge to them when they first entered the promised land. It was a challenge to the saints in the NT as we read the letters of Paul, Peter, John, and James to the Christians then. It is a challenge to us!


When Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land 400 years before the events that we are reading about now, he observed how God’s people were also faltering between two opinions – trying to serve both Yahweh and false gods. He commands them in nearly identical terms.


            And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

(Joshua 24:15 ESV)


Joshua called upon the people of God to make a choice. Elijah called upon the people of God to make a choice. Preachers of the Christian faith today are calling upon followers of the Lord Jesus to make a choice, to stop faltering in allegiances.


If Jesus is Lord then place Him above all else! Stop worshipping Jesus and Entertainment. Stop worshipping Jesus and Convenience. Stop worshipping Jesus and Saving-Face.


If it is a burden in your eyes to serve the Risen Christ, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of our culture or the gods of your heart, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord!


[IV.] There is a confrontation of powers. As the confrontation between Yahweh and Baal is about to take place (and that is what it is: a confrontation between rival Gods, not just a battle between prophets), Elijah says,


“I alone am left as a prophet of Yahweh, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.” (vs. 22)


Where were the 100 prophets that Obadiah had hidden? They were afraid to come out. You can be a prophet of God and lack boldness. You can be a prophet of God and be fearful. But if you stand in the presence of God, filled with His Spirit, you will be like Elijah, standing up for the true God in the face of overwhelming opposition. We need Elijahs today because the prophets of immorality, the prophets of secularism, and the prophets of Islam outnumber us.


Elijah is about to demonstrate the power of the true God.


The prophets of Baal cut up one bull and lay it upon wood without fire. They begin calling on the name of their god from morning until noon. They called and called and called. They limped around the altar. There was no answer. Elijah begins to mock them. He says that maybe Baal is meditating, or unavailable because he is sitting on the toilet. Or he went on a journey, or he fell asleep.


The false prophets get more worked up and begin cutting themselves, thinking that such sacrifices will get their god to act. Nothing happens.


Then Elijah cuts his bull into pieces and places it on the wood. He makes it hard for God by having his opponents pour water on the offering and the wood. Not once, but three times. It is soaked. He makes it hard for God to answer his prayer.


You do not need to give God much help when you pray. He will overcome all obstacles in order to answer prayer. And what was Elijah’s prayer?




And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

(1 Kings 18:36-37 ESV)


Let us note two things about this prayer.


[1.] Elijah asks that it be known that Yahweh is God and that he is His servant. God has chosen to make himself known through his messengers. It was true in Elijah’s time and it is still true in our time. Jesus said,


            “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.

(Matthew 10:40 ESV)


Do not take the words of those who proclaim God’s word in a light way for they represent God. We should, of course, confirm what we hear through this word (the Bible), but we should not take the proclaimed word lightly. God has chosen to make himself known through his messengers.


[2.] Secondly, Elijah gives the reason that his request should be answered. “…that they may know that you, Yahweh, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” The purpose of our prayer to God should be a part of the prayer itself that we utter. There is value in ending our petitions with “so that…”


After Elijah prays the fire comes down and consumes all!


            And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.” (vs. 39)


Why weren’t the prayers of the prophets of Baal answered? Because Baal never existed! There was no one to answer. I had said at the beginning that our idolatry in the West is more subtle. We do not worship statues or images. In one sense, our idolatry is even more dangerous. Although our gods are more subtle, they are more real. There was no reality to Baal at all. But Convenience, Success, Entertainment, and Saving Face are real things that capture our minds and attention.


On Mount Carmel Baal was not real. The wood and the bull were real. God burned those up. Our gods today are more like the wood and the bull. Cry out to the Lord to burn up whatever god is dividing your loyalty to Jesus. Cry out to him and end your prayer with “so that…”


“So that my heart will not be drawn away from you, Lord Jesus. You are my first love.”


“So that I will not be unfruitful in your kingdom, Lord.”


“So that I will see that you are more beautiful than gold, than pleasure, than anything.”