The part Solomon played in the journey from Eden to the New Jerusalem is a Good News/Bad News narrative. He had inherited a kingdom that had been well established by his father, David. And we continue to profit from his God given wisdom as we read the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The Bad News is that having tolerated the idol worship of his many wives they enticed him in his last years to participate with them. “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.” (I Kings 11:4).
After Solomon’s apostasy and death, things for the people of God did not improve. As God had promised (I Kings 9:7) The ten tribes of Israel were torn from the reign of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and given to Jeroboam, a servant of Solomon. Only one tribe, Judah, remained faithful to the dynasty of David. The ten tribes became known as “Israel” and the tribe name, Judah, became the name of those faithful to David and Solomon.
The wickedness of Jeroboam and Israel seemed to increase exponentially under the leadership of Ahab, the seventh king of Israel. He became the measuring Rod of the wickedness of Israel. The kings were described as “as bad as Ahab” or “evil, but not like Ahab.” His unending conflict with the prophet Elijah makes for interesting reading. Ahab considered him an enemy of Israel. Elijah had called Israel to repentance and informed Ahab of pending punishment if they did not respond. And when punishment came in the form of long-lasting drought (James 5:17) Ahab considered Elijah responsible.
One of the most exciting incidents recorded in Scripture is Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Ahab and his notorious wife Jezebel had become worshipers of this idol. As a result, Elijah summoned all the prophets of Baal to meet him on Mt. Carmel. He then called all Israel to decide who they would follow, either Baal or the God who delivered them from bondage in Egypt. He suggested that the Baal prophets and he be given bulls, that he and the prophets of Baal would sacrifice and the God who sends fire to consume the bull sacrifice should be Israel. He even allowed his foes to go first.
After hours of pleading and mutilating themselves, with no response from became Elijah’s turn. He made an altar of stones, built a trench around it, and put wood and pieces of the bull on the altar. He also had water poured on the altar until the trench around the altar was filled with water. He then prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am . . . Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may that you, O Lord, are God” (I Kings 18:36,37) Before he could say “amen” fire fell from heaven and consumed not only the sacrificed bull, but the stones and even licked up the water in the trench around the Altar.
Thinking about this confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal reminds me of our service in Germany. I had many opportunities to conduct evangelistic meetings in many of the churches of Berlin. This one of my favorite stories which I used in evangelizing children. I had painted flames of fire on see-through paper and placed them above the picture of the altar on the flannelgraph. Then I placed a light bulb behind the paper. After reciting Elijah’s prayer, I turned on the light and the flames appeared on the flannelgraph above the altar. I think I enjoyed that as much as the children did. It helped to impress them with the power of God.
This confrontation between and the prophets of Baal must have had some temporary effect on the Israelites since God lifted the years of drought they had experienced. But it had no effect since all the kings that followed Ahab were about as bad as he was. And the idol worship continued.
We have been discussing the situation in Israel following the dividing of the Kingdom of Israel after the death of Solomon. In our next episode we will turn our attention to Judah.