Monday, June 25, 2018

Devotionals for the Heart: A Mountaintop Experience

On the Mountaintop
A devotional by Dana McNeely

One of the greatest mountaintop experiences of all time occurred when Elijah told King Ahab to summon people from across Israel and meet on Mount Carmel. Outside the land of Samaria, the mountain was well placed for people to gather from all parts. Many had never traveled this far, but after three and a half years of drought and famine, suffering was intense. Everyone was ready to comply, no matter what they thought of Elijah.

The King

King Ahab blamed the prophet for the country’s suffering and had searched everywhere to find him. He felt no responsibility for the drought, though he’d married a foreign princess, embraced her gods, and led the people into a sort of dual worship of Yahweh and Baal. The king must have felt some grudging respect for Elijah who, despite all the machinations of king and country, made good on his promise of “No rain until I say so.”

The False Prophets

On one side there was Baal, god of sun and rain, with over four hundred prophets. On the other, Yahweh with his lone prophet. The false prophets must have watched him with hatred, waiting for their chance to make sure their nemesis never descended the mountain. But as Elijah had said before, he stood in the presence of the one true God. He appeared confident. Fearless.

The People

A hush may have fallen on the crowd as they heard the tread of the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. Next, the king’s honor guard, surrounded by other important officers of state, bearing Ahab in his royal litter. And behind them, one last commoner, a humble shepherd … but wait … could that be the prophet?

It would have been reasonable to hope that Elijah might pray for rain and end the terrible drought. If he didn’t, the king would undoubtedly kill him. Either way, there'd be a story to tell their children and grandchildren.

The Question

What happened next revealed that Elijah didn’t mind providing a little entertainment, but it wasn’t going to be as easy as a quick prayer and a raincloud. At the start of things, he’d made clear that the drought was the Lord’s judgment because of the nation’s idolatry. For the judgment to be removed, Israel must publically turn back to God.

According to 1 
Kings 18:21 (NIV), Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

The word used here for ‘waver’ (‘halt’ in another translation) means ‘totter.' Sometimes the people tottered over to worship the Lord, and other times they lurched over to the temples of Baal and Asherah, like drunks unsteady on their feet. They couldn’t make up their minds. Afraid of Yahweh, Israel didn't entirely abandon him. Fearing the king and queen, they worshiped the Baals also. They weren’t willing to take a stand for either side.

The Contest

Then Elijah proposed a contest which the people thought a good idea. The winner would be the true God. The prophets of Baal would prepare a bull for sacrifice, but not light the fire. Elijah gave them the first opportunity to call on their god. They prayed from morning to noon, dancing around the altar. No one answered.

At noon, Elijah began to taunt them. Baal might be deep in thought, busy, or traveling. Maybe he was asleep and needed to be wakened. The false prophets grew more frenzied and slashed themselves until their blood flowed on the altar. They continued until it was nearly time for the evening sacrifice.

Then Elijah took his turn.

He built an altar of twelve unhewn stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, symbolizing the nation’s unity, even though it was now divided. He dug a trench around the altar and called on observers to drench the sacrifice until water overflowed and filled the trough.

At precisely the time of the evening sacrifice, he prayed a simple prayer.

According to 1 King 18:36-39 (NIV) he prayed, "Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you are turning their hearts back again."

Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!

No dancing or shouting. A request and an answer. From the one true God.

Thoughts to Ponder:

· Elijah’s prayer took a lot of faith. He risked his reputation and his life. Can you think of situations God used to build Elijah's trust? (Hint: In the presence of royalty, by a wilderness brook, in a humble home.)

· Did you notice that the Lord sent fire after Elijah’s request, but RAIN didn’t fall until after the people chose the Lord? What does this for us today?

· The Lord is a jealous God. Throughout scripture he has demanded full commitment—you must be for or against him. In Exodus 32:26, Moses asked, "Who is on the Lord's side?" In Matthew 12:30, Jesus said, "He that is not with me is against me." Have you made your choice?

*Other posts about the prophet Elijah: Love in the Time of Drought, In the Waiting Room, A Widow, a Prophet, and Provision from God, An Intersection of Time and Eternity, and Ways to Handle Drought

Author Bio: 

Inspired by the Bible story of Elijah and the widow’s son, Dana McNeely wondered why the prophet had come to stay with these two. Who were they? What was their life, before? And how did the boy change after dying, seeing the other world … and coming back? 

Dana began research for her novel, “Rain,” which tells the story of the three-and-a-half-year drought from the boy’s perspective.

No stranger to drought, Dana lives in an Arizona oasis with her hubby the constant gardener, two good dogs, an antisocial cat, and migrating butterflies. She writes biblical fiction, cozy mysteries, and has written for magazines and newspapers. Her short story “Death in the Butterfly Garden” appears in SoWest: Killer Nights (2017).

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1 comment:

  1. Dana, I love your article using biblical stories as examples of mountain top experiences. It is thought provoking, I never thought about them being mountain top stories.
    Thank you


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