Idolatry, Again: Elijah Versus Prophets of Baal   1 comment

Above:  Elijah’s Sacrifice Consumed by Fire

Image Source = Cadetgray

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Elijahwindow.jpg)

1 Kings 18:20-39 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Ahab sent orders to all Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel.  Elijah approached all the people and said,

How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him!

But the people answered him not a word.  Then Elijah said to the people,

I am the only prophet of the LORD left, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men.  Let two young bulls be given to us.  Let them choose one bull, cut it up, and lay it on the wood, but let them not apply fire; I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, and will not apply fire.  You will then invoke your god by name, and I will invoke the LORD by name; and let us agree:  the god who responds with fire, that one is God.

And all the people answered,

Very good!

Elijah said to the prophets of Baal,

Choose one bull and prepare it first, for you are the majority; invoke your god by name, but apply no fire.

They took the bull that was given them; they prepared it, and invoked Baal by name from morning until noon, shouting,

O Baal, answer us!

But there was no sound, and none who responded; so they performed a hopping dance about the altar that had been set up.  When noon came, Elijah mocked them, saying,

Shout louder!  After all, he is a god.  But he may be in conversation, he may be detained, or he may be on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.

So they shouted louder, and gashed themselves with knives and spears, according to their practice, until the blood streamed over them.  When noon passed, they kept raving until the hour of presenting the meal offering.  Still there was no sound, and none who responded or heeded.

Then Elijah said to all the people,

Come closer to me;

and all the people came closer to him.  He repaired the damaged altar of the LORD.  Then Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob–to whom the word of the LORD had come:

Israel shall be your name

–and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD.  Around the altar he made a trench large enough for the two seahs of seed.  He laid out the wood, and he cut up the bull and laid it on the wood.  And he said,

Fill four jars with water and pour it over the burnt offering and the wood.

Then he said,

Do it a second time;

and they did it a second time.

Do it a third time,

he said; and they did a third time.  The water ran down around the altar, and even the trench was filled with water.

When it was time to present the meal offering, the prophet Elijah came forward and said,

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, and that I have done all these things at Your bidding.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God; for You have turned their hearts backward.

Then fire from the LORD descended and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth; and it licked up the water that was in the trench.  When they saw this, the people flung themselves on their faces and cried out,

The LORD alone is God, The LORD alone is God!

Psalm 16:1, 6-11 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”

6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives my counsel;

my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave,

nor will your holy one see the Pit.

11 You will show me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy,

and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Matthew 5:17-19 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Do not suppose that I have come to do away with the Law or the Prophets.  I have not come to do away with them but to complete them.  For I tell you, as long as heaven and earth endure, not one dotting of an i or crossing of a will be dropped from the Law until it is all observed.  Anyone, therefore, who weakens one of the slightest of these commands, and teaches others to do so, will be ranked lowest in the Kingdom of Heaven; but anyone who observes them and teaches others to do so will be ranked high in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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I took notes for this post and drafted my comments a few days ago.  Now, as I type the final version, I have the first part of Mendelssohn’s Elijah playing.  It is appropriate timing, for the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is about to begin.

There was a real choice between Yahweh and Baal.  This day we have part of the account of the account of the duel of a sort between Elijah, speaking for Yahweh, and 450 prophets of Baal.  Yahweh wins despite seemingly improbable odds.  A fire on a drenched altar? Who had heard of such a thing?

The prophets of Baal, for all their pleading, dancing, and bloodletting, failed.  How could they not?  Baal was imaginary.  This was an unambiguous victory for Yahweh.  Yet the idolatry continued for centuries.  Some people are just stubborn, apparently.

“The Law,” in the context of the Gospels, has layers and aspects.  There are, for starters, the letter (economically and culturally specific to circumstances, which change and therefore fail to apply after a while) of the law and there is the spirit (not tied to circumstances) thereof.  There is the Law of Moses and then there are elaborations upon it which people have added over time.  Jesus is consistent with the best of these traditions (the spirit of the law), not the persnickety details the Gospel writers quote him as contradicting.

The audience for Matthew was Jewish Christian, so this was an important point for the author of that text to make clear.  Jesus was an observant Jew, albeit neither a Pharisee nor a Sadducee.  For Jesus performing merciful deeds was legal and commendable on every day of week.  In contrast, strict Pharisees allowed only the most basic first aid on the Sabbath, delaying more advanced medical attention until the next day.  ”Do the most good you can everyday,” Jesus said with this words and deeds, “including on the Sabbath.”

There is nothing sinful about that.

The choice between goodness and the Law and the Prophets, when one interprets the latter correctly, is an illusion.  When one follows our Lord and Savior’s admonition to love God fully and one’s neighbor as one’s self, the two commandments on which all the Law and the Prophets hang, one keeps the Law.

It is that simple–and that challenging.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 6, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/week-of-proper-5-wednesday-year-2/

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One response to “Idolatry, Again: Elijah Versus Prophets of Baal

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 5: Wednesday, Year 2 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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