Fellow Passengers: Today’s Promise Passage* (1 Kings 18:20-38) transports me to a trial-by-fire sudden-death smackdown featuring the heroic champion taking on 450 rivals at once. It’s pay-per-view, with a mighty high price, as fans with the wrong allegiance wind up paying with their lives. Sergeant Slaughter, aka Elijah, prophet of the Lord, is in one corner, facing 450 prophets of Baal in the other. Elijah has grown tired of King Ahab’s idolatry and persecution of the people of faith. He is ready for a battle royal that will decide once and for all who the wavering worshipers should follow. Two bulls are slaughtered and placed on the altar there on Mount Carmel, and each side gets an opportunity to bring fire from heaven to ignite the sacrifice. The 450 prophets petition Baal from morning til noon, to no avail. Then comes my favorite part of the story: Elijah starts some junk, trash-talking his rivals. What’s the matter? Shout louder! Maybe your god is snoozing and needs a wake-up call! The prophets do shout louder and engage in all sorts of frantic theatrics, but no response.
I love the idea of the prophet taunting his adversaries. Moving from the soap opera world of professional wrestling to the world of comedy, Elijah’s jeering reminds me of the French knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Whenever Arthur and his English knights encountered the French, they were met with the best insults imaginable. I like to imagine Elijah taunting the Baal worshipers in a French accent: I unclog my nose in your general direction, you tiny-brained sons of a window dresser! So, you think your god could outdo mine, you cheesy-leather, second-hand, donkey bottom biters? No chance, you Baal worshiping bed-wetting types. Your father was a hamster and your mother smelt of elderberry. Now go away before I taunt you a second time!
When he finished with his trash-talk, Elijah soaked his slaughtered sacrifice with water, just to drive home the point of God’s power. His prayer brought down fire from heaven, and the flames not only consumed the bull but the wood and stones and soil, and even licked up the water in the trench. This story makes me wonder how much of our time is spent in frantic and panic-ridden reliance on unresponsive, sleeping gods. How often do we believe that our lives can be ignited if only we pay homage to the god of material comforts, or the god of technology, or the god of nationalism, or the god of entertainment? How often do we drive ourselves crazy trying to awaken these gods, believing that they can light our spirits, too often ignoring the One who does have the power to ignite our hearts and souls and put fire in our bones? Don’t we live a lot of our lives on our own Mount Carmel, wavering between two opinions, claiming a belief in the true God but also relying at some level on the false gods of our culture? This passage is a good reminder for me to brush up on my French-accented taunts and let the sleeping gods of this world lie.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Waking and Sleeping.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.