Text: 1 Kings 18:1-39

Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD”. It is part of the passage famously known as the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) which is recited by the Jews as a prayer every morning and night. It affirms that the LORD is unique and stands alone. All the gods of the world are false. The LORD is the only one worthy of all worship. Thus, the first of the Ten Commandments demands that there must be no other gods before Jehovah (Exo. 20:3). He must be our sole object of devotion and worship.

Alas, if we do not guard our hearts, we can easily be taken by idolatry. While we proclaim to be desirous of Christ, our hearts wander after the bright lights of the world. We become like the proverbial saying, having our feet in two boats, one in the Christ boat, and the other in the boat of false gods!

On the other hand, God’s Word declares, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt. 6:24) It is impossible to follow Christ and the world at the same time. “… know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

The One God Rejected!
When the children of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, God commanded them to exterminate the people in the land. If they failed to do so, the people of the land would soon turn away from Jehovah to follow other gods. “When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.” (Deut. 7:1-4)

However, the children of Israel disobeyed God. They allowed the people to remain in the land and sought to enslave them. They were soon besotted by the gods of the nations, thinking that the false gods were responsible for bringing prosperity to the land. There were even intermarriages with unbelievers. They still proclaimed to worship Jehovah, but they also followed after Baalim and Ashteroth. Instead of serving the one living and true God, they now wanted many masters in their lives. They tried to paint a veneer of religiosity by marrying the worship of Jehovah with that of Baal, but, it was actually an outright rejection of Jehovah. It was gross hypocrisy.

The spiritual malaise of the children of Israel is presented vividly in 1 Kings 18. The king of the Northern Kingdom, Ahab, saw no problem marrying the unbelieving Jezebel of Sidon. The result was disastrous. Jezebel began promoting the worship of Baal, and cut off the prophets of the LORD. Thankfully, the LORD raised up Obadiah to protect a hundred of His prophets, or it would have been much worse for the Northern Kingdom.

In His wrath, the LORD judged the Northern Kingdom with three years of famine and drought. This was to tell Israel that they had disobeyed Him and must quickly repent of their sins (c.f. Deut. 28). However, instead of returning to the LORD, the people persisted with the worship of Baal. This revealed the hardness of hearts of the children of Israel, and how steep they were in their idolatry.

The massive lack of spiritual understanding in Israel is exposed in Ahab’s ex-change with the prophet Elijah. When Elijah appeared before Ahab, Ahab falsely accused him of being the one that troubled Israel. The truth was that Ahab’s promotion of idolatry caused Israel to fall into the judgement of God. It was Ahab who was the troubler of Israel, not Elijah!

Similarly, when a person is steeped in idolatry, he may find means to justify his rebellion. While he may try his best to appear like a worshipper of Jehovah, his actions reveal that his heart is with mammon. When rebuked of his idolatry, he may blame the messenger for being the source of his troubles rather than repent of his sin. In fact, it is his devotion to false gods that had landed him in hot soup.

The One God Vindicated!
It is impossible for Israel to serve two masters. They must either choose to serve between Baal or Jehovah. Their religious hypocrisy must stop. Thus, Elijah confronted the people – “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21) The people did not answer Elijah because they knew he was right.

Elijah proposed a challenge between Baal and Jehovah. There will be two bullocks. Each bullock will be placed on a separate altar. The prophets of Baal will call on Baal to set their sacrifice on fire. Likewise, Elijah will call on the LORD to set his bullock on fire. The bullock that is consumed by fire will therefore serve as evidence that the God who is called on is living and true.

The prophets of Baal started first in this epic confrontation. They cried unto Baal from morning till noon. But Baal did not answer with fire. To win the favour of their “deity”, they proceeded to cut themselves with knives so that blood gushed out from their wounds. However, it was to no avail. There was no answer because Baal was just like the false gods of the nations. “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” (Ps. 115:4-8)

When it came to Elijah’s turn, he made sure that the sacrifice was thoroughly soaked with water. This was to demonstrate that the fire consuming the sacrifice must truly be from God. And with just a simple prayer from Elijah, fire came from the LORD to consume wholly the drenched sacrifice and altar. This proved two things about Jehovah. Firstly, He is the living God, since He hears the cry of His servant and responded accordingly. Secondly, He is the Almighty God, and thus setting a drenched sacrifice on fire is but a light thing to Him.

Conclusion: Follow the One God!
What is most shocking about the whole incident though is that it took a miracle for the children to confess that the LORD is THE God. Did they not have the oracles of God which declare that He is the one living and true God? Have they not been reciting the Shema? Yet it took a stupendous miracle on Mount Carmel for them to confess that Jehovah is the one God that they should follow. Sadly, after this miracle, when Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah, few stood with Elijah, causing Elijah to flee from the presence of Jezebel. The confession of the people on Mount Carmel is but an empty confession!

Today, there is no longer the need for a miracle because we have the more sure Word of prophecy teaching us that Jehovah must be worshipped exclusively as the one living and true God. Are you following Jehovah, or are you following false gods? You can only serve one master. Make sure He is Jehovah!

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew