1 Kings 18:16-40
We talked a few days ago about magic versus belief in the God of the Bible, but I think today’s reading provides a perfect backdrop for really finding out the difference between the two.
Why is this important? You might say, “I don’t try to use spells, I don’t even read my horoscope. So why does this apply to me?” The reason that this is so important is because people have false views about God, and they've let these views creep into their relationship with him, even after they’re saved. We might not be trying to cast spells, but some of the practices by the prophets of Baal might seem uncomfortably familiar to us today if we look at them a little closer.
Of course, today’s story is one of the most famous, and I remember reading about it in a “Picture Bible” as a kid. It’s pretty exciting to see this ultimate confrontation between Baal and the Lord, especially the ending. But there are some stark contrasts between Elijah’s behavior and his opponents’, and these differences are very instructive. I need to give credit to a book I read several years ago, one of the best ever written about traditional religion and biblical worship, namely The Summons by Dennis McCallum. Most of this material, both today’s and tomorrow’s was borrowed from him.
What's the first major contrast between worship of Baal and the worship of Yahweh? The first thing to notice is the nature of prayer. The prophets didn’t really pray: They said prayers. When you think about it, “Baal, answer us,” shouldn’t have taken several hours to say, should it? They weren’t praying, they were chanting. They thought that by saying the same thing over and over they could badger Baal into doing what they wanted. This is exactly what Jesus warned against: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” And they added motions with their hands, trying to “send” the prayers upward. If they could get the gestures right and say the right words, then Baal would hear them. In response to this babbling, how long did Elijah’s prayer take? A few seconds at most. He asked, and God heard and answered.
Another difference was in expectations of worshipers. By this I don’t mean what the worshipers expected of their gods, but what supposedly their gods expected of them. When Baal didn’t respond, they cut themselves. They thought that their god expected them to bleed for him. What does the true God expect of his people? True, under the Old Covenant he demanded sacrifices, but only animals and grains. He absolutely forbade any type of human sacrifice, and child sacrifice (very common in Canaanite worship) was especially repugnant to him. When the time finally came for human sacrifice, there was only one which was acceptable to God—his own Son. There may come a time in which we are called to give up our lives for the sake of the gospel, but in most cases he desires a living sacrifice, a person who lives for him each and every moment.
And an even more foundational difference? It's found in the very word pray. Literally "pray" means to ask. As in ask a person. Not demand. Not manipulate. Ask. And if you ask someone for something, then that intrinsically means that this person might just say "no." Or answer in a way that you don't anticipate or expect or even want.
So we immediately see some stark contrast between Baal and the true God of Israel. The question is, which one is closer to the type of God you worship? Do you think that a certain ritual and saying the right words will impress him? Or do you relate to him as your Father, simply opening your heart to him? What type of God do you really think he is?
Father God, I only want to worship you, not some image of you that I’ve made up. Please correct my vision of you. Please let me see and follow the real you, nothing else.
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