Seriously, I would have loved to have personally met the prophet Elijah. Here was a hero of faith who was surrounded by God’s presence. For example, on one occasion he stood alone and brave with God against the religious prophets and priests of his day, mocking them for their misguided religious shenanigans. Nevertheless, though brave in the face of misguided religionists, he had his times of apprehension, especially when government officials turned against him. After his victory in the contest of God over the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel, he fled to the wilderness of Sinai in fear of the wicked Jezebel, the king’s wife.
Throughout his life as a man, however, he wavered not in the midst of the Baal prophets of Israel. He stood firm on his faith in the one true and living God of Israel. Being in the minority, he stood untouched by the majority of the religious leaders of Israel who had led the majority of the people into apostasy. Only seven thousand people of all Israel continued to believe in the one God with whom the nation had a covenant relationship (1 Kg 19:18).
In knowing that God was near, Elijah had the spiritual fortitude to challenge the religionists of his day. So he challenged them to an “offering contest” on Mount Carmel (See 1 Kg 18:16-45). At the time, King Ahab had confronted Elijah with the question, “Are you he who troubles Israel?” (1 Kg 18:17). The one who troubled Israel would again trouble the false religionists on Mount Carmel. Faithful men of God always mean trouble for misguided religious leaders. In the challenge of the Mount Carmel contest, Elijah wanted to present the opportunity for the misguided religionists to reveal their nonsense by being challenged by the one true and living God.
One can often know if he is a faithful man of God if the religionists in the community ask him, “Are you he who troubles the people?” True men of God must “trouble” those who have been led astray by misguided religiosity. People must deal with the word of God that reveals the gospel, and the gospel always troubles puffed up religionists who trust in the ceremonies of their own religions (See Jn 12:48). In this way, Jesus was a troublemaker (See Mk 7:1-9).
So the one who troubled Israel challenged the religious leaders of his time. The contest was accepted, and so all the preparations were made to build altars to reveal whose God was alive and whose god was dead. All the prophets of Baal and Asherah were on the government payroll of the First Lady (Jezebel) of the country (1 Kg 18:19). They needed to be challenged to validate their faith with a miracle from their god.
The Baal prophets were as those religious leaders today who maintain their pomp and positions in apostate religions because they follow the money of the contributors. There are some religious groups today whose leaders are also on a government payroll. In the Mount Carmel “altar contest,” the “profiteers” were to be publicly exposed as Elijah set the stage for a contest between their gods and the one true God.
Elijah sought to proclaim before the nation that the religious leaders—the priests and prophets of Baal and Asherah—had hijacked the faith of Israel. Elijah thus arranged an opportunity for these religious profiteers to expose themselves before the people. So on Mount Carmel, he challenged them to build an altar upon which to make a sacrifice to their god. Elijah also challenged the misguided people, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kg 18:21). The unsuspecting Baal preachers accepted the challenge that was made by the man of God, and the people subsequently gather to watch the spectacle.
So the proceedings began. After the Baal preachers had prepared their sacrifice, the account of the incident reads that “they called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying ‘O Baal, hear us!” (1 Kg 18:26). This reminds us of some today who stand up in religious centers across the land and make a similar cry for a miracle from God: “Lord, Lord, please hear us” (See Mt 7:21).
When the preachers of Baal received no answer to their pleas, “they leaped about on the altar that was made” (1 Kg 18:26). There they jumped up and down, crying out from their “pulpit altar” in a senseless rant in order that they might bring their audience into a hypnotic trance to “receive a miracle.” There are those today who do likewise, leaping up and down, and falling down on their performance stages before the people in order to “receive a miracle from God.” They plead for an answer from their god that they too have created after their own imagination. But as in the case of the Mount Carmel performers, their god is silent.
Religion is based on specific religious ceremonies that the adherents of the religion must perform in order to identify their religion. Their ceremonies must be legally performed in order to perpetuate the religion, and thus identify those who are aligned with their religion. What the Baal prophets were doing was performing their customary ceremonies of prayer in order to involve some response from the gods they had created after their own desires. This is exactly what Elijah wanted them to do in order to draw out of them their hypocrisy before the people. So when they revealed their religious foolishness, Elijah mocked them for their performances of prayer to their god: “Now it came to pass at noon that Elijah mocked them” (1 Kg 18:27).
Nevertheless, the Baal prophets could not help themselves but to continue to cry out for some response from their god. And Elijah continued to mock them: “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is meditating or he is busy or he is on a journey. Perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kg 18:27).
The infuriated preachers intensified their prayer performance. Notice carefully what the Holy Spirit wrote about their prayer performance before the people: “So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out of them” (1 Kg 18:28). They did not just cut a few blood veins, in their rapturous prayer performance. They cut even into main arteries. It was a gruesome sight to behold, one that was deserving of the mockery of the man of God.
We notice something interesting in the preceding statement of the Holy Spirit concerning the gruesome ordeal. The prayer performance of cutting themselves was not an anomaly in reference to their pleading for some miracle from their god only on this occasion. It was their custom to cut themselves in this way when they conducted prayer performances to their god. Their bodies were covered with scars from previous cuttings in their ritualistic performances of meaningless prayers.
People in various religions throughout the world today do likewise. In the first century, there were certainly some who were carrying on with similar meaningless chatter in prayer performances to their gods that they had also created after their own imaginations. Paul almost walked into a gathering of such performing religionists in Ephesus in order to preach the gospel. Once the mob of fanatical religionists in Ephesus became emotionally out of control, they cried out in a prayer performance for two hours, shouting, “Great is Artemis [Diana] of the Ephesians!” (At 19:28).
But there was Paul, just as Elijah. He wanted to trouble the people with the gospel. So, “Paul wanted to go into the assembly” of the confused religious fanatics (At 19:30). As Elijah knew that God was the one true and living God who worked in his life without all the performing ceremonial confusion, so Paul wanted to step into the Ephesian crowd of emotionally energized religionists and preach the gospel. In doing so, he would have greatly troubled the multitude.
“But the disciples [of Ephesus] did not allow him” (At 19:34). The disciples who lived among these religious fanatics knew that they would beat Paul to death if he confronted them with the gospel that brings freedom from religious nonsense. This gospel is the message of the One who is the Lord of all those lords that men want to create in their own imaginations to condone their misguided religiosity. The goddess Artemis was only the figment of the Ephesians’ imagination. As the prophets of Baal, the religionists of Ephesus could perform with emotional prayer chatter for hours, but there would be no answer. There is never an answer from a god that does not exist. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s final account of the extravaganza:
Now it came to pass when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice nor any to answer, NOR ANY WHO PAID ATTENTION (1 Kg 18:29).
At least we can say that these propheteers were energetically persistent. We can only imagine that they were totally exhausted by the end of the day, dripping with sweat from the ordeal of their altar-pulpit performance. Nevertheless, regardless of their high-powered preaching, there was no god to answer. Even the people became bored with their pulpiteering performance. Sometimes, the more energetic one preaches, the less he believes in the god he supposedly represents before the people.