Elijah v. the Prophets of Baal
\Workshops in this lesson set:
- Art - idol collage
- Cooking - a special snack to remind us of the altar Elijah built and God set ablaze
- Games - fire bags (race), flame dancers (like red light, green light), Elijah trivia
- Movie - The Story of Elijah, Vision Video collection, Children’s Heroes of the Bible
- Storytelling - the story retold by an eyewitness (not included).
Note: Drama - was removed due to script copyright.
Scripture Reference: I Kings 18:15-39
For background, read I Kings 16:29-18:14
What’s Going On Here?
The people of Israel were often tempted to adopt the worship practices of their neighbors in the land of Canaan, despite the First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods.”
King Ahab, who ruled the “northern kingdom” of Israel approximately 869-850 BC, is remembered by the author of I Kings as one of the worst of Israel’s kings. As it is written, “He sinned against the Lord more than any of his predecessors. It was not enough for him to sin like King Jeroboam; he went further and married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon, and worshiped Baal. He built a temple to Baal in Samaria, made an altar for him, and put it in the temple. He also put up an image of the goddess Asherah. He did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than all the kings of Israel before him” (I Kings 16:30-33). The Baals and Asherah were the false gods of the Caananite fertility religion.
God called Elijah as a prophet to confront the king about his unfaithfulness. Elijah, speaking on God’s behalf, declared that a drought would come because of the king’s sin. Elijah then left, and could not be found for three years. During some of that time he was fed by a widow in Zarephath (I Kings 17; our WRM lesson from March 2003).
In this month’s passage, Elijah finally returned to King Ahab—at God’s direction—and challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown on Mount Carmel. The result would be a dramatic demonstration of the power of God.
What is the Story?
After getting King Ahab’s attention after three years of severe drought, God sent Elijah back to the king. When Ahab called Elijah a “troublemaker,” Elijah said that it was the king himself who brought trouble upon Israel by leading them in the worship of false gods. He challenged the prophets of Baal and of Asherah to a contest on Mount Carmel, in the presence of all the people. He had two bulls killed for a burnt offering. He invited the prophets of Baal to go first, preparing their altar and doing everything but striking a fire. He said, “I will do the same with the other bull. Then let the prophets of Baal pray to their god, and I will pray to the Lord, and the god who answers by sending fire—he is God.” (18:23-24).
The prophets of Baal prayed until noon, dancing and cutting themselves trying to get their god to act, as Elijah mocked them from the sidelines. They finally gave up at mid-afternoon. Elijah then set up an altar for the Lord, and put wood and the bull upon it. He then ordered the wood to be soaked with water three times, making it more difficult to burn. He prayed to the Lord, “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you are bringing them back to yourself.” (18:37). God sent fire from heaven that not only consumed the sacrifice, but the water in the trench around it, and the stones of the altar, itself! The people exclaimed, “The Lord is God: the Lord alone is God!”
Why is this Story Important?
This story is a doubly dramatic portrayal of God’s power. The contest itself pits the power of the one true God against the hopeless and helpless prophets of other would-be gods. The larger context, though, also shows the power of God withholding the rain in punishment of the sins of the people and their king, then promptly ending the drought when the people turned to him in repentance (I Kings 18:41-45).
This story may seem irrelevant to people in our community as we are not tempted to burn bulls in offering to gods of stone! In his Large Catechism, though, Martin Luther wrote, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” With that definition, one could say that we are tempted to turn to gods of the world around us such as money, power, fame, etc. In the long run, though, these things are as helpless and hopeless as the idols of Baal and Asherah. Like the people of Israel in Elijah’s day, we need to be reminded to confess, “The Lord is God; the Lord alone is God!”
A lesson set written by Augustana Lutheran Church
Saint James, MN
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