(A brief overview for teachers and Bible Study leaders of the Lifeway Sunday school lesson for July 10, 2022)
INTRODUCTION: One way you could begin this lesson would be to ask your group:
??? “Have you/anyone in your class ever seen someone literally bow down and worship and idol?” Many of us who have grown up as Christians in America might say NO, but an increasing number of us may have.
— I remember reading an article in the paper in Tulsa back in the 1990’s, and they were interviewing an Asian man who had started a business there. They had a picture of his mantle, and referred to the idol he worshiped. That was the first time I’d seen an idol being worshiped in America.
— And I can vividly remember being on a mission trip in Lucknow, India, and seeing a man dressed in a nice business suit walk up to a little local temple, ring the bell (I learned later to “wake up the god”!) and bow down before the image of the monkey god who was sitting on a throne. I was just blown away by it. It was the first time I’d really seen someone bow before an idol. A man dressed in a business suit, bowing before a monkey god idol!
— I was driving to make a hospital visit here in Texas my first year here, and was shocked to see a series of Buddhist idols on the side of the road at one point. In TEXAS of all places!
You/some of your class members may have some experiences like this — or you can feel free to share these.
But then you could say: this morning we are going to look at I Kings 18, where God’s people were challenged to forsake false idols like these, and worship the One True God, YHWH. (And of course we will see that all “idols” are not made of stone/wood!)
CONTEXT: Remember this is after the division of Israel into Judah (the Southern Kingdom under the descendants of Solomon) and the Northern Kingdom (the 10 tribes that separated from Judah, which went by the name “Israel”)
This can be a little confusing, because the name “Israel” can mean the whole nation, or it can just mean the 10 tribes that split off/Northern Kingdom. Here in I Kings, especially after King Jeroboam split away, it usually means the Northern Kingdom.
So at this time, the wicked King Ahab is now king over the Northern Kingdom, “Israel,” and his wife is the very wicked queen Jezebel. God had brought a famine on the land because of their wickedness and idolatry. It did not rain for 3 years.
Elijah came to King Ahab, and in 18:17, Ahab calls Elijah, “You troubler of Israel.” (Isn’t this typical? AHAB was the one who brought this evil on the land, by his sin, but he blames the man of God who brought the message. Some of us have experienced that same kind of thing.) But Elijah answers Ahab and says: “I have not troubled Israel, but you … have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals.” (Notice the plural here; we’ll talk about that in a minute)
Then in :19 Elijah tells King Ahab to gather all Israel (the northern Kingdom) at Mt. Carmel, with 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table. (So Jezebel evidently supported these false prophets financially.)
This brings us to today’s focus passage.
Now, one thing you will want to get down pat is that this is EliJAH with a “J.” Following him will be another prophet, EliSHA, with an “sh.” Like Rehoboam and Jeroboam you want to be familiar enough with these to keep you/your class from being confused. To me this one is easier, because they come in “alphabetical order”: Elijah with “J” comes first, then his disciple EliSHA. Not a big deal, but just make sure you have that down.
You might want to spend just a bit of time to give your group an overview of some of the competing “gods” of Elijah’s time. Elijah mentions two in :19, Baal and Asherah. Molech was another popular one:
— Baal. This Hebrew word “ba-al” means “master, lord, owner.” You get some idea from that expression of the dark nature of this god. He was the “master.” History and archeology tell us he was god of the storm. (Thus when Elijah said YHWH would withhold rain, He was showing His power over Baal, the “storm god,” whom they thought brought them the rain!)
Now I mentioned in 18:18 that Elijah said they had gone after the “Baals” plural. One thing we need to understand was that there were many “Baals”, many “masters.” Each was named after a locality: the Baal of this city; the Baal of that city. (I imagine these were demons who empowered/animated the gods of these places and kept the people enthralled to them.)
So throughout the Old Testament you see names like:
— In Exodus 14:2 Israel camps by Baal-zephon, “master/god of Zephon”
— In Numbers 25:3, Israel “joined themselves to the Baal of Peor.” Peor was the city, and Baal-Peor was the god/Baal of that city.
And so on through the Old Testament. So be aware of this, and it will also help you understand these names/places when you come to them throughout the OT.
Baal worship was characterized by drinking. They would offer sacrifices to him, and drink wine in great quantities in his presence to honor him. Numbers 25 describes how Israel was corrupted with the “Baal of Peor,” and they offered sacrifices, and were also involved in sacramental immorality with the Midianites – so immorality was often a part of the Baal worship.
— Asherah: was a female deity, a goddess of fertility. I Kings 18:19 mentions the Asherah along with the Baal; he was the “male” idol; she was often the corresponding “female,” and so the people would often worship them together, with immoral orgies. She was often worshiped in wooden statues, or poles in the ground, or trees that were dedicated to her.
— Molech. (we talked about him a few weeks ago)This was the horrific god to whom babies were offered in sacrifice. They would heat a metal idol of Molech, and offer their babies to his fire-heated hands. God said this was an “abomination,” and you can see why. (Many equate it to the horrors of abortion today). We just studied that Solomon supported this horrific worship under the influence of some of his foreign wives.
I also think it is helpful to know that when you see “LORD” in all 4 caps in the OT, in Hebrew it is YHWH, the personal name of God.
This is important here, because when we come to those verses, it is saying, it is not “Baal” or “Asherah” who is God, but YHWH, THIS God, by this personal name, HE is God, not those others.
So a little overview of these things will be helpful. But don’t spend TOO much time on it; we don’t ever want our lessons to be just “history/archeology lessons,” but we always want to APPLY the scripture to our lives today.
So in light of that you might ask your group then:
??? What are some of the competing “gods” we have in our culture TODAY?
— Allah: the god of Islam: “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.”
— Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Kali and a million others!
— Buddhism: we are all part of the god-force
— materialism/pleasure/SELF: these are some of the most prominent “gods” today (we may talk about some of these some more in a minute)
So there are competing “gods” of various kinds in our world today, just as there were in Elijah’s time.
Many of us are familiar with the story in :23-39 of how Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, and you can summarize that story appropriately for your class, spending more or less time on it, depending on how familiar they are with it.
But then I would make the application that THE important emphasis in this passage is that YHWH is God, not any of these others. In fact, we see a very strong, THREE-FOLD EMPHASIS near the end of the passage:
— :36 “let it be known that YOU are God”
— :37 “THAT this people may know that You, YHWH are God …”
— :39 when the people saw what YHWH did they fell on their faces and cried out: “YHWH He is God; YHWH He is God!”
YHWH, THIS God, HE is the One True God: YHWH: the God who told Moses “I AM THAT I AM,” YHWH, who gave the 10 Commandments; YHWH, who brought Israel into the Promised Land; YHWH, the God of Elijah, HE is God, not any of the Baals, or the Asherah, or anyone else. YHWH, He is God!
THIS is what God wanted to happen here. He wanted the people to see that HE, and He ONLY is the One, True God.
And that is what God wants to happen today too. He wants us and those around us, to realize that YHWH, the God of the Bible, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, HE is God, and not any of these other “competitors” in our society.
**This is an issue this passage addresses, which we very much face today too. In I Kings, they thought it was ok to worship both YHWH and Baal. This is what Elijah was addressing in :21, when he said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions; if YHWH is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” In other words, they aren’t BOTH right. There is one true God.
This is a challenge we need to hear today, isn’t it? Most people today believe there are multiple ways to God, and it doesn’t matter which one you follow. Sadly, this is true even of many people in our churches today:
A nationwide survey of 35,000 American churchgoers, conducted in 2020 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that 57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life! That’s well over HALF, of EVANGELICAL (not lost, not liberal denominations) CHURCH ATTENDERS (not those who don’t come) — believe that many different religions can lead to eternal life.
So over half the people in our Christian churches nationwide, think other religions, other gods, can save us! Our people need to hear Elijah’s challenge from from I Kings 18: If Jesus is God, follow Him; if not follow the others. But let’s get off the fence.
The Bible is very clear that there are NOT multiple gods/ways to heaven. There is ONE true God, and ONE way to heaven.
— Deuteronomy 4:35 “YHWH, He is God there is no other.”
— Isaiah 45:5 “I am YHWH and there is no other; besides me there is no god.”
— Joel 2:27 “I am YHWH your God and there is no other”
— John 14:6 Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
— Acts 4:12 The disciples proclaimed: “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”
The Bible could not be more clear. You’d like to think that every Christian knows and believes this — but these national polls show us otherwise. It would be good to review these verses. Give a slip of paper to each member and have them each look one up, have them read them out loud, one after another, and them just emphasize, over and over like the blows of a hammer, this great truth: THERE IS ONE GOD, YHWH, and ONE WAY TO HIM: JESUS! It is one of the most important lessons you can get out of this text, and perhaps THE most important lesson you can EVER teach your class, that there is ONE God, and the ONE way to Him is through Jesus.
Some people think that is “bigoted” or “exclusive,” but it is just a fact. We recognize that there are exclusive, non-contradictory facts in other areas of life: in math, for example, how many correct answers are there to 2 + 2? There is only one, right? (4!) That’s not being “bigoted,” or “exclusive.” It is just a mathematical fact. Why do we think it is any different in religion, that there must be many correct answers? The Bible makes it clear that just as there is only one right answer to 2 + 2, there is also only one right answer as to how to get to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ. So teach that to your class, emphasize it as much as you can. Your members are being inundated with influences that contradict that all week long, so you be sure to emphasize that to your group, not only this Sunday, but regularly.
Let’s teach them “not to hesitate between two opinions,” but to choose the Bible truth: one God/one way to heaven through Jesus.
Another application of this passage for your class could be: what are some of the competitors to the One true God in YOUR life today?
In Elijah’s day it was Baal and Asherah and Milcom; what are the challengers to God for US, TODAY? Probably not many of us are tempted to worship metal or stone idols. But we all DO have things that tempt us to serve them, instead of God. These too are idols.
So you might ask your group: ??? What are some things that we might be tempted to make idols of today? What are some things that might keep us from serving God with all our heart?
(Some answers might include:
— pleasure: we’d rather feel good than serve God
— popular opinion. We *would* serve God, but we also want to please other people; we don’t want to let them down, or have them think badly of us, etc.
— even family (we talked about that last time; sometimes we have to choose God instead of family …)
— Just ourselves. We want to do what WE want to do, instead of what God says. We want to run our own lives.
ONE LITTLE EXERCISE you could use this week, either at this point — or somewhere else, or even as an alternative introduction or conclusion — would be to look up some of the false gods we’ve been talking about: Baal, Asherah, Milcom, and print out a picture of them to show your group.
But then you could say: but all “idols” don’t look ugly like that.
“Some idols may look like this”: (and hold up a picture of a boat, a business, a child … etc.)
That might show in a dramatic way that we can make idols even out of “good” things that might draw us away from whole-hearted obedience to the Lord. If that will work for you, use that for your group Sunday.
But I think the important lesson here is, just like the people of Israel in Elijah’s day, many of us want to “sit on the fence,” and have it both ways. But we can’t have it both ways. God says you can’t worship Me and other idols at the same time. And all “idols” are not metal or stone. It’s anyone or anything that tempts us away from full commitment to God. Like Israel in Elijah’s day, God wants us to choose to serve HIM, and Him ALONE, today!
Ok, I hope that will help you with some background and application for Sunday. You pray and read over this passage, and ask God to help you apply it to your group as they need it.
God bless you as you remind your class this week, that there is only ONE true God, and only ONE way to Him, through Jesus!