August 9, 2020
The 10th Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary 19, Year A
1 Kings 19:9-18
Emmanuel, Norwood, MA
Pastor Amanda L. Warner
Elijah had been on the top of the world. He had spoken, and the words that he had spoken had come to pass.
He had spoken a word of the Lord to the idolatrous king, Ahab, and what he had said was what happened. He had said, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years except by my word.”
And it was so. The land was seized by a drought, but the word of the Lord spoke to Elijah and his needs were provided for. He was directed to a river bed were there was water and where ravens fed him, bread in the morning and meat in the evening.
When the drought caused the river to dry up, he was sent to a widow who was commanded to provide for him. By the word of Elijah and the faithfulness of God, the widow’s meager stores did not run out while the drought lasted so that she could provide for herself and her son, and for Elijah.
Then the widow’s son died, and when Elijah prayed to God, the widow’s child was brought back to life.
Finally, when the word of the Lord came to Elijah and told him that it was time for the drought to end, Elijah told the king, Ahab, to gather the priests of the false god, Baal, for a showdown between the gods.
The story of what happened can be found in 1 Kings chapter 18. The prophets of Baal gathered, numbering 450 men. Elijah had two ritual sacrifices prepared, two bulls placed on two piles of wood to be burnt offerings to the gods. Then he told the prophets of Baal to pray to their god so that their god could send fire to burn up the offering.
So, the prophets of Baal did as Elijah had said, from morning until noon they prayed and called upon their god to hear them. Elijah taunted 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.” (1 Kings 18:27)
The prophets of Baal continued their prayers and their cries, but nothing happened.
Then Elijah made an altar to his God. He prepared the bull for offering and placed it on the altar. Then he ordered that the bull and the wood that it was sitting on be drenched with water three times. And then, he prayed. He 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.” (1 Kings 18:36-37) After Elijah’s prayer, the fire of the Lord fell from heaven and consumed the offering and the wood, the stones that the offering was sitting on, the dust beneath that, and all of the water that had been used to drench the offering. The people who had been called to watch the contest of the gods repented for having worshiped Baal. They fell to their knees, they pressed their faces into the dust and they said, “The Lord indeed is God, the Lord indeed is God.”
After that, Elijah killed the prophets of Baal for having led the people astray into the worship of a false God. And then again, the prophecy of Elijah was fulfilled in the presence of the King and of all the people. Clouds filled the sky and it began to rain. But there was at least one person in the land who was not thrilled by this display of God’s power.
Ahab’s wife, the queen, Jezebel, was the one who had established the worship of Baal in the nation of Israel. The prophets who Elijah had killed had been Jezebel’s prophets, people who she had supported, whose god she believed in, who she had been using to change the religious character of the nation over which she was queen.
She could not let this slaughter of her prophets and this mockery of her god go unpunished. So, even though the prophecies of Elijah had consistently come true, even though her prophets had been proved to be powerless, even though it was raining, even though the drought had ended, Jezebel did not convert, she did not repent like other’s in Israel. Instead, she put Elijah under a sentence of death, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of [the prophets of Baal]