For three years and six months, Ahab’s kingdom had implored Baal to send rain. Month after miserable month, year after interminable year, they had sought his favor, but he had turned a deaf ear to their urgent requests.
Now, on Mount Carmel, Elijah orchestrated a great contest. Two altars. Two sacrifices. In one corner, four-hundred-fifty prophets of Baal and four-hundred prophets of Asherah. In the other corner, Elijah and the Living God.
The battle royale was determined and defined. “ ‘Let two bulls be given to us. They are to choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and place it on the wood but not light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the wood but not light the fire. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The God who answers with fire, he is God.’ All the people answered, That’s fine’ ” (1 Kings 18:23–24).
Out of humble deference to the other contestants, Elijah insisted that they go first. “Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Since you are so numerous, choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first. Then call on the name of your god but don’t light the fire.’ So they took the bull that he gave them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, ‘Baal, answer us!’ But there was no sound; no one answered. Then they danced around the altar they had made” (1 Kings 18:25-27).
The pagan priests sincerely believed the lie. They thought Baal was alive, that he could hear, and that he could answer. They were wrong. Sincerely wrong.
“At noon Elijah mocked them. He said, ‘Shout loudly, for he’s a god! Maybe he’s thinking it over; maybe he has wandered away; or maybe he’s on the road. Perhaps he’s sleeping and will wake up!’ They shouted loudly, and cut themselves with knives and spears, according to their custom, until blood gushed over them. All afternoon they kept on raving until the offering of the evening sacrifice, but there was no sound; no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:27-29).
Baal was a man-made god, fashioned from a chunk of metal or wood. Baal was as alive as a sixteen-pound shot-put. It was as capable of answering their desperate needs as the golden calf, fashioned by Aaron from the Israelite’s earrings.
I can’t help thinking that Elijah may have been having fun. “Shout louder! I think he’s on vacation! Maybe he’s in the bathroom. Maybe he’s busy watching the latest episode of ‘As the World Churns!’ Maybe you need to pray harder, dance faster, or cut deeper!”
How could they have been so misguided? Did they really believe? Did they expect fire to fall from heaven?
Maybe another question is in order. Today, in the age of enlightenment, do we believe that we can find peace and joy in bigger bank accounts, more impressive titles, or pictures of airbrushed women? What do we expect when we bow in worship of overpaid athletes or Hollywood starlets? Is Baal still around in 2022?