Elijah Slaughters the Priests of Baal

cranach lucas baal painting

I’m preaching this week on 1 Kings 18, that great passage of prophetic confrontation. It is paradigmatic of prophetic confrontation. Here we finally had binary “proof” that Yhwh is God and Baal was not and after the big showdown Elijah lead the crowd down off of the mountain and slaughtered nearly 1000 prophets of Baal and Asherah. Big win eh?

In my sermon I’m going to attempt to add some complexity to the picture.

Yhwh tribalists may celebrate the slaughter of the pagan priests, after all Jezebel had been slaughtering the priests of Yhwh in a rather ungenerous exception to normal polytheistic practice. She clearly had an agenda she was pursuing.

I won’t complain about the Lord’s right to determine the timing of anyone’s death. All those priests would die at some point. If the Lord wanted them dead in that manner then “who am I to judge?”

The WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) in my audience may kvetch that this is another “bad story” of religious persecution at the hands of an evil OT God or what-have-you. I’ll have ample illustrations from popular movies and culture to identify how many deaths we celebrate because “they deserved it”. We say we’re against killing, but we’re not really. We’re really against anyone getting killed that doesn’t “deserve it” in our opinion, or in other words, what we’re really into is us deciding who lives and who dies. We’re really into us deciding what is right and what is wrong and what the answer should be for what is wrong. This, ironically, puts us right into the lap of Ahab and Jezebel and the rest of the human race. We’re really not OK with God, or anyone else deciding besides ourselves.

So Elijah leads the crowd down to do their killing and the rains come and the swollen river washes the bodies down to the sea where the Sidonians and other Baal worshipers will see them and the land will be purified by the drought ending rain.

Nice story. The story doesn’t end there of course. Jezebel won’t be put off that easily and threatens Elijah’s life which of course sets up chapter 19 and following.

I’m happy for the big showdown and I, with every other Sunday School kid cheers as “God Wins!” Elijah is one of the big OT people most deeply connected to Jesus. Jesus calls John the B “Elijah” and the reference goes deeper than we first see (which is typical of the Bible).

When Jesus is crucified the mockers in a sense use the contrast of Golgatha from Carmel as their main point. Oh what a Hollywood movie it would make for Jesus to, in the moment of utter need and humiliation to somehow rouse himself, the nails pop out of his hands, he glows brightly, his body and power is restored, the Romans run in fear, Jesus unleashes thunderbolts on his enemies, the horror of his friends is turned to joy, Jesus now not only cleans out the temple but the Antonia fortress, and all the evil doers are killed and their bodies washed away. Wasn’t this the question behind John’s pondering in Matthew 11?

Why doesn’t Jesus do this? What did Jesus’ means accomplish that Elijah’s Carmel confrontation did not?

The blood of the evildoers rarely redeems or changes anything. Only the blood of the innocent.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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