It’s showtime – Wednesday 10th Week in ordinary time – 1 Kings 18:20-39
Have you ever been in a spiritual battle where you thought that you were on the losing side? Well, you’re not alone. The Bible is full of stories of God’s people and their struggle with spiritual battles. Often they thought that God had abandoned them, when in reality he was always with them. One example is the story of Elijah. He often thought that he was alone, especially when he was running away from the evil Queen Jezebel, who wanted to kill him.
Yet Elijah has been called “the iron prophet.” In chapter 17, Elijah (whose name means “Yahweh is God”) appears before Ahab after a three-year absence. King Ahab, son of Omri, ruled the northern kingdom of Israel for 22 years (874 – 853 BCE). Ahab’s marriage to the Phoenician princess Jezebel was the reason why Ahab began to serve and worship Baal, one of the gods worshiped by Jezebel. Promptly after his marriage to Jezebel, Ahab, among other things, built a temple for Baal in Samaria and erected an altar to Baal in the temple.
Elijah announces that Ahab’s worship of Baal has provoked God to cause a drought in the land (1 Kings 17:1). Ironically, when the drought occurs Ahab blames it on Elijah (1 Kings 18:17).The drought occurred as prophesied, lasting three years (18:1). The prophecy was aimed squarely at the heart of Baal worship, given that Baal was supposed to be the storm god of rain, dew, and fertility in Canaan and Phoenicia. The drought was not only a punishment for worshiping Baal, but it also challenged the leadership of Ahab in the eyes of his own people.
In the eyes of God, the king was charged with seeing that the people were faithful to the covenantal law and the prophet was responsible for keeping the king accountable to the law. Now that Ahab had broken the commandment of God, King and prophet were on collision course with Ahab seeking to kill Elijah. The King holds the prophecy of Elijah as being the reason for the land to be stricken by famine.
But now after three years of famine, God asks Elijah to confront Ahab and with him the people of Israel who have been limping with two different opinions, dividing their loyalties between Yahweh and Baal. Spiritually speaking, Israel was like an unfaithful partner in a marriage who doesn’t want to give up their marriage partner, but also does not want to give up their illicit lover. So to settle this, it all came down to a contest. The contest is to prove who is superior: the God of the Israelites, or the Canaanite storm god Baal.
The contest is to take place on Mt Carmel which was a short range of coastal mountains that separated Israel (to the south) from Phoenicia (to the north). Carmel was the highest peak in that range and was known for its lush, fertile forests and as a sacred site of Baal worship.
The contest on Mount Carmel calls for fire. Yet what the land and the people most needed was water; for we know that in the last three years, the land has known no rain.
Elijah orders Ahab to summon the prophets of Baal and Asherah, who number 850 (1 Kings 17:19), for a showdown between Baal and YHWH (Hebrew YHWH, called the tetragrammaton or the God of Israel) before an assembly of all Israel (1 Kings 18:20). Elijah wants the contest to be as public as possible, so that the people can see that Yahweh is the true God. Read the text of today to know how it all panned out but there are no prizes for guessing who the winner is. Yahweh is victorious and he deliberately fights a battle through his prophet Elijah with both hands tied behind.
Here are a few thoughts that you can ponder on based on today’s first reading.
1. God will provide the necessary boldness if he has called you to be His voice of truth and reason. Do not be afraid!
2. Just like the people in Elijah’s time we too have to make a choice with regards to our relationship with God. It is him and him alone that we are call to serve. God doesn’t want just part of us. He wants all of us, and he will tolerate no substitute, because he knows nothing else will satisfy in his place.