At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”
1 Kings 18:27
As we all know, this was a contest between the Baal worshipers and Elijah who worshiped YHWH. This taunt was in the middle of the Baal worship as they were calling on Baal to consume the sacrifice that they laid out. It’s probably not wise to go around criticizing people who worship false gods, but we can see in this taunt a valuable lesson about how we should not worship God.
“Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be wakened.”
Often times I hear a worship leader encourage the congregation to sing louder or shout at the top of our lungs, as if God is not able to hear our voices. They pin this to “giving our best to the Lord.” Really? Is shouting in inaudible, gross tunes really our best? As a musician I know very clearly that loud is not necessarily better.
Let’s compare the worship styles of Baal and YHWH.
So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.
1 Kings 18:26, 28
Notice the shouting and dancing. Does this sound familiar? I don’t think we see slashing with swords and spears, but I have seen people literally faint from fatigue because the worship leader “inspired” them to “give their best.”
Compare this to YHWH worship.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “ Lord , the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord , answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord , are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
1 Kings 18:36-37
One prayer. That’s it. But there’s a lot in this one prayer.
1) He acknowledges who God is. “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.” Despite the fact that Israel was knee deep in Baal worship, Elijah went against that and acknowledged that YHWH was the God of Israel. In worship, we should acknowledge God as Lord of our life.
2) He petitions / invites God to reveal himself. “…let it be known today that you are God in Israel.” God is omnipresent, but it’s up to us to allow God to move in our hearts and in the sanctuary during worship. We need to open the doors and welcome him.
3) He humbles himself before God. “I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.” Worship should be a humbilng experience. After all, the object of our worship is the Creator of the Universe. We should willing to listen to God’s commands during worship.
4) He asks that others will see God. “Answer me, Lord , answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord , are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” We can worship by ourself – in the car, in the toilet – but when we are at church, we are worshiping with other believers. If all believers in that sanctuary acknowledged God, how much greater would the worship experience be!
So what does God desire in worship?
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
In this verse, “mercy” comes from the Hebrew word “chesed” which has the meanings, loving-kindless, love, covenant-love, grace, and compassion. In this context, the correct translation is likely “covenant-love.” This also parallels the latter statement that there was no acknowledgement of God in the bunt offerings. So God wanted Israel to remember the covenant-love as prescribed in Deuteronomy. He wanted to acknowledge who they were sacrificing the bunt offerings to.
God does not want our “sacrifices” or our outward appearance of worship. The contemporary worship style of raising hands, closing eyes, and dancing have become the formality. People can tell who is really “worshipping” and who is not – or can they? God wants us to acknowledge him, seek a substantial relationship with him, and avoid hypocrisy. It’s not about the outward appearance.
Lastly, we see after the slaughter of the Baal worshippers that God appeared before Elijah.
After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
1 Kings 19:12
I don’t think it was a coincidence that God spoke to Elijah after this incident. Elijah displayed an act of worship that was pleasing to God. He looked past the “great and powerful wind,” earthquake, and fire. Any of us would likely expect to be an act of God, but Elijah was listening close and heard the gentle whisper.
How do we expect to hear God when we are shouting at the top of our lungs, dancing, or jumping up and down? Just like we cannot hear the person next to us when we go to a place with many people, we will not be able to hear God if we are drowning him out. We need to listen for the gentle whisper.