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Without the knowledge and conviction of the one true God, people follow the world's evil ways and reap its curses. Elijah’s calling was to fight idolatry, injustice and a corrupt society. His name meant "That One, and no other, is the only true God!"
When God called Elijah ancient Israel was swiftly sliding into abject paganism. God gave him the courage to confront King Ahab and his cruel, pagan wife Jezebel even though he knew he was putting his life at risk.
King Ahab appears to have honoured God early in his reign, as the names of his sons show: Ahaziah ("God possesses") and Jehoram ("God is high"), but eventually he acquiesced to the degrading influence of Jezebel. He erected a temple to Baal in Samaria (1 Kings 16:32), and allowed Jezebel to support hundreds of foreign priests (1 Kings 18:19), even permitting her to execute prophets of the true God (1 Kings 18:4,13). Scripture says Ahab "did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him" (1 Kings 16:30).
In response God sent a crippling drought (1 Kings 17:1), and instructed Elijah to hide from Jezebel near the Brook Cherith, where God sent ravens to feed him (1 Kings 17:3-5). Eventually, because there was no rain, the brook dried up and God again intervened to protect Elijah: "Arise, go to Zarephath...I have commanded a widow there to provide for you" (1 Kings 17:9).
With Elijah to feed, as well as her son, God caused the widow’s bin of flour and jar of oil to remain full so that they all had something to eat. Then the widow’s son suddenly fell sick and died. In her grief she blamed Elijah for his death, but God heard Elijah’s prayer and brought her son back to life. (1 Kings 17:18-22). This amazing miracle convinced her that Elijah was truly a prophet of God: "Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth" (1 Kings 17:24).
Elijah then issued a challenge to the prophets of Baal in order to convince Israel of the true God: "... 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).
Elijah planned two sacrificial offerings, one from the prophets of Baal and one from himself in order to reveal the existence and power of the one true God.
First of all the prophets of Baal called on their gods to miraculously ignite their offering and, when there was no response, they resorted to cutting themselves. Bloody and weakened, they continued their crazed pleas to their gods until evening, but were met with silence (1 Kings 18:28-29).
Then came Elijah's turn. 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, around which he dug a trench. After he had arranged the wood and cut the sacrifice in pieces on the altar, he told those watching to drench the sacrifice and wood with water three times, soaking everything so thoroughly that the trench overflowed.
Elijah then asked God to reveal Himself to Israel as the one true God, and the "fire of the Lord" suddenly fell on the altar, burning up the sacrifice and even the water in the trench (1 Kings 18:36-38). This awesome, frightening sight was enough to convince the stunned bystanders, who fell on their faces and cried out: "The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!" (1 Kings 18:39).
After this convincing miracle the prophets of Baal were executed, so that they could no longer deceive Israel and God sent rain on the drought-stricken land. God was vindicated and restored to His rightful place in the eyes of His people.
This incident is also mentioned as an encouraging example of faith and answered prayer in James 5:17-18, and centuries after Elijah’s time, John the Baptist was said to have come in the "spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17).
The Good News magazine