Monday, July 23, 2007

"Showdown at the O K Corral"

Waldron Methodist July 22, 2007
“Showdown at the O K Corral”
1 Kings 16:23-17:6, 18: 22-46
We begin with Ahab:
After the death of Solomon, Rehoboam took over as the king of Israel. A minor court official named Jeroboam led the northern tribes out of the nation and called themselves Israel. The rest of the country, including Jerusalem, is called Judah.
The writers of 1 Kings, have almost nothing good to say about the kings of Israel. They were the leaders of the renegade tribes. Jeroboam was said to have done nothing good during his reign. He led the nation of Israel into sin and degradation. He worshipped the Canaanite fertility god known as Baal, and the fertility goddess known as Asheroh. We’ll talk more about them later.
As king succeeded king in Israel their crimes grew worse. The worst of the worst was Omri. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Ahab becomes king. He was Omri on steroids. First he married a foreign woman, Jezebel, who led into Baal worship. In verse thirty one we find that he “considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat.” He became worse by building a temple to Baal in Samaria. He then set up an altar for him in the temple. He also made an Asherah pole and, “did more to provoke YHWH(Yahweh), the God of Israel, to anger than did all of the Kings of Israel before him. In modern language that means he was worse than the rest of the kings all “put together”.
Continue with Baal:
We give you Baal. He was the Canaanite fertility god. They believed that his death and resurrection annually brought prosperity to the fields. They also believed he controlled the rain. He was seen as a direct rival to YHWH (Yahweh) the god of Israel.
It was believed that Baal and Asherah was a fertility couple that was so powerful, YHWH could not keep up with them. Most importantly, it was believed that Baal controlled the rain from heaven. In the time of Ahab, their worship became prevalent. There was a real possibility that the worship of YHWH in Israel would cease to exist.
The reason was Jezebel:
She was the Queen of Israel. She brought her court prophets and sought to convert the nation of Israel. Now that proved to be a relatively easy proposition. You see the worship of Baal and Asherah provided for human intercourse with concubines. They believed that as their gods watched this, he would find favor and the land would be more fertile.
The other way Jezebel sought to win the war over YHWH was to openly persecute his prophets. What that really means is if she could get her hands on you she would kill you. Worship of YHWH in his temple was allowed but few came out of fear of Jezebel.
Now we have Elijah:
In the midst of persecution he was the prophet who dared to profess the word of YHWH or God. Keep in mind that Jezebel was trying to catch and kill him in chapter 17, verse one, he appears before the king to say, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor ran in the next few years except at my (Elijah’s) word.”
Elijah then does the first sane thing we know about him. He left town. In fact, he left the country by crossing the Jordan and hiding in a ravine.
The heat was on and now we begin the story:
While Elijah is hiding out near one of the few sources of water for miles around, God was feeding him by means of ravens. Those really were a form of crow in modern language. The drought continued and his water source dried up.
He then headed north and stayed out of the nation of Israel. He went to the city of Zarapeth in Sidon, Jezebel’s country, and stayed with a widow and her son. Through the providence of YHWH, he is fed and watered along with the widow and her son. The boy died and Elijah takes the time to raise him from the dead.
Throughout all this time Ahab is scouring the countryside looking for Elijah. He is even threatening the neighbors if they harbor him. He wanted to get a hold on Elijah, torture him, and end the curse.
After three years of this arrangement YHWH speaks to Elijah. “Elijah,” he said, “it’s time to get this show on the road.” He tells him to go see the king, who is pretty fired up after three years without rain due to Elijah’s word, and tell him that we want an audience with the country.
Now in the days before radio, television, newspapers, organized sporting events; the people had nothing to do. They could not work because nothing was growing in the fields. It hadn’t rained in three years! The king sent runners to the ends of the kingdom and tells everyone to show up on Mount Carmel. They did!
Now I need you to remember something. Everyone thought Baal controlled the rain. Everyone thought Baal controlled the fertility of the fields and earth. YHWH through Elijah is about to bash Baal in the mouth and maybe put an end to this heresy once and for all. The place for the showdown was Mount Carmel.
Mount Carmel (in Hebrew it means the garden of God), juts out into the Mediterranean Sea in the northwestern part of Israel. It was usually the first place to get rain in the country. It’s about halfway between Jezebel’s Sidon and Ahab’s Samaria and was the perfect place for a confrontation. It contained an altar to YHWH which had been torn down. On top was a natural amphitheater in which the battle would rage.
Elijah stepped onto the floor and addressed the people, “how long will you waver between two opinions? If YHWH is God follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
The rules are set. Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets and they will go first. Each side will have an opportunity to take a bull; cut it into pieces; put it on the wood of the altar. But they cannot set it afire. Their God must do that.
So began the prophets of Baal. They prayed, danced and shouted from morning until noon. “Baal, answer us!” But there was no response; no one answered. At noon things began to heat up. Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said, “Surely, he is a god! Maybe he’s off meditating or sleeping. Yell louder to wake him up.”
They danced, and danced. They shouted and danced. Nothing happened. In keeping with their worship they began to shout louder and slash their skin. The blood flowed. Sunset was coming. “But there was no response, no one answered, and no one paid attention.”
Elijah tells the people, “Come here” The altar of YHWH is repaired. A trench is dug, he cut the bull into pieces and lays it on the wood. Then he drenches the offering and the wood three times. At sunset he stepped forward and called:
“O Lord, 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. Answer me, YHWH, answer me, so these people will know that you, YHWH, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
The mighty fire of YHWH fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifice, wood, the huge rocks of the altar, and the ground. The water in the trench turned into steam and disappeared.
This was, for the nation of Israel, what a redneck would call a “come to Jesus” moment. They fell to the ground and screamed at the top of their lungs, “YHWH is God. YHWH is God. YHWH is God.”
Elijah was a gracious winner. Remember that Jezebel had killed every prophet of YHWH she could get her hands on. Elijah was happy to return the favor. They seized the tired, exhausted, bleeding prophets of Baal and slaughtered them.
Then Elijah turned to Ahab and says, “You better eat, drink, and go home early because the rain that’s coming now will stick your chariot in the mud.”
A small cloud began to form on the horizon. It looked about the size of your hand. Then the sky grew black with clouds, the wind raged and heavy rain pelted Ahab as he rode off to Jezreel. YHWH is God.
This is the tale of a life and death struggle. What lessons can we learn from this? First, Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “love YHWH your God, with all your heart, with your soul, and with your entire mind.” I believe what Jesus was saying to us here is that we should love and serve God with everything we have. He must be at the center of our being, our heart. We walk for God with our entire life force. Walk for God with our entire understanding.
In this passage we learn that you are either serving YHWH; or you are serving another god. There is really no neutral ground. We also see that this is a war. People were being killed as a result of their beliefs. You had an enemy.
Some things do not change. The enemy is one of them. He may look different or disguise himself differently but he is still the enemy. He would like to make us complacent because that keeps us neutral. But we are in a war.


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