Before the Hebrew people had gone into the Promised Land, God gave them the instructions to destroy everything, men, women, children, livestock, homes, and all the belongings of the Canaanites. The Hebrew people would become the Jewish people and establish the kingdom of Israel when they entered the Promised Land, but they first had to take the land from the Canaanites living there. They were not to be like other nations invading a country. Other countries took the people as slaves, took the livestock for themselves and took all the good stuff. God wanted His people to be different and recognized by surrounding nations as different.
But, the Hebrew people didn’t do as God had instructed. They allowed some people to live and took some of their stuff. And, so, the Israelites established a nation with Canaanites living among them. One of the important aspects of life that God had wanted destroyed with the people of Canaanites was their gods. The Canaanites had gods they worshipped and God knew that the Israelites would get messed up with the Canaanite gods if the religion wasn’t abolished with the people.
The Israelites were tempted and often got themselves in trouble by getting involved with the worship of Canaanite gods. The Canaanite gods and goddesses were statues that everyone had representing their god Baal and their goddess Asherah. What was tempting to the Israelites was that the Canaanites had something tangible to worship, something visual, instead of a mysterious invisible God.
When King Ahab became king and he and his wife took over the kingdom of Israel after Ahab’s father died, the Queen Jezebel brought into the public life of Israel the worship of the Canaanite gods and goddesses. Jezebel began killing the prophets of the Lord our God and erecting statues of Baal. King Ahab’s palace administrator, Obadiah, was faithful to the Lord. He took 100 prophets of the Lord and hid them in 2 caves so they would not be killed and the tradition of the prophets of the Lord could survive.
Elijah had a hit out on him. Jezebel had wanted to kill the most notorious of the Lord’s prophets. Elijah had eluded Jezebel’s men. Then, Elijah shows up at the palace one day wanting to speak to King Ahab. Elijah asks Obadiah to go tell the king that he wanted to speak to him. Obadiah is afraid that if he tells the king that Elijah was there that the king would kill Obadiah if Elijah left before seeing the king. Elijah convinced Obadiah to tell the king he was there to see him.
When Elijah sees Ahab, Elijah has harsh judgments for the king because he and Jezebel had led the people astray from God to worship Baal and Asherah. This betrayal of the Lord was common practice of the kings of Israel, since the time of Jeraboam. Elijah let Ahab know that this practice was not favored by the Lord and his days would be numbered as king if he didn’t get right with God.
Elijah wanted to test the people and shame the Baal worshippers. So, Elijah tells Ahab to call all the people and all the Baal prophets up to Mount Carmel for a showdown. There were 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah that went up to Mount Carmel to challenge Elijah.
You might be wondering why there were so many prophets of Baal and Asherah and why it was so tempting for the Jews to worship Baal and Asherah. The Bible is full of stories and prophesies about the people of God going astray to worship Baal. You’d think it would be easy to recognize God as God and Baal as a statue. Everyone had a Baal who believed in Baal. The Baals were small stick figure statues of a man standing with one arm up in the air and one by his side with one leg in front of the other wearing a tall hat with a ball on top of it. Like I said, the Canaanite gods were tempting because you had something tangible to worship. But there was another reason why the worship of Baal was so tempting.
Baal was known as the god of storms and a fertility god. Asherah was his goddess who was also associated with fertility. Baal was believed to make it rain, but God was also believed to make it rain. I’m not sure what was believed about Baal as a fertility god. It sure was fun for the people to worship a fertility god.
Worship of God was ritualistic with song, prayer, sacrifice and remembering the stories of what God had done for the people of Israel. It was probably a bit similar to our worship minus the animal sacrifice. Baal worship had a key component that was very different from worship of the Lord. Baal was a fertility god and Asherah was a fertility goddess and the way you worshipped a fertility god and goddess was to have sex.
The Baal worshippers would participate in what I will call a love fest. Hundreds and thousands would gather to worship Baal and you didn’t always end up with your husband or wife. In the book of Leviticus, it says a man should not lay with another man. This is a command to not engage in worship of the Baals when people would not stay true to their marriage covenant.
Elijah wants to put an end to the Baal worship and devotion and draw the people back to faith in the One True Living God. So, Elijah, the Baal prophets, the Asherah prophets and all the people ascend Mount Carmel for the show down. Elijah tells the Baal prophets to prepare a sacrifice to Baal. The prophets prepare everything and Elijah says shout to your god and, if he is real, he will make the sacrifice burn. The prophets danced and shouted in a frenzy. They cut themselves. They shouted and danced more, but nothing happened.
Then, it was Elijah’s turn. Elijah repaired the altar to the Lord and prepared the
sacrifice. He ordered men to pour water over the altar and sacrifice three times. Elijah
wanted everyone to know that if this sacrifice caught fire it was going to be an act of God, not something that people would try to explain as a natural occurrence. Elijah shouted to God, “LORD, the 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. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
The fire of the Lord descended upon the sacrifice. It caught fire. The people were astonished and proclaimed God is the Lord. Baal had been proven to be fake and God was shown to be true.
What does it take for God to do that we will stop the worship of things and proclaim Him Lord once and for all?
What will it take for us to be consumed by fire?
What are the things in our lives that we worship?
There are a couple things that I think we worship. We all worship an idol of today. I think the major idols are cars, houses, money and appearance.
Have you all seen that commercial with the large baby and the guy doing everything he can to protect the baby? It’s a commercial for Nationwide. The guy washes the baby in the driveway. He protects the baby in the parking lot from the run-away shopping cart. He gets excited to see the baby in the garage. The baby crashes into a fire hydrant. The announcer says, “What’s precious to you is precious to us.” Some, usually men, worship their cars or the idea of a new, better car. But, a car, regardless of its features, engine or gas mileage, regardless of how fast it goes or how comfortable it is, a car is just a car to get us from one place to another. The good feeling of driving a new car is temporary.
Another common trapping in a house. This is something men and women both can be guilty of. Think about all the shows on HGTV about shopping for a new house. There is House Hunters, House Hunters International. There is a show about people buying islands. And, if you can’t afford a new house, there are tons of shows about renovating your house. I’m not saying wanting a bigger house is necessarily bad. You may need it for kids or regular guests or may legitimately need more space. However, a new house can become an obsession.
Women commonly worship the idea of the idealized appearance of a woman. We want longer thinner legs and flatter tummy. We want some things bigger and other things smaller. We want a longer neck and to somehow get rid of flabby arms. We want longer, blonder, thicker, more voluminous hair. Taking pride in your appearance is good, but women can become obsessed with their appearance. Girls at a very young age can begin to develop body image problems because of all the images of tall and slender women they see in commercials telling them to be beautiful you have to look a certain way.
And, finally, money. We all have dreams of what we would do with a million dollars. But, the Bible says we can’t serve God and money. It is good to work hard, save, and earn money to pay your bills and buy the things you need and want. But, like other things, accumulating wealth can become an obsession or you can get yourself into trouble spending more than you have. I once heard it said that if you don’t have a lot of money then God doesn’t trust you to be wise with a lot of money. I think that’s hog wash, because not everyone who is wealthy is wise with their money and people with no money can be wise with what they have. Money isn’t bad. It’s our relationship with money that can be bad.
I was watching a story about a guy named Sandy Halperin. He seems to have found perspective, albeit in the face of a bleak future. Sandy was a dentist and associate professor at Harvard. He has children and grandchildren. He was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He has created a bucket list of things he would like to do while he still can. His memory is slowly fading and it is harder to carry a train of thought. His bucket list is full of interesting things, most of them activities with his family. He also found a great passion for volunteerism and it seems to stimulate his mind.
Sandy has found the secret to having a proper relationship with stuff and things. It is too often that people discover what is really important in life when they face trauma or chronic illness. What is most precious is people. Sandy found a deeper devotion to family and great satisfaction in the service of others. When we put God first and people second and all the stuff after that, we find passion in life and are consumed by the fire of the Spirit.