Today’s reading: 1 Kings 12-22, Psalm 48
In today’s reading, we see things go from bad to worse. At the outset, Rehoboam has an opportunity to avert a kingdom crisis following the death of his father, Solomon. Instead, his ego gets the best of him, and he makes a rash executive decision that plunges the nation into a downward spiral. Once again, there is a split between Israel and Judah, and the kings who ascend to power over each are both ineffective and unfaithful. In fact, the recurring refrain from today’s reading seems to be that with each new king, the behavior is even worse than the one before. The outlook is not good.
Dropped into the middle of this eighty-year record of failed leadership is a story that reminds the reader not all hope is lost. A prophet Elijah appears, who will stand up for the God of Israel even if he has to do so alone. When he confronts King Ahab, the stage is set for a showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Troubled by the king’s unfaithfulness and the way he has steered the people astray, Elijah knows this is his opportunity to expose the king’s prophets as frauds and the gods of Baal as worthless.
The crowd gathers at Mount Carmel and Elijah sets the terms of the engagement. As the contest begins, he reveals a “flare” for the theatrical. “No, really,” he says, “you can go first.” When the Baal prophets can’t produce results, Elijah becomes even more emboldened. Showtime! So confident is he that God will “light the fire” on the altar, he first soaks it down. One might begin to worry that Elijah’s own ego is starting to get in the way here. But then we hear him speak, and we know that he has seized this moment not for himself but for God: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God in Israel. . .” And God does.