A barren land stretched out below from the mountain top with not a drop of rain in sight from where the sky met the sea to the east. It had been this way for years and the country was on the brink of famine and death.
“Go and look again, instructed the prophet.” His servant trudged back to the edge of a rocky crag high on Mount Carmel and squinted towards the sea for the seventh time, motionless for several seconds. And then in a rush of excitement he raced back to his master.
“A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” The prophet jumped up from his slumped position shouting, “race like the wind and tell the king!” Within minutes black clouds were racing west toward the mountain and beyond to the royal palace.
God’s Spirit fell on Elijah and he jumped to his feet and ran with superhuman strength as the rain and wind exploded all around. Elijah raced ahead of Ahab the king in his chariot to announce the return of Yahweh all the way to Tel Jezreel in ancient Israel, the winter palace of the Israelite kings. (1 Kings 18:41-45)
* * *
Nature – plaugue, drought, fire – has always been a critical factor in the economy. Certainly Australia’s economy which grew on the back of a sheep. When the wool exports and industries ran down we resurrected our economy by digging a big hole in the ground to mine minerals.
Steam kick started the industrial revolution with engines which made us imagine we were the masters of nature, controlling our world with machines and time. We rapidly divorced ourselves from the land and sun, becoming masters of our own destiny.
In Australia after a manufacturing downturn we found a boom in exporting education – a new economic lease of life independent of nature which became one of our top exports. And then Covid hit us.
So back to nature again. The whole world, in fact, is under threat by the corona virus pandemic and climate change. We, who think ourselves so self sufficient and self reliant are once more thrown back into the arms of Mother Nature, beyond which lives a more ancient God, Yahweh.
Just when we thought we had grown up and unchained ourselves from the sun (Nietzsche) we find ourselves hurtling down to earth. We are insulted. And hurt because who else have we to blame for this woeful mess than ourselves? Or should we blame God?
* * *
Elijah had called the drought on God’s command many years before he prayed again for rain (1 Kings 17:1). This drought had come from God, Yahweh, challenging the gods of Baal, that were credited by the popular culture of that time for bringing rain and fertility to the Canaan lands occupied by Israel.
Even though Yahweh was God over all, this was still Baal’s land. This is how the ancient mindset worked. Israel still believed in Yahweh but had co-opted the God of their desert fathers into a domesticated pantheon of local deities.
King Ahab and his queen Jezebel had advanced this religious reformation following on from Solomon’s son, the rebellious King Jeroboam, who after the split from Judah had set up two golden Baal calves in Israel (in Bethel and Dan, 1 Kings 12:28-29) to persuade Israel not to go up to Jerusalem, the holy citadel, to worship.
* * *
The Church is called by Christ to be his witness to all the earth. But how can we be Christ’s witnesses if we have sold out to the prophets of Baal?
You might think that Baal is an ancient god and idolatry an anachronism because as the church we believe in Jesus, not idols, and as long as we are faithful disciples we will be saved from this world of chaos.
But idols have not died out. The spirits behind Baal are still with us today. They have just taken different forms, manifesting as different idols. Except, we don’t see them as idols. Nevertheless they exist. They are sacred cows. Baal cows which we have mistakenly synchronised into our theology and doctrines of God.
Sacred cows like sanctified money, safe stewardship, church buildings, prosperity doctrines of wealth, entrepreneurial apostles (see my post on The New Rock Stars: How cowboy theology is turning entrepeneurs into apostles for the last sacred cash cow). Baal was the god of rain and fertility. Money is our Baal. Cash which in America says in God we trust. The god of money, Mammon.
* * *
All those years later, after calling the drought, God now called Elijah to tell the king that he would send rain. But before the rain came a show down was staged between God’s prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah which was Baal’s god cohort – his Harlem.
The challenge was for the false prophets to call down fire from Baal on the dead sacrificial bull lying on the alter. They had the better part of a day but nothing happened except the prophets getting heckled by Elijah.
“Where is your god? Maybe he’s gone to sleep or away on holiday?” The prophets went frantic, shouting, dancing, slashing their bodies but nothing. No fire from heaven was sent by the Baal god. Which was an insult because Baal was the god of rain with lightening at his beck and call.
Later in the afternoon it was Elijah’s turn to call down fire from his God, Yahweh. But first he rebuilt the alter. Then he had it drenched three times with water. Yahweh didn’t mess around. Straight away, at Elijah’s call, fire from heaven fell burning everything, even the water.
And then, Elijah prayed again. And the rain came. The drought broke. Baal proved impotent, infertile. Baal prophets can’t call down lightening, bring rain and fertility to the land. Only Yahweh has this power.
And the same is true today. No economic doctrine, political creed, philosophical school or theological dogma has this power. No formula, science, technology or magic trick can bring rain or so called revival. Only God can do this.
In my next post, Sacred Cash Cows and the Prophets of Ideology – Part II, I will look at how idols evolved into ideologies.
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