Every year at this time, the National Football League hosts a championship game between the two strongest teams, one from each conference. Thousands of fans attend the game itself, and millions of fans worldwide gather around televisions to watch this athletic spectacle. It’s no wonder that everyone refers to this game as “The Super Bowl.” Yet, thousands of years ago, another competition took place in Israel — in the midst of a drought — to determine spiritual superiority. This particular event — because of the clear competition between the false god of Baal and thetrue God of Israel — may well be the greatest Super Bowl of all time.
Like the New England Patriots today, the overwhelming favorites in this Israeli battle were the followers of Baal, the false god of rainstorms. They were led by Ahab, the King of Israel who “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before Him” (1 Kings 16:30). In addition, Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, carried out her own evil desires by killing the prophets of the Lord.
Next, just as the Los Angeles Rams are underdogs today, the clear underdogs back then were the followers of Israel’s true God. As a result of Jezebel’s persecution, most of them had been forced into hiding, and a punishing three-year drought and famine threatened their very survival. Fortunately, Elijah rose up to challenge King Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah was so defiant, in fact, that his confidence was more outlandish than Joe Namath’s guarantee of a New York Jets victory in Super Bowl III.
Representing the Lord by himself, Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal, and he asked the people of Israel to follow the victor, a true winner-take-all contest. Through the Lord’s command, Elijah even set up the rules for the contest.
He gave each side a slaughtered bull with instructions to prepare it for a sacrifice by fire. The two sides could prepare their altars, their wood, and their prayers in any way, but they had to call on their God to actually ignite the flame. As Elijah said just before the kickoff, “The God who answers by fire — He is God” (1 Kings 18:24). The standing-room-only crowd cheered in agreement, and the competition began.
The followers of Baal came out aggressively. For hours, they called on their god to start their fire, but they received no response. Undaunted, they persisted by dancing in worship and by shouting louder and louder. They even began to slash themselves with swords and spears, literally leaving their blood on the field of play.
Meanwhile, Elijah took a much more passive approach. He simply watched as the followers of Baal began to unravel, and, then, he initiated what may well be the first case of on-field taunting: “Shout louder! . . . Surely he is a god. Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27).
When it became evident that the non-existent Baal would not light the fire, Elijah went on the offensive. He prepared his altar, and he even began showboating. He had everything — the altar, the wood, and the bull — drenched in water three times to demonstrate that no trick plays were involved and that his God could easily ignite the fire. Finally, when Elijah called on his God in prayer, the Lord answered immediately: “The fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water (1 Kings 18:38).
As a result of this competition, the people of Israel realized who was the true God, the prophets of Baal were executed, and the God of all creation sent His rainstorms to end the drought. Unfortunately, King Ahab and Jezebel refused to acknowledge the true God, and they continued their evil ways and, eventually, died in disgrace.
Today, we, too, are tempted to follow false gods: money, fame, power, position, even football. We seek to fulfill our earthly desires, but God wants us to do His will alone for an eternal reward in heaven. So as the New England Patriots square off against the Los Angeles Rams, let us all remember that this so-called “Super Bowl” is nothing more than an annual athletic ritual, and the outcome means nothing. The real Super Bowl is the spiritual competition for your soul. Will you lose yourself in Satan’s earthly temptations, or will you live victoriously forever in the arms of Jesus Christ?