(NIV1984) 1 King 18:22-24 – “Then Elijah said to them, ‘I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire – he is God.’
“Then all the people said, ‘What you say is good.'”
There’s a lot I want to comment on with this passage, so I’ll start at the beginning and work my way down.
1. Elijah straight out lies to the people when he says he’s the only prophet left. Obadiah just told him he’d rescued 100 of the LORD’s prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each. It’d be one thing if Elijah didn’t know that, but he does! And Elijah comes back to this again in chapter 19 when he talks with God. So even though he knows, maybe he feels as if he’s the only acting prophet. At this point, we’ve only heard about Elijah working at this time. He’s been quite alone off and on – maybe not when he lived with the widow and her son, but one could imagine he felt pretty lonely there, too. So I don’t know. Maybe he’s speaking out of feeling here – I certainly don’t think he was trying to lie to God in ch. 19. It’s just – “I’m the only one out here doing anything!” kind of frustrated and lonely cry of the heart.
And a lot of times it can feel like that. I’ve had a friend once complain, a long while back, that she felt like she was the only one helping out at her church while the other people her age were all going around doing there own thing. I know that me, personally, I’ve felt alone at church a lot of the time – especially when I go back home. For a while, I felt like I was the only one who actually cared about the people I was around – that it was just so easy to make fun of them and I was the only one who thought that maybe…that wasn’t ok.
It’s very easy to feel alone. It’s very easy to feel as if you’re the only one. It’s very easy to make that complaint, even if you know that there are others, even if you’ve heard that there are others, even if – as in my case – you’re surrounded by other believers. It’s very easy to get caught up in feeling like you’re the only one doing anything at all, and I think that’s where this cry from Elijah is coming from. Sure, there may be 100 other prophets, but they’re all in hiding. He’s the only one out there, the only one left to do what he’s doing. At least, that’s the way he feels.
And it’s a hard feeling.
2. Elijah lets the prophets of Baal choose their own bull. This is a very wise decision. This way the prophets of Baal can’t say that Elijah set the whole thing up – or, really, knowing people, they can but it wouldn’t/won’t be near as effective as if Elijah picked his bull and gave them the remains.
3. The people finally speak! They agree to Elijah’s plan because it seems good to them, and, really, it is a good plan. As he’s presented it, everything will be exactly the same insofar as what is provided. But how they each treat their bull to get a response – and the response itself – is very different, as we will see in upcoming verses.