Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

The Terrifying Reality of Monotheism

Posted by BrianJ on August 11, 2014

1 Kings 18 tells the famous story of Elijah calling down fire from heaven to consume the prophets of Baal:

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.

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.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. (1 Kings 18:26-29, NIV)

Elijah’s mockery emphasized that this wasn’t a contest between gods to see which was greater, but rather a contest between prophets to see whose god actually exists. Thus, regarding the prophets of Baal: their god was not weak, their god was nonexistent.

Perhaps we’d expect this news to spread through the land, Israelites everywhere rejoicing at the undeniable truth that their Jehovah was the only God in the universe. But the following chapters don’t tell a story of Israelites wholly abandoning idol worship in favor of strict fidelity to Jehovah. Quite the opposite, as the Israelites wavered between worshipping other gods alongside Jehovah or even abandoning Jehovah altogether.

What was their problem? Didn’t they get the message?

Well, yes, they did—and that was the problem. If Jehovah is the only God, then he is the only hope. The only relief . The only escape. The only guide. The only protection. And if he, for whatever reason, chooses not to provide relief or protection or guidance (or rain; see 1 Kings 17), then where or to whom else can one turn? Nowhere and to none other.

As we read the remainder of the Old Testament and what seems like never-ending vacillations by the House of Israel—“now we worship Baal, oh now it’s just Jehovah, well now it’s whoever the Assyrians tell us to”—rather than read it as a demonstration of Israel’s fickleness (as is often the interpretation), consider it as their reluctance to accept the terrifying reality of monotheism.

2 Responses to “The Terrifying Reality of Monotheism”

  1. larryco_ said

    I’ve always felt that Paul puts an interesting twist on the existence of God/gods at Mars Hill. He refers to the learned men – and Greeks in general – as too superstitious because they have a statute to an unknown god, in case they have missed an important deity. But instead of ridiculing them for worshiping pagan gods, he tells them that their worshiping is just misplaced and that he is about to give them the identity of this unknown God who will replace all others. Masterful…but since Paul doesn’t record any success from this encounter, it probably didn’t have the effect on these men, who Pharrell would probably describe as “talkin’ this and that” that he would have hoped.

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