Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose one bull and prepare it first, for you are the majority; invoke your god by name, but apply no fire.’ They took the bull that was given them; they prepared it, and invoked Baal by name from morning until noon, shouting, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no sound, and none who responded; so they performed a hopping dance about the altar that had been set up. When noon came, Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Shout louder! After all, he is a god. But he may be in conversation , he may be detained, or he may be on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.’ So they shouted louder, and gashed themselves with knives and spears, according to their practice, until the blood streamed over them. When noon passed, they kept raving until the hour of presenting the meal offering. Still there was no sound, and none who responded or heeded.
I Kings 18:25-29 (TANAKH)
The people of Israel had chosen Baal as their god time and time again. From the king to most of the people they had set up shrines in their neighborhoods and had almost forgotten about the Lord. The priest of the Lord had been replaced by the priest of Baal whose “hokus pocus” invoked and appeased this portable and easily manipulated god.
Elijah knew that the people needed a sign so that they could repent from their ways. What a better sign than to revive the sacrificial system and this time ask for the divine to be the one to consume the offering.
Those of us reading this story today might easily miss the joke. We concentrate on the awesome display by the Lord, a display that consumed the entire sacrifice, altar, and even burned the soaking wet ground dry.
What about Baal? What kind of god is he?
According to I Kings: the non-existent one! So non-existent that Elijah easily mocks this god, pushing its priest to hurt themselves in order to awake it.
No matter how powerful we think they are, our gods – those that we make, choose, buy, manufacture – are also non-existent. We can do all the hokus pocus we want, dance, hop, hurt ourselves, but int he end they are dead, they don’t exist. Why do we choose these gods again and again?
We choose them for the same reason that the Israelites chose them, because they demand nothing of us, promise just what we want, and allow us to continue to live the way we want to.
In contrast the Lord is a God of covenant, a God who demands our whole being, a God who will not be manipulated or controlled.
What gods have we been calling on? When we have needed the divine voice, have they answered?