Mount Carmel: Mount of Decision
April 1st, 1969 @ 12:00 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Kings 17, 21
4-1-69 12:00 p.m.
Today it is Mount Carmel, the Mount of Decision. The sixteenth chapter of the Book of 1 Kings ends like this:
And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him.
And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam, that he took to wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. . .
And Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.
[1 Kings 16:30-33]
Whom Jezebel, his wife, stirred up to do evil [1 Kings 21:25l. And that is the conclusion of the sixteenth chapter of the Book of 1 Kings.
And the first verse of the seventeenth chapter is this: "And Elijah the Tishbite" [1 Kings 17:1], he bursts into history like the force of a hammer, like naked and jagged lightning, cleaving the bosom of the sky. Without introduction, without background, he suddenly stands before us, "And Elijah the Tishbite." All we know of his background is that he comes from Tishbe. That’s in the wild, mountainous region of Gilead, on the other side of the Jordan River, where the rugged peaks run down to the Arabian desert.
And the man is majestic, like the mountainous home from whence he comes: rugged, grand, bleak, awesome. He’s like John the Baptist, who seemed to carry the wilderness with him when he came into the city: Elijah, the Tishbite, a man made out of iron, his eyes flashing fire and bearing courage in every bone.
Now, Ahab had everything, that is, except one little thing. At the corner of his winter palace, in Jezreel, was a little vineyard, and it was owned by Naboth, the Jezreelite. And, as Ahab looked over the balustrade and saw that little plot, he coveted it for himself, for a garden of herbs, to raise lettuce and radishes and things that go with a garden. So, he went to Naboth and said, "Let me buy it of thee, or I will get thee another garden, even more acceptable than this" [1 Kings 21:1-2]. And when Naboth answered, he was not contemptuous or vindictive, but he said, "God forbid that I should give thee the inheritance of my fathers" [1 Kings 21:3]. According to the Law of Moses in Numbers 36, Israel and their families were forbidden to sell the inheritance of their fathers [Numbers 36:7]. And Naboth said, "I cannot sell it thee. It was given me by my forefathers, and God forbid that I should sell at a price, the inheritance of my fathers" [1 Kings 21:3].
There are always things that ought not to be sold that we have received as an inheritance from our forefathers. Our Lord’s Day, which we have received from them, ought not to be sold for money, though it is. This Holy Bible, the Scriptures, ought not to be sold out to the infidel critic, though it is. And our worship of God ought not to be desecrated, this holy freedom that we received at the price of blood, though it is. When Naboth answered, he was not contemptuous of the king. He called upon the eternal name and said, "God forbid that I should break the law of my fathers in giving thee for money my inheritance" [1 Kings 21:3].
Now, Ahab, like a spoiled brat when he couldn’t get possession of that little vineyard, he sulked and he pouted. And he went up to his palace and to his bedroom and lay down with his face to the wall. And he wouldn’t eat [1 Kings 21:4]. And Jezebel came in and walked over to him [1 Kings 21:5] and said, "Baby, what’s the matter with you? What’s the matter? Tell your mommy what’s the matter with you?"
And Ahab replied, "I wanted Naboth’s vineyard and he won’t let me have it."
And Jezebel said, "Now, now, now, now, baby boy. Don’t you worry. I will get that vineyard for you." Just like Lady Macbeth: "Give me the dagger and I’ll show thane how to be a king."
Now, the plot was very simple. With the king’s signature, and over his name, she sent word to the elders, the leaders, the councilmen of Jezreel, that Naboth had blasphemed the king and the name of God and was a traitor to his country, and for them to set Naboth on high and suborn witnesses. And they set Naboth on high, and the suborned witnesses, at a price, said, "We heard him blaspheme God and the name of the king." And, they dragged Naboth out from the city wall. And they stoned him until he died [1 Kings 21:8-13]. And they sent word to Jezebel and said, "Naboth is stoned and is dead." And, somebody brought the word to Naboth’s wife: "Naboth is stoned and is dead" [1 Kings 21:14].
And she must have gathered the children together and with many tears, repeated that awful refrain: "Naboth is stoned and is dead." And because the dogs couldn’t reach the carcass – because of the heap of stones, they licked up the blood that ran down between the rocks [1 Kings 21:19]. So, Jezebel came to Ahab and said, "Naboth is stoned and is dead. Arise, therefore, and possess" [1 Kings 21:15]. And Ahab rose up to possess the little garden [1 Kings 21:16].
And the next verse in God’s Book says: "And the Lord God Jehovah said to Elijah, Arise. Arise" [1 Kings 21:17-18]. Isn’t that an unusual thing? When Satan says "Arise," God speaks to His servant and says, "Arise." And when Ahab arose to possess and went down to the little garden, there stood in it a grim figure. He looks like an embodied conscience, an incarnate judgment. Who is he, and where did he come from? He just stands there, his eyes flashing fire, grim, silent, black-browed. And Ahab, looking upon him, cries and says, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" [1 Kings 21:20]
And Elijah the Tishbite, the prophet of God, replied, "In that place – in that place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, shall the dogs lick up thy blood, even thine" [1 Kings 21:19]. And in the iniquity of the king and in the apostasy of the nation, Elijah, the prophet of God, announces a judgment from heaven: "There shall not be dew nor rain in Israel, except by my word" [1 Kings 17:1]. And he disappeared. And in the three and half years that followed, the heavens turned to brass, and the earth turned to iron, and the great famine raged [1 Kings 18:1].
And at the end of three and half years, the Lord said to Elijah, "Arise, and appear before Ahab" [1 Kings 18:1]. And Elijah appeared before the dissimulating king of Israel and said, "On Mount Carmel, gather all the prophets of Baal together. And on Mount Carmel, call all of the people of Israel together" [1 Kings 18:19]. And when the prophets of Baal were there and when the people of Israel were there, Elijah said, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If Baal be God, serve him, but if Lord Jehovah be God, serve Him" [1 Kings 18:20-21].
"Now," said Elijah, "Let the prophets of Baal build an altar. And cut to pieces a sacrificial bullock, and put no fire under, and let them call upon the name of their god. Then, let me build an altar and cut in pieces the bullock and lay the sacrifice on the wood and no fire under [1 Kings 18:23]. And let me call upon the name of Jehovah God. And the God that shall answer by fire, let Him be God." And, all the people said, "It is well. Good" [1 Kings 18:24].
So, the prophets of Baal – four hundred fifty – built their altar, laid on it the wood, cut the pieces of the bullock and laid the sacrificial victim on top. And then, from the early morning until the time of the evening sacrifice, began to call, with louder words and more impetuous petitions: "Baal, Baal, Baal, Baal, send the fire! Baal, send the fire!" No one heard and no one answered.
And Elijah began to mock them, saying, "Call louder, still louder, for he’s a god, surely. He may be on a trip, he may be talking, he is engrossed or, perchance, he is asleep and you must awaken him. Call." And the prophets of Baal leaped up on the altar and cut themselves with lances and with knives. "Baal, Baal send the fire," and no fire fell [1 Kings 18:25-29].
And at the time of the evening sacrifice Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord that had fallen down [1 Kings 18:30] – the apostasy of His people. And he laid the wood and the bullock and covered it all with water and dug trenches around [1 Kings 18:31-35]. And he knelt down and talked to God. And when Elijah prayed, the fire fell from heaven, consumed the sacrifice, consumed the wood, consumed the stones of the altar, consumed the dust, licked up the water and the people cried, "Jehovah, He is God. There is no God but the Lord God, Jehovah" [from 1 Kings 18:36-39].
Did you know that every nation and every generation and every human soul faces a like decision? Shall it be the Lord God or something else? We face the decision nationally. Sometimes, when I am abroad, I will hear America referred to as a Christian nation. It is no Christian nation. America is a pagan nation. It is a secular nation, and it has in it many Christians. But, the drift of America is increasingly and constantly secular.
You had an illustration of that last week when the Army of the United States gave directive to its chaplains that in their initiatory lectures to the Armed Forces, they were not to use the name of God, nor were they to make reference to God. Can you imagine a chaplain interdicted in speaking initiatory lectures to his men, to deny all reference to God? – the secularization, the drift of the American nation.
I am not saying, one way or another, about the Supreme Court’s decision on prayer in the public schools. I am just saying that it is typical of the drift of modern American society towards the material and toward the secular. To show you the impression that that Supreme Court decision made – you have heard this story yourself, of the high school principal who stumbled upon some little boys kneeling. And he looked over there, and they were shooting craps. And he said he was greatly relieved to learn they were not in a prayer meeting. The drift of American society is secular and material. There is less and less and less of God and more and more and more of a thousand things that pertain to the tawdry sterility of this world, the cheapness of power and affluence.
The old psalmist still says: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: and except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain" [Psalm 127:1]. And, a modern day prophet wrote:
Far-called, our navies melt away,
On dune and sand sinks the fire.
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.
Judge of the nation, spare us yet –
Lest we forget, lest we forget!
["Recessional," Rudyard Kipling]
America faces that decision. We face that decision, all of us, every human soul. We face it in our homes. The conquistadores came to America, seeking plunder and gold and violence and bloodshed. The English Pilgrims came to America, seeking a place to build a home and a church and to rear their children in the love and admonition of the Lord. That same dedication in the building of a Christian home or a worldly home, lies in the purview of every family in America. And we face the decision in our souls: is it God or something else?
And most of us have that inherent weakness to lay first and love first the things of world: entertainment, affluence, success, fame, all of the gadgets that we are able to buy in America. And, our lives are cheap and empty and full of frustration and failure. And, we hide our faces from the great realities both of this life and of the life that is to come. How different the great apostle Paul, who could say, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21]. If, for me, to live is money, to die is a loss. If, for me, to live in the world, to die is a loss. If, for me, to live in success, to die is a loss. If, for me, to live in pleasure, to die is a loss. If, for me, to live in sin, to die is a loss. If, for me, to live is self, to die is a loss. But, if, for me, to live is Christ, to die is a gain.
The blessed reward of the soul that chooses God, both in this life and in the life that is yet to come. The mount of the decision, as with Joshua, "But as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord" [Joshua 24:15].