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22. Then said Elijah unto the people, 1 1, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; 2 but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
23. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bul. lock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under : and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24. And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD : and the God that 3 answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
11 Kings 19:10, 14. : Ver. 19. 3 Ver. 38. Chron. 21: 26.
(2) God was holy; wise, good, and great, and therefore worthy of being obeyed. (3) Gratitude for God's many mercies in the past. (4) God was far mightier than Baal, and could and would punish those who turned from him to idols. (5) God would bless and prosper those who followed him. — P. But if Baal, then follow him. If, on looking honestly at the subject, Baal proves to be the true God, then of course worship and obey him.
REASONS WHY THEY WERE TEMPTED TO FOLLOW BAAL. (1) It was fashionable. The king, the court, the rich and honored, all worshipped Baal. (2) To follow Baal was the way to place, and honor, and worldly success. (3) It was dangerous not to follow him. The godly were persecuted and slain. (4) It took away the restraints of conscience and the strict law of God. (5) They could indulge in all lawless pleasures not only freely, but as pleasing to the idol they worshipped. — P.
22. I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; etc. Obadiah had saved a hundred prophets (see ver. 4), and Micaiah, the son of Imlah, who prophesied later in Ahab's reign (1 Kings 22:8), was alive. But Elijah means, “I only remain in the exercise of the Office of a prophet.” The others had been forced to fly and hide themselves in dens and caves of the earth; their voices were silenced; they had not ventured to come to Carmel. - Cook. A true rendering brings out the sense very clearly: I still remain a prophet of the Lord, though standing alone by myself, whilst Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. He simply puts his single self in contrast with their number. - Tayler Lewis. Baal's prophets . . . four hundred and fifty men. On one side the king and people, with the prophets of Baal, in their white robes and peaked turbans. On the other, supported only by his single attendant, stood the solitary prophet of Jehovah, his rough sheepskin mantle over his shoulders. — Geikie.
"On Carmel's crown now swarms a countless throng,
* - Taylor. III. The Test of the True God. - Vers. 23, 24. 23. Let them therefore give us two bullocks. Elijah appeals to the ordeal of sacrifice because it was a rite common to all religions, and divinely instituted at first as the great symbol of expiation. Other nations had kept its form, and something of the religious awe attached to the rite, although its true meaning had been almost universally lost. — Tayler Lewis. The Baalites furnished the victims for both sacrifices, because they had the bullocks and Elijah had none. Let them choose. Elijah gives his opponents every advantage, — the choice of victim, and the first turn in the trial. — Todd. And cut it in pieces. The expression is too strong; it means no more than the word used below, and which is properly rendered dress it, that is, divide and arrange the limbs for the sacrifice. — Tayler Lewis. And put no fire under. "There could be no trickery on their part, for (1) Elijah was watching; (2) the people were in no mood to be trified with now, in the height of the famine; (3) the prophets of Baal were called on unexpectedly and were away from their temple, so that they could not prearrange anything. So the magicians of Pharaoh failed in their attempts to imitate the miracles of Moses the first time they had no previous notice of the miracle and its nature. - P.
24. Call ye on the name of your gods. Elijah is still speaking to the people, who had been worshipping Baal. Their prayers were to be largely through the priests of Baal. And the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. Only a miracle could settle the question. Anything that human power could do would be no proof of divine power. There must be a test by something which only divine power could accomplish. And there was special fitness in this sign.
25. And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
26. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was 'no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.
27. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud : for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
Ps. 115:5. Jer. 10:5. Cor. 8:4; 12 : 2. 1. As to BAAL. (1) Baal claimed to be the Sun-god and Lord of the elements and forces of nature, and therefore, if this was true, he of all idols could send fire from heaven. (2) They were to make the attempt in the full power of the noontide rays. (3) If he could work this miracle then he was able to bring rain, and the famine continued from no want of power on his part. (4) The coming down of fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice was regarded as the token of the acceptance of the sacrifice.
II. AS TO JEHOVAH. (1) Jehovah claimed to be the Creator of heaven and earth. (2) Fire is the best symbol of spiritual existence; visible, and yet not material; near, and yet unapproachable. (3) It is warming and cheering. (4) It is the enlightener of the world. (5) It is pure. (6) It consumes, as God consumes evil. (7) Hence God had, in Israel's past history, identified himself with this token (Lev. 9: 24; 1 Chron. 21 : 26; 2 Chron. 7:1). In later ages fire was the symbol of the Holy Spirit's work and power, as on Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-3; Deut. 4: 24; Matt. 3:11; Mal. 3:2; Ex. 13:21; John 1:9). - P. It is well spoken. The people were satisfied with the fairness of the proposal. Something like this must ever be the test of true religion. The God that answers by the fire of the Holy Spirit, that purifies the heart, that consumes sin, that brings light to the mind, that inspires the soul with life, that cheers and warms hearts, — this, and this only, is the true God." Any religion that fails in these is not the true religion for man. – P.
IV. The Attempt Made to Apply the Test to Baal. 25. And Elijah said unto the prophets. Having gained the assent of the people, for whose verdict he and the Baal prophets were now contending, and who were, consequently, entitled to be consulted as to the sign which would satisfy them, he turns to the band of 400 prophets, who, probably in all the bravery of their sacrificial vestments (2 Kings 10: 22), occupied a separate position on the hill top, between the king and the people, and repeats his proposal to them. - Pulpit Com.
26. And they took the bullock. They could not honorably retire from the contest. And called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon. The contest began early in the morning, and lasted till evening. Almost the whole of the time was consumed by the priests of Baal. — Todd. O Baal, hear us. This was not the substance of their prayer, but their prayer itself. They repeated it endlessly, as is the custom in heathen worship (Matt. 6:7; Acts 19 : 34). — Todd. It has a parallel in the conduct of the Greeks of Ephesus (Acts 19:34). But we are not to suppose that no other words were uttered but these. “O Baal, hear us” probably floated on the air as the refrain of a long and varied hymn of supplication. -- Cook. In a drama of Æschylus, entitled Persu, line 667, the chorus of Persian elders call upon Balen very much as here they invoke Baal : “Baalin, ancient Baalin, come, oh, come."'. It was in the great distress at the battle of Salamis, very much as Jezebel's prophets are distressed here. — Tayler Lewis. And they leaped upon the altar. “ Leaped” is the same word as that translated "halt" in ver. 21. It is descriptive of what actually occurred, i.l., of the reeling, swaying, bacchantic dance of the priests, which was probably not unlike that of the dancing dervishes or the Indian devil-worshippers of our own time.
Cook. Upon (or near, i.e., around) the altar.
27. Elijah mocked them. Elijah looked on quietly and patiently until noon, and then, for the people's sake, began to make suggestions. If these were sarcastic, keen, taunting, the occasion justified him. The people needed to see the facts in this strong light. “ Cry louder," said Elijah, “ for Baal is doubtless a god, and you will make him hear by and by." — Cowles. It is one of those specimens of irony which sometimes surprise us in the Bible, but are found, on close examination, to be one of the best modes of expressing certain kinds of human folly and madness. Nothing else can so truly set them before the mind.
28. And they cried aloud, and I cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
29. And it came to pass, when midday was past, 2 and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was 3 neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
Lev. 19:28. Deut. 14:1. ? 1 Cor. 11:4, 5. Ver. 26. It was not the intention of Elijah to anger them, but to express the vast difference between their impure god and the holy Jehovah, who “never slumbers nor sleeps," with whom there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning'; whom the government of the cosmical hosts can never weary, or the minutest particular providences, with all their infinite variety, ever perplex. - Tayler Lewis. Cry aloud : for he is a god. The force of this expression seems to be, “Cry on, only cry louder, and then you will make him hear; for surely he is a god; surely you are not mistaken in so regarding him; he is not a mere name, a nonentity; he is only a little slow to be moved, a little inattentive; but importune him more earnestly, and he will hearken." The object of the irony is twofold, - to stimulate the priests to greater exertions, and so make their failure more complete, and to suggest to the people that such failure will prove absolutely that Baal is no god. — Cook. Either he is talking. That is, to himself; wrapt in deep meditation; in a reverie; or speaking to other gods in council, and so unable to hear the prayers of earth. Or he is pursuing. Would be best rendered, he is taking a recess. — Lewis.
28. And they cried aloud. Elijah's scorn rouses the Baal-priests to greater exertions. Louder and louder grow their cries, wilder (probably) and more rapid their dance, more frantic their gesticulations. At length, when the frenzy has reached its height, knives are drawn from their sheaths, lances are upraised, and the blood spirts forth from hundreds of self-inflicted wounds, while an ecstasy of enthusiasm seizes many, and they pour forth incoherent phrases, or perhaps an unintelligible jargon, which is believed to come from divine inspiration, and constitutes one of their modes of prophecy. — Cook. Self-torture, and the shedding of one's own blood, have ever been strangely connected with some idea of propitiating the divine favor.-- Lewis.
29. And they prophesied. That is, they continued this service, with these wild, frantic exertions and utterances. Until the time of the ... evening sacrifice. The ninth hour of the day, or about three o'clock. Nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. They were praying to an idol, and no real answer could come. So sinners will appeal in rain to their idols for help. A time is coming that will test every one's faith. Those who have made an idol of sin and worldly pleasure, will look in vain for deliverance when sor. row comes, or sickness; when death draws near, when eternity is at hand, - infidelity, profligates, the gay world, frivolous companions, wealth badly got, or badly hoarded, all will be silent to the appeal of despair. “There was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.” — Newman Hall in S. S. Times.
LIBRARY REFERENCES. For Mount Carmel, see Thompson's Land and the Book ; Tristram's Travels in Palestine, p. 116; on the wild dancing like that of the Baalites, as prevalent in Egypt, see Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, vol. ii., p. 340; on its occurrence in Syria, in the worship of the Sun-God, see Döllinger, Jew and Gentile, vol. i., p. 431. Joseph Cook's Monday Lectures, Transcendentalism, “The Solar Book”; Sermons, on ver. 21, by D. L. Moody, A. Nettleton, N. W. Taylor, C. Spurgeon, A. Barnes, Pres. Edwards, W. Nevins, W. J. Armstrong.
PRACTICAL. 1. The power of faith. Faith here was exercised in spite of power, of numbers, of difficulty. - Hall.
2. ' The power of God in his children, - Ahab quails before Elijah, the king of a mighty nation before a lone prophet.
3. Every one must face the question of choosing between God and the world. 4. Indecision in questions of such momentous import is stupidity or folly.
5. We should weigh the question well as to whom we should serve, and act as our judgment approves.
6. The absurdity of halting between two such opinions. Methinks even the devil himself must laugh such a man to scorn. — Spurgeon.
7. Necessity of right opinions. Elijah says, “I know you are not decided in crinion, because you are not decided in practice." — Spurgeon.
8. The fairness of Elijah. True religion has no need and no desire to take unfair advantage of any. It yields more than it needs to opposers, and yet wins.
9. Every religion must be tested by this, whether it can answer by fire, — by the fire of the Holy Spirit, by the power of revivals, by the power that gives life, and enlightens the mind, and cheers the soul.
10. Let us rejoice in a God that never sleeps, but is so great as to be able to hear the feeblest cry of every one of his people in every part of the universe.
11. The substitutes for the Christian religion, - materialism, spiritualism, rationalism, science as a religion, - are all as deaf as idols in our hours of need.
12. The gods of this world, wealth, pleasure, honor, worshipped as supreme, always fail us when we need them most.
SUGGESTIONS TO TEACHERS.
MORAL, — EVERY PERSON SHOULD DECIDE IN VIEW OF EVIDENCE WHO IS GOD, AND THEN SERVE HIM.
I. THE CHALLENGE (vers. 19, 20). The people are gathered together in an undecided state to see the contest, for Elijah had challenged the 850 prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth to a test as to which was the true God.
Illustration. Redwald, the king of East Anglia, when converted to Christianity, is said to have kept two altars, the one to the God of the Christians, the other to Woden, a Saxon idol, being afraid of the imaginary God he had so long worshipped. Others say he had a picture of God on one side of his shield, and of Satan on the other, with the legend beneath, Paratus ad utrum, "ready for either."
II. THE CHOICE (ver, 21). The people are called upon to decide which is the true God. Bring out from the class the reasons they might give for serving Baal, and the reasons for serving Jehovah. Elijah would have them examine. Show that each of us must make a like choice, and let the class give the reasons on each side. Show the folly of indecision on such momentous subjects.
Illustration. The tract Which Side of the Line, in which a person writes out clearly on paper, in two columns, the reasons for and against being a Christian.
Illustration. The story in Foster's Cyclopedia of Illustrations, No. 7108, of a young lady who wrote out (1) Reasons why I should serve the world; (2) Reasons why I should serve the Lord ; and in view of the result decided for Christ.
Illustration from Prescott's Conquest of Peru, i., 263-5. Pizarro, in his earlier attempts to conquer Peru, came to a time when all his followers were about to desert him. They were gathered on the shore to embark for home. “Drawing his sword, he traced a line with it from east to west upon the sand. Then turning towards the south, ‘Friends and comrades,' he said, 'on that side are toil, hunger, nakedness, the drenching storm, desertion, and death; on this side, ease and pleasure. But there lies Peru with all its riches and the glory of conquest; here Panama and its poverty. Choose each man as becomes a brave Castilian. For my part, I go to the south.' So saying, he stepped across the line. One after another, his comrades followed him. This was the crisis of Pizarro's fate. There are moments in the lives of men which, as they are seized or neglected, decide their future destiny.
III. The Test (vers. 22-24). By a miracle which only God could perform.
Note the peculiar appropriateness of the test by fire (see references in the notes). This test is still the true test of a religion. The religion that fills men with the Holy Spirit; that inspires men with a living fire of zeal and devotion to good; that brings revivals of religion and morality, as the fires of the sun bring the new life of spring; that brings cheer into the heart, but is a consuming fire against all evils; that sheds light on all darkness; the religion that stands this test is the true religion, and the religion that cannot do these things is not the divine religion.
IV. THE RESULT (vers. 25-29). All their efforts were vain, as are the efforts of all Christless religions, and all the gods of this world, — pleasure, honor, riches.
Illustration. An idol could be in but one place at a time. So if Christ is but a man, or an angel even, he can hear the prayers of but a few of his people at a time. So of prayers to the Virgin Mary. Think of the vastness of the universe. Light, with all its velocity, takes 4000 years to travel from some of the stars to us. If our arms could reach to the sun, it would take 135 years for feeling to travel from the sun to our brain so that we would be conscious of its heat. It would take 13 years for the sound of our voices to reach the sun, even were there an atmosphere to carry the sound. Only an omnipresent God and Saviour can be the true God and Saviour that can hear every cry of all his people.
LESSON VII. — Aug. 16. THE PROPHET OF THE LORD. — 1 KINGS 18:30–46. GOLDEN TEXT.-The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.-1 Kings 18:39. TIME. — B.C. 907. Immediately following the last lesson. PLACE. — Mt. Carmel; the eastern extremity, toward the plain of Esdraelon.
INTRODUCTION. Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal were assembled on Mt. Carmel, in the presence of the king and all Israel. The question to be decided was who is the true God, and whom will Israel serve and obey. Each party was to build an altar, and prepare a sacrifice, and call upon their god; and the God which answered by fire was thereby proved to be the true God. The prophets of Baal had prayed to Baal from morning till near the middle of the afternoon, but all in vain. Now it was Elijah's turn.
30. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.
31. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, 2 Israel, shall be thy name :
32. And with the stones he built an altar 3 in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
1 1 Kings 19:10. ? Gen. 32: 28; 35:10. Col. 3: 17.
EXPLANATORY. I. Elijah's Preparations for the Trial. — Vers. 30–35. 30. And Elijah said unto all the people. He says nothing to the priests. He leaves them to continue their frantic gesticulations and wild prayers, if they please, but he calls on the people to turn their attention to him. He has left himself barely time to complete his work before darkness will set in. — Cook. Come near unto me. Hitherto they had gathered round the altar of Baal, and some, it may be, had joined their prayers to those of the priests (ver. 24). — Spence. Now he wants their presence to interest them in his work, and that they may see that he is fair and honest in what he does. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. This altar may have dated from the time when there was no house built unto the name of the Lord. But it is just as likely that it had been restored, if not raised, by some of the "seven thousand who had not bowed their knees unto Baal,” or by some of the faithful remaining in Israel after the calf-worship and the hostility between the two kingdoms had made worship at Jerusalem an impossibility. We can hardly be mistaken in holding that this was one of the “altars ” (chap. 19:10) “thrown down" by command of Ahab or Jezebel. Elijah's repairing it was an act of profound significance. It showed him as the restorer of the law and the true religion. - Pulpit Com.
Notice that Lord is printed in capitals here, and all through the Old Testament when it is the translation of Jehovah.
31. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes. This was a declaration in act that the twelve tribes together constituted one people, that they had one God in common, and that Jehovah's covenant was not concluded with two or with ten, but with the unit of the twelve tribes. — Lange. Israel shall be thy name. He thus protests against the exclusive assumption of the name of Israel, and the exception of the southern kingdom from the glorious heritage and calling of Israel by the ten tribes. — Spence. In spite of political division and even religious separation, the tribes were still united in the covenant of God. - Barry. Israel signifies“ a prince that prevails with God” (Gen. 32: 28). It was peculiarly fitting, on this occasion of prayer for Israel, to refer to their ancestors' prevailing prayer and its answer. — P.
32. He built an altar in the name of the Lord. As the minister, and for the service of Jehovah; or, as Keil, “by the authority and for the glory of Jehovah.” - Cook.