Confrontation on Carmel

A look at one of the most fascinating and decisive battles between good and evil.
The scorching sun beat down on Obadiah as he walked the arid path, each step sending a swirl of dust upward. It had been years since rain had fallen on the once-lush Samarian countryside—ever since Elijah the prophet had pronounced judgment on the land for King Ahab’s despicable acts. Now the entire northern kingdom of Israel was suffering.

As Obadiah continued his trek under the relentless Middle Eastern sun, he thought of the king’s order to search for well-watered areas for the livestock.

Such foolishness!

Ahab had disobeyed God’s commands by marrying Jezebel, a Sidonian princess and evil-hearted woman who championed idolatry. The king worshiped at Baal’s feet and even built a temple for the worthless idol. The drought and famine were the fruits of national sin.

Like all man-made deities, Baal was only as powerful as his followers. Queen Jezebel, the nation’s chief worshiper of the chunk of stone, led the massacre of the faithful prophets who dared to speak out against Baal in the name of the Lord God of Israel. Their blood flowed like water in the streets, a poignant reminder of the price of discipleship.

Despite the withering heat, an icy chill ran down Obadiah’s spine. He thought of those men, many of them his friends. He thought of his own life, hanging precariously in the balance. It seemed that Ahab still trusted Obadiah; but how long would it be before the king, or worse yet, the queen, discovered he had secretly hidden 100 prophets of Yahweh in wilderness caves and had been feeding them and taking them water?

Suddenly, there appeared next to him a man roughly dressed. A hairy garment hung on his sinewy frame, a leather belt around his waist. The man’s hair and beard were long, scraggly, and dusty. His appearance was otherworldly. Trembling, Obadiah fell to the ground. “Is that you, my lord Elijah?” he asked (1 Ki. 18:7).

“It is I,” the prophet replied. “Go, tell your master, ‘Elijah is here’” (v. 8).

“How have I sinned,” Obadiah asked, “that you are delivering your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, ‘He is not here,’ he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you. And now you say, ‘Go, tell your master, “Elijah is here”’!” (vv. 9–11).

Obadiah lamented that the Spirit of the Lord would carry Elijah away so Ahab could not find him, and the king would think Obadiah a liar and kill him. But Elijah insisted he would see Ahab.

The meeting between king and prophet was not cordial. Ahab called Elijah the “troubler of Israel” (v. 17), to which Elijah replied,

I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals. Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table (vv. 18–19).

The contest of contests was about to begin.

‘That This People May Know’
Ahab did as Elijah ordered. The nation, including the prophets of Baal and Asherah, gathered on Mount Carmel; and Elijah threw down the gauntlet. Looking at the crowd, he shouted, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (v. 21).

“Let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word.”

No one said a word. Elijah challenged all 450 prophets of Baal to demonstrate their god’s power by sacrificing a bull on an altar and calling on Baal to consume the sacrifice by fire. “O Baal, hear us!” they cried (v. 26). They screamed and leaped about the altar that held their sacrifice of a dismembered bull; but nothing happened.

Boldly, Elijah taunted them: “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (v. 27).

Then the false prophets took knives and lances from their belts and slashed their bodies. Blood gushed from their veins in an attempt to elicit a response from their god. Nothing.

At the end of the day, Elijah gathered the people together. He repaired the dilapidated altar to the true and living God using 12 large stones, “according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob” (v. 31). Then he dug a trench around the altar’s base, laid wood on top of the stones, and prepared the bull for sacrifice.

Turning to a group of men standing nearby, Elijah demanded, “Fill four waterpots with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood” (v. 33). Then Elijah ordered them to do it twice more until altar, wood, and bull were sopping wet. Water dripped from the bull’s lifeless body into the pool that had formed in the trench below.

“LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” Elijah shouted. “Let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word” (v. 36). The prophet’s voice reverberated throughout the Jezreel Valley below.

“Hear me, O LORD, hear me,” he shouted again, “that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again” (v. 37).

“Hear me, O LORD, hear me,” he shouted again, “that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”

At that moment, a terrifying roar came from the altar. A mass of white-hot fire consumed not only the bull, but also the wood, stones, and dust, as well as the water in the trench.

Tears may have streamed down the prophet’s face as he turned to see the Israelites prostrate on the rocky ground. “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!” they shouted in unison (v. 39).

The victory was God’s. Elijah commanded the people, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!” (v. 40). Then the prophet marched the followers of Baal to the Brook Kishon, where he executed them.

The Tiny Cloud
The prophet and his servant made the ascent back up Mount Carmel, where Elijah bowed to the ground. It hadn’t rained in Samaria for several years. Everything was dried up. Food was scarce, and the animals were dying.

“Go up now, look toward the sea,” Elijah told his servant. The man went up but saw nothing. “Go again,” Elijah said (v. 43). Six times the servant went to the west side of the mountain, looked toward the Mediterranean, and returned with the same answer.

But the seventh time, he noticed something far off. Excitedly, he ran back to his master and shouted, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” (v. 44).

“Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you,’” said Elijah (v. 44).

As the servant ran to Ahab, Elijah looked to the sky. A deep rumble shook the mountain and valley alike, the sky blackened dark as pitch, the wind began to blow, “and there was a heavy rain” (v. 45).

Although most believers today do not find themselves surrounded by Baal worshipers, all of us live in cultures that worship objects other than the God of Israel. In the West especially, materialism is the god of this age; and it tempts Christians, as well as unbelievers.

Like Elijah, the church must be willing not only to stand against such 21st-century Baals, but also to remind those around us that a choice must be made: “If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (v. 21). Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone is the only way revival, personal or national, will occur; and when it does, we, too, will feel the effects of the refreshing rains of repentance.

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