ELIJAH the prophet had been instructed by God to stay hidden in a city near the coast of the Great Sea during many months of the drought that had come to the ten tribes of Israel. (I Kings 17:8-16.)
God Gives Life
The young son of the woman in whose home Elijah stayed had died. He had taken the boy to his room, and had asked God to restore the youngster's life. (I Kings 17:17-21.) After a while the youngster began to breathe and move. God had answered the prophet's prayer and had brought life back into the youngster! Elated and thankful, Elijah took the boy back downstairs to the weeping mother. "Your son lives again, thanks to God's great mercy," Elijah said to the widow. The kneeling woman glanced up through her tears. When she saw that her son was gazing at her with a weak smile and reaching out for her, she cried out happily, leaped to her feet and eagerly took the youngster into her arms. After a time, when she was able to speak, she told Elijah that the miracle proved to her that he was a man God had sent for a good purpose, and that she regretted making unkind remarks to him. (I Kings 17:22-24.) Elijah continued to hide in the woman's home. About two years after he had arrived there, God instructed him to go to King Ahab, who still had many men looking for the prophet. Elijah set out at once for the city of Samaria. By this time conditions had become very severe throughout the land. There was scarcely enough water for the people to drink. Most of their food had to be brought into Israel from distant regions by pack animals. There were dead cattle and sheep everywhere. If the drought continued, the people would soon start to perish from lack of food and water. (I Kings 18:1-2.) Ahab was almost frantic. Countless sacrifices and prayers had been made to the pagan gods, but the rainless days continued. The ten tribes of Israel were without rain for three and one-half years. (Luke 4:25-26; James 5:17.) The king was convinced that the God of Israel could bring rain, but he was sure that God could be contacted only through Elijah, whom he desperately hoped would be found in time to ask God to save his kingdom. In one of many attempts to find grass to save his horses, mules and donkeys, Ahab made a two-party search for springs around Samaria. He headed one group to cover a certain area. Obadiah, his chief steward, headed another group to go through a different region. (I Kings 18:3-6.) As Obadiah's party, mounted on donkeys, slowly combed a parched range of hills, a lone figure appeared on the western horizon. As soon as the figure came close, Obadiah was surprised to recognize him as Elijah, whom he had seen in Ahab's palace. Obadiah slid off his donkey and bowed low before the prophet, whom he greatly respected as a follower of God. "Aren't you Elijah?" Obadiah asked, suddenly wondering if he could be mistaken. "I am Elijah," the prophet answered. "I remember seeing you in my brief visit in Ahab's palace. I understand that your king is looking for me. Please go tell him that I am here."
God Protects the Faithful
"If I told Ahab you are here," Obadiah pointed out, "it could mean my death. He has been searching Israel and even other nations for you for three years, to tell you to ask God to send rain. Even though he needs you, he could be in the mood to kill you because you have remained hidden from him. But God would take you away from here before you could be harmed. If I say you are here and Ahab finds you aren't, he'll take my life. Perhaps you heard how Ahab's wife caused the death of many of God's prophets, some of whom I was able to rescue. If he were angered, Ahab wouldn't hesitate to follow his wife's example." (I Kings 18:7-14.) "Don't be concerned about me or yourself," Elijah told Obadiah. "I promise you that if you go now to tell Ahab where I am, neither you nor I will meet death because of what you do. If Ahab wants to see me, he can do it this same day by coming here." Obadiah knew that Elijah couldn't make such a promise unless he had special help from God. Without further words with the prophet, he instructed his men to continue on the planned course while he went in another direction to meet Ahab. "I have found Elijah!" Obadiah called to the king when he had almost caught up to him. "You mean Elijah the prophet, the man I've been trying to find for three years?" Ahab asked excitedly. "The same man," Obadiah replied. "He is awaiting you on the other side of that range of hills." Ahab wasn't pleased to learn that the prophet expected the king to come to him, but he motioned for his men to follow Obadiah, who led the group over the ridge to where Elijah sat resting in the shade of a boulder. Ahab rode close and rudely shouted at him without the courtesy of a proper greeting. (I Kings 18:16-17.) "So it's you at last!" the king blurted out, frowning down at him. "You've given Israel plenty of trouble these last three years!" Elijah stood up, stepped toward Ahab and gazed steadily at the angry face. "You accuse me of troubling Israel?" Elijah asked. "You know I have done nothing to hurt this nation. But you have, and so have the rulers in your family before you. You have caused Israel untold harm by forsaking God and turning to pagan idols and deities." "Why should we quibble over these things?" Ahab asked. "All that matters now is that you ask your God, if indeed He has control over the elements, to send plenty of rain on our land. Your God is supposed to have Israel's welfare constantly in mind. Surely He won't let this terrible condition continue." "Don't make the mistake of believing that rain will come to Israel simply by your telling me to pray to God for it," Elijah said. "I am God's servant, not yours." Ahab was able to restrain himself only because he felt that Elijah's continued existence could mean an end to the drought.
Only One Prophet of God
"So you expect some great reward for your unique services," Ahab exclaimed disdainfully. "Name your price!" "I do not seek a reward," Elijah replied calmly. "But there is something I am going to ask you to do." "Aha!" Ahab snorted. "Then you do have your price. What is this favor you have in mind?" "Send word around the country for the leaders of the people to gather at the eastern end of Mt. Carmel," Elijah answered, ignoring Ahab's insults. "Also gather four hundred and fifty of your priests of Baal at the same place. And tell your queen, Jezebel, to send four hundred of her priests of Astarte. If you will do this, I shall come to Mt. Carmel to consider asking God for rain." (I Kings 18:17-20.) Although these requests puzzled the king, he knew that asking questions wouldn't help matters. He was so anxious to see the drought ended that he was willing to carry out whatever the prophet requested, even though he disliked Elijah and would have had him killed if there had been nothing to gain by letting him live. Mt. Carmel is a range of hills extending about eighteen miles southeast of the Bay of Acre on the Great Sea. From the eastern tip of the range, which was where Elijah intended to meet the gathering of leaders and prophets, it was about twenty miles to Samaria. When Elijah arrived there a few days later, thousands of Israelites were congregated on the plain off to the north and east. The prophet promptly climbed to the eastern summit of the range and spoke out loudly to all below. "How long will it take you people to make up your minds about whom to follow?" Elijah asked, "If you choose God, then follow Him completely and forget about Baal and any other idols. If you choose Baal, then be loyal to him and don't try to mix any of God's laws into that pagan religion. Most of you seem to be trying to worship both God and Baal. What is to be gained by such a foolish pursuit?" There was no response except silence from the audience. Although they had been living like heathen, they still wanted to call themselves God's people. Elijah waited a minute or two for some other kind of reaction, but there weren't even any hoots of derision. "Among the thousands assembled here, I am the only prophet of God," Elijah continued. "I am somewhat outnumbered by the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal that King Ahab had brought here by my request. I requested also that he bring four hundred of his queen's prophets who conduct the worship of the goddess Astarte, but obviously his wife refused to allow her priests to associate with a prophet of God. (I Kings 18:21-22.) "But let us get to the problem at hand. The land and the people here will soon perish unless rain comes. God has held back the rain because so many have turned to idolatry. God is the only one who has the power to release the rain." This statement brought strong murmurs from the many who felt that their god Baal had just been slighted. There were excited and angry shouts of "Baal! Baal!" from the king's priests. Elijah held up his hands for silence.
"Baal Must Be Asleep"
"Let us carry out a demonstration to prove which deity has the greater power," the prophet continued. "I request that two bullocks be brought here, and that the priests of Baal choose one of them, cut it up and place it on the wood of an unlit altar. I shall have the other bullock dressed and put on the wood of another altar. Then let the priests of Baal call on their god to set the wood of their altar on fire. I shall call on my God to set my altar on fire. The altar that catches on fire should prove who is the true God all of us should follow. Do you agree that this is a fair test?" "Agreed!" the crowd chorused. (I Kings 18:23-24.) An altar was hastily constructed close to where Elijah stood, and wood was brought to cover it. Two bullocks were led up in sight of the people. One was picked by the priests of Baal, who filed up the hill with great dignity. The animal was slaughtered and cut up before the onlookers, and placed on the altar. The other bullock was put aside for the time being, tethered near God's ancient, crumbling altar that happened to be not far away. When all was in readiness, a colorful demonstration was made by the priests of Baal. They danced around their altar several times, chanting, singing and yelling as they went. They then prostrated themselves before the altar, entreating Baal in loud, shrill voices to bring down fire so that the wood and bullock could be burned. Nothing happened. The priests then started leaping up and down around the altar. The more athletic ones sprang up on the edges of the altar and then jumped back to the ground, where they groveled in the dirt and screamed for Baal to help them. This continued until noon, while the voices became hoarse and the priests began to sound more like bullfrogs than human beings. At that time Elijah appeared and again addressed the thousands on the plain below. "You have seen how hard the priests of Baal have worked for the past several hours," Elijah said to the crowd, above the rasping croaks that came only occasionally, now, from the raw throats of the weary priests. "You have seen, too, how futile their vigorous efforts have been. Their god is supposed to be the god of fire. Why hasn't he answered by sparing a bit of himself and igniting the wood on their altar? Could it be that Baal is traveling in some distant land, and has heedlessly left his worshippers to perform their own miracles? Or could it be that he is asleep and that his servants haven't screamed with quite enough volume to awaken him? Perhaps he has gone hunting or visiting and forgot to tell his priests that he would be away for a time. Or possibly he can't be bothered today because he is in the privacy of his bathroom." (I Kings 18:25-27.) There was a low murmur of laughter from the crowd below. The monotonous and ridiculous gyrations and utterances from the priests of Baal had become ludicrous even to many who were previously inclined to consider Baal a real god with mysterious powers. There were others who were angered by Elijah's jibes. The prophet was aware that he was surrounded by enemies who wanted to do away with him. If he hadn't been certain of protection from God, he wouldn't have dared to make degrading remarks about the king's god.
"Now See What God Can Do"
The priests of Baal couldn't give up and admit defeat in front of their king, who was watching closely. They had to keep on dancing and shouting. But they had another bit of splashy ceremony to carry out. While they swayed and jiggled they produced knives and started slashing at themselves. Even with their bodies caked with blood they continued their frenzied dancing. "Here us, Baal! Hear us, Baal!" they groaned over and over. Finally weakened from exertion and loss of blood, all they could do for the rest of the afternoon was to mumble incoherent pleadings to their god. Toward evening Elijah appeared on the mountain again to address the people. (I Kings 18:28-29.) "I see that many of you have gone to your tents and camps because you have tired of the futile performances of the priests of Baal," the prophet spoke out. "Now I ask that you come as close as possible to the foot of the mountain to observe that the God of Israel can do. There is an ancient altar up here that I shall now repair. I shall build it back up with twelve large stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, all of whom should be worshipping God instead of imaginary deities or idols. See for yourselves, now, what will happen when the living God is called on." At Elijah's direction, wood was placed on the altar. The bullock that had been put aside was slaughtered, cut up and spread out on the wood. A ditch was dug all around the altar. Twelve barrels of precious water, obtained from a nearby spring that was one of the few left in the land, were poured over the sacrificial meat. Wood, altar and ground inside the ditch were thoroughly soaked, leaving no possibility of Elijah or his assistants setting fire to the contents of the altar by any devious means. With all in readiness, Elijah stood before the sacrifice and lifted his voice in prayer. (I Kings 18:30-35.) "God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Israel, make it known today, through your great power, that you are the one and only real God in Israel. Let it be known to these people that I am your servant, through whom you have caused these matters to be brought about here at Mt. Carmel. Hear and answer this prayer, Lord, so that those here will be convinced that there is no God like you. Cause them to realize the foolishness of looking to anyone or anything but you for their lives and welfare!" Elijah said nothing more. He didn't scream, dance, leap, roll in the dirt or slash himself. Instead, he stepped back from the altar as though expecting something extraordinary to happen. And it did. Some of the onlookers noticed a strange object in the sky over Mt. Carmel. It appeared to be a glowing fireball. There were excited murmurs from many throats as the gleaming object descended swiftly to the altar Elijah had prepared. The instant it touched the sacrifice, it burned fiercely, causing a burst of smoke. The glow was so intense that people covered their eyes or turned their heads. Seconds later the fiery essence grew dimmer and disappeared. Not only the meat and wood, but also the stones and water in the ditch had been consumed! There was only a blackened crater where the altar had been!