by Mike Ratliff
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” (1 Kings 18:17-19 ESV)
There was a time when the English and American cultures were decidedly “Christian.” Those days are long gone. Whatever it is that God is doing through this, the “Remnant” of genuine believers within the visible Church must awaken and become prepared for what is coming. We cannot be complacent any longer. Why? No matter where we turn, we either encounter growing apostasy within the visible Church or neo-pagans, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or New Agers being included in the “many ways to God.” Atheism is gaining ground all over the Western World.
The Christian world view is no longer prevalent in the West. It is under attack from every direction. What should be astounding to us, however, is that what is replacing it is highly irrational. It claims tolerance yet will not tolerate Christians having a say in anything. Personally, I see these trends as the beginnings of a very hostile environment for the uncompromising Christian. While that may be something we look to with foreboding, I believe it is going to be used by God to cleanse His Church in preparation for the return of her Bridegroom.
“Nearly forty years ago, in his book The Church at the End of the 20th Century, Francis A. Schaeffer penned the following: “Does the church have a future in our generation? …I believe the church is in real danger. It is in for a rough day. We are facing present pressures and a present and future manipulation which will be so overwhelming in the days to come that they will make the battles of the last forty years look like child’s play.” During the past forty years, the church has seen many rough days, and I would venture to say that the signs of the times certainly seem to indicate that we are in for many more rough days during the next forty years.
Schaeffer was not a prophet, nor am I a prophet or the son of a prophet, and as Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “There are two great certainties about things that shall come to pass – one is that God knows, and the other is that we do not know.” It is true that we do not know all the truth about the future, but we do know the truth. It is the truth that abides within us, the truth that sanctifies us, the truth that makes us free, the truth that ensures our future. And although we don’t know the future, we know the One who sovereignly holds the future.
The Old Testament prophets were men who were called to stand between God and man. Even when nobody wanted to hear their God-ordained, Spirit-empowered message, they preached the truth. They were God’s ambassadors on earth who were commissioned by God to foretell the future and forthtell the hard truth of God’s eternal truth to His people. As such, they were men whom God made completely dependent upon Himself, so that in the midst of rough days they might live coram Deo, before His face, abiding in His truth and proclaiming His truth to the appointed generation of God’s people. And just as the young prophet Daniel resolved in his heart that he would not defile himself with the delicacies of the governing king of Babylon, so we must resolve in our hearts to proclaim the whole counsel of God’s truth, in season and out of season, being confident that no matter what comes our way in this world, Jesus Christ, the true prophet, has gained the victory, and we are more than conquerers in Him.” – Burk Parsons, editor of Tabletalk magazine and minister of congregational life at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida
Let us now look at how a believer who is totally sold-out to God can be used by Him to tell the truth and accomplish what appears to be the impossible. Elijah confronted King Ahab in in 1 Kings 17:1 by saying, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” Then God made Elijah flee into the wilderness as the drought devastated Israel for three years. (James 5:17)
Why did God have Elijah pray for drought and tell Ahab that it was his fault?
In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. (1Kings 16:29-33 ESV)
He led the Israelites into Baal worship along with making an Asherah and worshiping it. Baal and Asherah worship was nothing new. It had been infiltrating into Israel for a long time. However, Ahab gave it official sanction. Jezabel had massacred the prophets of the Lord. When Elijah confronts Ahab he is quite alone. Or is he?
So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. (1Kings 18:20-29 ESV)
Elijah confronts the people. He asks, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” In Hebrew, Elijah actually says, “limp along on or between two twigs.” Israel had one foot in Baal worship and one foot in worship of the Lord. This, of course, is apostasy. However, Elijah’s point is that there is no middle ground. There can be no compromise. He offers a contest to the 850 false prophets who were being cared for by Jezabel. The challenge is that the god who answers by fire is the real God. Each side would have an ox to sacrifice, but no fire could be put under it. The fire to make it a burnt offering must come from their God.
Baal’s followers believed that he controlled the thunder, lightening, and storms. The Lord’s believers believe that He does all of that. This was a very valid test. Did you notice how Elijah mocked these false prophets and Baal? The myths surrounding Baal portrayed him as musing on actions to take, fighting a war, traveling, and even dying and coming back to life. Elijah’s sarcasm was directed at these beliefs. These false prophets cut themselves until their blood gushed out. They were trying to add their own blood to the sacrifice in order to gain Baal’s pity. Interestingly, this was forbidden by Old Testament Law. No matter how much these false prophets cried out to their god, “No one answered; no one paid attention.” Baal was proven to be non-existent.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars 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. And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water. (1 Kings 18:30-35 ESV)
The altar’s construction with 12 stones represented the 12 tribes. In God’s eyes the two nations, Israel and Judah, were still one people under the same covenant. The trench held about 4 gallons. The water was poured on the bull, the wood, the altar and the ground. What ran off was held in the trench. There was no humanly way to light a fire under that.
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 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. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there. (1Kings 18:36-40 ESV)
Elijah’s prayer was very direct. He gave all the glory to God. He prayed that God would answer him by sending His fire to the altar for the purpose that the people may know that the Lord is God. Notice also, that he prayed that they would realize that God had turned their hearts back to Him. This is a call for God to send the spirit of repentance into them. Then God sent His fire. This fire not only dried up the water from the offering, it consumed the wood, the stones and the dust. It also licked up the water in the trench.
Though God suffers His to run in blindness and error for a time, yet at the length He calls them home to Him by some notorious sign and work. These people responded in repentance and obedience and worship. Elijah told them to seize the false prophets and they did so. Then Elijah killed them all. Elijah was not politically correct. He was not tolerant. He was not a compromiser. He stood in the power of God in total obedience to Him. God used him in this in a very powerful way, yet all of the power and good works were God’s. Elijah simply believed God, obeyed God, and prayed.
The Church is still alive. It is under severe attack and Baal worship in the form of enslavement to the flesh and self-gratification is dulling the spiritual senses of those in her. The Visible Church is not all Christian, but all of the Invisible Church is. It is these who must awaken and obey God by giving themselves totally to Him. The time of cleansing has begun. It will only intensify. If we will obey our Lord, becoming Spirit-filled and prayerful there is no limit to the powerful works God will do through us. At the time of our testing we will tell the truth like Elijah even if it costs us our lives.