Truly one of the great stories of the Bible; one showing God has a tremendous sense of humor. And why not? Human beings can be humorous and we are made in his image. Everything we see in man is a reflection back to the very nature of God. Which is kind of mind blowing if you contemplate that for a bit. Our very consciousness is analogous to his, our thinking as well. Even our emotions. Of course all of it in perfect, infinite form. So back to our story.
After three years God tells Elijah that the time for the drought to end has finally come. God tells him to go and present himself to the wicked king of Israel, Ahab, and tell him rain is coming. Things must be getting desperate too because Ahab summons Obadiah, who is in charge of his palace to go throughout the land to maybe find some grass to keep the animals alive so they won’t have to kill any. As Obadiah, who is a devout man in an evil land, is “walking along” he runs into Elijah. Obviously his reputation precedes him because he he calls him “my lord.” When Elijah tells him to go tell Ahab he’s ready to talk, Obadiah freaks out. What if he does this and Elijah disappears? After all, Ahab has searched far and wide for him to have him killed. But Elijah assures him, he’s not going anywhere; he’s got some tricks up his sleeve.
When Ahab finally meets Elijah you would think the king would be giving the orders, but it’s Elijah who tells him to have all the prophets of Baal meet him on Mount Carmel. This is going to be a contest, and we’ll see who the people will choose to follow:
21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
When Elijah tells them to choose, they say nothing. Imagine all the power of the society and state are on the side of Baal, so the people are of course hesitant. But when he says, let’s make a contest out of this, they’re all in.
So the prophets of Baal start calling on their god, from morning till noon, but guess what? No answer. So, and I love this, Elijah starts to taunt them:
“Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”
One of the commentaries I read said in Hebrew there is a reference here to, uh, going to the bathroom. But alas, the prophets of Baal call in vain, no matter the gyrations, no matter the blood they spill, nothing. All false gods are the same; they can not deliver. Futility is their name.
Now that the show is over and it is clear Baal is powerless (note that the issue never comes up whether Baal actually exists or not. This is not the concern.), Elijah prepares to show the people who they ought to follow. He sets up the another altar, puts the dead animals on it, and he gets the people to drench it in water. Then Elijah prays that God in his mercy will show his power so that the people’s hearts will turn back to him, and oh what a show it is. Fire falls from heaven and consumes everything, even licking up all the water in the trench around the altar.
The people fall down and cry, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” That’s it. That’s the whole name of the game of human existence. We must acknowledge who is God. As Dylan sang, “You gotta serve somebody.” So Elijah declares the sentence of death on the false prophets in obedience to the Lord’s word in Deut. 18:20:
But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
The people slaughter them. The chapter ends strangely. I would think Elijah would also call down judgment on evil King Ahab, but he doesn’t. He tells him the rain is coming, and that he’d better hightail it back to town. And the rain doesn’t come. Elijah goes to the top of Mount Carmel and gets down on his knees, and presumably prays, the text doesn’t say. But he tells his servant seven times, of course, to do and look toward the sea, when he finally sees a little cloud coming, and the rain is on its way. The Lord wanted everyone to know from whence their salvation, spiritual or physical, comes, the theme of the entire Bible.
For some reason, even though Ahab had already headed to Jezreel before the rain started, the power of the Lord comes upon Elijah he runs ahead of Ahab and gets to the town first. Not sure why this is happens, but maybe we’ll see.