Thursday, October 17, 2019
   
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Part One: Lessons on the Mountain; Defeating Doublemindedness—1 Kings 18

Imagine with me a group of people in a small town, who desperately want to succeed in their vocations and the way they provide for their families. These people have grown up in church, but it's unclear whether they have had a genuine relationship with God. Christianity seemed to work for them when they were children (when families were poor), but they haven't translated their Christian background into their everyday working world as young adults.

 

One day a new religion comes to town, offering them success in everything they do. The promises go like this:

  • For sales professionals: five times the sales figures of last year. Wonderful incentives, paid vacations, all personal income taxes paid, raises, excellent benefits, 30-hour work weeks and guaranteed bonuses at the end of every year.
  • For farmers of bumper crops: high prices for all crops, all the machinery, computer technology, and help they will need to bring in the crops, and a year off work every 7 years.
  • For teachers/professors: dedicated students, pay raises, small classes, T.A.s to write and grade every test and paper, free continuing education classes, excellent working conditions, sabbaticals and early retirement.
  • For contractors: the best of building conditions, plenty of work, high quality but inexpensive building materials, all benefits paid, and double the normal amount of return for all current and future building contracts.
  • For parents: financial prosperity and success in all their children's endeavors while at school or play.
  • For single workers: excellent jobs, high pay, vocational training for any job they desire in the future, a 20-hour work week (with pay for 40), and two months paid vacation each year
In summary, there is the promise of success and abundance for all who follow this
religion. Now, there are some horrible down sides to it, but the people are willing to comply, because they really want the benefits attached to it. In fact, most of the people in this small town decide to add this new religion to their religious affiliation, to Christianity. They don't choose one or the other, but seek the best of both the old and new religions, wanting the maximum benefits from both.

Sadly, only a few people in town hold on exclusively to their former Christian roots…only those who have a deep and meaningful relationship with God.

Only one person, however, publicly opposes this new religion. He is a very devout and holy man who has seen remarkable miracles and provisions in his life as he has followed the Lord faithfully. He believes following God is all he (or anyone) needs, standing in stark contrast to all who have "added" this new religion to their lives.

This prophetic person is very upset with the people for their choices, because one of the most horrendous practices of this new religion is that the adherents must sacrifice the custody of their firstborn child to its leaders when the child is very young. Yes, the people feel it's a terrible price to pay to never see their firstborn again, but they want the success of their work and the accompanying financial benefits more than anything, so they reluctantly pay the price of adherence.

The new religion offers another alluring factor: there are no moral restraints placed on sexual practices. Whatever they desire is encouraged, even provided for by the new religion. To make matters worse, all its leaders model a deviant sexual lifestyle to the people.



What religion am I describing? You may already know that I am presenting a parable of Israel and the practice of Baal worship.

Go with me to a contest that took place on Mount Carmel, the purpose of which was to help the people of Israel decide between the worship of God and that of Baal.

The people of Israel were lured into Baal worship because of what it promised, and because of the sexual practices it offered and encouraged. They were also involved in Baal worship because when they came into the bounty of their new country, they were tempted into believing that the God they had known in the desert (in their childhood) would be unable to guarantee them success in its agrarian/ agricultural opportunities. They thought of Jehovah as the God of the desert regions of Sinai—the God of the hills and not the God of the fertile valleys (Hab. 3:3-7; 20:28). They thought of Baal as the weather god, responsible for the harvest of the plains, the one who would guarantee them abundant agriculture.

Obviously the true God was able to provide for them and lead them to success and abundance in this, the "land of milk and honey." Baal worship, however, taught the deception that only Baal could provide the fertile land they desired, and they drew a perverted connection between sexual promiscuity and the fertility of their land.

In Baal worship, however, as in other pursuits away from God, there was an even darker side: the literal sacrifice of every firstborn child to Baal. The ritual they practiced is too horrible to think about for long. But in the midst of certain sexual practices and the orgies of Baal worship, babies were placed on the red hot arms of the idol to Baal, to be burned alive as a sacrifice. It is hard to imagine people bringing themselves to literally sacrifice their children because they so desperately wanted success in their lives.

 


With that background in mind, I want to begin a study of Elijah.

A study of his life just before and after Mount Carmel is needed for at least three reasons.

  • Elijah models for us how we should handle a spiritual challenge.
  • Elijah's life will get us in touch with the temptation many Christians face, of following God while at the same time attempting to follow their own choices and will.
  • It is a truly revealing study of how God personally cares for and ministers to a dispirited prophet, or a person who has faithfully followed the Lord and is now discouraged and defeated (in other words, one who is coping with blues, burdens and burnout).

First Kings 18 tells the story of one of the crowning experiences of Elijah's life: the defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Let's view these remarkable scenes of the "up" side of his life in chapter 18. This will help us to appreciate its drastic "down" side in chapter 19.

In verse 16, Elijah met with Ahab (who had been trying to hunt him down), and Elijah proposed a contest to this king of Israel who had turned to Baal. 16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?" 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. 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."

Picture the scene (Mt. Carmel's relationship to the Valley of Jezreel).


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

Thousands of people stand before Elijah as he utters the key question and comment in verse 21b: How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him. This remains the key question and comment for us today. Just substitute the word "Baal" for your chief pursuit, or wherever your confidence lies. "If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if ______ is God, follow it."

Next we see Elijah proposing a contest, and the people agreeing to its conditions. 22 Then Elijah said to them, "I am the only one of the LORD's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 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. 24 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."

As the contest begins, the prophets of Baal are having trouble getting a rise out of their god.

altar to Baal 25 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." 26 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.
27 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." 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 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.


Notice (v. 27) in one breath Elijah calls Baal "your god," and in the next, suggests some very human reasons for Baal's lack of response.

The following scene is so amazing to watch, because God is seen in His might and dominion. 30 Then 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. 31 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." 32 With 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. 33 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."
34 "Do it again," he said, and they did it again.
"Do it a third time," he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 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. 37 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."
38 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.
39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!"

What a moment this is! Notice the reason for the contest is listed again in v. 37a—"Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God..." It is clear from verse 37 that the people had let their hearts be turned from God, but that He was capable of turning them back to Him.

 


Application:

I want us all to understand once more the importance of guarding our hearts, that is, the focus of our lives—As a man thinks in his heart, so is he…It is people's hearts (and the direction those hearts are inclined) that determine their actions.

What would you think if such a contest were held today? Would it make
any lasting difference in our culture as far as serving God? I used to think that what the world needed was one public and very verifiable miracle. Then everyone would follow God. I don't believe that anymore. Without a change of heart, a person's acknowledgment of God as the winner of
the contest would not be translated into a change of devotion to God.

The story continues…

40 Then Elijah commanded them, "Seize the prophets of Baal. Don't let anyone get away!" They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
41 And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain." 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
43 "Go and look toward the sea," he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
"There is nothing there," he said.
Seven times Elijah said, "Go back."
elijah runs44 The seventh time the servant reported, "A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea."
So Elijah said, "Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'"
45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. 46 The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

There are no small miracles here. The rain and the running are evidences of God's power. The true God of Israel did what Baal (supposedly lord of the sky and weather) had failed to do: produce lightning from a sky without clouds. Where is Baal, the god of rain and weather, now?

 

 

The Lessons

 

What insight can we gather from this scene?

 

When we are sure we are in the will of God, we can see God do some amazing things through us. The challenge is to know what the will of God is, but the surest way for us to know this is by the explicit commands of Scripture. As you have heard me say many times, a good percentage of the will of God is already revealed to us in Scripture, so there should not be any debate about what His will is. In Elijah's case, there was no reason to wonder what was God's desire for Israel. It was already verified by the Scripture. Elijah was perfectly within the will of God to challenge the open and obvious double-mindedness of his fellow Jews.

 

This means we could say that the reason some of us are not seeing wonderful things accomplished in our lives is because we are not sure of what the Word of God says, and thus have no confidence that our actions are correct.

Divided allegiance is as wrong as open idolatry. We can't justify our sinfulness simply because we are keeping up our devotion to God (praying, going to church, sharing Christ). God is not pacified by sin and devotion simultaneously embraced. As we know, one of the Ten Commandments makes it clear that God wants our exclusive devotion. He shares it with no one (Ex. 20:3—You shall have no other gods before me). Anything we put before God, or even alongside Him, is idolatry. Ephesians 5:3-7 makes this quite clear.

Our most effective weapon in war is prayer. James echoes this in his book in the New Testament (James 5:16-18). He refers to Elijah's effectual prayers, in context of the command to pray for each other as we confess our sins. His example of Elijah's life can apply to us if we meet the following qualifications:

 

We are human. Elijah was a man just like us. It's true; God can work through people like you and me! He uses humanness, therefore we all meet the first qualification.
We are righteous, committed to doing God's will. James 5:16b—The prayer of a righteous man (person) is powerful and effective. This simply describes one wholeheartedly and sincerely committed to doing God's will. Answered prayer isn't just for super saints!
We are praying. It is unfortunate the NIV translates the words, He prayed earnestly... This gives us the impression that the intensity of his prayer made the difference, and that if we aren't praying earnestly, nothing will happen. Earnestly literally means, in a prayer, he prayed... So James is saying that the effectiveness of Elijah's prayer is that he prayed.
It shouldn't be a mystery. If we are human, walking honestly with God; righteously obeying His Word; and praying, our prayers regarding His will are going to be powerful and effective. God
doesn't ask for perfection, just righteous humans praying.

I'm sure you realize that today, practices similar to Baal worship are carried out in our world through abortion, infanticide, and war. People sacrifice children because success/ career/ plans/ things are more important, and they don't want to interrupt their lives with an unplanned pregnancy. Many want to carry out their sexual fantasies, but don't want to take responsibility for the results. Some don't want the responsibility of raising a child they can't afford, or to keep a child that is the opposite sex of what they desire. The people of some nations are warring among
themselves, and using food as a means to starve people into submission. Children are the first and the greatest casualty.

So the practices of Baal have never been far from us. The difference today is that the religion of Baal and its adherents is more selective in its public practices and revelations. Much of the more base forms (of sexual promiscuity and child sacrifice) is just done behind closed doors. The
results are the same, however—a generation of children being lost, and illicit sexual activity being promoted and almost worshipped. There is a need for the spirit of Elijah to come upon us as we challenge the double-mindedness or immoral thinking of our culture. Our nation /friends/extended family members need to be called again to this question, Are we going to serve Jehovah God, or the Baal-like gods of our present day?

Many people would say, "I would never do what you have described as Baal worship." I would ask these same people: "Are you choosing to follow success, prosperity, and your own plans as your chief aim?" If the answer is yes, then they shouldn't be surprised at the "sacrifices" they will eventually make to maintain their pursuits. Some religions, as well as commonly held ideologies, will lie and promise success, relief, and solutions for your life. But once those systems/ religions/ philosophies have you in their clutches, they will find a way to enslave you so you will eventually do things you now detest!

 

Personal Application

If someone you love has a relationship with God but is walking away from Him (or is divided in his loyalty), take a cue from Elijah's prayer and pray for no rain in his life. Pray that God will get his attention—even though it may take him through a spiritual drought, or he may feel the logical consequences of his action. Pray for no rain.

God sometimes uses a contest prayerfully initiated by the life, words, and prayer of a dedicated believer to get the attention of a double-minded person. Understand, however, if you are the one initiating such a contest it can stretch your spiritual life, too. Satan and his emissaries will challenge assaults on Satan's territory. Be prepared for opposition, drought and potential discouragement, as well as provision. For example, Elijah felt the effects of the drought, but also experienced God's provision in the midst of it (1 Kings17:1-16). He not only felt the initial assault, but the aftermath of discouragement, depression, and a challenge to his spiritual identity. So if you pray for no rain, be prepared for a contest with the enemy of your soul who wants to stop your praying.

It is also important to be careful that your prayers for no rain are motivated by love, not anger. Simply pray that your loving, heavenly Father will do what is necessary to get the attention of the double-minded prodigal and bring him home. But when God does bring him home (or the effects of his sin become obvious enough that he begins to repent), don't forget to also pray for rain and blessing, just like Elijah did (see also Luke 15:21-22).

If you are wavering between two opinions (spiritually limping—that's what wavering means), I want to set before you a clear choice and give you a picture of your present and your eternity.

 

  • First, if you are wavering or have serious doubts, the Scripture says that you are unstable in all your ways—James 1:5-8.
  • Second, if you are wavering between following God or the commonly held sinful practices of this world, I want you to know we all have an enemy who will lie and entice you into trying to follow two paths, if He can't get you to reject God outright.
  • Third, Satan will offer you sexual gratification (or some other prize) as well as rich and bountiful success, but it will all be a lie and short-lived at best.
  • Fourth, as James 1:13-15 tells us, death will be the end result: the death of conscience, peace, and success and the literal death of your spiritual life.
  • Fifth, when you get to that state, you will find yourself desperate and you may be willing to do whatever is necessary to recover, renew, or find life.

    So today I offer you a choice: the way to stop your limping, and a way to have true success. Choose God! It may not seem as dramatic as in the story of Elijah. Noo visible altars are before us; no sacrifices are laid out, and there are no obvious or overt alternatives to choose from. But the context is just as real.

 

The Call Is:
Who will you serve?
Will you follow God's Son, Jesus Christ?
Will you follow God's Word and His ways?
Or will you choose the idols, the pursuits of your own choosing?



As Elijah asked Israel, I ask you:
How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him... That's where the rain, fire, and true life are found.