1 Kings 18:20-39
So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no 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 is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”
Psalm 16:1B-2AB, 4, 5AB AND 8, 11
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Do you ever wonder what exactly the priests of Baal were thinking when they accepted Elijah’s challenge to see whose god could send fire from heaven? It is impressive enough to ponder the faith of Elijah in knowing the will and heart and timing of God to put the challenge out there, but what are we to make of the hubris of these false prophets in accepting it? There are two possible explanations. One is that, due to their judgment being clouded by the frenzied pagan rites involved in Baal worship, these priests actually believed that their false deity was powerful and would answer them. The other is that these Baal priests were a bunch of phonies, who believed no more in Baal than they did in the God of Israel, and simply thought that no one’s god would answer and it would be a draw. Whether genuinely deceived or simply willing to be deceptive, they had misled many of the people of Israel to serve Baal.
Into this darkness of deception, God sent Elijah to illumine it with the fire of God’s love and God’s law. All the law can be summed up as “love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul”, and “love your neighbor as yourself”. Through this challenge of fire from heaven, Elijah upheld both tenets of this law by affirming the power of God alone and by loving the people of Israel enough to bring them out of deception and, literally, into the light. Moreover, Elijah’s actions of performing a sacrifice with miraculous elements provided by God and summoning fire from heaven are prophetic. They foretell the coming of the Messiah, who would break the power of death as Elijah’s sacrifice broke the power of Baal, and of the Holy Spirit, who would rain like heavenly fire to reveal the truth and inspire understanding, courage, and holiness.
When Jesus came, He fulfilled the law and added to it a new commandment; “love one another as I have loved you”. He showed the power of God by becoming the sacrifice and being consumed. And He sent the Holy Spirit upon us to empower us to continue His work of proclaiming the power of God and breaking the power of deception and death in all the world.
Today, our idols are a lot more subtle than literal false gods like Baal. They are our sins, our selfishness, the lies we believe. And like the priests of Baal, either we genuinely believe these are more powerful than God, or simply that God has no power. But although these idols demand that we hurt and degrade ourselves, like the priests slashing their skin and pouring out their blood, they do not hear the authentic cries of our hearts or answer them. But the God of Israel, the redeemer Jesus Christ, does. He was wounded for our transgressions, became the sacrifice consumed to show God’s love and power, and sent the Holy Spirit like flames of fire. As we contemplate the deeds of Elijah that prophesy the saving passion of Jesus and Jesus’s fulfillment of that prophecy, let’s ponder anew how we can love the Lord our God more, and love one another as Jesus loved us.
Prayer: Jesus, thank you for Your sacrifice and love for me. May Your Holy Spirit come upon me today to love You more, and to have Your power in my life to love your people and make You loved and known. St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us!