18 century icon painter – Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia
We need to practice Biblical discernment in everything we do. We must share the Truth in Love. Rebuke and Admonition are unpleasant and often despised and resisted. We are often tempted to resort to mockery of those who refuse to repent. When we engage in mockery, we are pronouncing judgment and condemning the object of our mockery. We are no longer seeking repentance from the one being mocked, and this can be problematic even if we are in the right. Today I want to address the topic of bringing correction to those who are stubborn in their sin or false doctrine and reject sound doctrine and what is at stake when we resort to mockery… when we are in the right. A fool mocks from a position of error, and that is not what we will be addressing today.
Elijah Mocked the Prophets of Baal
Yes, he did. Some point to Elijah as their justification for engaging in mockery. I want to take a look at what is happening in context so that there is no mistaking what is going on in the story. To rightly understand the story of Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal, we need to first understand who Ahab was. For that, let’s begin in 1 Kings 16.
1 Kings 16:29-34 (ESV)29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. 32 He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. 33 And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. 34 In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.
Now, not to get too sidetracked, did you notice that in the days of Ahab, Hiel built Jericho at the cost of 2 sons? Well, it points all of the way back to the days of Joshua, when the God destroyed Jericho on behalf of His people, Israel. If we turn briefly to Joshua 6.
Joshua 6:26-27 (ESV) 26 Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. “At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates.” 27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.
Okay, so here we have a wicked King over the northern kingdom of Israel. More wicked than any before him. His wickedness trumps that of Jeroboam in that he takes as a bride the daughter of the king of Sidon. Ahab then worships Baal, builds a temple for Baal in Samaria (the capital city of the northern Kingdom of Israel) and sets up an Asherah. Idolatry. Ahab provoked the Lord, the God of Israel to anger. So God sends His prophet to Ahab.
1 Kings 17:1 (ESV) 17 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
Now, the story follows Elijah as he goes into hiding while the judgment of the Lord falls upon Israel. Judgement provoked by the sin of Ahab.
1 Kings 18:1-6 (ESV) 18 After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.” 2 So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria. 3 And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly, 4 and when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water.) 5 And Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the valleys. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.” 6 So they divided the land between them to pass through it. Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself.
Now we see that Jezebel began killing the prophets of the Lord, and Obadiah hid 100 prophets in groups of 50 and fed them in secret. So, not only is Ahab worshiping a false God, his wife had also openly attack the prophets of the Lord God. It had not rained for 3 years, and the famine was rough. While Elijah was indeed a prophet of God, and heard from God directly, the shutting of the sky as a punishment for the sin of Israel is not spontaneous nor should it have been unexpected. Why? Because according to the Law, the Covenant with Moses, God already warned Israel of the punishments or curses for disobedience. We can find it in Deuteronomy 28, but specifically verse 24 states, “The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.” So, the Prophet Elijah brought the Word of the Lord to Ahab, and the sign given (lack of rain) points back to the Law of Moses. Ahab doesn’t get, as we’ll see in a moment, but the sign and wonder doesn’t point to Elijah, it points to God. This is Ahab’s first recorded warning, 3 years of drought.
1 Kings 18:17-19 (ESV) 17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
Ahab doesn’t get it. He had completely forgotten who was God of Israel, and considered Israel his own, a nation of his making, a nation that followed Baal. He did not recognize the true cause for the drought and accused Elijah of being the troubler of Israel. While 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah ate at Jezebel’s table.
1 Kings 18:20-24 (ESV) 20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”
Elijah called an assembly of the people of Israel and charged them to choose whom they will serve, whether the One True God of Israel, or Baal. And the people remained silent. This was a second appeal to the Children of Israel to repent and reject the idols and false god Baal, and return to the True God of Israel. The Israelites responded properly to Joshua, but those assembled before Elijah fell silent. Repentance would not come without a sign. Whenever I read Matthew 12, I wonder if this very moment is part of what went through Jesus’ mind when he responded to the scribes, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign…” (Matthew 12:38-42).
1 Kings 18:25-40 (ESV) 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. 35 And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.
36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” 40 And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.
The false prophets stood condemned long before God consumed the altar with fire. Their fate was already sealed according to the Law of Moses.
Deuteronomy 13:4-5 (ESV) 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
Judgement had come to Israel. So why did Elijah mock the false prophets? Not for their sake, not for their repentance; rather, so that they would double-down and leave no room for doubt that they had fully exhausted everything they had into their apostasy, for the sake of the witness of Israel. Israel’s silence, while a failure, at least shielded them from being put to death along with the false prophets. They repented immediately at the sign of the Lord God, and they obeyed Elijah’s command to seize the false prophets. Elijah put them to death, as required by the Law.
Now lets look at something very cool. Turn with me to 2 Chronicles 7 (yes, this is before the events in 1 Kings 18) to the dedication of the Temple built by King Solomon.
2 Chronicles 7:1-3 (ESV)7 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house. 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
2 Chronicles 7:11-14 (ESV) 11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished.12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
The people should have recognized the 3 year drought as a sign of rebuke for their sin. They should have repented. They did not. Notice also here that the fire being called down from heaven was not new to Israel. This is how the Lord God answered Solomon’s prayer that began 2 Chronicles 6. So even the sign that Elijah proposed points back to the Lord God. God had already done this for His people. And the significance of that fire points back to when God lead the Children of Israel in the wilderness at night. How great is the Mercy and Grace of our God!
There is a time for mockery, but it is always a sign of judgement and condemnation. Israel will continue to sin and chase after false gods, and God makes a mockery of her among the nations. Hence the eventual scattering of the 10 tribes of Israel, leaving only Judah and Levi. They, too, are sent into Exile for 70 years, when they can repent and cry out to God.
We must rebuke false teaching, and silence false teachers. We must do so in love and humility, for it is not by our power or authority, but by the Word of God. You cannot mock a professing Christian in the name of “reaching out to them that they might repent”, that is not what mockery does. One who continues in sin, rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sound doctrine (defined by the Word of God, not the doctrines of men), then mockery may be in order so that the one who stands condemned by their own might be a warning to all who believe. Mocking someone who is caught in sin will harden his/her heart before it leads to repentance. Elijah didn’t begin with mockery, he closed with it… and then he put the false prophets to death. Notice, this entire study has been under the singular premise that the one mocking was undeniably correct and spoke the Word of the Lord. Mocking someone from a position of error adds sin upon sin and invites condemnation of its own. Ultimately, we should be slow to mock, quick to forgive, and we should always point others to the Word of God and to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
May the Peace of God remain with you,
In Christ Jesus,