1 Kings 18:22-24
Then said Elijah to the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.…
Elijah had appealed to the people on their inconsistency in hesitating between services so widely different and so utterly irreconcilable as those of Jehovah and Baal. He got no response. "The people answered him not a word." Then he proposed the test of fire to determine which was worthy. The conclusiveness of such an appeal could not be challenged; so the people with one voice answered, "It is well spoken." L THE TEST WAS UNEXCEPTIONABLE.
1. For Baal was the fire god.
(1) His name designates him as the lord or ruler. It comes from the verb (בעל) to own or possess, to be master of. But the sun, from its splendour and central position, accounted the visible lord in the material heavens, was their Baal. Sanchoniathon says the Phoenicians thought the sun to be the only lord of heaven, calling him Beelsamen, which in their language is lord of heaven. In "Beelsamen" we at once recognize the Hebrew בעל שׁמים.
(2) Baal was the fire or body of the sun, rather than its light. So in 2 Kings 23:5 we find Baal (בעל) distinguished from (שמש) the solar light. (See Parkhurst under שמש.) Parkhurst points out that the Runic or Islandic BAAL signifies fire, the Saxon BAEL, and BAEL-FYR, a burning pile, a pyre, a bonfire. Probably our bonfire is simply a corruption of Bael-fyr.
(3) The image of this idol was a bull. This animal was by the ancients regarded as the emblem of fire. The similitude seems to have been in its red colour, in the curled hair upon its forehead giving the idea of flame, in the horns budding from its head suggesting the darting of rays of light from the sun. In Tobit (1:5) we read of "the heifer called Baal." We have the name of this god still preserved in our English bull.
2. The controversy was whether Baal was independent of Jehovah.
(1) His worshippers claimed this for him.
(2) Elijah maintained the opposite. And with cogent reason, for during three years and six months Jehovah made Baal punish his votaries.
(3) Now the prophet proposes the further test of a sudden miracle. If Baal be god, if he be independent of Jehovah, let him come down and consume the sacrifice offered to him. If he cannot, then why should he be worshipped? If Jehovah can send fire on his sacrifice, then is He manifestly Lord of Baal, and should be so acknowledged.
(4) That suitable acknowledgment of God which such a miracle demands, implies -
(a) Recognition of His almighty providence and lordship over the material and moral universe.
(b) The engagement of all our powers in His worship and service.
II. SO WAS THE MANNER OF THE TEST.
1. The prophets of Baal had precedence.
(1) Not because Baal was entitled to it, for that would be a concession of the argument, but because they were many. Elijah stood alone the prophet of the Lord, while the idolatrous prophets were 850 men.
(2) They were to provide the sacrifices. They were wealthy. Elijah was poor. They could not object to the test when the sacrifices were of their own selection.
2. The experiment was to be fair.
(1) Not only might the priests of Baal choose their bullock, cut it in pieces after their approved method, lay it on the wood of the altar; but they must "put no fire under." Else where would be the proof of the ability of Baal? Under some heathen altars holes were dug in which fire was concealed, which communicating with the alter set the wood on fire to make the simple people believe that the sacrifice was consumed by miraculous fire. This Elijah would not permit.
(2) Ordinarily the sacrifices offered to Baal were offered in fire; and sometimes human sacrifices were so offered. "They built the high places of Baal to burn their sons with fire, for burnt offerings" (Jeremiah 19:5). The Phoenician Baal seems to have been identical with the Ammonite Molech. "They built the high places of Baal which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech (Jeremiah 32:35).
(3) Ashtaroth also were virtually the same as Baalim," under which plural term are included diversified Baals, as Baal Peor, etc.; and so in ver. 25 the prophets of Baal are said to have (אלהים) "gods," in the plural
(4) These had their various images, in some of which the man and bull came into union. The Assyrian man bull so conspicuous in the Nineveh marbles, is probably one of these. Let us bless God for our Christianity. It is pure light. Compared with it other systems are dark with ignorance, superstition, and error. It is supreme benevolence. Happy is its contrast to the characteristic cruelties of idolatry. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.