1 Kings 18 (James 5:17)
They’re in their third year of drought and famine. Elijah seems to all Israel to be the cause. After all, he was the one who told King Ahab that it would not rain again except at his word. No wonder they were searching all over Israel for this prophet. No wonder Jezebel had ordered all the prophets of Yahweh be killed. If Yahweh was the one keeping them from receiving rain, it was no wonder that they were upset with this God. What the people and the king of Israel failed to realize was that there really was only one God. During this time of Israel’s history up until the time of the Judean exile in 586BC and even up until the time of the Maccabees, Israel’s spiritual heritage and character was decidedly polytheistic. Of course they had the law and the temple and the history, but so many of them had been swept away with the cultural gods that their origins mattered little to them. The kings married foreign women and set up alters and temples to foreign gods. The people ran after whatever suited them. But Yahweh was faithful. He would always preserve for himself a remnant who would not bow the knee to these foreign gods.
Elijah was a prophet of the most High God and was distraught at the actions of King Ahab. After his pronouncement of the drought he fled from the king to the east side of the Jordan. Interestingly his hunger was satisfied by the Raven- an unclean animal- that God sent to bring him bread during his time of hiding. Then he was told to travel to Sidon in Lebanon where he would stay with a Gentile widow who also would sustain him with bread from her house. It was after this time that God was ready to pour out his judgment on the prophets of Baal.
After meeting the prophet Obadiah on the road, the prophet who had saved 100 other prophets of the LORD by hiding them in a cave, he tells Obadiah that he is ready to meet Ahab. When Ahab draws near to Elijah he calls him, “the troubler of Israel”. Elijah tells him to gather all of the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth to Mount Carmel. It is here on Mount Carmel that the God of Israel has His showdown with the false gods and prophets. Elijah suggests that two bulls be brought for sacrifice. The prophets of Baal would set up an altar without lighting fire to it, and Elijah would do the same. Whichever god was faithful to ignite the sacrifice would be declared to be the true god of Israel.
So the prophets of Baal set up their altar and begin to dance around cutting themselves and chanting their incantations. Elijah begins to mock them suggesting that Baal is out of town, or using the bathroom and cannot be disturbed. When it comes time for Elijah to set up his altar he does so using the history of the people. He selects 12 stones representing the tribes of Israel. He drenches the altar with four huge jars of precious water- 3 times!! That’s 12 huge jars of this precious water that Elijah pours over his altar. He is setting himself up for a death penalty should God choose not to answer with fire. But he’s also making sure that there is no possible way for the people or prophets to accuse him of any slide of hand. This bone dry land could catch fire with just a spark, but not Elijah’s altar. God’s answer would have to come in the form of a miracle alone. He calls upon the name of the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel- of whom all who are present are named. And as he calls the Lord God rains fire down and consumes the sacrificial offering that Elijah has built, even licking up all the water in the trench he had dug. The people present fall on their faces declaring that the Lord is God. He orders the people- who are now convinced by God’s miraculous presence- to seize the prophets who are then slaughtered in the valley of Kishon.
As if the drought were not enough proof. As if God had not proven himself over and over. As if this show of God’s miraculous presence were not enough the people go right back to their idolatrous ways. It’s as if they forget how awesome God truly is or that his judgment is reserved for those who oppose Him. Many people ask how the Israelites who escaped Egypt by the exodus through the parting of the Red Sea could be so quick to abandon the Lord. The same question could be asked here. While the Lord certainly poured out his judgment on the prophets of Baal, and the people acknowledged that Yahweh is the true God, they didn’t continue on in the ways of the Lord. A few short generations later they would be scattered to the four wins by the Assyrian army.
But not us! We would never do such a thing. And we haven’t seen the miracles that those in these stories have seen. Right? Keep in mind that the people abandoned the Word that had been passed down to them. They ignored the prophets. And when God showed himself to them they acknowledged Him, but quickly discounted His work. As God’s people we need to be mindful of this example of the Israelites. God HAS shown himself to us in various ways. I venture that we could each go around and tell a story of something in the past that God has done for us, some way that He has shown himself faithful through a healing, or through directing a circumstance, or some miracle that he performed. I think that most people if they’re honest could do this. Yet then we chalk up these experiences to coincidence.
Like Elijah, Jesus met the prophets of his time on a mountain. He prepared his sacrificial offering with tears of blood and self-restraint. He called out to the God of all gods and He was heard. Jesus has faced our enemy on the mountain. He was consumed by the enemy of death, suffering the wounds and blows that would be for the healing of the nations, and rising victoriously from death in victory and judgment of the final enemy. Jesus is our great prophet. God accepted his sacrifice for the atonement of the people and we have all been granted the privilege of declaring on the basis of this offering that He is the true God.