1 KINGS 18:1-46 | ACTS 11:1-30 | PSALM 135:1-21 | PROVERBS 17:12-13
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The time of reckoning is here: Baal or Yahweh. Which is it going to be?
Ahab, Israel’s king and his consort Jezebel have all but wiped out every semblance of their Hebrew history and faith by killing off the prophets and instituting a state worship of Baal. The curse that Elijah, the prophet, has laid upon the land is still in effect, and true to his word, there is not a drop of water in the land. Ahab is frantically seeking Elijah who had said that it would not rain until he returns.
And now, return, he does. It has been three years, and Elijah comes up to Ahab to see that not much has changed: the priests of Baal are still in place.
And so, Elijah proposes a challenge: Prepare an altar, he says, upon which you make ready a bull for a sacrifice; I will do the same, only I shall douse so much water on the altar that it will be next to impossible to set it afire. And yet, the altars must be prepared by hand, but the consuming fire must come from above, i.e., let us invoke the name of our God to set alight these altars. That will be the test of which is the true and living God.
Baal’s priests agree to this—I almost admire their confidence in taking up this challenge. And so, as the story goes, both parties are readied as per the agreement, and it is time to call upon Baal to send down a holy fire and consume the sacrificial offering.
But Baal must not be paying attention. Because after a long time has passed in the futile efforts of calling upon Baal, the priests give up, and it is now Elijah’s turn to call upon his God to light up his sacrifice.
And this is Elijah’s prayer: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
In case there were any doubts about what might have happened next, the text makes is clear in this manner: 38 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.
We don’t know for sure what Ahab and Jezebel’s exact reactions or words were, but we can only imagine that it must have been one of both shock and disappointment. But also of relief, I’m sure—because the rains have finally come.
The point that was to be made has been made: Elijah has carried out his mission and the curse has been lifted. Baal and its priests are destroyed, and Ahab retires to his palace.
It is to be seen what might be next in this tumultuous relationship between the people of Israel and their God, Yahweh.
But for now, we shall turn to our reading in the book of Acts to find that Peter is being questioned by his fellowmen, his believing Jewish brethren who want to know why it is that Peter is mixing with all kinds of people in and around the area. Does he not know that these are Gentiles, uncircumcised and unclean?
Well, Peter explains it all: the events of the last few days during which he received the vision of the sheet with all the animals on it; the summons to go see a Gentile man by the name of Cornelius; and his preaching and baptizing of the people that he meets in Cornelius’ home.
Peter explains that he has a new understanding of the relevance of the distinctions and differences between Jew and Gentile. He says, 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
And he is correct in this. Thanks be to a God who opened up the gift of eternal life to one and all!
Next, there is note of the continued persecution that the apostles and early Christians continued to face in the regions. This caused the preaching ministry to be expanded further east, and there is special mention of Barnabas, a stalwart preacher by now, who seeks out Saul of Tarsus and takes him with himself to Antioch to preach to the people there.
It is said that the believers in Antioch, a city in what is now modern-day Turkey is the place where the term Christian was first used to identify them. Saul is now under the tutelage of Barnabas. It is to be seen how Saul’s own ministry will soon grow and branch out on its own.
Toward the end of this passage, there is also a mention of a famine in the land during which time the disciples and other leaders in the community helped each other out, their “brothers and sisters” as they are referred to.
This is reminiscent of another famine that took place several thousand years ago during the reign of Ahab. When his wife Jezebel was persecuting the prophets and having them put to death, Ahab’s palace administrator, a man by the name of Obadiah is said to have offered succor to one hundred such fleeing prophets by providing food and shelter for them.
Kindness and good works to God’s people is always a worthy cause and will always be worthy of mention.
Turning now to our psalm for the day, we find a theme that is not an uncommon one: the psalmist is recounting the checkered history of his people and is offering praises to the living God. Living, in direct contrast to the non-living gods that his ancestors frequently were enamored by and pursued fervently.
But a description of these non-living gods is made here again, lest one forget why exactly the sin of idolatry is so grave. Of these idols, the psalmist writes:
15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
16 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
17 They have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.
Finally, one verse from the book of Proverbs that is food for thought:
13 Evil will never leave the house
of one who pays back evil for good.
May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.