God’s judgment has brought the people to their knees. It is time to decide who is really God. Elijah told Ahab to gather all the prophets of Baal and Asherah for a showdown.
This is one of my favorite stories. I LOVE how Elijah taunts the prophets of the false gods. My FAVORITE taunt is “Maybe he is relieving himself”; loosely translated, “Maybe he’s in the bathroom!” But the BEST part of this story is the power that God shows over the false gods. They could do NOTHING and my God DID EVERYTHING!
As a quick recap, before we rejoin our story, Elijah confronted Ahab over three years ago and told him there would be no more rain until Elijah said so. Elijah was of course speaking of God telling him to ‘say so’ to bring the rain back. During those three years God provided for Elijah, first at the brook Cherith and later through a widow in Zarephath. At God’s command Elijah confronts Ahab once again and tells him to bring out ALL the prophets of Baal and Asherah for a contest to see who REALLY holds the power. That showdown is going to take place on Mt. Carmel. It will be 850 – 1. Anyone want to lay odds on the outcome of this confrontation? No takers? I don’t blame you because we already know how this turns out because we know Who is standing behind that one. Let’s rejoin our story.
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Ahab wastes no time in sending out the call for all Israel to assemble. He wants this drought ended as SOON as possible but it still takes time to summon the people and for them to arrive at the designated spot; Mount Carmel. Two weeks pass from his encounter with Elijah and the day the whole nation gathers to witness Elijah’s ‘defeat’. “Of course he will be defeated” thinks Ahab as he struts out in front of the crowd.
Ahab waits on the mountain plateau with all the prophets of Baal and Asherah gathered behind him. They are decked out in their finest priestly garments. They watch as Elijah makes his way up the mountain. He is dressed in a plain robe, tied at the waist with a simple belt, and an old coat. “At least he is clean” muses Ahab.
Elijah walks confidently to the place where Ahab and the prophets wait. Once he has reached the plateau he turns his back to Ahab and addresses the people of Israel. “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him” (verse 21b).
Silence greeted Elijah’s challenge. None would answer him. Even Ahab was speechless, on the outside. On the inside he was seething with rage and contempt. “Yes, we will see who is the god to follow today” thinks Ahab.
Elijah looked out upon all the people gathered at the foot of the mountain. Sorrow rose up in his heart. Sorrow for the depths that the people had fallen to. For they had killed or allowed to be killed all who followed the Lord. They had abandoned the One who had the power to save them. And he was standing alone in their presence. They were deluded and the Lord would make them see that this day. “It’s time” thinks Elijah as he puts his challenge forth.
“I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put NO fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put NO fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” (verses 22-24a).
The people are ready with an answer this time. “It is well spoken.” (verse 24b). They had agreed to the terms of the contest.
Elijah is pleased with their answer. He knew this would be their response. The Lord doesn’t do anything without already knowing what will happen. Elijah turned to the prophets of Baal. He smiled. “You first. ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put NO fire to it’ (verse 25).”
The prophets of Baal puffed themselves up and made a big show of looking over the two bulls. “This one seems best” said their leader. The others nodded. They led the bull to the side of a pile of rocks they would use to make their altar. Two held the bull’s horns as another slit its throat cleanly and quickly. One caught the blood as it ran from the neck wound. Four of them skinned and cut it into pieces. While the bull was being dressed six of them prepared the stones of the altar and laid the wood upon it. When it was ready those that had been preparing the bull arranged the pieces on the wood. Once their sacrifice was laid upon the altar they sprinkled the blood that had been caught on each of their robes. The higher the priest in their order the more blood was spilled upon his robes. Elijah thought this appropriate as the higher in rank the more they were guilty of the blood of Israel’s stolen hearts.
The prophets of Baal began a slow procession around their altar. It was a dance they were used to performing for the people who watched their sacrifices. Something felt off today as they began dancing. After a few minutes they added their voices to the task. They chanted and called out to their god; “O Baal, answer us!” (verse 26b). Their dancing and chanting grew with intensity as time marched by.
The people watched on in expectation. Elijah watched to but he held NO expectation of a response. He knew that they called not to a god but to a dead thing of their own making. This dancing and chanting went on for hours, so long that their dancing had turned to limping. From morning to noon they called out to Baal and all that greeted them from his side was silence. He would not answer with voice or fire.
Elijah began to taunt and mock them. His words were like barbs to their skin; salt in an open wound. “Cry alout, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he in on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (verse 27).
The prophets of Baal are spurred on to greater desperation by Elijah’s words. They begin cutting themselves with swords and lances. This isn’t an unusual practice in their worship but the extremes they were going to in order to get their god’s attention was leaving all of them pouring blood from their wounds. They went on like this until it was nearly evening. No one answered. No one paid attention, at least no god did.
The people were paying attention. They watched the powerless prophets as they did everything they could to get the attention of their god. The most spiteful of the onlookers joined Elijah in taunting them. “You can do better than that! Cut deeper! Cry louder! Dance faster!”
Ahab also watched. With each passing hour his shame and anger grew. He said nothing but his thoughts shouted of his true concerns. “They are making a fool of me in front of the people. How am I supposed to get them to follow their gods after this? This is a disaster! At least it can’t get any worse.” But he was wrong. It would get worse for the prophets of Baal and any who still believed in them.
“Enough!” cried Elijah. It is my turn. It was nearing the time for the evening sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem. What better time for witnessing God’s power that this very moment.
The prophets of Baal limped away from their sacrifice. It still stood where they had placed it. The only thing that had been added were flies. Once the dancing stopped they swarmed it. Bloody, bruised, broken and rejected the prophets of Baal regathered near Ahab to wait.
Elijah started by getting everyone’s attention. “Come near to me” (verse 30b) he said as he stepped to a pile of rocks that littered the plateau. These stones used to be part of the altar of the Lord but had been thrown down.
Everyone watched as Elijah selected twelve of them. He arranged them carefully, one for each of the tribes of Israel, into a circle. He then began to dig, at first with his hands then with another stone. He dug all the way around the altar with his stone. What he dug was a trench that was deep enough to hold two gallons (7.2 liters) of water. After digging the trench Elijah laid the wood on top of the altar he had made. He then brought the bull that remained to the altar. He quickly cut its throat and let its blood pour out onto the ground near the altar. He dressed it as the priests of Baal had done and laid it upon the wood.
The people were ready for Elijah to call upon the Lord now. But Elijah wasn’t ready yet. Elijah looked into the crowd and called out four men from among them. “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood” (verse 33b). The men’s eyebrows shot up momentarily but they did as Elijah had commanded.
Everything was wet; the wood, the meat and the ground around the altar. Because of the drought the water on the ground quickly soaked into the soil leaving not a single puddle. After the last jar was emptied Elijah spoke to the men. “Do it a second time” (verse 34a). With a shrug the men returned to the nearby well and drew again four pots full of water. They poured these again over the sacrifice that waited on the altar.
Those watching came a little closer so they might see better. Even the prophets of Baal craned their necks to look at the sacrifice that had been doused with water. As the last drops flowed from the last pot Elijah spoke to the men. “Do it a third time” (verse 34b). They looked up in surprise. The altar was already filled with water between the stones. The meat and wood were fully soaked, yet Elijah called for more water.
Without a word the men went and drew water another time from the well and brought it to the altar. The prophets of Baal could see the state of the sacrifice from their vantage point and began to laugh within themselves. “He is a fool! He is trying to make us look bad with this ‘performance’. He will be the fool when, even if his God sends fire, his offering won’t light.”
For the third time the jars of water are emptied upon the sacrifice that waits on the altar. This time the ground can hold no more and the trench surrounding the altar is filled. The men look expectantly at Elijah wondering if he is going to have them return again for more water. He shakes his head and they return to where they stood among the crowd.
Silence descends upon the entire scene as Elijah steps near the altar. Elisha knows exactly what time it is. This is the exact time of the evening sacrifice in Jerusalem. He is excited that this day and this sacrifice will forever be linked to God’s house in this way. Elijah lifts his eyes towards Heaven. As there is already silence on the mountain there is no need for him to raise his voice. He calls out to God in the tone of one talking to a friend. “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their hearts back” (verses36b-37).
Immediately fire fell from Heaven. It consumed the burnt offering. It made dust of the wood and stones. And it licked up every drop of water that was in the trench. The wind of it blew the clothing of Elijah against his body and his beard against his face but not a whisker was singed nor the smell of smoke on his garments.
When the people heard and saw the fire fall from Heaven they fell on their faces. They began crying out in fear, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God” (verse 39b).
Elijah raised his voice above theirs and called them to action. “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape” (verse 40a). The people jumped up and rushed to the prophets of Baal. Strong hands laid hold of each and every one of them. None were going anywhere. Elijah turned his back to the prophets and called to the people. “Bring them.”
Down the mountain they went, the prophets held fast by the people. When they got to the Kishon brook Elijah had them brought to him and he slaughtered each and every one of them. No one raised a voice or a hand to stop him. They had chosen their god and he had failed them. This was their due. Atonement for the people’s sins was being extracted. God’s judgment was satisfied. Now awaited the favor of the Lord for the people who pledged again to follow Him.
(to be continued)
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There is NO God like Jehovah! He is the Creator al others are created. NONE can match His power. None can match His tenderness too. From the raging storm to the soft caressing breeze. From the roaring fire to the candle’s flicker. He holds everything in between. He is the alpha and the omega; beginning and the end. And EVERYTHING in between. He knows when we require the strength of the hurricane to get our attention or when a soft summer breeze brings our thoughts to Him. He needed to make a BIG spectacle that day on the mountain because His people’s hearts were so far away. They needed a SURE sign; and He gave it to them. Elijah wasn’t playing ‘showman’ when he called for the water, he was following the leading of the Lord. I wonder if he marveled at all the water God said to pour on the offering too. Did he think, “Isn’t that enough Lord” after the second time? I’m sure the end result brought a smile to his lips. NO doubt remained!
Father God, thank You for all the big and little things You do in my life to get my attention. I PRAY I NEVER need such a demonstration to draw me back to You. I NEVER want to leave Your side. NO god could EVER take Your place. Keep me seeing the wonder of Your ‘finger prints’ no matter how lightly or firmly You have to press.