Imitate Their Faith
He Stood Up for Pure Worship
ELIJAH looked out over the crowd as they trudged up the slopes of Mount Carmel. Even in the light of early morning, the poverty and want afflicting these people were plain to see. The drought, three and a half years long, had left its mark on them.
Among them strutted the 450 prophets of Baal, full of pride and burning hatred for Elijah, Jehovah’s prophet. Queen Jezebel had executed many servants of Jehovah, but this man still stood firm against Baal worship. Ah, but for how long? Perhaps those priests reasoned that a lone man could never prevail against all of them. (1 Kings 18:3, 19, 20) King Ahab had come too, riding in his royal chariot. He bore no love for Elijah either.
Ahead of that solitary prophet lay a day like no other in his life. As Elijah watched, the stage was being set for one of the most dramatic confrontations between good and evil the world has ever seen. How did he feel as that day dawned? He was not impervious to fear, being “a man with feelings like ours.” (James 5:17) We can be sure, at least, of this much: Surrounded by the faithless people, their apostate king, and those murderous priests, Elijah keenly felt just how alone he was.—1 Kings 18:22.
What, though, had brought Israel to this crisis? And what does this account have to do with you today? The Bible urges us to look closely at devoted servants of God and to “imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7) Consider now Elijah’s example.
A Long Struggle Reaches a Climax
For much of his life, Elijah had helplessly watched as the best thing about his homeland and his people was pushed aside and trampled underfoot. You see, Israel was in the grip of a long struggle, a war between pure religion and false, between the worship of Jehovah God and the idolatry of the surrounding nations. In Elijah’s day, that struggle had taken an especially ugly turn.
King Ahab had married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon. Jezebel was determined to spread Baal worship in the land of Israel and eradicate the worship of Jehovah. Ahab quickly fell under her influence. He built a temple and an altar to Baal and took the lead in bowing down to this pagan god. He deeply offended Jehovah.—1 Kings 16:30-33.*
What made Baal worship so offensive? It seduced Israel, luring many away from the true God. It was also a disgusting and brutal religion. It involved male and female temple prostitution, sexual orgies, and even the sacrifice of children. Jehovah responded by sending Elijah to Ahab to announce a drought that would last until God’s prophet proclaimed its end. (1 Kings 17:1) Several years passed before Elijah showed himself to Ahab and told him to gather the people and the Baal prophets to Mount Carmel.
What, though, does this struggle mean for us today? Some might assume that a story about Baal worship is irrelevant now, since we do not see temples and altars to Baal around us. But this account is not mere ancient history. (Romans 15:4) The word “Baal” means “owner” or “master.” Jehovah told his people that they should choose him as their “baal,” or husbandly owner. (Isaiah 54:5) Would you not agree that people still serve a variety of masters other than God Almighty? Indeed, whether people use their life in the service of money, career, recreation, sexual pleasure, or any of the countless gods that are worshipped instead of Jehovah, they choose a master. (Matthew 6:24; Romans 6:16) In a sense, then, the most potent elements that characterized Baal worship are thriving today. That ancient contest between Jehovah and Baal can help us make a wise choice as to whom we will serve.
On its wind-whipped heights, Mount Carmel commands a sweeping view of Israel—from the torrent valley of Kishon below to the Great Sea (Mediterranean Sea) nearby to the mountains of Lebanon on the far northern horizon.* But as the sun rose on this climactic day, the vista was grim. A deathly pall hung over the once fertile land that Jehovah had given to the children of Abraham. It was now a land baked hard by the merciless sun, ruined by the folly of God’s own people! As those people thronged together, Elijah approached them and spoke: “How long will you be limping upon two different opinions? If Jehovah is the true God, go following him; but if Baal is, go following him.”—1 Kings 18:21.
What did Elijah mean by the expression “limping upon two different opinions”? Well, those people did not realize that they had to choose between the worship of Jehovah and the worship of Baal. They thought that they could have it both ways—that they could appease Baal with their revolting rituals and still ask favors of Jehovah God. Perhaps they reasoned that Baal would bless their crops and herds, while “Jehovah of armies” would protect them in battle. (1 Samuel 17:45) They had forgotten a basic truth—one that still eludes many today—that Jehovah does not share his worship with anyone. He demands and is worthy of exclusive devotion. Any worship of him that is mixed with some other form of worship is unacceptable to him, even offensive!—Exodus 20:5.
So those Israelites were “limping” along like a man trying to follow two pathways at once. Many people make a similar mistake today, allowing other “baals” to creep into their life, pushing aside the worship of God! Elijah’s clarion call to stop limping can help us to reexamine our own priorities and worship.
A Climactic Test
Elijah next proposed a test. It was simplicity itself. The Baal priests were to set up an altar and lay out a sacrifice on it; then they were to pray to their god to light the fire. Elijah would do the same. He said: “The true God that answers by fire is the true God.” Elijah knew well who was the true God. So strong was his faith that he did not hesitate to let those Baal prophets go ahead. He gave his opponents every advantage, letting them choose their bull to sacrifice and approach Baal first.*—1 Kings 18:24, 25.
We do not live in an age of miracles. However, Jehovah has not changed. We may be just as confident in him as Elijah was. For instance, when others disagree with what the Bible teaches, we need not fear to let them go ahead and have their say. Like Elijah, we may look to the true God to settle the matter. We do that by relying, not on ourselves, but on his inspired Word, which is designed “for setting things straight.”—2 Timothy 3:16.
The Baal prophets proceeded to set up their sacrifice and call upon their god. “O Baal, answer us!” they cried again and again. They kept at it as the minutes and then the hours passed by. “But there was no voice, and there was no one answering,” the Bible says. At noon Elijah began to mock them, asserting sarcastically that Baal must be too busy to answer them, that he was relieving himself in the privy, or that he was napping and someone needed to wake him up. “Call at the top of your voice,” Elijah urged those charlatans. Clearly, he saw this Baal worship as ridiculous fakery, and he wanted God’s people to see it for the fraud that it was.—1 Kings 18:26, 27.
In response, the Baal priests became even more frenzied, “calling at the top of their voice and cutting themselves according to their custom with daggers and with lances, until they caused blood to flow out upon them.” All to no avail! “There was no voice, and there was no one answering, and there was no paying of attention.” (1 Kings 18:28, 29) Indeed, there was no Baal. He was an invention designed by Satan to lure people away from Jehovah. Then as now, choosing any master other than Jehovah leads to disappointment, even shame.—Psalm 25:3; 115:4-8.
Late in the afternoon, Elijah’s turn came. He repaired an altar to Jehovah that had been torn down, no doubt by enemies of pure worship. He used 12 stones, perhaps reminding many in the 10-tribe nation of Israel that the Law given to all 12 tribes was still binding upon them. Then he laid out his sacrifice and had everything doused with water, possibly obtained from the Mediterranean Sea nearby. He even had a trench dug around the altar, filling it with water too. Just as he had given the prophets of Baal every advantage, he gave Jehovah every disadvantage—such was his confidence in his God.—1 Kings 18:30-35.
When everything was ready, Elijah said a prayer. Eloquent in its simplicity, the prayer showed clearly where Elijah’s priorities lay. First and foremost, he wanted it known that Jehovah, not this Baal, was “God in Israel.” Second, he wanted everyone to know that his own role was that of Jehovah’s servant; all glory and credit should go to God. Finally, he showed that he still cared about his people, for he was eager to see Jehovah turn “their heart back.” (1 Kings 18:36, 37) Despite all the misery that they had caused by their faithlessness, Elijah still loved them. In our own prayers to God, can we manifest similar concern for God’s name, as well as humility and compassion for others who need help?
Before Elijah’s prayer, the crowds there might have wondered if Jehovah would turn out to be an empty lie as Baal was. After the prayer, though, there was no time for wondering. The account says: “At that the fire of Jehovah came falling and went eating up the burnt offering and the pieces of wood and the stones and the dust, and the water that was in the trench it licked up.” (1 Kings 18:38) What a spectacular answer! And how did the people respond?
“Jehovah is the true God! Jehovah is the true God!” they cried out, all of them. (1 Kings 18:39) At last they saw the truth. However, they had not as yet shown any faith. Frankly, to admit that Jehovah is the true God after seeing fire fall from heaven in response to a prayer is not an impressive demonstration of faith. So Elijah asked more of them. He asked them to do what they should have done many years earlier—obey the Law of Jehovah. God’s Law said that false prophets and idolaters should be put to death. (Deuteronomy 13:5-9) These Baal priests were committed enemies of Jehovah God who worked deliberately against his purposes. Did they deserve mercy? Well, what mercy was ever granted to all those innocent children who were burned alive as sacrifices to Baal? (Proverbs 21:13; Jeremiah 19:5) No, those men were well beyond the reach of mercy. So Elijah ordered that they be executed, and executed they were.—1 Kings 18:40.
Some modern critics decry the conclusion to this test on Mount Carmel. Some may worry lest religious zealots use it to justify violent acts of religious intolerance. And sadly, there are only too many violent religious fanatics today. However, Elijah was no fanatic. He was acting on Jehovah’s behalf in a just execution. Furthermore, genuine Christians know that they cannot follow Elijah’s course in taking a sword to the wicked. After the Messiah came, the standard for all disciples of Jesus is found in Christ’s words to Peter: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Jehovah will use his Son to carry out divine justice in the future.
The responsibility of a true Christian is to lead a life of faith. (John 3:16) One way to do so is to imitate faithful men like Elijah. He worshipped Jehovah exclusively and urged others to do the same. He boldly exposed as fraudulent a religion that Satan used to lure people away from Jehovah. And he trusted Jehovah to settle matters instead of relying on his own abilities and will. Indeed, Elijah stood up for pure worship. May each of us imitate his faith!
For more information on Elijah’s earlier dealings with Ahab, see the article “Do You Have Faith Like Elijah’s?” in the April 1, 1992, issue of The Watchtower.
Carmel is usually lush and green, as moisture-laden winds from the sea rise along its slopes, frequently depositing rains and plentiful dew. Because Baal was credited with bringing rain, this mount was evidently an important site for Baal worship. A barren, dry Carmel thus made an ideal spot to expose Baalism as a fraud.
Notably, Elijah told them: “You must not put fire to” the sacrifice. Some scholars say that such idolaters sometimes used altars with a secret cavity beneath so that a fire could appear to be lit supernaturally.
[Blurb on page 20]
Choosing any master other than Jehovah leads to disappointment
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“Jehovah is the true God!”