1 Kings 18:21 (NIV)
Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
Let’s watch the replay on this confrontational contest on Mt. Carmel:
Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” (1 Kings 18:23–24)
The contest here is not between Yahweh and Baal. That is not a contest at all, for Baal is not a real God. I see it as a contest between idolatry and doxology. Functional religion—if we do these things then God will do those things—is the essence of idolatry. Transcendent faith—because God has done those things, we can now do these things—is the essence of doxology. Baalism is an idolatrous religious system. And let’s be clear, Baalism—not in its form but in its essence—can set itself up within the Methodist church and the Baptist church and the Pentecostal church just as easily as it can set itself up in Islam and insert your favorite religious system here. It can be very difficult to spot, despite how clear it can look in retrospect on Mt. Carmel. For my money, the most significant verse in this whole text is this one:
But the people said nothing.
Translation: They weren’t the least bit bothered by Baal worship. After a long slow acquiescence, they had become quite accustomed to, accepting of and even affirming of “Big Tent” religion.
Watch these prophets of Baal now.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. (1 Kings 18:26–29)
Lots of shouting, singing, praying, dancing, and whooping it up. Let’s note these people were 100 percent sincere in what they were doing—even to the point of cutting themselves to demonstrate just how “all-in” they were. Let’s just say it was a very demonstrative, emotional, heart-felt expression of uber religious behavior. They were trying to get Baal to “respond” to them. This is the essence of idolatry. It’s all about manipulation and control.
Now let’s look at what Elijah does.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. (1 Kings 18:30–32)
He begins with establishing the truth at THE ALTAR OF THE LORD, which, notably, had been torn down. The altar must be rebuilt. But this is not just any altar. In this altar is every altar of the whole story. Elijah begins with remembering the revelation. He first identifies God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who was renamed Israel and his twelve sons who became the twelve tribes. Elijah reenacts the story through gathering twelve stones and builds them into the altar of the Lord. This is the meaning of orthodoxy. Ortho = right or straight or accurate + doxa = glory or praise.
So why might orthodoxy matter the most? Friends, there is no doxology without orthodoxy. If you begin with heterodoxy (false doctrine), you get idolatry (false worship). This is why the revelation of God which tells the story of God and the truth of God—which is the Word of God—is so utterly critical. To wrongly interpret or appropriate the Word of God is to tear down the altar of the Lord. The problem is you don’t realize you are doing it at the time. Nor do you realize you just opened the door to a whole new religion coming into the tent.
It’s why Elijah, and any other prophet or priest worth their salt, begins with the Word of God which is the transcendent revelation of God. Elijah is not establishing some kind of new form or distinctive format to differentiate himself from the prophets of Baal. He is reclaiming THE TRADITION OF YAHWEH.
Now to establish for everyone present that this has nothing to do with him or his secret powers or his ninja altar building methods or form or altar building skills, he does this:
Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
“Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. (1 Kings 18:33–35)
In other words, this is not about the ritual used, or the style of worship, or the ascetic self-abasing practices, or the sincerity or piety of the worshipers. This is about the GOD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH—THE LIVING GOD. He baptizes the bull so it won’t burn. Next he will call for the fire.
Sorry for the cliff hanger. See you back here Monday—when the fire will fall and the glory will rise. In fact, that could be my best definition of transcendence yet: when the fire falls and the glory rises.
This is the way—from glory to glory.
Abba Father, we sense a bit of fear and trembling on Mt. Carmel, as we should. We hardly recognize the ways we waver between two opinions. Forgive us for all the ways we have torn down the altar of the Lord, both through compromising the orthodoxy of the tradition of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and for the way we have pridefully asserted the same orthodoxy. Mostly, forgive us for saying nothing, or really for refusing to take any stand at all. What we must have, Jesus, is your humility. We would be found down low to the ground with Elijah, humbly gathering stones and placing them together in the shape of the altar of our own lives. How we need awakening, Lord. How we need awakening. Praying in Jesus’ name.
Do you waver between two opinions? Are you saying nothing? Anything? Are you grasping the critical importance of orthodoxy?
For the Awakening,