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Sunday, April 21, 2013

god Sends Down Fire from Heaven

God Sends Down Fire from Heaven

1 Kings 18-19



It had been three and a half years since any rain had fallen in the land of Israel. The grasslands where the cows and sheep had grazed contentedly were gone now and all that was left was the parched barren dirt. The fields where farmers had planted the wheat and vegetables that grew so lush and tall had vanished and all that remained was the cracked thirsty ground. The rivers and streams were drying up and vultures were circling overhead as the nation of Israel waits to die.


 The year was approximately 875 B.C. and without rain it would not be long now until the people and animals would starve.  But just when it looked like the end was near, God spoke to Elijah.  “Go to King Ahab and to the people and tell them that I, the God of Israel, will give them rain!” It had been three and a half years since Elijah, Gods’ prophet, had gone to the palace and told King Ahab that God would not send rain until he prayed for it.


God had stopped sending rain because the Jewish people were worshipping Baal, the rain god.  King Ahab had built an altar to Baal and the Jewish people were sacrificing their children on this altar and begging Baal for rain.  Archeologists have found idols and carvings of Baal pictured with thunder clouds and lightening on his shoulder. Scripture says that God loved Israel and wanted to see them choose life (God) and not death (Baal).  Even though they were worshipping Baal, God would not leave them any longer without rain. 


Elijah had been staying with a widow and her son but after God spoke the word, he hurried back to find King Ahab and give him Gods’ message.  God had said that there would again be rain in Israel!  After more than three years of drought Elijah, the prophet of God had come with this good news. 


The first thing King Ahab did when he saw Elijah was to blame him for the terrible drought that had occurred in Israel. (1 Kings 18:17)  And Elijah was quick to reply. “I did not cause this trouble but you and your father, the king before you have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have caused all Israel to follow Baal.”  (I Kings 18:18) 


Often when bad things happen the wrong people are blamed.  Or sometimes even God is blamed.  The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)  We often take a very complex issue – a mystery really - of how sin causes the earth to be cursed.  And we forget the Bible story of how death, illness and trouble came into the world because Adam and Eve chose sin.  And we take a complex issue and make it simple by blaming God for bad things that happen - or in our story the prophet of God was blamed when it was really the sin of King Ahab and the people that caused that drought.


Even three and a half years of drought had not convinced King Ahab to stop worshipping Baal, the rain god. And the Jewish people still worshipped Baal even though he had not given them the rain for all of this time. When Elijah begged the Jewish people to return to their God they weren’t ready to give up the popular idol all of their neighbors worshipped – Baal.  They wanted to compromise and maybe worship both God and Baal but Elijah insisted that they had to make a definite decision. 


So Elijah called for a showdown between the idol, Baal and the Lord God of Israel. All of the people in Israel were invited to come to Mount Carmel and there would be a contest.  After three and a half years of drought, the question of whether it was the Lord God or Baal who controlled the rain was about to be answered. 


This is how the contest would work.  Elijah was the only prophet that spoke for God, but there were four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal.  Elijah would build an altar to God and Baal’s prophets would build an altar to Baal.  Both altars would be built on Mount Carmel and both would sacrifice a bull on a fire pit full of wood.  But neither Elijah nor the prophets of Baal would light a fire under the sacrifice.  The prophets of Baal would pray to him and ask him to answer by sending fire from heaven to burn up the sacrifice.  And Elijah would pray and ask the Lord God of Israel to send fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice. 


So Elijah announced to the people: “the god who answers by fire --- he is God.”  (1 Kings 18:24b)  And all of the Jewish people who had gathered there agreed that this was a good test.  If Baal sent fire from heaven then it would prove that he was god.  And if the God of Israel sent down fire then they would go back to worshipping Him.


Elijah insisted that Baal’s prophets should go first.  “Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon.  ‘O Baal, answer us,’ they shouted.  But there was no response: no one answered.  And they danced around the altar they had made.  At noon Elijah began to taunt them.  ‘Shout louder,’ he said.  ‘Surely he is a god!  Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling.  Maybe he is sleeping and you must waken him.’  So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.  Midday passed and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice.  But there was no response and no one answered, no one paid attention.”  (1 Kings 18: 26b-29)


It was evening and Baal had not answered.  So Elijah took his turn.  He took twelve stones, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and he built an altar.  Then he dug a trench around the altar and filled the trench with water and poured water all over the altar.  This way it would be difficult for the altar to catch on fire.  Then Elijah quietly knelt and prayed this simple prayer.  “Oh Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel … Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back to You again.”  (1 Kings 18:36-37) 


“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.  When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord – He is God!  The Lord- He is God!”  (1 Kings 18:38-39)


So all of Israel came back to their God that day and turned from worshipping Baal!  God had given them proof that He is God by sending fire from heaven as they had asked.  And later the next day God sent a soaking rain to the land of Israel to water the thirsty ground and bless the people. The drought was ended and the crops would grow and the people and animals would thrive again.  This was the final proof for Israel that Baal was impotent and the God of Israel was supreme.  


After this great spiritual victory you might think that Elijah would be feeling good.  But that evening when King Ahab went back to the palace and told  Queen Jezebel all that had happened, the wicked Jezebel flew into a rage and sent a message to Elijah that she would hunt him down and kill him. And somehow when the fearless Elijah got Jezebel’s death threat he fell apart.


 Elijah, the mighty prophet at whose prayer God sent down fire from heaven, now ran and hid from the rage of a wicked queen.  He ran away and hid and falling into a  deep depression, Elijah begged God to let him die.  He told God that he was the only person in all of Israel that had not bowed the knee to Baal. He was all alone and it was too much.


God was gentle with Elijah and comforted him, reminding him that he was never alone and that there were more than seven thousand other Jewish people in Israel that had not worshipped Baal.  And God sent angels to feed him and strengthen him.


In this Biblical story from ancient times we see God miraculously showing His people that He is God by sending fire from heaven and by blessing them with rain. And we see God comforting and strengthening Elijah in his need.


 Some say they don’t believe this story from Scripture because they don’t see these things happening today. But look around!  Today God sends fire down from heaven in the form of the Holy Spirit to each one of His people to lead these ones to the truth.  And God comforts and strengthens and showers His people with blessings today just as He did long ago. He is the same Father God today as He was in ancient times - always searching for His children and always anxious to bring them to Himself.    






















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