by Dave Skipper
Story Summary: 02 Summon the Prophets!
[1 Kings 18:1,17-24]
When Elijah meets the king, Ahab accuses him of being the ‘troubler of Israel’ because of the drought. In response, Elijah says that Ahab is the real troubler of Israel because it is his wicked idolatry and apostasy that provoked God to send the drought at all. Elijah proposes a decisive showdown: the prophets of Baal (all 450 of them) will come to Mount Carmel, prepare a bull for sacrifice to Baal, and call on their god to bring down fire to consume it. Elijah will do the same with a bull that he will prepare to sacrifice to Yahweh, the God of Israel and heaven and earth. Elijah says that whoever answers from heaven by fire, let him be God. Desperate yet confident, Ahab agrees. The prophets of both Baal and Asherah come to Mount Carmel, and many of the people of Israel come to to witness the unfolding events. The stage is set.
Sounds & Structure
The opening sounds, which continue into the first section of the track, are of me speaking the word ‘troubler,’ heavily distorted and filtered. Field recordings used in this track are of creaking metal (from a see-saw in a children’s playground), an underground drain, and unspecified machinery (possibly an industrial-sized air-con unit). These were chosen for the foreboding atmosphere and texture of the sounds rather than for their sources. There is a vocal part at the end of the track too, where I speak, “The one who answers by fire… he is God,” though I pitch-shifted this down significantly because my normal voice sounded pretty rubbish for the part, haha! The idea of this track sonically was to generate drama and tension as the challenge is set. The stakes are huge: the religious orders of the day, the authority of the king, the heavy drought everyone is experiencing – the future trajectory of the nation hangs on what happens next. The noise is quite harsh in this track, in sharp contrast to the opening track, letting the listener know that we’re in for a tumultuous ride on this album, and that nothing will be held back on any side.
(Working title was Summoning the Prophets)
The 450 prophets of Baal are always remembered in this story, and their main role comes up next in track 3, but somehow the accompanying 400 prophets of Asherah are always forgotten. They are summoned too (see 1 Kings 18:19), and come to Mount Carmel along with the prophets of Baal, but they are never mentioned again in the text! I have no answer as to why this is the case, but it’s worth noting that Asherah was a mother-like goddess figure, and Asherah worship seems to have involved household shrines where incense was offered, the erection of Asherah poles, and possibly shrine prostitution. So maybe these prophets didn’t normally offer animal sacrifices, and came along for ‘moral support’ or even to provide refreshments for the gathered crowd? But whatever their role (or lack of) in the proceedings, they were an integral part of the ongoing problem of Israelite idolatry.
Who’s responsible for Israel’s troubles? Is it Elijah, who proclaimed the drought? Is it Ahab, whose wickedness precipitated (pun intended!) the drought? Is it the people at large, with their willing descent into apostasy? Or is it the LORD God Yahweh himself, who rules over his creation, who sends and withholds the rain, who gives and takes away? Well it’s each of them in their own domain. Ultimately God is in control of the forces of nature and the happenings of history, but he gives secondary control and responsibility to his creatures, for which all must give account. Now, what is set to happen here on Mount Carmel is far more than a mere contest and the possibility of a miraculous display of firepower. Elijah is calling the nation (king, prophets, people) to a decisive opportunity to renew the centuries-old covenant that Israel has had with Yahweh. They already have the scriptures that tell them of the God who created the heavens and the earth, who rescued them out of slavery in Egypt, who gave them his laws through Moses, who conquered the land through Joshua, and who established the monarchy through Saul and especially David. Those memories, passed down the generations in words both written and spoken, should have been enough. But in God’s grace he is prepared to renew the covenant and give a powerful visual reminder and demonstration that he is the only true God. And he even gives time and space to the false prophets to have a go and prove their gods first. This is typical of God – both then and now, as he does not change – patiently giving chance after chance for all to turn to him. (Read Psalm 103:7-13 for just one among myriad descriptions of God’s patient mercies.) So what will happen next, and which god/gods/God will prevail?