Elijah has prepared himself and the alter for a great act of God.
Elijah prays a simple prayer: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.”
After all his merciless mockery, his prayer takes on a tone of compassion. He wants the people of Israel to know God. He wants them to have the opportunity to turn their faces to God once again. He knows if God chooses to show His power in this moment, that His people just might turn their faces from Baal to the True God.
No sooner does he finish his prayer, does God hear and answer Elijah. The Baals kept silent all day long. “They didn’t pay attention.” But the moment Elijah utters his prayer his God pays attention.
The fire fell. Not only did it burn up the ox, it burned the wood, the Twelve Stones, the dust, and even the water in the trench. And all the people who had been begging their gods to hear them all day long fell flat on their faces. Not because they’d been burned by the physical fire, but because the fire also licked up the last of their doubt. They said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”
It wasn’t enough to say it once. They had to say it again. They now knew God. Elijah was hoping they would acknowledge God, and they did.
And then they ran.
This part of the story is hard to comprehend fully. In their turning to God, they also became consumed with fear of judgment. God is not tolerant of hearts wandering to other gods. He is patient through a lot of things with us. But this issue has been a big deal since the fall. God commanded His people that they have no other gods before Him [Exodus 20:3]. Just 3 chapters before [1 Kings 15] King Asa goes to great lengths to rid his heart, home and country of idols because his heart was “wholly devoted to God.” And then Ahab and Jezebel bring back the gods he destroyed. He is not very tolerant of you and I dividing our worship. And He wasn’t very tolerant of the prophets of Baal and Asherah either. Elijah seized the prophets and killed them beside the brook Kishon.
It’s hard to read. It’s difficult to think of my own divided heart lined up next to theirs and to think of the consequences. These prophets had been leading the whole country down a dangerous road. These 850 prophets as we looked at earlier, were swerving in their faith, they were leading others from God, and they ultimately disregarded God to gain acceptance of the king and queen.
These prophets were leading the people of God to other gods, and God couldn’t stand to lose more of His people to gods who weren’t even paying attention.
My heart breaks with the hopelessness of the prophets of Baal and Asherah. They KNEW they had to answer for their actions. They knew they had turned their country away from God to nothing. They might as well have been atheists for the silence of their gods. God completely destroyed them all.
My heart turns from God easily. And in its turning I want to throw my fists up at God and ask Him why He seems so compassionless for these prophets. Did they HAVE to die? Could there have been another way for them?
Truly, I don’t think so. This is how I know to make sense of it. I’m certain God’s ways are still far above my ability to comprehend, but as I read the passage and my heart is convicted, I’ve come to believe that idol worship had become so pervasive in their culture that even one of the prophets spreading the message could canvas the hearts of thousands. The people of God have been fickle in their worship. God could not allow people to continue recklessly turning hearts from Him. He needed to show them that HE IS PAYING ATTENTION. He is not silent. He is not otherwise occupied. His primary concern is turning hearts to acknowledge His glory. He punished the prophets with the expectation that through the death of some, many might be saved.
And God is not otherwise occupied now either. He is concerned with the state of my heart. He is paying attention, and desires that I would come face to face with HIM, not others who in their silence rob me of a full life in Christ. He’s hoping to capture my attention as he purges my life of idols that I willfully choose to take the place of Him.
He won’t stand for it. He might not slay me by a brook, but I do believe that the moment I asked the Spirit to make a home in me, He began working to purge me of the things that could draw my attention elsewhere. And as long as my sincere prayer is one of being made holy before God, He won’t stop working in me. He will slay the parts of me that draw my heart and the hearts of others from Him. He’s too engaged to allow me to go my own way apart from Him. He’s too gracious to be silent.
God, soften my heart to Your Spirit. Never let my heart wander so far from you, that it silences Your voice. I’m listening. Please root out the idols in me, so I pursue you singlemindedly. Please show me where I am trusting others where I ought only be trusting in you. And keep my heart and mind singly focused on you.