Ahab was on the throne of the northern kingdom. With the rise of Ahab God also introduced a prophet to confront him: Elijah. Under Ahab’s rule conditions became so bad that Elijah prayed to God that there would be no rain in the land (see James 5:17) in an effort to bring the people to their senses and back to God. For three and a half years there was no rain, causing famine conditions throughout the land.
When the famine was into its third year Elijah issued a challenge: “Now send out messengers and assemble all Israel before me at Mount Carmel, as well as the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah whom Jezebel supports” (1 Kings 18:19 NET).
When they all had assembled, Elijah told the people that it was time to decide who they would follow and worship. “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the Lord is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” (1 Kings 18:21). 450 prophets of Ba’al were also present on the mountain.
Elijah then proposed a contest to see whether God or Ba’al was the most powerful, after all there was only one of him and 450 prophets of Ba’al. The contest was this: “Let them bring us two bulls. Let them choose one of the bulls for themselves, cut it up into pieces, and place it on the wood. But they must not set it on fire. I will do the same to the other bull and place it on the wood. But I will not set it on fire. Then you will invoke the name of your god, and I will invoke the name of the Lord. The god who responds with fire will demonstrate that he is the true God” (1 Kings 18:23-24). The people thought this was a fair contest.
Elijah allowed the prophets of Ba’al to go first. They built an altar, prepared a bull, then began to call on their god to send down fire to consume the sacrifice. They did this from morning until noon – but no answer came. Elijah began to chide them because of the lack of response: “Yell louder! After all, he is a god; he may be deep in thought, or perhaps he stepped out for a moment or has taken a trip. Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). This spurred the prophets of Ba’al to yell louder and even cut themselves with swords and spears in an effort to get their god’s attention. “But there was no sound, no answer, and no response” (1 Kings 18:29).
Elijah then called the people to him. He repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down, taking twelve stones corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He dug a trench around the altar, placed the wood on the altar, prepared the bull and placed in on the wood, and then ordered the people to drench the offering and wood with 12 jars of water. The water ran off the altar and filled the trench that had been dug.
Elijah then prayed to God. “Then fire from the Lord fell from the sky. It consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, and the dirt, and licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground and said, “The Lord is the true God! The Lord is the true God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39). This brought an end to the drought with a heavy rainstorm.
What is the lesson for us in these days of self-isolation and a global pandemic? God is still the true God and he is in control. Despite what it may look like, God still is in charge. We need to remain faithful to him.
Photo of statue of Elijah on Mount Carmel by Jon Galloway
Readings for next week: 1 Kings 17-21; Psalms 79-81