Flaming Bulls

Flaming Bulls

1 Kings 18:20-39
It’s not often that I will enter into a discussion on an Old Testament scripture. But I really do love the drama of this story. Especially when its used as a story for kids. Talk about politically incorrect!
Elijah, God’s solitary hero, faces the intractable infection of ba’al worship and it’s priests. The word ba’al is a title that means “lord” and could be used for a variety of different gods at different times. Elijah considered this god, perhaps Hadad or Melqart, to be a competitor for the  people of Israel’s attention to YHWH.
King Ahab, who has a troubled relationship with Elijah, arranges a showdown on Elijah’s mountain (Mt Carmel) to sort out which god should rule. Elijah suggests a competition where a burnt sacrifice of a bull is to be offered. The true god would light the fire to burn the bull. The priests of this ba’al fail to deliver the goods. The harder they entreat their god the more Elijah taunts them. When it’s Elijah’s turn he makes his task impossible by soaking the sacrifice with water. 3 times! Elijah then offers a brief prayer that concludes… ” 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.” The ensuing fire proves the authenticity of the one Lord God and the people respond accordingly. “The Lord is indeed God. The Lord is indeed God.”
The humor and drama of this story is great. And it’s been used a lot throughout history to encourage folks to persevere in faith even when mightily outnumbered. A bit like the story of David and Goliath. (An interesting interpretation of that story can be found here!)
But I don’t think its just a story about perseverance in the face of difficult circumstances. I think that its first a story about making up your mind and staying the course once that decision has been made. Elijah was probably sick of telling folks to be faithful to God. They had enough history and enough experience of the Lord God, to be faithful. But they wanted to be distracted by a god who demanded less and delivered more.