Now it’s Elijah’s turn. The servants of Baal and Asherah have had all day to see if their god might respond to their desperate worship. They’ve been left with nothing but a fly covered stinking, rotting ox still lying on the altar. And Elijah feels he’s been patient enough. It’s his turn to ask his God to answer.
Elijah gathers everyone around him. They watch as he rebuilds the altar with 12 stones, one to represent each of the 12 Tribes of Israel. I wish we had time to recount what a symbolic act this is. Throughout the Old Testament God would remind His people of His covenant through Twelve Stones. He would keep a promise, and He would call the people to pick up Twelve Stones. He was faithful when He made His promise to Moses all those years ago and now, here is another opportunity for God to show Himself faithful to His people even when they’ve ran sofar from Him.
The prophets of Baal and Asherah took next to no time to prepare for their sacrifice. You get the idea they threw up the oxen on a recklessly made altar, and got to praying. Their time before the altar was spent in desperation on the back end, begging their gods to hear them. Elijah was the exact opposite. He spent a great amount of time in preparation.
Elijah stacks the Twelve Stones with the people watching him. He started digging around the altar. He dug a trench big enough to hold “2 measures of seed.” It’s sort of an informal way of measuring area. This is describing how much land could be sown with a 2 measures of seed. This trench was no joke. Elijah had to be exhausted by the time he finished. Who builds a trench around an altar? He must have looked like a crazy man as the prophets watched him working so hard at something that seemingly had no meaning at all.
After the trench is built Elijah asks for help hauling water. There are 4 pitchers at hand, and three times he has those 4 pitchers filled and water poured over the ox, the wood, and filling the trench around the Twelve Stone altar. In the Jewish custom every evening a lamb was sacrificed to God. Elijah carefully arranged the wood, the sacrifice and the stones. [Exodus 29:38-42]. It actually was kind of perfect that Elijah waited until now to ask God to intervene. The purpose of the “Twilight Sacrifice” was instituted at Mount Sinai with the receiving of the 10 Commandments. They’ve been remembering the presence of God, His righteousness, and their need of Him for years. And they’re about to remember
Elijah looks at this altar and sacrifice from all angles. He’s looking at it from the long told story of the Covenant God gave at Mt. Sinai. He is looking at it from the sacrifice made at the temple every single night to cleanse the hearts of the people, and the dwelling place of God. He is looking at it from his own heart, and how God might choose to use HIM in the telling of this story. He does not neglect one piece of the story in his preparation. He has acknowledged the Covenant, God’s people, himself, and foremost, God Himself.
All this preparation gives me pause. I run into church, and up to the table to receive the symbol of His body and blood; This symbol of Christ Himself being offered up so that practices such as this ox on the altar could be eradicated forever. No longer is it an object lessen representing the Sacrifice of God, as I stand at the communion table, it’s the real body and blood of Christ that I’m remembering as I bite down on the bread and let the wine wash over my tongue. It’s a grace to remember. It’s a promise that is FOR ME. And it requires some preparation.
But I rush. I often don’t take a second to think about the sacrifice of God. I hurry through the act of it all. I forget to stop and consider the blood spilt, The Gospel promises, the faithfulness of God. I fail to dig trenches believing that God could even burn up the water around my anxious heart if He so desired. It’s powerful to remember. Preparation deepens the experience. The Spirit honors the time we take to prepare for Him. He also is faithful to meet us where we are, when in a flurry we rush to the table in our need of Him. But I think sometimes when we’ve delighted to do some work to meet with Him beforehand, when we have dug trenches around our hearts and asked God to meet us in mysterious ways; when we ask God to answer us, and to burn up the water in the trenches, He delights to meet our prepared hearts.
How are you at preparing your heart to meet with God?
What does the preparation communicate to your own heart?