March 18, 2014


Sometimes God chooses to plug Baal’s ears. Or tie his hands. Or stop his mouth. Elijah’s mockery on Carmel must not be taken to prove that Baal cannot hear. It was faith in his power to respond that drove his worship leaders to demand for most of a day, “Answer us, O Baal” (see 1 Kings 18:26). They knocked expecting an answer.

Their Baal was lord and god in the Tyrian north, from which Queen Jezebel had come. As Yahweh was the God of Israel’s Torah, so Baal was the center and master of Ugaritic scripture in Jezebel’s native territory. If Elijah could believe in Yahweh’s might and power, Jezebel could know from her scriptures how her god had fought off all rivals and been enthroned in power in his temple.

Such was his unparalleled grandeur that Ashtar, pretender to his position, could readily be exposed, because he was too puny: his feet could not reach Baal’s footstool, while his head did not reach the top of Baal’s throne.

God’s jealous wrath against their own people was no mere difference of folkways and mores, no mere quality contrast between inferior Israelite and superior Canaanite culture. It was no artistic figment, no golden bull, or bronze figurine or bas-relief figure holding a lightning bolt that aroused God’s ire and drove Him to curse His own chosen land with years of blighting drought. However palpable their stone or metal, baals as idols are ultimately nonentities juxtaposed over against the God who made the heavens (see 1 Chron. 16:26). God is not threatened by rocks.

God’s jealous wrath was no mere difference of folkways and mores.

The threat that God must answer is not the challenge of rocks. The state and age of rocks is fine with Him. He makes and vaporizes rocks according to His breath and will. Bronze, gold, and stone have never risen up against their Creator. But genius does, genius that makes of matter a faith to live by.

Ugarit’s theologians and Jezebel’s bible expounded on the power of creation as its own deity, and yet, as a being who could be worshipped and who accepted their worship and sacrifice. For it was he who gave them their rain—he was the weather god. He it was who gave them their grain—he was the son of Dagon [dagan means grain]. He it was who had received authority from the head of the pantheon to rule—he was son of the ancient El.

And a people whom God the Creator had loved into existence, and nurtured to adulthood and nationhood, whom He had delivered from evil so He could give them a kingdom and power and glory with Him, these people were now believing that their life, and breath, and their everything came from some other source and by some other means than by His ever-provident affection. Now they were turning to Baal in search of bread and water, wool and flax, oil and drink (see Hosea 2:5).

As in yesterday’s ninth century B.C., today’s twenty-first century still features humans of many a stripe—commercial, governmental, even religious—crying to Baal to fix what Jesus alone can fix. Somebody always chafes at punishment. And we may refuse to learn from the story.

But God knew that Israel would never get their answer until He stopped Baal’s mouth, tied his hands, and plugged his ears; until He dried up the vines and fig trees Israel claimed were Baal’s gifts (Hosea 2:12). Then there would be nothing. Israel would know that Baal had not heard. Sometimes God chooses to plug Baal’s ears.