The One True God

1Kings 18:20-39

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / September 19, 2004


            We live in an age of tolerance. And, on many levels, this is an admirable thing. People who hold to conflicting opinions should be expected to peacefully coexist. Diversity of viewpoints should not prevent us from living in harmony. And yet, I fear that the tolerance of this age is calling for much more than harmonious coexistence. We have moved from the notion that ‘everyone has a right to their own opinion’ to the notion that ‘every opinion is equally valid.’


            The irony is that, in this climate of tolerance, two things have become intolerable: 1) Exclusive truth claims, and 2) Absolute moral standards.


            Those who would dare to make a claim that one thing is true against another; those who would dare to say that one behaviour is acceptable, while another behaviour is unacceptable, are often branded as narrow-minded and arrogant.


            This epistemological climate poses a serious problem for the Christian who seeks to be faithful to the Scriptures. For example, we come to the Ten Commandments and, immediately, we are confronted by, both, exclusive truth claims, and absolute moral standards.


            In Exodus 20, the Lord commands: “You shall have no other gods besides Me” (Ex. 20:3). And through the prophet Isaiah, He says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5).


            In light of these words, and in light of the spirit of our present day culture, do we dare insist that our God is the only true God? We must. The Scriptures compel us.


            Jesus has warned us that “no one can serve two masters” (Mt. 6:24), and has boldly insisted, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (Jn. 14:6).


            As Christians, we cannot avoid these exclusive claims. And, if we seek to somehow subscribe to, the dogma of our culture and the mandates given in Scripture, we will find ourselves guilty of same sin as the Israelites in Elijah’s day.


            Standing before the multitude at Mount Carmel, Elijah asks, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal (is God), follow him” (1Kings 18:21).


            With this question, Elijah concedes the theoretical possibility that Baal, and not Yahweh, could be God. But Elijah wisely recognizes that it is not possible for, both, Yahweh and Baal to be God. Logical necessity dictates that two differing things cannot be the same thing; “A” cannot equal “non-A”.


            How is it then, that our culture has so enthusiastically entertained the notion that Muhammad, Buddha, and Jesus, should be placed on equal footing? How did our culture ever come to entertain the notion that Allah is the same as the Christian God?


            If I assert that 2+2=4, and if you assert that 2+2=22, can we both be right? Is it possible for our differing answers to be equally valid?


            Listen to what Jesus says in John’s gospel, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father . . . I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me” (Jn. 14:9, 10).


            Now, listen to what the Quran has to say, from Surah 5:17, “In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ.” And from Surah 5:73, “They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers.”


            First, we must note that the Quran regards Jesus as a blasphemer for equating Himself with God. Secondly, we note that every Christian is regarded as a blasphemer for regarding God as Triune. And thirdly, we note that the Bible and the Quran say opposite things about the nature of God, and the nature of Jesus Christ.


            And since “A” cannot equal “non-A”, we are constrained to assert that both religions cannot be correct in what they fundamentally confess. It is possible that both may be wrong, but it cannot be said that both are correct since they confess opposite positions.


            Friends, our day is not unique. The fact that there is an abundance of so-called ‘gods’ in our day is nothing new. The Israelites were consistently confronted by cultures that worshipped other gods. And, in order to preserve good relations with His chosen people, God commanded the Israelites, “You shall have no other gods besides Me” (Ex. 20:3).


            The testimony of the Hebrew Scriptures reveals that the Israelites were not always faithful at heeding this command. And that is how we get to Mount Carmel. If the Israelites had been determined to follow only Yahweh; if they had responded positively to Elijah’s call to worship Yahweh alone, the challenge that follows would have been unnecessary. But in response to Elijah’s question, there appears to have been silence.


            We conclude, therefore, that upon the hill of Carmel we are three kinds of persons. First, we have Elijah, one who is entirely devoted to Yahweh. Again, if there are any Israelites with convictions like Elijah, we hear nothing of it, except for a brief reference to Obadiah, stating that he “feared the Lord” (1Kings 18:3).


Secondly, we have the prophets of rival gods. It is noted that 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah are commissioned to meet Elijah on Mount Carmel.


And, thirdly, we have a multitude of Israelites, whom we understand from Elijah, are vacillating between devotion to Yahweh and devotion to the prevailing pagan gods of the culture.


            Thus, the stage is set for ‘The Battle of the Prophets’; a challenge is issued to determine which group is worshipping the one true God.


            If the number of prophets on each side was an indicator of who was the odds on favourite to win this competition, then clearly, the prophets of Baal had the advantage. However, as the people were about to discover, one prophet plus the one true God equals a majority (Alistair Begg).


            The terms of engagement are provided in verse 23 and following. The prophets of Baal are to cut a bull into pieces and place it on the wood. The prophets would then call upon the name of Baal, imploring him to set fire to the sacrifice. Elijah would then do the same, calling upon Yahweh to set the sacrifice on fire. Whichever of the two gods answers with fire is regarded as the one true God.


            We are told that the prophets of Baal called upon their god, from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us”, but there was no answer (18:26). We should not imagine that the prayers of these 450 prophets were quiet prayers, for we read in the same verse that “they leaped about the altar which they had made.” This is a scene of contrast; 450 prophets are leaping wildly and yelling out to their god, while heaven remains still and quiet.


            We imagine Elijah to be patiently standing by, until the noon hour, when he begins to taunt the prophets of Baal. Elijah begins making excuses for Baal, “perhaps he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (18:27).


            In reply, the behaviour of Baal’s prophets goes from peculiar to bizarre. They proceeded to “cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them” (18:28). They continued with this madness until the evening, but still, there was no response from Baal.


            Finally, it was time for the evening sacrifice, and so Elijah called the people to come near (18:30), and proceeded with the preparation of his sacrifice. Elijah did, however, do one thing differently; he ordered four pitchers of water to be poured on the offering and on the wood (18:33). This was done a second time, and then a third time (18:34).


            This course of action defies reason. Things that are wet are not easily inflamed. So even if Yahweh sends fire, there is now the risk that the fire will not be sustainable. What is now required is a fire of extraordinary intensity. Nonetheless, Elijah prays, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that Thou hast turned their heart back again” (18:37).


            Notice that Elijah is not content with simply the miracle of fire, but he also determines to ask for the miracle of changed hearts. Ultimately, Elijah is not concerned with showing off the power of his God; his primary aim is not to win the contest, but his primary aim is to see his people return to following Yahweh.


            It appears that very little time passes between Elijah’s prayer and God’s answer: “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. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God’” (18:38, 39).


            The Israelites had been wavering on the first commandment and needed to be called into account. Now, what about us? Are we faithful to the first commandment? I am not asking here about your doctrine; I am not asking if you agree with the first commandment. I am asking whether your devotion to the Triune God is singular. Are you seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33)?


            You see, it is possible to have the one without the other; it is possible to believe rightly about God and yet, refuse to follow Him. James identifies this in his epistle, “You believe that God is one. You do well; (but do you realize that) the demons also believe (this), and shudder” (Jas. 2:19).


The faith of demons—a bare, intellectual, faith, does not save because the truth is never applied. In the same way, many people today—even many 'churchgoers', believe in the existence of God. These same churchgoers may even believe the historical facts about Jesus, but they have chosen to follow their own path; they have chosen to prioritize their own preferences over God’s commands.


            As I think about the difference between mere intellectual assent and genuine faith, I often think of the illustration of the tightrope walker who crossed Niagara Falls in the 1890’s.


As 10,000 people watched, the tightrope walker inched his way along the wire from one side of the Falls to the other. When he got to the other side, the crowd cheered wildly.


Finally, the tightrope walker was able to quiet the crowd and shouted to them, 'Do you believe in me?'. The crowd shouted back, 'We believe! We believe!'.


Again he quieted the crowd and shouted to them, 'I'm going back across the tightrope but this time I'm going to carry someone on my back. Do you believe I can do that?'. The crowd yelled back, 'We believe! We believe!'.


He quieted the crowd one more time and then asked them, 'Who will be that person?'. The crowd suddenly became silent. Not a single person was willing to apply the very truth that they professed to believe in.


Friends, we may believe in the one true God, but mere intellectual assent is not enough. Elijah did not simply call for the Israelites to choose between two opinions, but he also called for what was implied by the choice: “If the Lord is God, follow Him” (18:21).


            Our miracle is not a wet bull set aflame—no, we have a superior evidence: Jesus Christ risen from the dead. How much more evidence do you require? How many sermons must you hear? How many more Sunday services must you attend before what believe changes how you live?


            Friends, if Jesus is Lord, I implore you: Follow Him with all your heart. Amen.