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(1 Kings 18) Stealing Baal's Thunder

(1 Kings 18) Stealing Baal's Thunder

by Stephen Davey Ref: 1 Kings 18

It's 400 prophets of Baal against 1 prophet of God. It's the gods of Jezebel verse the God of Elijah. This seems like an extreme mismatch . . . and it is -- just not in the way it appears! Jezebel and her dead gods don't stand a chance against the True and Living God! 400 priests or 4,000,000 priests . . . this contest is over before it starts!



(I Kings 18:1-40)

I now invite your attention to the showdown on Mount Carmel.

It is the moment that marks the biography of Elijah and nearly everyone who knows something about Elijah, knows about the Prophets of Baal and the fire from heaven.

But since the word has already informed us that Elijah was a man just like us - that leads me to believe that courage was part of the package; a needed quality that would allow Elijah to stand before his bitter enemies and declare war!

When it comes to that kind of courage, maybe we identify best with Lucky Eddie;

I like reading Hagar the Horrible, you know the cartoon in the Sunday comics - that rough Viking warrior who is on one occasion talking to his men before an ensuing battle.  “Men, this will be a dangerous mission; but anyone who refuses to go with me will be forever branded a weak, cowardly, gutless, soft, faint-hearted, cringing, trembling wimp.”  Then Hagar’s little friend, Lucky Eddie softly says, “Uh, I can live with that.”

It’s hard to find help when facing a dangerous crisis.

I read this past week the funny little story of the four-engine propeller prop job that was flying out over Kansas.  Three of the engines conked out.  Immediately, the cabin opened up and the pilot appeared with the only parachute in the plane, strapped to his back.  He opened the door and just before he jumped he said to the passengers, “Keep calm, folks, don’t panic. . .I’m going for help.”

Well, during the reign of Ahab and Zezebel, nearly every God fearer in Israel had already baled out.  As far as they were concerned, the plane was going down;  being a spiritual coward, weak and gutless was something they had decided they could live with.

Everyone, that is, except one - and we have observed that one man, by the brook Kerith where he was told to hide - then told to go to the village of Zarephath and hide.

And for 3 years, the King and queen have been searching in vain for Elijah.  They have searched not only Israel but surrounding nations, forcing them to take an oath that they are not hiding Elijah - Jezebel has wanted nothing more than to get her grimy little hands around the neck of that man who has caused her national and religious ambitions so much trouble.

For three years, he’s been a royal embarrassment to her  -  Elijah has stopped the very thing that her god was supposed to control - rain - where is that man. 

The prophet has been tucked away for over a year, undiscovered, in a widow’s hut, located, of all places, in Jezebel’s own hometown in the kingdom of Phonecia

Now we arrive at chapter 18:1.  Now it came about after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.”  2.  So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab.  Now the famine was severe in Samaria.

Three things occur in rapid succession as the countdown to a showdown begins to tick away - first of all, (in verse 7) as Elijah makes his way to the capital his path intersects the path of Obadiah, the Kings right hand man.  Obadiah had been sent by Ahab to find some grass for the horses and mules.

By the way, at the very time when the king should have searching for forgiveness - he’s instead foraging for food;  when he should have been looking for God - he is looking for grass.

Elijah has a command for Obadiah - verse 8. And he said to him, “Go, say to your master (Ahab), “Behold, Elijah is here.”

Now notice Obadiah’s response, 9.  And he said, “What sin have I committed, that you are giving your servant into the hand of Ahab, to put me to death?  As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent to search for you; and when they said, “He is not here,” he made the kingdom or nation swear that they could not find you.  11.  And now you are saying, “Go and say to your master, “Behold, Elijah is here.” (well, what’s the big problem with Obadiah?  read on)  12.  And it will come about when I leave you that the Spirit of the Lord will carry you where I do not know; so when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me.

In other words, Obadiah can’t believe that Elijah is really going to face Ahab.  “You mean you’re actually going to wait right here and I’m to go and get the same King who wants to cut your throat?  Right!  And if I bring him back here and you’re not here - what am I supposed to say?  “Aw rats, Ahab, he was here an hour ago...” - Ahab will chop my head off!”

So Elijah had to give his oath that he would not disappear into thin air - verse 15.  And Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.”

The second scene in this countdown occurs next in verse 17.  Remember, this is the first face to face confrontation in over three years - verse 17. And it came about, when Ahab saw Elijah that Ahab said to him, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?”

“There you are, you trouble maker!”  Isn’t that classic human depravity - when in sin, find someone else to blame.  “Elijah, you’ve made life in Israel miserable - look what you’ve done!”  How blind!

Elijah removes the blinders off Ahab’s eyes as best he can in verse 18.  And he said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and you have followed the Baals.”

Now you would think that Elijah would spend quite a long time dealing with Ahab - instead he wants only to use Ahab as a messenger boy to call the entire nation together.

He doesn’t even really deal with Ahab - because he knows that Ahab is a pawn in the hands of Jezebel and Jezebel is merely a pawn in the hands of Satan - the creator of Baalism - this is a spiritual conflict and the nation Israel is at stake - so he utters an incredible command to the king - 19.  Now then, gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel, together with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

Imagine volunteering to get in the middle of that crowd - his bitterest enemies!

He was thinking like General Abrams was thinking during the Second World War, when he found himself and his troops surrounded on all sides.  His response to his officers rallied their courage as he said, “Gentlemen, for the first time in the history of this campaign, we are finally in a position to attack the enemy in any direction we want.”

Elijah would literally be surrounded by the enemy. . .this chapter could be subtitled, “Elijah, against the world!”

And to any onlooker that day, Elijah was as good as dead!

Wilson Harrel wrote about his days in World War II . . .READ ARTICLE.

This is Elijah - only different - he’s alone -and he has called for combat with the prophets of Baal and Ahab and the entire nation.

He is surrounded, it looks hopeless, but he knows what they have forgotten - one ordinary person + God = an invincible army.

Now notice Elijah’s challenge to the people.  v. 21. “How long will you hesitate between two opinions;  if the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.”

How long will you falter/hesitate between two opinions?  The word translated hesitate could be rendered “limp, or stagger”.  It  gives us the picture of people walking as if they are intoxicated - swaggering from side to side, unable to keep a straight  course. 

Indecisiveness on spiritual matters of faith in God creates a spiritual imbalance. 

You can’t walk straight unless you’ve made up your mind that God is the only true God and He rules as sovereign in your life.

The same picture occurs in James 1 where he writes, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

Until you make a decision to live for Jesus Christ - but instead go half-way - you will stagger through life.  You may decided to live an honest life, but then telling a lie or two covers your business tracks - so you slide into dishonesty.  You decide to live a pure life, yet temptation comes along and you can’t resist the lure and you lower your morals only once again to pay the penalty for your promiscuity - your conscience rages within you and guilt washes over your mind and heart - you stagger from one half-hearted attempt at righteousness to yet another shady deal or dishonest report or immoral date out on the town.

Notice the peoples response, last part of verse 21 - “But the people did not answer him a word.”  Silenced before the word from God.

Which by the way was a good sign - a bad sign would have been for them to respond with debate and argument - a good sign that they were silent.

With that interchange completed, Elijah turns his attention to the prophets of Baal - the arch-enemies of God and the nation of God.

In this life or death contest on Mt. Carmel, he spells out the rules.


v. 23.  Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox, and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it.  24. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.”  And all the people answered and said, “That is a good idea.” 

And why not?!  The calling card of Baal is fire.  Fire was one of his specialties - he was the one who generated the storm that brought thunder and lightning - one crack of thunder and one bolt of lightening from Baal would light the Samarian sky and enflame the sacrifice.

A discovery written in Ugaritic tells it all, “Baal throws flashes of lightning to the earth.”

But wait a second - why fire?  Why not rain?  Aren’t they hot enough - aren’t they tired of the scorching sun and the burning wind.   That’s what Elijah’s god seemed  to be holding back - and that is the chief specialty of Baal - that was what everyone needed.  Why not call for rain and as it fell from whichever god sent it, the grateful people could stand and worship him with their parched lips open in joy as they drank in the refreshing downpour.

Walter Kaiser Jr. provided me with an answer -



You see, Elijah doesn’t just want to smash the competition - he wants to launch a revival!

Well, the prophets of Baal get to go first - v. 26.  Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon (note that - 3 hours), saying, “O Baal, answer us.”

Imagine, these dignified prophets chanting out their liturgy; their flowing, expensive robes - their golden medallions swinging about their necks reflecting the rays of the sun brilliantly.   “Oh Baal, answer us. . .oh Baal answer us. . .Oh Baal answer us.”

Now notice “...but there was no voice and no one answered.  (underline that phrase - it will appear again in verse 29)

So the prophets of Baal move to Phase two last part of v. 26.  “And they leaped about the altar which they made.”  Okay - let’s step it up a notch or two men - so they gathered up their fancy robes and began to leap around the altar - around and on top of it, “Oh Baal hear us, Oh Baal hear us!!!!!!”

Now if you aren’t convinced that God has a sense of humor - hang on to your hat - 27.  And it came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them . . .

Now the Word doesn’t tell us what Elijah’s been doing for three hours - I can see him sitting against some rock nearby chewing on a piece of straw - now he’s gotten up and moved a little closer - now he’s going to rub a little mud in their face.

“Hey fellas - verse 27b.  “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god. . .”

In other words, he’s a busy deity - he’s got a lot of things to administrate - you need to call a little louder. . .“He might be occupied” (that word means “deep in thought”...he’s got a lot of things on his mind, like this drought, “How did I make the rain fall!”  Elijah really gets going now - or  perhaps he has “gone aside” - now that’s an interesting phrase - there is some debate as to what it exactly means  - but this phrase is used elsewhere to refer to someone who has gone to the bathroom.

Don’t look at me - I didn’t write it!

Can you imagine?

“Hey fellas . . . call louder - Baal must be in the bathroom - he just got a new J. C. Penney catalog and he’s thumbing through the pages.

Now, others believe this phrase “occupied” means to “go hunting” - but that’s not as fun!

Look on  - 27c.  Maybe he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.”  He’s taking a nap guys - cry louder.

This really stokes these prophets of Baal - 28.  So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them.   29.  And it came about when midday was past, that they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; (some of the saddest words in all of scripture occur here, for every one who has placed their faith in some god other than the God of Israel)but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.

Jeremiah, the prophet is writing this account, and his prophets blood is stirred - he says the same thing three different ways - he wants every generation to get the message - “no voice . . . no one answered . . . no one paid attention.”

That ladies and gentlemen is the tragic outcome of every other religion and every other faith - ultimately, at the judgment of the great white throne, where all who have ever lived and died without believing in the God of Israel are judged - there will be no other god to hear - no other god to answer and no other god to pay attention.

30.  Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.”  So all the people came near to him.  And he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down.  31.  And Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribe of the sons of Jacob  (skip to 32.)  So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed.  33.  Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood.  And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.”  34.  And he said, “Do it a second time, and they did it a second time.  And he said, “Do it a third time, and they did it a third time.  35.  And the water flowed around the altar, an he also filled the trench with water.

Now the critics say, “Stop right there”  There is a three year drought on, remember?  Just where can Elijah get barrels of water from?”  Well, if you remember your Holy Land geography, the base of Mount Carmel stands by the Mediterranean Sea - salt water is lousy for drinking, but it’s great for putting on altars.

Picture in your mind, these old stones, 12 of them, crudely piled up - on top of them is a pile of wood and on top of the pile, an oxen prepared for sacrifice.  There is a small trench dug around the altar and it is now brimming with water - in fact, the entire altar is drenched - 12 barrels full of water have immersed this altar - this is Elijah’s way of saying - no tricks here.

Still, liberal scholars have written numerous theses suggesting such ideas like - the fire was the result of spontaneous combustion from the sparks created by the swords that the Baal prophets had used - Elijah placed a mirror on the altar whose reflection created enough heat to light the dry kindling wood. . .well, frankly, their theories are all wet!  LITERALLY!


The altar and the wood and the sacrifice are dripping wet - in fact, Elijah seems to imply - I’ll make it as difficult as possible for God to ignite this sacrifice as I can.

There are no tricks up Elijah’s sleeve - no hidden fire, no secret spark - just a dripping wet altar that only a miracle from God could ignite.

By the way, you don’t have to make things easy for God.  Just do what He says, and then step back and watch His power work.

verse 36.  Then it came about at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice that Elijah the prophet came near and said “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and the I have done all these things at Thy word.  37.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that Thou, O Lord, art God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again.”  38.  Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.  39.  And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” (hebrew? - Yahweh is Elohim)  40.  Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.”  So they seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.”

Cruel?  There is cancer in the camp - and Elijah removes the tumor.  As an act of purifying judgment.

Perhaps subtle symbolism is seen in the fact that the brook Kishon that flowed at the base of Carmel ultimately flowed toward Phoenicia - the kingdom of EthBaal, the father of Jezebel - as if to imply that the blood of the false prophets flowed back to where it belonged.

This passage presents some rather powerful, practical truths for the believer today

First, In matters of religion and worship, the majority opinion can be dead wrong.

            Baalism was the politically correct jargon of this day.

            This religion had the blessing of the King and Queen;

            It had a dedicated following of millions of people

            It had a religious system of pomp and circumstance, of priests and prophets

            It had a history and background that was centuries old

There could easily be testimony meetings and stories confirming Baal’s control of the weather abounded!  I planted my garden and needed rain - I went to the priest and offered an extra gift to Baal, and the priest prayed, and the next day it rained . . . and they all break into singing, “Baal answers Prayer” 

It had everything but the truth - it had a body, without life.

And it was dead wrong - article in the Raleigh news about a Hindu god named Ganesh who supposedly sipped milk given to it from a worshipper.  The news created a fervor in India and temples were packed and people, including some who live in Cary - they tried to repeat the miracle at their own shrines.  The article went on to talk about how the worshippers at the Hindu temple located in Morrisville daily bathe their three foot high marble images with a damp cloth and place food offerings before them.  The article went on to quote a Hindu priest who said, “The lord Ganesh wanted to tell the world, “I’m here.  I’m alive.  I have power.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, is it possible for Hinduism to be true; is is possible for Christianity to be true”  Yes!  But both cannot be true.  You know what the tragedy is - to be wrong in matter of faith is to be wrong for eternity.

You say, but Stephen, these people are so sincere - yes they are, but if sincerity is the determinative characteristic of true religion - the prophets should have won the day - Elijah didn’t pray for six hours - he didn’t cut his body to prove his deep loyalty to his god - the prophets of Baal were deeply sincere - and they all died . . .and for all eternity, no voice will defend them; no one will attention.

The majority opinion of Elijah’s day was tragically wrong.

When you understand the claims of God and His word,  you discover it is impossible to remain neutral.

The moment you say, God is God and Baal is false - at that moment you’ve taken sides - the moment you say, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin through - then money ceases to become your passion and focus; promotion and prestige, popularity and sensuality cease becoming your gods.

You are captivated by Christ!

The word neutral in the English language is a word composed of two smaller roots “ne” and “uter” that literally mean; not either! 

That’s another way of saying you have both feet firmly planted in mid-air.  One person gives their opinion and another gives his - they then ask you, “how do you feel” and you answer, “I feel strongly both ways!”

Elijah called, “How long will you play neutral - if God be God, then follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.

Elizabeth Elliott published a statement her husband made before his death at the hand of auca Indians he was trying to reach in Ecuador - He said, “Father, make of me a crisis man.  Bring those I contact to decision.  Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.”

What the church of Jesus Christ needs today are men and women who despise neutrality - and who challenge others to make their choice for God.

Whenever you are used by God in some marvelous way, make sure you give Him all the credit.

When you find that some prayer has been answered - God has worked wonders to behold - someone says, “Say what’s that I heard about?”  And you take 5 minutes to tell them how long you’d prayed, how bad it was, how you decided to do thus and so - and 10 seconds saying, at the end - God answered.

My friend, if we could interview Elijah in person, this morning, “Elijah, tell us about Mt. Carmel.”  Do you think for a moment he’d say, “Well - let me explain all the nuances behind why I rebuilt the altar - no, let me tell you how I came up with the idea of dousing the altar with water - why 4 barrels - three times - let me tell you what I was thinking about during those six hours I waited. . .”

If he did, he’d resemble the average moderna day believer - who, like Charles Spurgeon wrote of 100 years ago, “Considers himself a mighty warrior, who if he so much as kills a mouse, publishes the news in the Sunday School Gazette.”

Did you notice the reaction of the crowd as the fire fell - In verse 39.

(you do not read, And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “Eijah the great prophet. . .”  but “The Lord, He is God.”

Whenever a Christian or a church demands that God receive all the glory for whatever He does, that individual - that church, will see God work in marvelous ways.

Colonial is standing on the edge of an entirely new era - tonight we unveil what we believe to be nothing less than miraculous - and we are carefull to say, “To God be the glory!”

Remember, victories on Mount Carmel usually follows years of quiet training and preparation.

Elijah was standing at this magnificent display of God’s power only after going through 3 and 1/2 years of lonely testing and private pain.

If we could choose - we would move in our Christian experience to Mount Carmel -

But was Mt. Carmel an immediate answer to prayer?  No way!  It was an answer to years of prayer.

We would choose to celebrate with Nehemiah as the ribbon is cut - celebrating the newly constructed walls around Jerusalem.  All other attempts had failed - Nehemiah had succeeded.

We would love to join Daniel as he spent the night in the lions den - using the soft belly of one for a pillow and the mane of another for a blanket.

Are we willing to go through the agony of desolation and isolation and instruction of an Elijah?  Are we willing to endure the personal attack and criticism of a Nehemiah?  Are we willing to live a lonely life in exile, far from our homeland for 75 years like a Daniel.

We will take the fire of Divine triumph on the altar - but will we accept the fire of Divine tribulation and purification on our own lives?

Elijah would - and only afterward, does God send the fire of triumph.

Well, for those of you who are willing to join Elijah by the brook, and in the widows house - who will patiently wait on the word of the Lord for yeras if necessary - I want to encourage you with one more thought:

God is capable of establishing truth and displaying His power through the life of just one surrendered person.

Size does not determine significance in the body of Christ.  God doens’t need powerful people, noble, mighty, wealthy - Elijah was a man just like us . . .an ordinary man, used in an extra-ordinary way!

One voice - one life - that established the truth in God's name.  By the way, you do nothing short of that when you declare to your world that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ!

I want to close by reading to you a piece of anonymous prose -

            READ POEM



I am part of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.  The die has been cast.  I have stepped over the line.  The decision has been made.  I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.  I won’t let up, slow down, back away, or be still.  My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure.  I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions or popularity.  I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded.  I now lean by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.  My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear.  I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, or delayed.  I will not hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.  I won’t give up, back up, let up until I prayed up, stored up and stayed up the cause of Christ.  I must go until Heaven returns, give until  I drop, work until He comes.  And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me.  I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.



He wrote, “being called upon to “face fire” has a way of changing men.  From ordinary men into leaders; because leadership, is forged in combat.

In world War II I was a combat fighter pilot flying a P38, giving “close support” to General Patton in his march through France.  One day, my flight unit of 4 planes was ordered to take out a German airfield 100 miles behind their lines.  We zoomed out, made our run and survived the anti-aircraft fire.  As we pulled up, I saw in the distance what looked like a big flock of buzzards.  Then I realized; “Those aren’t buzzards.  Those are airplanes . . .German airplanes!”  They turned out to be 67 enemy fighters - the dreaded Herman Goering yellow--nose fighters that Goering had personally brought together with the best pilots into one invincible unit.  They had never before been challenged.  I got on the intercom and called in to my leader, Jerry Gardner.  In a voice 2 octaves above high C, I yelled: “Jerry, there are bogey’s at 10 o’clock!  Jerry looked up at them.  After a moment of silence, he said calmly, “Let’s go get ‘em.”  Now there is one sacred rule in the Air Force: Always keep formation.  The only way to survive air-to-air combat is to stay together.  Of course, in this situation, that certainly wouldn’t help.  Just before our four planes reached those 67 enemy fighter planes, Jerry came back over the airwaves and uttered some immortal words:  “Every man for himself.”  We zoomed into the middle of their formation.  I ended up on the tail of a German general leading the group with his three wingmen.  Nobody behind me could shoot at me for fear of hitting the general - I shot down the three wingmen without even getting shot at.  Then the general and I had ourselves quite a dogfight.  He probably flew into my fire, since from the beginning I was squeezing every trigger in the cockpit.  He went down.  The next second, every German that wasn’t shooting at Jerry and my other 2 buddies opened up on me.  My plane and I caught fire.  I bailed out, pulled my ripcord and looked up.  My chute was on fire.  Luckily, I was so low that my chute hung together until I hit the ground - although I was severely burned.  The French underground picked me up - 11 days later, Patton sent in a squadron of tanks to get me out.  The day of our fight, 47 yellow-nose fighters were shot down...all four of us survived and earned Presidential citations.

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