Sunday, August 4, 2013

High Noon on the Israelite Front

This morning's Sunday school lesson...

There were evil queens, and then there was Jezebel. She was a special kind of evil. She was born the daughter of the King of the neighboring kingdom of Sidon, and Israel’s King Ahab thought she was so beautiful she was irresistible. He married this Sidonian princess, and she became Queen of Israel. To honor his new bride, Ahab built a temple and statue of her god Baal. Remember him? In addition, Ahab built a pole for Jezebel’s goddess Asherah.

Painted by John Byam Liston Shaw
Oil on canvas, 1896

The one true God was furious.

God sent His prophet Elijah to Ahab and Jezebel to tell them that God was so angry that He would send a severe famine to Israel, and it would last for several years. So Elijah obeyed God and gave that message to the King and Queen. Sure enough, the famine came, and it was a doozy. 

Jezebel was so angry at God that she decided to take her own revenge. Maybe she couldn’t kill God, but she could kill His prophets. There were a lot of prophets at the time, and she hunted them down and murdered them. In fact, if it weren’t for the undercover prophet Obadiah hiding a bunch of them in caves and giving them stuff to eat and drink, many more prophets would have died.

So God sent Elijah with a challenge for Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah stood before the King and Queen and said, “Tell you what. You send 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. We’ll meet on Mt. Carmel and see whose god is greater.” So Ahab sent word for the prophets of the false gods to come to the showdown.

Mt. Carmel
(I pointed out that there were no roads or poles in Elijah's time)

The day of the showdown came. Elijah said to the people of Israel and all the prophets of Baal and Asherah, “Come on, guys! Either God is God, or Baal is god! You can’t keep changing your minds! Either serve God or Baal!”

Then he laid down the rules. “We’re gonna have a contest. I get one bull, and the 450 prophets of Baal get another one. Team Baal gets to build an altar, and I’ll build an altar, and we’ll each put our bull on it. But don’t set fire to the wood. Whichever god is real will send fire down from heaven and burn up the offering.”

Team Baal was getting pretty smug. These were great odds! 450 prophets against one man. Elijah didn’t stand a chance!

And so it began. Elijah let Team Baal go first. They built their altar and put their bull on it and cried out, “Baal, listen to us! Send fire to burn up the bull!” They had been dancing, chanting, pleading and doing other stuff for a few hours when Elijah decided to start cheering them on. So around noon he called out some suggestions. “Come on! If Baal is god, he can’t hear you! You gotta yell louder! He could be thinking really hard! Maybe he didn’t get the memo about the contest today and had a conflict! Oh, I know! Maybe he had to go to the bathroom! He could be traveling! Look at that idol of him! Don’t you think he looks tired? Maybe he’s asleep! You should yell louder and wake him up!” So their dances and shouts and other stuff got louder and more intense.

The same picture as above,
but darkened in Photoshop
to indicate that it was getting dark

It was getting on to evening, and still no response from Baal. Finally, Elijah had had enough of that. He said, “OK, my turn.” By this time, all the hubbub had done some serious damage to Elijah’s altar that he had built. So he put it back together using twelve stones, one for each tribe of Israel. Then he dug a trench around it, and put the wood and his bull on top. He said, “OK, now I need someone to get four big jars of water and pour it over the altar!” When they had done that, he said, “Do it again!” So they did it again. “Do it a third time!” So they did it a third time. By this time, the water had drenched the wood, the bull, and even filled the trench. There was no way this was gonna set on fire, no matter how hard anyone tried setting it.

Then Elijah prayed. He asked God to show His power so that nobody would have any doubt who was God.

And it happened.

Fire fell from heaven and burned up the soaked wood, the bull, and even the stones and the mud around it, and it completely evaporated the water!

PowerPoint slide - I animated the fireball when it came in.

The people of Israel fell down and worshiped God. Now they could see that the Lord was God and Baal wasn’t. At God’s command, Elijah told them to capture the prophets of Baal, and those prophets didn’t live to tell the tale.

And for the first time in three years, it rained. The drought was finally over. In fact, there was a big storm. God gave Elijah strength to run all the way to Jezreel, which was a long way away.

The next day, Jezebel got the news. The jig was up, and her evil minions were dead. She could hardly contain her rage, and she swore to her gods, “I don’t care how badly my gods punish me, but let them do their worst if Elijah isn’t dead by this time tomorrow!”

Elijah had obeyed God, and now he was on Jezebel’s Most Wanted List! When he got the news, he was terrified and ran for his life, way far into the wild. Finally he couldn’t run any more and he collapsed under a bush. He was so desperate and scared and exhausted that he prayed, “God, I can’t take it any more! Just kill me!” And he fell asleep.

Der Prophet Elias
Painted by Daniele da Volterra
Oil on canvas, c. 1550-1560

Pretty soon, an angel touched him and said, “Get up! Eat!” He opened his eyes and saw some bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water, and he ate and fell asleep again. Later, the angel woke him up again and said, “Get up and eat. You have a long journey ahead of you.” So he ate and drank again.  God gave him enough food this time that it was enough to keep him going for forty days of walking. After about a month and a half, he finally reached Mt. Horeb (Sinai). 500 years earlier, God had spoken to Moses on this mountain, and now it was Elijah’s turn. He went into a cave and went to sleep.

When telling about the earthquake, 
I made this shake in the PowerPoint.

When he woke up, God said to him, “What are you doing here?”

So Elijah answered, “I’ve lived my life for You, obeyed You, and all I’ve seen is the people of Israel turning away from You to Baal, tearing down Your altars and killing Your prophets. Now they’re trying to kill me!”

God said, “Go out onto the mountain. I’m gonna pass by.” Suddenly, the wind picked up. Elijah could hardly stand, it was so strong! However, he didn’t hear God passing in the wind. No sooner had it died down, then the earth beneath him started to shake violently! They didn’t have a Richter Scale back then, but it would have been pretty strong, as earthquakes go. It broke rocks and tore mountains apart! But once again, Elijah couldn’t sense God. The earthquake died down, and a wildfire sprang up! Still no sense of God.

Then the fire died down and he heard it in the calm after the wild weather. A whisper.

Man standing in front of a cave entrance
Stock photo

So Elijah came out of the cave and listened to God whisper, “What are you doing here?”

He repeated his lament: “I’ve lived my life for You, obeyed You, and all I’ve seen is the people of Israel turning away from You to Baal, tearing down Your altars and killing Your prophets. Now they’re trying to kill me!”

Then God laid out His instructions. “Go back to Israel. On the way, I want you to anoint Hazael King of the neighboring kingdom of Aram, and find a guy named Jehu, the son of Nimshi. Jehu is my choice for you to anoint king of Israel to replace Ahab. Not only that, but I’m giving you a helper. Go to the farm of Shaphat and get his son Elisha. He will be your apprentice and your heir. Hazael, Jehu and Elisha will do some amazing things. Oh, and you think you’re alone? There are 7000 people in Israel that I’ve been saving for this day. They haven’t worshiped Baal. Don’t worry. You are not alone.”

1 comment :

  1. Great job! You could follow-up with them telling the story in their own words and/or drawing pictures of the major parts of the lesson and then putting it together to see how close they are to the Biblical account.