One of my favorite Old Testament passages is found in 1 Kings 18. I have the privilege of teaching on it this Sunday—so I won’t give too much away! But this is where the entire nation of Israel is watching a heavyweight showdown. In one corner is the god known as Baal along with his many prophets, and in the other is the Lord God of Israel—Yahweh (YHWH) with His single solitary prophet Elijah.
Here’s what was proposed:
Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the Name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, “That is a good idea.”
When turning the final few pages of None Other: Discovering the God of the Bible by John MacArthur, I was intrigued with an observation he had made on this passage of Scripture:1
The God of the Old Testament was known to His people as a Savior. Israel knew God as a Savior—a saving God. To use another word, He is a Deliverer. He rescues people from bondage and death.
Of course, that’s not how it is in the science of ethnology and the world of religion and deities. Study ancient Middle Eastern religions and you’re not going to find gods who save. Virtually every man-made religious system ever known features some means by which the worshiper by his own efforts can save himself—or, at the very least, better himself. But you’re not going to find any man-made god who is by nature a Savior, a rescuer.
For example, in Old Testament times, Baal was what the Canaanites named their deities. The Hebrew expression ba’al was taken from a Phoenician word meaning “lord,” and when the name was used by itself, it was usually a reference to the sun god. Each Canaanite tribe or locality supposedly had its own distinctive god. Baal-zebub, for example, was the god of Ekron (2 Kings 1:2-3, 6, 16). His name meant “lord of the flies,” and he was so thoroughly foul and filthy that his name was adapted, turned into a pun, and used in New Testament times as a name for Satan: Beelzebul, meaning “lord of dung” (Mark 3:22).
The Canaanite Baals were not interested in saving anyone. They could be plied for favors with sacrifices, but it was deemed contrary to the very idea of a deity to imagine that an offended deity himself would take the initiative to provide salvation, forgiveness, or deliverance to anyone who had incurred the wrath or disfavor of the gods…
The best thing that could be said about Baal (or any other man-made deity) would be that he’s indifferent… Somewhere on that spectrum from apathy to vicious hostility are all the gods of this world. Not one of them is a Savior like YHWH. Unlike all of them, He is compassionate, merciful, tender-hearted, filled with lovingkindness and eager to save people.
The author’s words remind us that God has revealed Himself to us; and that He has done so through His Word—both written in the Bible and incarnate in Christ. He is the one true God; and there can be no other. The gods of the world pale in insignificance when compared with the God of the Bible.
This is the second post on MacArthur’s trusted book, None Other. You can read the first one, Nothing Can Compare here.