by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
Ever since God created humanity in the Garden, He’s been lovingly trying to point us in the direction of life…to help us discover what it means to be human…for us to become exactly what it is that we were created to be…His children…unified with Him in His Spirit…intimately involved in His Divine Family business of re-creation, and selfless offering, and life-preserving stewardship to the rest of creation, being devoted to the Lord God as the only One worthy of our worth-ship—our worship.
However, the devil had a plan to get humanity addicted to our own self-absorption, to bring about our ruin. That snake’s tenacious scheming took its toll. He was able to persuade Adam & Eve that they should “take care of #1” first and that we should all take charge of our own destiny. Sadly, such an approach led to a corruption of creation and to our own eventual death.
Since then, this whole business has become a recurring theme. The Lord God keeps telling us that the only way to find life is in a life that’s entirely wrapped up in Him. …and the devil and his cronies keep convincing people that we’re better off to just bet on ourselves…and then (surprise, SURPRISE!) we make a mess out of everything again. Over and over again the Lord God keeps trying to help us…and over and over again, we keep choosing that same way toward death. And after a while, the whole mess becomes something worthy of a good, ridiculing joke. Enter the comedian…God’s Prophet Elijah…whose name means, “The Lord is my God” (1st Kings 17-18; or 3rd Kingdoms 17-18 in the Orthodox Study Bible).
Nine hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Lord God’s people, Israel, had once again grown cold in their relationship with the Lord God. Their worship began to incorporate their neighbors’ pagan god, Baal—the god of Dew and Rain and Fertile Soil. For a society, whose livelihood focused on growing crops and raising livestock… shifting their devotion toward this god was equivalent to a worship of economic prosperity and security. Of course, the Lord God originally created humans to care for a garden and its animals—but that was meant to be fulfilled as a God-centered vocation, carrying out His will for the sake of the world. In turn, God would take care of all their needs. However, what the Israelites were doing now, was the furthest thing from that, because now, they no longer trusted that their sustenance depended upon their unity with the Lord God’s will.
So, in a pathetic diplomatic alliance with their pagan neighbors, King Ahab of Israel, took the depraved Jezebel for his wife. She was the daughter of the king of Sidon in Phoenicia and she was also a priestess of Baal. Now, it should be noted that, at first, these kinds of alliances did indeed bring security and prosperity to Israel…but, as the Lord God kept trying to show them since the beginning of time, this kind of distorted strategizing would eventually have poisonous consequences on them and their children. Jezebel convinced her husband, King Ahab to loosen up the Jerusalem Temple restrictions and begin building more temples throughout the rest of the Kingdom of Israel. These other temples would syncretize with Baal worship… “after all,” they presumed, “when it comes down to it, we all worship the same God anyway, right?” Of course, this kind of expansion would need a much bigger administrative staff, so she brought in a large entourage of Baal priests to help Israel with the project development.
Now, Elijah is from Israel’s tribe of Levites, who took care of the temple in Jerusalem and carried out the priestly role there. But seeing the ruin that his people were being brought to, Elijah boldly began exposing King Ahab for his defilement of the Faith, and urged him to repent and turn back to the God of Israel. Regardless, the king refused to listen, because his kingdom, up until then, had been prosperous and secure. Therefore, the Prophet Elijah prophesied to him, that as a consequence (as a direct affront to their worship of Baal—the god of Dew and Rain and Fertile Soil) the ground would now dry up without rain for the next several years…and that rain would only return again by Elijah’s prayer to God the Lord. So, the heavens were indeed closed and there was drought and a severe famine throughout the entire land. During this time, Jezebel vindictively began a hunt and kill campaign for as many of the Lord’s prophets as she could find. Elijah, then, went off to live the life of a fugitive under God’s care.
So, after three and a half years, Elijah came back to confront King Ahab and Jezebel and all the devotees to Baal—the god of agricultural prosperity. Elijah asked the king to gather the entire nation of Israel together on Mount Carmel, and to especially invite the priests of Baal there, because there was going to be a showdown to prove whose was the only God worthy of anyone’s worship. Elijah proposed that two sacrificial altars should be built there…one for the priests of Baal, and the other for the Prophet Elijah who served the True God. Elijah then addressed all the people of Israel asking, “How much longer will you allow yourselves to be paralyzed by your indecision? If the Lord God is the true God then truly follow Him…but if it’s Baal, then follow him. Make your choice.” But, none of the people could give him an answer. They just stood there in muted cowardice.
So, Elijah told them all to bring two bulls, one for the priests of Baal and one for him. He told the priests of Baal to cut their bull into 4 pieces and to place it upon their altar and then to call upon their god to light their altar on fire and consume the sacrifice. He said that whichever God answers by fire is the true God. So, the priests of Baal commenced to dancing around their altar, crying out to Baal from morning till noon to ignite their altar, “Please answer us, Baal!” But nothing happened.
Over and over again, Elijah the comedian began cracking jokes. “Oh, come on…I thought you said Baal was a god!” “Maybe, he’s wandered off somewhere and so you just need to yell louder!” “Did anyone check to see if maybe Baal’s sitting in the outhouse relieving himself?” “Perhaps he’s consumed in thought, wondering how to pull this off!” “Could it be that he’s gone away on a trip without letting his priests know?” “Oh, I know. Baal must be snoozing and he needs you to wake him up!” Elijah had gotten into those priests’ heads, so they shouted out to Baal even more frantically and began cutting themselves as a warped sign of their devotion. But alas, the violently feverish and frenzied day passed with no answer from Baal, until it was evening.
Therefore, Elijah finally called the people of Israel all around him and made them watch while he repaired the altar of God the Lord, which had been torn down. Taking 12 large stones, one for each tribe of Israel, he built them into an altar to God the Lord, then dug a deep ditch around it. He stacked the altar full of wood, and then arranged the four sections of the bull on it all. To top it all off with the ultimate silliness, he had the people pour four large casks of water over the whole thing three times, totally soaking it down and filling up the ditch. It was laughable to believe that anyone could get this thing to burn. Impossible! But then, Elijah turned to God in prayer.
Through Elijah’s prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, the wood, and even the water. The people fell down to the ground, crying out: “Truly, the Lord is God!” Then the Prophet Elijah had all the pagan-priests of Baal put to death, and he began to pray for rain. Through his prayer the heavens opened and an abundant rain fell, soaking the parched earth.
Have you learned yet to become what you were created to be…children of God the Lord…unified with Him in His Spirit…intimately involved every day in His Divine Family business of re-creation, and selfless offering, and life-preserving stewardship to the rest of creation, being devoted to the Lord God as the only One worthy of our worth-ship? Or, is it possible that you’ve allowed your devotion to God to be divided off into serving other interests? If so, I don’t recommend waiting around for God’s big joke before you make some adjustments.