Today we arrive at the showdown on Mount Carmel. This is the moment that marks the ministry of the prophet Elijah. If you know anything about Elijah, going all the way back to your younger days, you probably know about prophets of Baal and fire falling from heaven.
Here is how it all begins in 1 Kings 18:
After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah . . . saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.” (verse 1)
For three years it had not rained, as punishment from God upon His rebellious people. Now on his way to Samaria to confront King Ahab, Elijah comes across Obadiah, an official in Ahab’s court. Obadiah has been sent out to locate grass to feed the king’s livestock, and here in verse 3 we are told that Obadiah “feared the Lord.” In fact, verse 4 tells us Obadiah had hidden a hundred prophets of the Lord in a cave to protect them from Queen Jezebel, who wanted to kill them; and he was providing them food and water.
Elijah says to Obadiah in verse 8, “Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’” Obadiah isn’t too sure about doing that. Ahab has been searching relentlessly for Elijah with no success. To paraphrase Obadiah’s response, he says, “Look, if I tell him you’re on your way and you sneak off somewhere, Ahab will kill me in a heartbeat!” Elijah promises him, “I will surely show myself to him today” (verse 15).
Elijah keeps his promise, and when Ahab sees this prophet, he says to him in verse 17, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” He thinks Elijah is the problem. This is so typical of a sinful world that so quickly blames somebody else for their own sin. PQ
Elijah sets the record straight in verse 18:
“I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.”
Now Elijah realizes the critical issue here is bigger than Ahab and his wife Jezebel. He knows this is a spiritual issue and the future of the whole nation of Israel is at stake. So, in verse 19 Elijah delivers this really amazing command to the king:
“Gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.”
So now here’s Elijah standing for God all alone. And standing against him are hundreds of prophets of Baal, along with King Ahab and all the representatives of the entire nation. Several thousand people have gathered on Mount Carmel to see this one prophet taken down.
Elijah preaches a simple yet scathing sermon, and we are given his main point here in verse 21: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” They can’t have it both ways. You see, the people have not totally abandoned belief in the Lord, but they think they can worship Baal too. Elijah says there is no middle ground. They have to choose.
And just in case the people are wondering which god is the true God, Elijah offers a challenge to the prophets of Baal, which they accept. We read here in verses 23-24:
“Choose one bull for [yourselves] 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.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”
Elijah is actually setting up something that should give the prophets of Baal the advantage, because Baal is supposedly the god of lightning, the god of fire from heaven. This is Baal’s calling card.
Verse 26 says that for the next three hours, the prophets cry out, “O Baal, answer us!” but “no one answered.”
At noon, Elijah begins to mock them (verse 27), telling them to cry louder because Baal might be on a long journey or asleep or relieving himself—literally, Baal might be in the bathroom, so you better knock on the door a little louder. I think Elijah is enjoying this challenge.
After hours more of the Baal prophets pleading with their god, there is still no answer—no fire from heaven.
Elijah then repairs a broken-down altar to the Lord that is already there—a significant act by the way—and then he pours water on, and all around, the altar and the sacrifice to make it even harder to burn. And for Elijah, there is no pleading for hours for God to answer. Listen to his simple prayer:
“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.” (verses 36-37)
There is an immediate response to his prayer:
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. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.’” (verses 38-39)
Baal wasn’t in charge after all.
Elijah calls the people to not only profess this truth but also to enact judgment on the false prophets, which they do. The cancer of idolatry needed to be removed.
With the idolatrous prophets now dead and the people, at least for the moment, indicating a change of heart, the Lord sends rain from heaven once again—after three and a half years of drought.
Meanwhile, Ahab heads for his winter palace in Jezreel, fifteen miles away, where Jezebel is waiting to find out what happened. Elijah is supernaturally empowered, and he runs on foot and beats Ahab back to Jezreel. We will pick up the narrative there in our next session. But before we wrap it up today, let me make three observations from this duel on Mount Carmel.
First, don’t ever forget that the majority opinion can be absolutely wrong, especially in spiritual matters. Jesus preached that the road to hell is a well-traveled path; it’s the popular path in life—there is always more traffic there than on the narrow path that leads to everlasting life.
Second, you can be sincere about what you believe and yet be sincerely wrong. These prophets of Baal were sincere—they prayed for hours—and yet they were following a false god.
Third, great spiritual victories usually follow years of obscurity and preparation. Elijah did not start out on Mount Carmel; he started out as an unknown prophet, being trained to walk by faith.
I imagine that is exactly what God is doing with you today, teaching you to walk by faith. Trust Him. If you wait on God today, you will not miss His plans for you tomorrow.