‘The god who answers by fire – he is God.’

8 08 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-EIGHT : 1 Kings 18 v. 16 – 19 v. 21; Acts 17 v. 22 – 18 v. 8; Psalm 78 v. 17 – 31

I am amazed that this blog has just attracted its 30,000th hit ! I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that sort of a figure. It is a great boost and encouragement, especially as I’m now several weeks behind ‘schedule’, but remain very excited by all God is revealing through this discipline. THANKS FOR YOUR ENCOURAGEMENT !!

1 KINGS
Elijah on Mount Carmel – So the message is passed to Ahab, through Obadiah, and Ahab goes to meet Elijah. His greeting sets the tone :
‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel’. (nice !)
Elijah points out that it is not he, but Ahab and his family, who have brought trouble to Israel, taking on the worship of Baal. Elijah lays down a challenge for the prophets of Baal (450 of them) and of Asherah (another 450), ‘who eat at Jezebel’s table’.
The prophets assemble on Mount Carmel. Elijah’s message is particularly for those who ‘waver between two opinions’, who seek to be worshipping both God and Baal.
Elijah represents the last remaining prophet of the Lord, and he stands against the 450 prophets of Baal.
Two bulls are obtained and slaughtered. Elijah takes one and the prophets of Baal the other.
‘Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – he is God’.
There follows a frenzy of activity, calling on the name of Baal all morning and dancing around the altar, but with no answer.
At noon, Elijah began to taunt them – ‘maybe if you shout louder, you will wake him up, or maybe he’s off on his travels !!’
The activity increases – louder and more frenetic – until evening – no response from Baal.
So, then it was Elijah’s turn. He prepared the altar, using twelve stones for the twelve tribes, arranging the wood, preparing the bull, and then having large water jugs poured over the bull (twelve jugfuls).
Elijah stepped forward and prayed:
‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am Your servant….Answer me, O Lord…so these people will know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again.’
The fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil – a mighty, roaring fire, consuming everything.
All the people fell prostrate and acknowledged the Lord as God.
The prophets of Baal are then seized, as Elijah commands, and they are killed in the Kishon Valley.
Ahab is sent off to party, for the rains are about to return, whilst Elijah continues to the summit of Mt. Carmel, where he falls down on the ground in prayer. His servant is sent to look towards the sea for the coming rains. It’s after the seventh attempt to look, that the servant returns saying he sees a small rain cloud approaching. The servant is then sent off to Ahab to tell him the rains are on their way, and that he should make his journey before the heavy rains arrive.
Ahab heads off to Jezreel as the sky darkens, a wind rises, and a heavy rain approaches. Elijah actually gets to Jezreel before Ahab, running all the way, by ‘the power of the Lord’.

it’s a dramatic story, the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, but I noted a couple of interesting points this time also:
(i) ‘Mount Carmel was believed to be sacred to Baal, so Elijah has challenged Baal and Asherah ‘on their own turf”. (Wesley Study Bible)
(ii) In contrast to the lengthy magically grounded routines of the Baal prophets, the simple prayer of Elijah reflects utter dependence on God and single-hearted devotion to His work and His people
(iii) the seven times Elijah is in prayer, and sends his servant out before the rains come, is a lesson in persistence in prayer – never give up praying

Elijah Flees to Horeb – When Jezebel hears from Ahab all that Elijah as done, Jezebel is furious and vows to make his life ‘like one of them’ (doing to him what he has done to all her prophets of Baal). Elijah has to run for his life, so flees to Horeb (the mountain range which includes Mt. Sinai, via Beersheba (where he leaves his servant), sleeping one night under a broom tree, so depressed with his lot : ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors…’
An angel woke him and told him to get up and eat – freshly baked bread and refreshing water were alongside him – so, he ate and drank and then slept again.
An angel woke him a second time, urging him to eat more ‘for the journey is too much for you’ (in more ways than one, I suspect).
‘Strengthened by that food, he travelled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.’
He finds a cave and goes in to sleep.

The Lord Appears to Elijah – hiding in that cave (like Moses in the cleft of the rock), God asks, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’. Elijah pours out his woes :
I’ve been slogging my guts out for You, God, against a tide of Israelite rejection of Your covenant, where altars have been destroyed and prophets killed – ‘I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’
God promises Elijah as special encounter with Him – he is to go out onto the mountain and stand there as the Lord passes by.
There was a mighty wind which shattered rocks – ‘but the Lord was not in the wind’
There was a great earthquake – ‘but the Lord was not in the earthquake’
There was a fire – ‘but the Lord was not in the fire’
There was a gentle whisper….

all of those ‘events’ have spoken at times of God’s awesome presence and power – wind, earthquake, fire – but here God is known by His still, small voice of calm….just what Elijah needed at this time

Elijah returned to the mouth of the cave. He hears God ask him a second time – ‘what are you doing here ?’
Elijah repeats his prepared statement of woes.
Then the good news Elijah didn’t want to hear – God tells him to go back to Damascus Desert, back ‘the way you came’. He is to anoint various new kings (his job is not yet complete), and to anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet.
‘I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.‘ (Elijah is not as alone as he has claimed).

The Call of Elisha – Elijah goes and finds Elisha, ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, with Elisha driving the twelfth pair (a prophetic picture of the role Elisha would play). Elijah threw his cloak around him, symbolising the mantle of the prophet, passing on his role.
Elisha leaves his oxen, asks to say goodbye to his parents, burns his ploughing equipment (the tools of his trade which he is leaving behind) then sets out to follow Elijah and become his attendant.
A dramatic leaving of his former way of life, much as the disciples left their fishing boats and nets to follow Jesus…

'still let me guard the holy fire, and still stir up Thy gift in me'

ACTS
Paul in Athens (cont.) – Paul’s address to the Athenians starts where they are (Paul doesn’t start with scripture in this setting, as he clearly usually did in the synagogue, but with their experience, the worship Paul has observed).
Paul has seen an altar dedicated to ‘An Unknown God’, and uses this as his starting point. He wants to introduce them to a God who desires to ‘be known’.
God is known in creation, Paul contends – ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth….’
God does not need anything from humans, it is He who has given humans everything.
God has placed within each person a desire, a need to ‘seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him’ – Paul is picking up on the spiritual thirst in Athens for various religious expressions and philosophies.
‘GOD IS NOT FAR FROM EACH ONE OF US’ – a glorious truth which is key to grasping how God desires relationship with Him – draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Paul quotes from one of their poets, again meeting them where they’re at, and speaking into their culture.
God is looking for repentance. The proof of all that Paul contends is given in the way Jesus has been raised from death.
At this idea of resurrection, Paul is mocked by some, others want to hear more, and yet others believe and follow. Among those who commit, are a council leader, Dionysius, and a woman named Damaris, and some others – i.e. the message is for all people, from all walks of life.

The other question I ask myself in relation to this passage is ‘where is the modern day ‘market-place’ or Areopagus, where people gather to discuss / debate issues of faith / philosophies of life ? And how do we engage with that debate in that arena ? What are the clues in our culture which provide a way in for the gospel to be heard relevantly ?

In Corinth – although Paul had been waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens, it’s time to move on, and Paul goes to Corinth, where he meets Aquila and Priscilla (Jewish husband and wife) – all the Jews had been ordered to leave Rome.
Paul, a tent-maker, hits it off with them, for they, also, make tents. He worked alongside them, and taught in the synagogue each Sabbath.
Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia, and Paul ‘devoted himself exclusively to preaching…that Jesus was the Christ’.
Paul feels the heat of rejection from the Jews there, so brushes them off, and says, ‘I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’.
Paul leaves the synagogue, but goes next door to the house of Titius Justus – a God-worshipper. Various people come to faith in Jesus, including Crispus the synagogue ruler and all his household.
‘Many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised.’

PSALM
God’s people continue to wilfully sin against Him…
‘rebelling in the desert…demanding the food they craved…speaking against God
When the Lord heard them, He was very angry…fire broke out against Jacob, wrath rose against Israel.
Yet, He rained down manna for the people to eat…the grain of heaven.
Men ate the bread of angels…
He rained meat down on them like dust…they ate till they had more than enough…
but before they turned from the food they craved, even while it was still in their mouths, God’s anger rose against them….
cutting down the young men of Israel.’

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