27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 1 Kings 18:27-28
What does God want from humanity? It’s a question as old as time. Amongst the ancients, it was generally thought the gods were angry. The goal of “religion” – previous to Judaism and subsequently Christianity – was to appease the gods so they would leave you alone. In his thought provoking book, Destroyer of the Gods, Larry Hurtado suggests that before Judaism and Christianity, religion was seen as a set of ritual practices used to keep the gods at bay and to avoid offending them. Religious practices (altars, shrines, cultic-images) were designed to placate the deities or avoid them altogether. It would have been a foreign concept for an ancient person to worship a god out of adoration or affection. Love for God was unique to Judaism and then Christianity.
When Elijah encounters the prophets of Baal, we see this worldview clearly expressed. After Baal was silent for a time, the prophets of Baal “shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.” (1 Kings 18:28) The common belief (custom) among the prophets of Baal was that you had to injure yourself in order to get the gods to perform the way you wanted them to. The gods are angry, they are out for blood, and if you give them blood, they’ll give you what you want. One common theme that weaves its way through the majority of cultic religions is the gods’ desire for blood. While we may not literally cut ourselves to appease the gods, many have a tendency to place themselves under ‘gods’ that lead to their destruction. Think about the ways that the ‘gods’ of money, sex, and power make demands. The way they often ruin lives, lead to regrets and leave us longing. While our methodology may have changed, the reality that the gods cause destruction remains the same.
When we come to the Scriptures, we see a different type of God. Yahweh is not a God who demands our blood, but one who sheds his own blood on our behalf. He’s a God who provides a sacrifice rather than requiring us to become one ourselves or offering up our kids as blood offering (Jeremiah 19:5). He’s a God who calls for our love and affection – jealousy longing for our adoration and relationship to him. The God of the scriptures demands our devotion precisely because he wants us to walk in life, not in the shedding of our blood. Jesus stated this clearly, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that you may have life and life to the full.” (John 10:10) If your view of Yahweh is one of a blood-thirsty god who will only be satisfied with your destruction, I have great news for you… you’re wrong! The view of God as a blood-thirsty, hard to please, angry deity can be hard to shake. Luckily, we have the accounts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as our picture of what God is truly like. After all, Jesus is the exact representation of God’s glory! (Hebrews 1:3)
Take some time today and humbly bring yourself before God. Are there ways you have been destroying yourself? They may be signs to you that you’re bowing down to a lesser god, a god who wants your destruction. Confess and receive the forgiveness that flows from Calvary’s hill.
By Ryan Paulson