1 After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.
Now the famine was severe in Samaria, (1 Kings18:2b, NIV)
These were hard times. There was a drought in the land that had lasted three and a half years to this point. This was a judgment against King Ahab and the idolatry that had prospered during his reign (1 Kings 8:35).
God’s Manner of Deliverance: A Game Show!
19 Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”
20 So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. 21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent. (1 Kings 18:19-20, NLT)
The silence of the people revealed their spiritual indifference. No doubt many were afraid for their lives as men and women of God did not fare well under Ahab’s leadership. However, they also were not clamoring for Baal either. The contest proposed by the man of God served to:
- Shake Israel’s citizenry out of their lethargy
- Openly demonstrate God’s power
- Show the futility of turning to other “gods”
- Announce that the God of Israel was the source of the coming deliverance
- Confront people with a choice between the God of Israel and Baal\Asherah
- Pronounce judgment on servants Baal\Asherah
Round 1: Baal’s A No-Show
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. 23 Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it. 24 Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.
25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.”
26 So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.
27 About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
28 So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. 29 They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response. (1 Kings 18:22-29, NLT)
So, the many prophets of Baal could not cajole, convince, or coerce their God into producing a single spark. Worse yet (for them) is that Elijah is rubbing their noses in it! There is definitely a swagger in the step of the prophet of God almighty!
Round 2: A Watered-Down Offering and the Power of God
30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.
Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”
34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!” (1 Kings 18:30-39, NLT)
Now it is time to take an offering (v 29 “until the time of the evening sacrifice”). He’s not just asking for a few coins dropped in a passed hat. He’s asking for water during a time of drought. This is expensive!
God answers quickly and dramatically. The onlookers are shaken out of their spiritual stupor and God is openly acknowledged as, well, God.
40 Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there. (1 Kings 18:40, NIV)
God triumphs openly. This is really bad news for the prophets of Baal. Game over. The curtain closes their season of government-sanctioned, spiritual corruption in which they openly tried to eradicate the worship of the Lord. This effort led to the death of many of the Lord’s ministers (1 Kings 18:4). God does not wink at such things, He exacts justice against the prophets of Baal before Israel is subject to further judgement resulting in even greater hardship for the nation.
Reflection: After the Prizes are Awarded
You may find yourself in a time of famine. The circumstances may not be as they were in this Bible excerpt but occasionally there are economic seasons of shortage. When these times come, we should not allow ourselves to wallow in despair but we should meditate on what God is trying to tell us. Do not be as the bulk of Israel’s citizenry and accept circumstances in silent indifference. Allow God the opportunity to show Himself mighty even as the World’s schemes dry up around you. Keep your trust in God and together you will ALWAYS come out a winner!
14 But thanks be to God, Who in Christ always leads us in triumph [as trophies of Christ’s victory] and through us spreads and makes evident the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere, (II Corinthians 2:14, Amp.)