The sun slowly sank toward the western horizon above the Mediterranean Sea. Already a long and dramatic day on the mountain, the climactic moment was yet to come.
On the crest of Mount Carmel, a multitude of men, women, and children were assembled to watch a showdown between Jehovah and Baal. For many years, the idolatrous worship of Baal had infiltrated the nation of Israel like a slow-growing, deadly cancer.
Baal was a Canaanite fertility god who promised plenteous rain, abundant harvests, fruitful fields, and large flocks and herds to his devotees. Centered in the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, the worship of Baal had gradually infiltrated into the heartland of Israel. King Ahab of Israel had married a Phoenician princess named Jezebel, and she had brought her priests and priestesses to Israel’s royal city. The priests and priestesses of Baal practiced a sort of ritualistic immorality, and their “worship” consisted of sensualistic orgies and unspeakable acts of abomination.
Little by little, most of the people of Israel were seduced from the God of Heaven to the more popular, more exciting, more sensualistic, and more culturally acceptable worship of Baal. Little compromises here and there had drawn them away from absolute allegiance to the God Who had commanded, “Thou shalt have no gods besides me.”
However, a bold prophet from the village of Tishbi in the land of Gilead had not bowed the knee to the modern ideologies of the age. Elijah’s name means “My God is Jehovah.”
One day, as the prophet of Jehovah, Elijah had emerged from his homeland of Gilead. He walked into the palace of Ahab and Jezebel with the startling declaration: “As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (I Kings 17:1). With that ominous weather forecast, Elijah the Tishbite walked out of the palace and vanished into the wilderness. For three and a half long years, King Ahab scoured the country to find Elijah but failed in every attempt.
The prophet found refuge at the brook Cherith, where he was fed by ravens. After the brook dried up due to the predicted drought, the Lord led him to the village of Zarephath in Phoenicia, where he was sheltered by a widow and her son.
Finally, God directed the prophet out of obscurity and back onto the national scene. As suddenly as he had vanished, Elijah appeared again and confronted King Ahab. He challenged the wicked king to a dramatic showdown on Mount Carmel. The place chosen was significant. Mount Carmel, in northern Israel near the Mediterranean Sea, was one of the strongholds of baalism. It was also one of the places in Israel that receives abundant rainfall. If Baal could do a miracle anywhere, it would be at Carmel!
The day of the contest arrived. Elijah delivered a challenge to the people of Israel. “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (I Kings 18:21). After laying out the rules for the contest, Elijah said, “The God that answereth by fire, let him be God” (I Kings 18:24).
Four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal erected their pagan altar, laid the slaughtered bullock on the wood, and called on Baal to send fire. Hour after hour, they cried out to their god, slashing themselves with knives to show their devotion to Baal, and leaping and dancing around the altar. Elijah the prophet quietly watched. After noon, Elijah began mocking them in the presence of the people, suggesting that perhaps Baal was sleeping or on a journey!
Finally, the prophets of Baal were completely exhausted, and the time of the evening sacrifice was approaching. Elijah the prophet then summoned the people to come near to him. He repaired the broken altar of the Lord. Next, with twelve uncut stones, God’s prophet built an altar to Jehovah. Elijah laid out the wood and the sacrifice—and then gave a strange order! Twelve barrels of water were poured on the altar until the bullock, the wood, and the stones were thoroughly soaked, and the trench around the altar was overflowing with water.
As the people watched in amazement, Elijah lifted his voice to heaven, calling out: “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again” (I Kings 18:36–37).
At that precise moment, the fire of God fell from heaven, instantly devouring the wood and the sacrifice, and even hot enough to consume the water in the trench! The nation of Israel instantly fell on their faces before the blazing fire, crying out “The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.”
Before the day was over, 450 prophets of Baal were slain, King Ahab and Jezebel were humiliated, and God, in a mighty demonstration of His power, brought forth rain from heaven to replenish the parched land.
May God give us as Christian men the grace and boldness to follow the example of Elijah and to call our families, our churches, and our communities to wholehearted allegiance to Him. God is willing to be put to the test, and He will prove Himself faithful.