Bowing to Baal
Recently, I was reading in 1 Kings about the prophet Elijah who challenged the prophets of Baal, the Canaanite god who was responsible for rain, thunder, lightning, and dew. The story, recounted in 1 Kings 18-19, tells how during a time of severe famine God told Elijah to present himself to King Ahab and tell him that God would send rain on the earth. When Ahab saw Elijah he asked: “Is that you O troubler of Israel?” (v.17) Elijah replied: “I have not troubled Israel, but your and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals” (v.18). Then Elijah proceeded to present a challenge. He asked for all Israel, the 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of Asherah (a fertility goddess linked to Baal) to gather on Mount Carmel.
Elijah presented the challenge. Each would prepare a bull to sacrifice, lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then the prophets of Baal would call on the name of their gods, and Elijah would call on the name of the Lord. The God who answered with fire would be God!
The contest began with the prophets of Baal calling on their god from morning till noon. They prophesied until the time of the evening sacrifice, “but there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention” (v. 29).
Then Elijah constructed his altar in the name of the Lord. He made a trench around the altar, placed the wood in order, and laid the bull on the wood. Next, he instructed three times for four waterpots of water to be poured on the sacrifice and on the wood. The water ran all around the altar and filled the trench. Then Elijah called on the name of the Lord. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench” (v.38).
The one true God had answered!
But the story doesn’t stop there. King Ahab reported what Elijah had done to his wife, Jezebel, who worshiped Baal. Instead of exulting in his victory, Elijah finds himself fleeing for his life as Jezebel pronounces a death sentence on Elijah. Elijah fled to the wilderness, prayed for the Lord to take his life. An angel of the Lord ministered to Elijah twice, giving him food and water. Twice the Lord spoke to Elijah and asked: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Both times Elijah’s answer was the same. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (vs.10, 14).
I have read this story many, many times, told it to kindergartners, and thought about how elated Elijah must have felt when he was able to tell Ahab: “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain” (v. 41). I’ve also wondered how he must have felt, after such a victory, to be running for his life. But somehow I had missed something God told Elijah as He gave him further instruction. “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (v.18).
Elijah thought that he was all alone, that he was the only one left who had not forsaken the Lord God. Yet God told Elijah that there were seven thousand who had not bowed down to Baal. There were still many people who had not turned away from God, who were still faithful to Him.
When I look at our nation and world today, I cannot help but wonder how many of us have bowed to Baal or some other god. How many of us have forsaken the one true God for wealth, influence, power, or to be part of the majority? But I also cannot help but wonder how many of us have not bowed down. How many of us just keep on keeping on, and try to follow God faithfully? Our lives may not be outstanding or spectacular, and we may not seem like a factor to be reckoned with, but we belong to the one true God. We are His. Our knees haven’t bowed.
If you are one who hasn’t bowed, be encouraged. God didn’t forsake Elijah when he felt beaten down and just wanted to die. He sought him. He found him. He nurtured him. He revealed His way to Elijah.
If you are one who has bowed, be lifted up. The one true God loves you. He died to save you. He is ever merciful and gracious and will forgive and restore you.
And to each of us who claim to be Christian, be determined. Be determined to live faithfully so that others see Christ instead of our own biases, thoughts, and opinions. Jesus Himself taught us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
I may not be an Elijah, but oh how I want to be like one of the seven thousand that God had reserved in Israel. I pray that I will not bow down to all the false gods in our world today, but that I, in my own simple and non-spectacular way, will seek the Lord God with all my heart and walk faithfully with Him all the days of my life!