I skipped a gruesome detail in the story, but I shouldn’t have... so let’s go back.
After fire fell from heaven, and before Elijah went to the top of Mount Carmel to pray for rain, something unimaginable occurred.
“Then Elijah ordered them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let even one of them escape.’ So they seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and slaughtered them there” (1 Kings 18:40).
It was a blood-bath of epic proportion. Four-hundred-fifty pagan priests of Baal, and one can assume, another four-hundred pagan priests of Asherah, were executed. When the horrifying scene came to a quick conclusion, nine-hundred-fifty bloody corpses littered the creek-bed.
Why? Why the death-sentence? Why the mass-execution?
Before we attempt an answer, consider the New Testament story of Ananias and Sapphira. They “sold a piece of property. However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet”(Acts 5:1–2).
Barnabas had sold a piece of land and given all the proceeds to the church. For this generous gesture, he got special mention in Luke’s historical account (Acts 4:36-37). He probably also got a pat on the back by Peter and John. Ananias wanted some accolades too, but he didn’t want to be overly generous. So, he sold some land, kept part of the sale-price for himself, and stood up in church to announce his exceedingly great gift.
For their hypocrisy, Ananias and Sapphira earned the death sentence. “Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard” (Acts 5:5). A bit later, Sapphira also “dropped dead” ... and they “carried her out, and buried her beside her husband”(Acts 5:10).
Hypocrisy! The death sentence!
Jesus reserved His most severe words for hypocrites! He called the hyper-religious Pharisees “blind guides” (Matthew 23:16). “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27–28).
Why is God so harsh? There’s a simple answer.
The priest of Baal and Asherah were wretchedly sinful. Their pagan practices were flaunted in the face of our Holy God. Similarly, the American culture has excused pornography, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, abortion, and even so-called gender-transition. Though sin abounds in our culture, you can be sure that God will deal with it. He hasn’t gone soft. He won’t excuse it. “The wages of sin is death!” (Romans 6:23).