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1 Kings 18:20-40 by Robert Dean
Series:Kings (2007)
Duration:53 mins 58 secs

Confronting Paganism. I Kings Ch. 18:20-40


1 Kings 18 is truly one of the most dramatic and powerful chapters in all of Scripture. Elijah goes to Mount Carmel and challenges the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of the Asherah to a duel to demonstrate the reality of God. In that her is challenging every single Israelite, in not only the northern kingdom but the southern kingdom of Judah as well, to make a decision. The problem that they have is like many in our world; they want to pick and choose what they believe, they want to syncretize their belief system. God has a way of breaking through into our lives through circumstances and experiences that force us to have to make decisions at times. In the Old Testament and at times in the New Testament there were situations where that became abundantly clear and God directly challenged the false belief systems of human beings, whether it was a legalistic and moralistic religion like the Pharisees in the New Testament or whether it was the immoral and perverted fertility worship of pagan cults in the Old Testament. God is not going to let his creatures be without a witness. There is objective verification of the reality of God, and it only has to happen once for it to be objectively verified; it doesn't have to happen in every generation. So if Jesus performs a miracle and raises Lazarus from the dead, then that sign/miracle is just as valid and real 2000 years later as it was for the people who were the actual eye witnesses. We have in the Old Testament one of the greatest evidences/witnesses to the objective reality of God on Mount Carmel when Elijah challenges 850 false prophets.      


The northern kingdom came under the influence of this perverted religious system about twenty or thirty years earlier under Omri, Ahab's father, when he goes through the process of aligning himself to the king of Tyre and Phoenicia and arranges a marriage between his son Ahab and the daughter of the priest-king of Phoenicia, the head of the religion of Baal. This is in direct violation of the Mosaic law. In Deuteronomy and Leviticus God warned that there would be a series of divine judgments upon the nation if they disobeyed Him, and one of those would be drought and famine. This is what Elijah announces at the beginning of 1 Kings 17 functioning as a prosecuting attorney, representing God, representing the party of the first part in the contract, the covenant between God and Israel. He hid himself for three and a half years and now he is going to confront Ahab as a prelude to calling upon God to bring back the rain. In all of this he is demonstrating that this religious system that the people have taken hook, line and sinker from Jezebel is completely false. They cannot base their lives on it at all, it doesn't fit reality; it is just fantasy. That is not any different from so many people in our world. They have their own construct of what they think reality is. 


As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ part of our responsibility is to challenge and confront these pagan beliefs. We do that in several different areas. The first is within our own souls, because we are products of the culture around us, products of the training of our parents which may not be biblical, are influenced by the media by films, by values that are presented on television, and we absorb these things into our thinking. Until we become a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and begin to take in the Word, and let the Word challenge our thinking, renewing our mind so that it is not conformed to the world, we just have this hodge-podge of ideas running around in our heads, many of which don't fit together. So we have to challenge and confront the paganism that is in our own souls. The next thing we have to do is when we are witnessing to people there will be conversations with unbelievers where we need to learn how to challenge and confront the paganism that they have—in a way that is not antagonistic, combative and argumentative, but is a way that is done in grace so that we can help a person see the flaws and failures in their own belief systems as we help them understand the truth of Christianity. Another way in which we have to challenge and confront paganism is in parenting responsibilities. If we have children it is our responsibility to teach and train them in terms of divine viewpoint and to challenge all of the areas of paganism that are coming into their little heads. We see that 1 Kings 18 is a challenge between Elijah and the priests of Baal as he is confronting the paganism that is destroying the northern kingdom.


1 Kings 18:17 NASB "When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, 'Is this you, you troubler of Israel?'" This is the pot calling the kettle black. It is typical projection where the other person is accused of doing exactly what you are doing. We have Ahab accusing Elijah of exactly what Ahab is doing; he is the one who has agitated and troubled Israel because he is the one who has brought in this false religious system through his wife Jezebel. But Elijah doesn't let this pass unchallenged. [18] "He said, 'I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house {have,} because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals'." That is the issue. The root problem in any problem is always spiritual. It always gets traced back to a spiritual issue, a belief system. The problem in the northern kingdom wasn't an economic problem. At the root of everything is our relationship to God.


1 Kings 18:19 NASB "Now then send {and} gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel, {together} with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." The prophet in Israel was viewed as God's representative and His authority, and it was always over the king. "All Israel"—he is speaking of the northern kingdom and he is going to put on a show. He wants everybody to come. He is going to have tens of thousands of witnesses to what is going to transpire on Mount Carmel; he is not doing this in hiding. When God acts in history He doesn't hide it. This is one of the problems with mysticism. While God at times in Scripture gives private revelation to people He always confirms it in a publicly demonstrable objective fashion. "Jezebel's table"—Jezebel's little private bureaucracy, completely subsidized by the government in what they are doing. When you get a free lunch from the government the last thing in the world you want to do is take away that free lunch, because you have already sold your soul to the government.


Ahab follows orders. 1 Kings 18:20 NASB "So Ahab sent {a message} among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel." Elijah's challenge. [21] "Elijah came near to all the people and said, 'How long {will} you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' But the people did not answer him a word." The idea of faltering or wavering doesn't really get to the heart of this word here. The word that is used is the same word that is used in verse 26 when it describes the priests of Baal leaping about the altar. So what we have here is the problem of being religious jumpers. It has the idea of jumping back and forth from one belief system and another belief system. What is going on is religious syncretism, they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want to take beliefs and ideas from both views so that they can make everybody happy and not offend anybody and so be truly "culturally diverse." The problem is that the only thing they have done is to fragment their own soul and destroy their own spirituality. So Elijah offers the same challenge that we have to day: how long are you going to just go back and forth because you are afraid to commit, afraid to take a stand on the Word of God, take a stand that God's Word is true all the time and in every situation; and so one minute you are going to handle a situation with the problem-solving devices and God's way, but as soon as it gets a little challenging you just go back the other way—assimilating all of these ideas, more relativism, situation ethics, and it really doesn't matter after all, at least I am saved. 


What we have to realize is that every single person has a philosophy; every single person has a religious viewpoint. Even atheists are religious, secular humanists are religious. The position that there is a God is religious; the position that there is no God is equally religious.


  • Everyone has a philosophy of life. Some are conscious of it and are rationally consistent. Some have a conscious, thought-out philosophy of life; they have thought about it. But most people don't; they don't even think about it, they have just picked up this belief and that belief and made a sort of patchwork quilt in their head. They don't even worry about the fact that it is not consistent, it just matters whatever makes them feel good at the moment. 
  • Every worldview or religion contains universals. That is really the window that we can use to get into how somebody thinks. Every worldview has some sort of sense of what should be done, what ought to be done, what is right and what is wrong.
  • Entry point to a worldview is often through your value or ethics, and that is going to open up all the other things that come along with it.
  • Ethical principles are always based on prior assumptions about the nature of truth or knowledge and the ultimate nature of the universe. When you say something is right you are basically saying it is true; if you say there is no such thing as absolute truth you are saying there is no such thing as absolute right or wrong.


This is what the challenge is going to be to those who have worshipped Baal. Elijah understands how important this is because when a culture gives itself over to pure moral relativism that culture is doomed to internal collapse and failure.


The window is ethics, values, right or wrong statements. This can take us in a couple of different directions. Downstream your views of ethics and values and right or wrong end up giving a philosophy of beauty, order, known technically in philosophy as aesthetics. In philosophy it refers to critical reflection on art, culture and nature. So if it involves critical reflection it means that it involves concepts of right or wrong, evaluation. It deals with application in terms of art—everything from performing arts to visual arts, music, painting, literature, etc. Upstream from ethics and values is knowledge and truth. Ethics and values, views of right or wrong come from a basic understanding that certain things are true and certain things are false based on knowledge. But upstream of that is God. There is always an ultimate reality out there. It is may be pure matter, in which case everything is material, you don't have souls when you die, and that is all there is; there is no future to life, all you have is what you grab right now.    


In the human viewpoint of that day the ethics become arbitrary. That is what happened in every human viewpoint system and every religious system in the Bible; ethics ultimately become arbitrary because it is based on the flux of somebody's experience in creation. One group has this set of values, another group has that set of values and it doesn't come from outside the system from the Creator.  In their case it is priest-based. Whatever the priest says is right or wrong. It is power based because it is ultimately designed to give them power, put them in a position of control; and often it leads to violence, destruction, and it is dehumanizing. And there is violence to stay in power. In contrast to that, as Christians we believe that God is absolute, is eternal, and His character is the source of all values. He has revealed right and wrong to us as creatures.


As we go upstream we see that in any human viewpoint system knowledge is purely inductive, it is based on experience. Within paganism knowledge only differs in degree, not in kind. So eventually, if we follow that to its conclusion, today we have multiculturalism. In contrast, as a Christian we believe that knowledge ultimately comes from God. There were things that Adam could derive empirically from the garden. He could talk about different kinds of trees and all kinds of things, but what he couldn't derive was the ethics. He couldn't derive from empiricism that if he ate from one tree he would die instantly. That could only come from revelation. As Christians we believe that that knowledge ultimately has its base in a revelatory framework that is absolute, and its derivative comes from God.


In the challenge on Carmel it really challenges their whole belief/thought system and it is going to affect everything in their lives. That is why they have been vacillating. They don't want to commit to God, but they know they if they don't there is discipline and so they are going back and forth. Then we see that in the area of aesthetics we see that in human viewpoint aesthetics nature ultimately comes to be worshipped as God, because that is what always was there—matter is eternal, so nature gets worshipped as God and that produces radical environmentalism.


Elijah puts up his challenge and the people are silent, they don't say anything. 1 Kings 18:22 NASB "Then Elijah said to the people, 'I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal's prophets are 450 men.'" Then he sets up the point of challenge, and he is very polite. [23] "Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire {under it;} and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire {under it.}" "Let them"—give them enough rope to hang themselves.


1 Kings 18:24 NASB "Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God." And all the people said, 'That is a good idea'." Baal was the god of lightning, the god of fire, the storm god. If anyone can do it Baal can!


1 Kings 18:26 NASB "Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, 'O Baal, answer us.' But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made." This goes on from seven or eight in the morning until noon, and then Elijah mocks them—not politically correct! God ridicules them. When we buy into the values system of paganism and say you can't use sarcasm and ridicule of the unbeliever and their belief system we have already let them set the agenda. Elijah's mockery is pushing them to live on the basis of what they believe. Logically push them on the irrational conclusions that their system is built on until you expose to them that they can't live on the basis of their system. 1 Kings 18:27 NASB "It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, 'Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened'."

1 Kings 18:28, 29 NASB "So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the {evening} sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention."

Then Elijah calls the people to come close to watch everything he does—pure transparency here. He prepares the sacrifice and lays it out and then comes to the point where he is really going to increase the test. 1 Kings 18:32 NASB "So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid {it} on the wood. And he said, 'Fill four pitchers with water and pour {it} on the burnt offering and on the wood.' And he said, 'Do it a second time,' and they did it a second time. And he said, 'Do it a third time,' and they did it a third time. The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water." This is in the middle of a drought and they are on top of a mountain. Where are they going to get the water? They had to run down to the Kishon River, fill up their water pots and then run back up. At that point he calls upon the Lord.

1 Kings 18:36 NASB "At the time of the offering of the {evening} sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, 'O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word." The first thing he is demonstrating is that Yahweh is God, that there is an absolute personal reality behind everything, and He exists. Second, "I am your servant," validating everything he has done. Third, that he had done all these things at Yahweh's word. [37] "Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and {that} You have turned their heart back again." This is what the challenge is. The purpose is to change their thinking and turn them back to God.

1 Kings 18:38 NASB "Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench." Immediately—he doesn't have to cut himself or go through the emotional gyrations. He simply prays and then instantly there is the flash of the fire of heaven that comes out of a clear blue sky. Everything is vaporized instantly, and it could be seen from miles and miles away. The oral tradition that has been passed down is that this could be seen for fifty or sixty miles; it lit up Israel. Everyone had a visible, physical evidence that God was real. This is what brought them to a point. The people had to make a decision. They had to recognize that the Word of God is true, that God is true and that he exists; which means everything in their life had to change. And when belief systems change there are always consequences.