Why did Elijah mock and kill the prophets of Baal?

by | Oct 15, 2023 | Ask the Pastors

QUESTION

It’s seems kinda weird that Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal and then killed them all (1 Kings 18). Wasn’t he supposed to be holy?

ANSWER

As a prophet of the LORD, Elijah was indeed a holy man. In fact, his actions on Mount Carmel were not in spite of his holiness, they were actually because of his holiness. God has given to certain men the responsibility and authority of executing His righteous judgments in this world. In the Old Testament, God appointed prophets, priests, and kings for this purpose. They were “holy” men because they were set apart (“holy” means “set apart”) by the holy God for special work.

Elijah’s Special Work

Elijah’s work of judgment on the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 was in obedience to what God Himself had said to do in His Law:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you…, saying, “Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.… You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:1, 2–3, 4–5)

Elijah was not just acting from his own sense of justice. He was carrying out the explicit will of God as revealed in the Mosaic Law, and he was doing so as a duly appointed officer in the kingdom. This showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal was, in a sense, a public trial of these men and their god. Elijah didn’t privately hunt them down and execute them in secret. He invited them to participate in this public face-off between Baal and Yahweh (the LORD God of Israel). And they consented! And then God Himself openly exposed their wickedness and made His judgment abundantly clear. No one, not even King Ahab, objected to Elijah’s execution of the prophets. How could they? The verdict could not have been more obvious.

Why was God’s will the death penalty for these men? It makes sense when we think about what false prophets do. They not only choose to worship false gods privately; they lead others into rebellion against the true God, bringing widespread dishonor to God’s name and destroying the souls of those whom they lead astray.

So What about the Mocking?

Elijah was truly scornful of these prophets and the god they worshiped. The most embarrassing joke he made was when he asked if Baal had “gone aside” (v. 27, NASB95), which was basically asking if the object of their worship was taking a leak. (The ESV says “relieving himself.”)

Let’s remember the context again. These false prophets were there willingly. When Elijah extended his summons through Ahab, they could have repented and turned away from their false worship. Instead, they feverishly persisted, even to the point of shamefully shedding their own blood (v. 28). They made complete fools of themselves, and it was right and good for Elijah to highlight the foolishness of worshiping Baal for all God’s people to see. This was not a time to be kind and gentle!

There are many times when our speech should be more gentle (see 2 Timothy 2:25) than Elijah’s was here. But there are also times and places to mock idols and those who worship them. Remember:

The kings of the earth take their stand

And the rulers take counsel together

Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,

“Let us tear their fetters apart

And cast away their cords from us!”

He who sits in the heavens laughs,

The LORD scoffs at them.

Then He will speak to them in His anger

And terrify them in His fury, saying,

“But as for Me, I have installed My King

Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

(Psalm 2:2–6)

As the LORD’s prophet, Elijah was a minister of the LORD’s laughing and scoffing at those who take their stand against Him and against His Son Jesus Christ.

Elijah and Jesus

Elijah’s holy actions recorded in 1 Kings 18 foreshadowed the holy ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. During His earthly ministry, Jesus publicly shamed the religious leaders of God’s people. He was kind and gentle with the sheep, but harsh and unyielding with their unfaithful shepherds. (But don’t miss the fact that Jesus’ gentleness with needy sinners involved dealing forthrightly with their sin. See Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4:1–30 for an example.)

We must also not forget that Christ is coming back to judge the living and the dead. When He comes, there will be a great reckoning, including a great destruction of the wicked—one that will far surpass Elijah’s miniature judgment on the prophets of Baal:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11–16)

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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