Weak King Ahab and his cruel wife, Jezebel, were burying Israel under a suffocating mantle of evil, and ancient Israel was sliding swiftly into abject paganism. God sent the prophet Elijah to reverse this disastrous state of affairs. (Revelation 2:20).
During Elijah's lifetime Israel had forgotten the one true God and turned to idol worship although, generations earlier, God had repeatedly delivered them from their troubles. Much of their back sliding was attributable to Israel's morally weak king, Ahab, and his overbearing idolatrous queen, Jezebel. Ahab had cemented a political alliance between Israel and Phoenicia by marrying Jezebel, daughter of the Phoenician king, who worshiped pagan gods.
In order to please his wife, Ahab erected a temple to Baal in Israel's capital, Samaria (1 Kings 16:32). He also allowed Jezebel to support hundreds of pagan priests (1 Kings 18:19) and even execute the prophets of the true God (1 Kings 18:4,13). Jezebel's religious rites became the court religion and were rapidly being adopted throughout the nation. The Bible tells us Ahab "did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him" (1 Kings 16:30).
God called Elijah to stop this development. He confronted Ahab and pronounced the curse of a crippling drought on Israel: "As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word" (1 Kings 17:1). Knowing the murderous inclinations of Jezebel, God then sent Elijah to hide near the Brook Cherith, where there was ample water and God sent birds to feed him (1 Kings 17:3-5).
Eventually the brook also dried up, and God instructed Elijah: "Arise, go to Zarephath…I have commanded a widow there to provide for you" (1 Kings 17:9). The widow gave Elijah water to drink and when she explained she had no ingredients to make bread Elijah told her God would not allow her bin of flour to be used up, nor the jar of oil run dry, until He sent rain to break the drought (verses 10-16).
Then, the widow’s son fell sick and died and, in her grief she blamed Elijah. But when Elijah prayed about the situation, God brought the boy back to life, finally convincing the widow of Elijah’s divine calling: "Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth" (1 Kings 17:24).
After the third year of drought, God instructed Elijah to visit Ahab and tell him the drought would soon be over (1 Kings 18:1). When he came before the king, Ahab chided Elijah, "Is that you, O troubler of Israel?" (1 Kings 18:17). Elijah responded that Ahab himself was responsible for Israel's troubles and the prolonged drought that was ravaging his nation. He then suggested a challenge to settle who was the true God of Israel: "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" (1 Kings 18:19).
Ahab, believing he had the upper hand, surprisingly complied with Elijah’s suggestion. When all the participants were present Elijah set the stage to reveal the existence and power of the one true God. "How long will you falter between two opinions?," he called out to the Israelites gathered to watch. "If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).
Elijah's plan was simple. It required the offering of two sacrifices, one from the prophets of Baal and one from Elijah. Elijah instructed: "... call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God" (1 Kings 18:24). Everyone agreed to the arrangement.
The prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifice and called on their gods, leaping around the altar, but there was no answer. Then, about noon Elijah began to mock his rivals: "Call louder, for he is a god. It may be he is deep in thought, or engaged, or on a journey; or he may have gone to sleep and must be woken up" (1 Kings 18:27). Elijah's words provoked the priests of Baal to frenzied desperation: "They cried still louder and… gashed themselves with swords and spears until the blood flowed" (1 Kings 18:28), but were still met with silence.
Elijah's turn was next. He asked the people to move in closer while he picked up a dozen stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, and reconstructed the broken-down altar. Then he dug a trench around the altar, and instructed the sacrifice and wood to be drenched with water two or three times till the trench overflowed..
Then Elijah asked God to reveal Himself as the one true God: "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…Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again" (1 Kings 18:36-37).
Suddenly the all-consuming "fire of the Lord" burned up the sacrifice, with even the water in the trench around the altar disappearing in the flames (1 Kings 18:36-38). The stunned bystanders fell on their faces and cried out: "The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!" (1 Kings 18:39).
Their sincere and faithful response soon brought an end to the drought with Elijah telling Ahab, “'Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain'" (1 Kings 18:41).
Elijah is portrayed as one of the great men of God and the New Testament mentions this particular incident as an encouraging example of faith and answered prayer (James 5:17-18). Centuries after his time, John the Baptist (whose ministry preceded Christ's), is said to have come in the "spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17).
Without the knowledge and conviction of the one true God, people follow the world's evil ways and reap its curses. You and I have lived this way (Ephesians 2:1-3), and God is calling everyone to repent, to turn from their false gods (2 Corinthians 4:4) and return to the one and only true God (Acts 17:30-31).
The prophet Isaiah predicted all will someday be able to learn God's truth (Isaiah 11:9). After Christ's second coming God's ways will be taught to all mankind: "... for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them" (Hebrews 8:11). God will send Jesus Christ to rescue mankind from the consequences of our own greed, selfishness, anger and arrogance that will bring us to the brink of human annihilation (Matthew 24:21-22).
The Good News Magazine (Sep-Oct 1998)