FIRE had descended from the sky about Mount Carmel to consume the sacrifice Elijah had prepared for God. Besides burning up the meat and wood, it burned up the stones of the altar, much of the ground under and around it and the water that lay in the ditch surrounding the altar. (I Kings 18:30-38.)
The Penalty of Idolatry
Fear gripped the onlookers. They fell to the ground, shouting that God was the only God, and that they had sinned in having anything to do with idols. Some of them shouted resentfully at the priests of Baal. Noting the swiftly growing anger of the crowd against the priests, Elijah held up his hands for silence. "God requires these men of Baal should be punished here and now for leading Israel into idolatry!" Elijah called out. (Deuteronomy 13.) "Come up here and seize them! Don't let a one escape!" Shouting with wrath, the crowd charged up the mountain to surround the four hundred and fifty priests, who were thrown into panic by this sudden turn of events. Quickly overpowered by greater numbers, the men of Baal become prisoners of the people. "Take them down to the foot of the mountain," Elijah told those who had arrested the priests. "They will be put to death and their bodies placed in the dry creek bed there." (I Kings 18:39-40.) Some of the frenzied priests screamed for help from Ahab, who was grimly watching the scene from not far away. The plight of his priests didn't bother the king as much as did the fact that Elijah was in control of the situation. But the sight of the altar being suddenly absorbed by the fire had unnerved him, and he dared do nothing contrary to Elijah's wishes. In response to his priests' appeal he slowly shook his head and turned his back. The struggling, yelling men of Baal were dragged down the mountain to be punished for their sins. Most of the people returned to their camps or left the region to go back to their homes. Ahab was anxious to learn what Elijah would do about ending the drought, but he did not want to give the appearance of pressing him on the matter. He was relieved when the prophet approached him. "I know that you're waiting for me to tell you when rain will come," Elijah said. "I can't yet say, but it could happen before many more hours pass. When it does come there will be plenty of it. Why don't you rest and eat while I go about my business on top of the mountain?" Ahab was greatly encouraged by this statement. He went back into his tent, and Elijah went close to the pinnacle of the east shoulder of Mt. Carmel, where he bowed himself on the ground and sincerely asked God for rain. Shortly he asked his helper to go to the highest part of the mountain to see if there were any signs of cloudiness in the western sky. The man returned a little later to report that the sky was as cloudless as it had been for more than three years.
The Drought Ends
"Go look again," Elijah said, and returned to praying. Shortly the man came back to tell the prophet that the sky was still completely clear. Elijah had him to continue going up and looking and returning at brief intervals to state the condition of the sky. When he came back from his eighth trip to the top of the mountain, the man excitedly informed the prophet that there was a small cloud just above the western horizon. "Go to King Ahab and tell him that rain will fall very soon," Elijah instructed his helper. "Tell him that he would be wise to get across the plain now in his chariot before the downpour turns the dusty plain into an impassable sea of mud." (I Kings 18:41-44.) Ahab was almost wild with satisfaction when he heard the news. By then, even from the sheltered site of his tents, he could see a small cloud rising up in the western sky. Excitedly he called his servants to pack the tents and other equipment and move out as soon as possible. The cloud rose and expanded and Elijah knew God was about to answer his request. For that the prophet took time to utter words of thankfulness. Within an hour or so the small, white cloud would expand completely across the western sky. The vapor grew darker. A strong, high wind started the cloudy masses to churning ominously. This abrupt change in the heavens from a peaceful blue to a boiling dark gray struck deep fear into thousands of people in that part of Israel. When lightning started to flash and thunder rolled across the plain, Elijah had already hurried down Mt. Carmel. By the time he reached the base, Ahab and his chariot driver were getting started. Soon the rain would be pouring out of the sky and the creek bed would begin to fill with a surge of muddy water to wash away the lifeless bodies of the priests of Baal. Just after Elijah crossed the stream, Ahab passed over with his chariot. And the loaded donkeys weren't far behind. If they had been much later, they could have been swept away by the rapidly rising stream. One of the towns near the east peak of Mt. Carmel was Jezreel, about twenty miles to the southeast. That was Ahab's goal, and Elijah's, inasmuch as the city of Samaria was too far south to reach before the widespread cloudburst. Ahab's chariot driver galloped his horses before the storm. But Elijah, who was a natural athlete and also had some help from God, outran the chariot all the way to Jezreel. (I Kings 18:45-46.) Next morning, after causing alarming flash floods over a large part of Israel, the torrent from the sky abated. Later, Ahab and his men continued on safely to Samaria. As for Elijah, although he was the man who had most to do with the ending of the drought, he was regarded at Jezreel as just another vagrant by innkeepers. He was thankful however, to find a shelter from the downpour. Meanwhile, Ahab was being received with much pomp and honor in the best of the town's inns.
When Ahab told his wife what had happened at Mt. Carmel, Jezebel was furious because of her husband giving credit to the God of Israel for causing rain to come. "The drought was bound to end naturally sometime," she angrily reminded Ahab. "Are you becoming childish, that you should believe self-styled prophets like Elijah, who time their utterances with unusual events of nature to try to convince people that they have unnatural powers?" "Events of nature?" Ahab echoed. "Do you consider what happened to Elijah's altar something natural?" "I wasn't there to see it, and I have only your influenced version of what happened," Jezebel countered disdainfully. "Your childish belief in this rustic prophet has cost the lives of four hundred and fifty men. If I had been foolish enough to send four hundred of my priests, as Elijah impudently requested, probably you would have been willing to let them die, too. If I had been there, matters would have turned out quite differently. It's too late now to undo what you've allowed to be done, but I'm going to see that this Elijah doesn't interfere any more in the religious affairs of Israel!" "You'll have to find him first, and don't ask me where he is because I have no idea," Ahab said angrily, striding away. "I'll do more to him than find him," Jezebel muttered, smiling to herself. Meanwhile, Elijah stayed in Jezreel. The more he observed the people of the town, the more discouraged he became. He had imagined that word would spread how God had shown His power at Mt. Carmel, and that people everywhere would repent. From what he saw in Jezreel, everyone appeared relieved that the drought was over, but they didn't seem to be seeking God in the fervent manner of people who were truly regretful that they had fallen into idolatry. Jezebel's spies soon discovered where Elijah was. Right afterward a man walked up to the prophet, thrust a piece of paper into Elijah's hand and disappeared. After Elijah read the message on the paper, being already discouraged as he was, his faith in God was a bit shaken. The message was from Jezebel, informing him that she intended to see him dead within twenty-four hours, and that she hoped her gods would kill her if she failed. (I Kings 19:1-2.) Elijah left Jezreel at once, hoping to get out of the nation of Israel and reach safety in the nation of Judah before Jezebel's men could seize him. His servant, the man who had reported seeing the little cloud from Mt. Carmel, had come with him to Jezreel, and wanted to stay with him in this time of great danger. The two succeeded in reaching Judah and traveling through it to Beer-sheba, a town on Judah's southern border more than eighty miles to the south of Jezreel. Elijah felt that Jezebel's men could show up even that far south in pursuit of him. He convinced his servant that they would both be better off separated. (I Kings 19:3.) Anxious to get out of a populated area, Elijah went on by himself several miles into the Paran desert that extends down into the Sinai peninsula. Hot, weary, thirsty and hungry, he stopped to rest in the shade of a desert canebrake. By this time he felt sure he could never do any more good among the people of Israel and was so depressed that he wanted to die.
"Let Me Die!"
"I don't want to go on living like this," he prayed. "God, I would rather have you take my life than be murdered by Jezebel's servants." The prophet was so tired that he fell asleep. Some time later he was awakened by someone shaking him gently by the shoulders. Before he could open his eyes, he heard a voice telling him to get up and eat, but when he was awake and looked around, nobody was in sight. Elijah settled back, believing that he had dreamed someone had awakened him. He was about to fall asleep again when the pleasant odor of warm bread came to him. He sat up and looked around once more. This time he was surprised to see a small roll of bread on a flat stone over a bed of hot coals. He picked it off the stone and found that it had just been baked. Then he spied a bottle of water nearby. When he reached for it, he discovered that somehow it was very cool. Elijah recalled that he had seemingly dreamed that someone had told him to eat. He wondered if this could be some scheme by Jezebel's men to poison him, but he quickly dismissed the idea that such a complex means would be used when it would be simpler to do away with him in his sleep. He could only conclude that God had sent an angel to supply his needs. He gave thanks for it and enjoyably consumed the bread and water. Relaxed by his repast, Elijah lay down and went back to sleep. Once more, after a good sleep, he felt himself being shaken by the shoulders, and again, when only half awake, he seemed to hear a voice telling him to get up and eat. This second time he was told that he should eat plenty because he would need strength for the long distance he intended to cover. (I Kings 19:4-7.) He opened his eyes to find that there was nobody about, but there was another larger roll just finishing baking over still-glowing coals, and the bottle he had drained was again full of water. He found he was again hungry and thirsty. Eating and drinking a second time was anything but difficult. Afterward the prophet continued southward. Walking several miles a day across the arid land, he kept on going until he reached Mt. Sinai, where the Ten Commandments, and lesser laws had been given to Israel six hundred years before. The trip took forty days, during which all he had to eat and drink was what had been miraculously supplied him on the first day into the desert from Beersheba. (I Kings 19:8.) Part way up Mt. Sinai Elijah found a cave in which he decided to stay for a time. Possibly it was the same cave Moses was in when he briefly glimpsed God. While he was resting there, Elijah heard a voice clearly ask: "Why have you come here to Mt. Sinai, Elijah?" The prophet was frightened. It was shadowy in the cave, and he imagined that the dark areas he saw could be Jezebel's men who had followed him. He reasoned that no one else would know his name, but after a time it occurred to him that God would know his name, and that the voice might be that of an angel.
This Is Only Small Power
"I have come here to escape being killed by the soldiers of Jezebel, queen of King Ahab," Elijah spoke out, wondering if anyone was listening to him. "I have sadly observed how the Israelites have broken your covenant that was made here at Mt. Sinai. They have forsaken God's altars for those of pagan gods. They have slain the true prophets. As far as I know, I am the only one left, and I won't have much longer to live if my enemies find me. I am dismayed by these events. I have been ambitious for God, but now I am doubtful that I did anything worthwhile. I was sure that Israel would be sobered after what happened at Mt. Carmel. Apparently the people weren't very impressed." (I Kings 19:9-10.) "Don't be discouraged," the voice said. "Be assured that God is with you. Rest for now, because soon God will come very close to you. When He does, come out of the cave to meet Him." In spite of being excited and puzzled by what he had been told, Elijah felt encouraged and peaceful, and fell into a deep, refreshing sleep. Next morning he was awakened by the shrill whine of wind, growing stronger by the minute. He jumped up, ran to the mouth of the cave and peered up at the surrounding rocky peaks. The blast of air past the mountain was so great that he had to step back to keep from being swept away. Holding fast to rocks, he looked out to see huge boulders on the brow of the mountain being toppled by the wind. They crashed down from ledge to ledge, landing on the slopes below with thunderous impact. Fearful that some mammoth rock would come grinding down where he was, Elijah went back into the cave, where he remained until the wind abated. At first he thought that the mighty movement of air indicated that God was passing by, but he concluded that God's only connection with the wind was that He caused it. While he thought about the matter, the cave started to creak and shake. There was a growing rumbling that became so loud that Elijah ran into the open, afraid that the roof of the cave would collapse on him. Outside the cave he saw the terrifying spectacle of mountain peaks swaying and boulders and rock slides plummeting from the heights. Quickly, again, he sought the safety that existed inside the mountain. When the earthquake was over, he decided that the fearsome shaking of the earth wasn't caused by the presence of God but by only a small fraction of His great power. When he considered it safe to venture out on the ledge again, Elijah looked down on the rubble cluttering the edge of the level expanse where the Israelites had camped on their way to Canaan. The mountain erupted with fiery lava and ash. The sky became filled with dark clouds. Flashes of ball lightning occurred, changing to long streams of chain lightning that crackled and spit down on Mt. Sinai and the surrounding peaks. Massive showers of sparks shot in all directions as the fiery bolts grounded and fused on smoking rocks, filling the air with fumes like those of brimstone.