“And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant. . . . And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.” I Kings 18:36-40
“Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba . . .” I Kings 19:1-8
Carmel, and Reformation Day!
And, O, what a wonderful day that was!
Envision the white-haired prophet, wearing his prophet’s mantle, and appearing in the midst of the milling multitude he had summoned to the top of the mountain, that it might be made clear, once and for all, Who is God in Israel, Who is the God of the Scriptures. Hear him, that prophet of the Lord, as before all Israel including the king, he calls upon the Name of his God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that his God may show plainly to all that He, and He alone, is God.
Whose name means: Jehovah is my God!
Whose name also expresses the program of his prophetic service. For when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him Who moved him to leave his occupation in Tishbe of the land of Gilead, and he began to walk through the land of apostate Israel, fighting the apostasy, and instituting the work of reformation with the Word of the Lord, thus becoming the officebearer in the service of the God of Israel it was this truth that became the very backbone of his reformatory work: My God is Jehovah!
Jehovah, not Baal, is my God!
Such was the theme of the Reformation on Carmel!
Reformation in the midst of apostate Israel!
Under the influence of wicked king Ahab, and particularly his heathen wife Jezebel, Israel had been introduced to and now was almost wholly given over to the service of the gods of the Phoenicians. An apostasy predicted already at the beginning of Israel’s history as a nation by the mouth of God’s servant Moses. And an apostasy which began to take on impetus under Jeroboam the first, who introduced the worship of the calves, which apostasy reached its zenith during the reign of godless Ahab when his heathen wife brought with her Baal and Astarte. Gods they were supposed to be that represented the powers of nature, the gods of natural fruitfulness, and material prosperity. Under this influence for evil Israel forsook Jehovah their rightful Lord, and went awhoring after Baal. An idolatrous practice which was rather firmly established throughout the land, as is indicated in the fact that a complete order of worship had been set up, including Baa1 temples, and Baal priests.
In the midst of this apostatizing people stands the reformer, Elijah, pronouncing in unequivocal tones: “Not Baal, but Jehovah is my God!” A reformation which reaches its peak at the top of Carmel, when all Israel, it appeared, was converted, and all of them said, while lying flat on their faces, “Jehovah, He is the God; Jehovah, He is the God!”
Indeed, what a wonderful day that was!
When Baal is confounded, and his service apparently disrupted, and the blood of his priests mingling with the waters of the Kishon. When the king is completely demoralized, and the people apparently turning once more to Jehovah and His truth, and the prophet exalting in the power of his God. . . .
But, alas, the victory shouts had hardly ended, and the prophet had hardly relaxed in his struggle against Baalism, when the enemy of the truth, under the tutelage of that agent of Satan, wicked queen Jezebel, the very next day announces her threat to destroy the reformer, and with him the banner of the truth he had so nobly unfurled before the eyes of apostate Israel.
“So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.”
Such was the message which the slayer of the Baal priests had received by those sent by Ahab’s wife. Ahab, so it appeared, had capitulated, though he had not repented, but Jezebel did not.
A significant threat!
First of all, it implied, despite the apparent victorious notes of yesterday, that the ideology of Baal was not dead, but very much alive. Secondly, it showed that, though there was clearly a reformation based on the fundamental truth that Jehovah is God, and while it appeared that the proponents of the lie had been completely vanquished, there was nevertheless not a complete victory. And in the third place, it became apparent also to Elijah that, in spite of all his preaching, so long as the cause of the thesis endures in the world the cause of the antithesis will also continue beside it. In one word, so long as the church subsists in the world reformations will continually be necessary. Not one of them completely brings to nought the onslaughts of the lie. The question: Who is God? continues a perennial question. The crisis in the ministry of Elijah is the crisis that has been with the church throughput the ages, and it is still with us today.
Jehovah or Baal!
Christ or Mammon!
The ideology of Elijah or that of Jezebel!
In her threat Jezebel really said to Elijah: “You think that yesterday it became clear that Baal is dead and that his service has been eradicated? Well, let me make it plain to you that in spite of all that happened on Carmel yesterday Baal is not dead, and his doctrine will continue until it has brought the cause of Jehovah your God to nought. Though you may have succeeded in slaying the prophets of Baal yesterday, your life will be as the life of one of them tomorrow. Nothing has really changed, in spite of all that happened on Carmel.”
When Elijah heard and interpreted Jezebel’s message, he took flight to the nether regions of Horeb. Though we may not agree with him, we can nevertheless understand him, and the thoughts that weighted his soul.
Thoroughly disillusioned was the prophet, and subject to unbelief! How could it be possible after such a clear demonstration on Carmel, that anyone, least of all Jezebel, would dare to raise his head in opposition? Had not the power of Satan and the lie been completely broken? But how then can this agent of Satan still insist that the doctrine of Baal is not dead but alive?
Elijah concludes that it is useless any longer to preach, to oppose the forces of evil, to carry on his reformatory work. Not would he die at the hands of Jezebel, but he would flee to the land of his dreams and die there at the hand of the Lord. Pining under the juniper tree, he requested that the Lord terminate his ministerial status as well as his life.
At Horeb he would die! In that place where once the Lord appeared unto Moses in thunder and lightning where God declared Himself in the giving of the law: I am God, and there is none beside Me. No strange gods shall ye serve. If only he could be privileged to abide for a moment in that place and in reverie contemplate that God Who speaks in the fire, then he would have seen enough to satisfy his soul before he die.
O, indeed, we can understand him. Does not James tell us that Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are? (James 5:17). Which can only mean that he was human, and subject to those passions which move every human soul. And this means that he could be, as we often are, down in the dumps, ready to give up when we do not see the fruit of our labors, or all our preaching and service appears to be vain. We too, have seen reformations. We have studied the historical facts surrounding all the reformations of the past. And we have seen reformations in our own life time and experience. And we, too, ask repeatedly the question: What has it all accomplished? Where are now the children of the reformation? How is it that after the reformatory process the church so soon returns to her worldly mindedness, and indulges in seeking the vain things below?, How is it to be explained that the lie so soon again infiltrates the church, causing her to apostatize from the truth? And like Elijah we are often inclined to exclaim: What is the use of all this preaching, and all this struggle for the truth? Indeed, we dare not condemn Elijah, though he cannot comfort us. Jezebel does appear unmovable. The cause of the lie appears often to be victorious.
And what did Elijah find in his flight?
First of all, he discovered that he was not to die, but live. All was not over for him, though he was ready to give up. Horeb is not an ideal unreal. The God on Horeb is not a God Who appears for a moment in dazzling array never to appear again. Though He may not always speak in the thunder and lightning, and may choose also to speak in the still small voice, He is still the living God Who does all His good pleasure, and Who wills also to destroy all the wicked and the power of the lie, but only after it has served His purpose. O, indeed, He gives His church now and then to taste the victory and He allows His servants for a time to bask in the light of His reformatory work. But until the end of time, and so long as His church is in the world, she will have to fight over against the lie; and none of her reformations will completely still the enemies of the truth. In fact He has forewarned that the apostasies will grow steadily worse until those who hold to the truth shall be very small in number.
Moreover, and even more importantly, Elijah discovered that the Word of God does not die. His ministers, through disillusionment and unbelief, may desire to capitulate. But His Word stands eternally. Though men, inspired by Satan, may insist that Baal also is god, and in the process may kill all of God’s prophets all the day long, yet they cannot slay the Word of God. It shall forever endure, because it is the everlasting Word of the everlasting God.
And last, but not least, Elijah and we must discover that one reformation does not bring an end to the power of the lie. So long as the church continues in the world, there will be reformations and more reformations. In one word, the church in the world must always be the reformatory church. Maintaining the truth over against the lie, walking in sanctification in distinction from her attempt always to apostatize. And let not those who are especially entrusted to proclaim the truth grow weary, as Elijah did, nor ever come to doubt that the Word of God shall ever return unto Him void.
Presently we shall see the end of all the struggles for the truth, and the fruit of all the reformatory work, when we shall behold the church that is gathered out of all ages receiving the crown of life that fadeth not away.