One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the one about Elijah giving the prophets of Baal hell.
Doesn’t sound familiar? Probably because this isn’t really the take away that most people get out of this story, and it is certainly never the Sunday School lesson theme. You may know it better by the big ta-da moment, the part where God rained down fire and consumed the whole alter and then some.
But in my opinion, the best part of the story is when Elijah sat back, relaxed, and mocked the living heck out of those pagan prophets.
For those of you who still don’t recognize the story, you can, and should, look it up for yourselves in 1 Kings 18.
The short version- King Ahab was not leading Israel in the way that pleased the Lord, and a lot of those under his rule were worshiping both God and Baal. God sent word to Elijah, and Elijah told the people in 1 Kings 18:20- “How much longer will you waver, hovering between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! If Baal is God, then follow him.”
At the time Elijah was the only prophet of the Lord left, but there were 450 prophets serving Baal. So essentially, they had a “God-off,” and a pretty uneven one, at that.
Elijah brought forth two bulls and told the prophets of Baal to choose which one they wanted to cut up and lay on the wood of their alter to burn as a sacrifice, and he would do the same with the other bull. However, neither he nor they were allowed to actually set fire to the wood.
The way to win this “God-off” was to call upon your God, and then the “team” whose God sent fire to their alter first, wins. It’s pretty much just like your modern day high school debate club…
Like a true gentleman, Elijah allowed the opposing team to go first.
So Baal’s prophets began going hard in their worship. They shouted to Baal from morning until noon, shouting “oh Baal, answer us!” (1 Kings 18:26).
Noon struck without even a hint of fire for their team. And thus, we reach my favorite part- Elijah starts giving them hell. We never consider how human these biblical protagonist are, but here we have this indignant smart alec that, if you didn’t know any better, could have come straight out of a winning game at Yankee stadium.
“You’ll have to shout louder,” Elijah scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming or is relieving himself….” (1 Kings 18:27)
Yes, you read that right, Elijah, at the time the only prophet of the Lord left, told them that their God was probably too busy using the bathroom to answer their call.
This caused them to step up their game a bit. They worshiped louder and they even started cutting themselves with swords for their god. You know what they say, “all is fair in love and God-offs.”
After a whole morning and afternoon with no response, it was finally Elijah’s turn to call on his own God.
He set up his space, made the opposing team pour water all over it and in the trenches around it, and then he stepped up to the alter and prayed “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all of this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
Immediately, I repeat immediately, fire flashed down from Heaven and burned everything up- the alter, the bull, even the water from the trench.
I love this story. I love it because God showed up. I love it because after this display, everyone fell face down and declared the Lord to be the one true God.
But most of all, I love it because Elijah gave them hell.
What faith, what confidence. He wasn’t afraid of eating his own words in a couple hours when it was his turn. He wasn’t afraid that his own God wouldn’t show up, that his own God would be relieving himself. He knew who the Lord was. He knew where the Lord was. He knew that at his cry the Lord would show up, and then He did.
I love this story, and I love the Chicago sass displayed in Elijah that, quite frankly, resembles the same sass and confidence that I get from my husband every day. And while I love this story, and while I would love to end this blog here, on this encouraging note of be confident in your faith, I know that this isn’t a reality, this isn’t a fair or optional closing. This message isn’t that easy.
There are days when I am so confident in my faith, in my God, that I can look a medical professional straight in his PHD and say, “My husband will be healed.”
But the truth is, despite the MANY miracles we have seen this far, despite the hundreds of times God has shown up when we called on him, despite the conversation I had with our nurse practitioner just last week when she admitted that it is only by the will of God that Andrew is still alive, much less feeling better, despite seeing confirmation over and over again that God is here, God is at work, I lose everything at the first new negative symptom.
It takes one day of him sleeping a little more than usual. It takes one moment of his O2 dropping a little lower than I like for me to become a complete and total mess.
It takes one second for me to lose faith, even after months, years, of witnessing miracles.
In chapter 19 of 1 Kings, just one chapter after this huge victory, just seven short paragraphs after God shows up in a big way, we read the words, “Elijah was afraid and fled for his life.”
This is was the same guy who mocked 450 prophets of Baal as they cut themselves with swords for their God, because he was so confident in his own God. But the king’s wife, the great antagonist, Jezebel, was pretty unhappy that Elijah killed all of her prophets and she wanted him dead, so this guy, this prophet who called fire down from the sky in the Lord’s name, was now hiding in fear and feeling sorry for himself.
Beautiful girl, sometimes faith can shake in trial. Faith can shake in conflict. Faith can shake when the earthly odds get put against you. It happened to Elijah, and it can happen to you.
For a while, I felt complete and total shame in this, but at the end of the day, I am human, you are human, and Elijah was human. Human’s faith can shake in trial.
No matter how many times God shows up, that human part of us will always face fear, will always meet back up with that anxiety that this time he might not. We saw it with the Israelites journeying toward the promise land. We saw it with the disciples always wondering how they would be fed. We see it time and time again in the Bible, and we see it time and time again in our own lives.
Sometimes faith shakes in times of trial. It doesn’t make you a failure.
God wasn’t done with Elijah. Even when his faith shook, even when he hid from his enemies. God called upon him again, called him into action again. He was not done with Elijah, and he is not done with you. Even when your faith shakes a bit, even when the world gives you that stomachache of anxiety, God is not done with you.
The game isn’t over.
Go back in there, and give em hell.