Elijah and Baal
Synopsis 1Kings 18:22-30 6/10/2019
Elijah was a prophet of God. He lived in the northern kingdom during the reign of the evil king, Ahab. And he had set a meeting with King Ahab and a large contingent of priest who worshipped a false God named Baal. They were to meet on Mount Carmel.
Three years before, Elijah had prophesied Israel would experience a drought. According to this prophecy, the drought would not end until he prayed for its end. And the drought had been severe. So, severe, in fact, that Ahab’s kingdom experienced a great famine.
Elijah intended the meeting to be a showdown. Much as Joshua had down centuries before, he wanted to force the people to make a decision. He challenged them to choose either Baal or God. But, not both.
With this, a competition began. The people gave the priests of Baal a bull to sacrifice. And they also gave Elijah a bull. So, they took turns preparing the sacrifices on each respective altar. But neither Elijah nor the priests of Baal were to light the sacrificial fire. God would light the fire. And so, either Baal or God would consume the sacrifice by fire. Which sacrifice indicated who was actually God.
The priests of Baal went first. They were, of course, unsuccessful. And Elijah seemed to take a certain satisfaction in mocking the hapless priests in their futile effort.
Elijah and Baal
Elijah knew that any synthetic community would always struggle with the idea of an absolute God. The God of all creation is, after all, God. His existence is not dependent on a community of people who believe in Him.
But in a synthetic community, the members of the community decide the nature of the community. And so, if a synthetic community is going to have a god, it’s most likely going to be a god that everyone in the community agrees upon. And, that’s pretty much the definition of a false god.
Communities and Their False Gods
Many centuries later, the prophet Isaiah recognized this same idea. He realized that false gods are a nonsensical farce used to encourage people to get along. In fact, at one point he exclaimed in wonder how men could make a “god” out of a piece of wood. “One end of a piece of wood”, he exclaimed, “men use to light a fire. The other end they fashion into a figurine and then bow down to it.”
It is a farce. Its purpose is to manipulate people into compliant behavior.
Naturally, the farce shows up most in the morals of a culture. God is good and right and true and beautiful. But a false god is none of these things. Yet the purpose of a false god is to establish standards within a synthetic community that mimic the virtues of God.
Curiously, there was a time in my life when I couldn’t see this. I denied the one true God. Yet, even then I continued to believe in goodness, and rightness, and truth and beauty. But one of the frustrating things about living in a social contract is that few people really agree on what all these things might mean.
And so, moral standards in synthetic communities are rarely more than expressions of personal preference – which is a very different thing than an absolute standard. And this is an insight into a deeply conflicted world that desperately seeks answers.
The rest of it he makes into a god, an image to worship and adore. He prays to it and says, “Help me! You are my god!” They do not know, do not understand; their eyes are too clouded to see, their minds, to perceive.” Isaiah 44:17-18