Its flashes are flashes of fire,
The very flame of the LORD.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor will rivers overflow it;
Song of Songs 8:6-7 NASB
The edict came from King Ahab that the entire nation must come to Mount Carmel. The messenger who came through our village said even the women and children must come.
So we packed up some food for the journey—thankfully we only live a day’s walk from Carmel in Megiddo. My younger brother had to travel for a full week. He and his wife and four children live across the Jordan in Rabbah. They came and spent the night with us, and then we all made the trek up to the Mountain the day before the assembly.
We arrived early in the afternoon and set up our tent at the base of the mountain. There were already thousands of tents stretching as far as the eye could see. Even though it was inconvenient to close our shop and leave our lives behind, it was great to be with family. On every side of us fires burned and the smell of meaty stews and roasts filled the air.
As the sun went down, the sounds of joy and laughter fill the air. Families and friends reunited under the stars. We sat around the fire and told all the stories of life since the last time we had seen my brother.
The evening wore on and the fires began to burn down one by one across the encampment. Soon we too let our blaze dwindle and headed into our tents for the night.
A sense of apprehension began to settle as the talking waned. Why did Ahab call the nation together? What did tomorrow hold?
Early the next morning the shofars began blowing calling us up the mount. I gathered the children from my brothers tent. They slept with their cousins—a rare treat. Mazel, my wife, put together some food for later in the day. Then we all headed up hill to the peak where the crowds had begun to gather.
As we arrived and got settled, I saw that there on a raised mound of earth before us, they had erected a large stone altar. In front of us on the left, a large group of lavishly clothed foreigners were assembled. To our right stood one old man dressed in a leather wrap of some sort. It looked like he was covered with hair from top to bottom.
As the crowd swelled, this hairy man came to the center and began to call out to the crowd. As he did I saw that the king himself came up to join this old man. At the same time that woman he married—that outsider—Jezebel—went over and stood with the garishly dressed strangers on the left.
Someone blew a shofar and the hairy man signaled for our attention. The crowd hushed. Then this old man began to speak. His voice boomed,
"How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him."
Complete silence was the only answer he received.
"I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal's prophets are 450 men. Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God."
Now this sounded interesting. I grew up hearing the stories from my papa of the miracles in days gone by. Every now and then you hear a tale from some far away place. And I have to admit, it no longer felt like we were God’s chosen people. Yes, we brought our yearly sacrifices to the altar in Dan, but after three years without rain, we felt more God forsaken that God chosen.
This one old man laid down a direct challenge for the old God of Israel and the strange gods of Jezebel, and the people loved the idea. It started as a mummer, some scattered clapping, but in short order it was a booming cheer.
The old man raised his hands and waited till the crowd settled down again. He then began to speak again, this time directing his words to the mob of Jezebel’s prophets,
"Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it."
By about ten in the morning they were all set. Rather than slaughter their ox, they bound it and laid him on the altar. The first sound we heard was his fearful bellowing. Then they began to worship—at least I think it was worship. It was a strange arrangement, nothing like the worship of the old God of Israel. They were dancing and shouting and some were beginning to take off their ostentatious robes and scarves. At first the crowd watched in wonder and silence. As the worship intensified, the crowd began to lose interest, and began to ignore what was going on above.
This continued for a couple hours, and just as my stomach began to rumble, hoping for a noon meal, the old man stood up again and began to taunt these pagans. They has been calling on Baal now for more than a couple hours, and there had been no answer.
If ever there was a day to call down fire, this was it. After three years with no rain, this place, high above the surrounding land was ripe for fire. Wildfires came and went on a regular basis these days, and keeping fires contained was part of our daily lives.
But there had been no fire today—not here on the mountain top. No fire in answer to the calls of hundreds of prophets. No fire to consume this ox, which had fallen asleep there on the altar. No fire to answer our burning question. No fire to say “Baal is god, worship him.”
So Elijah—my brother overheard someone say that was who this old man was—began making suggestions to the prophets of Baal.
“Call out Louder. Perhaps your god is on a journey. Maybe he’s out to lunch. Could be he is in the bathroom. Where’s the fire?”
At this these prophets of Baal began to strip their chest bare and cut themselves, letting the blood from their own veins flow onto the altar. Some climbed right up on the altar beside the ox and let their blood flow on the poor animal. He was awake now and struggling against his bonds.
As I watched I became more and more appalled at their actions. There were some things they were doing that made me cover my children’s eyes. It was sad really. How could they think that a god would be pleased by such a strange display?
This went on all afternoon. These prophets of Baal—there were hundreds of them—worked in shifts, fifty at a time, dancing, crying out, cutting themselves, until finally, as the hour of the evening sacrifice approached, Elijah stood once again. There had been no voice, no answer, no god paid attention to any of these prophets of Baal.
Elijah said, “Come to me.”
He began assembling an altar to the Lord. With the help of a few strong men, he assembled twelve large stones, one for each of the original tribes of Israel. We were only ten tribes now, ever since Rehoboam and Jeroboam divided our kingdom. Still he used twelve stones.
Then he dug a trench around this altar, and arranged the wood on the top. Next he slaughtered the ox, the same way the priests do it at the temple in Dan. He assembled the body parts of the ox on the wood.
This next bit is where it got strange again. He called for water. He must have brought it along, since water was scarce in these parts, especially in this drought. He sent four men off to bring four pitchers of water, and poured it out all over the altar, the wood, and the ox. Then he sent them back for more.
Now the altar was glistening in the setting sun. You could see it dripping off the ends of the wood, and rolling down the sides of the stones.
“Once more,” called out the old man.
So a third time, the men poured water down over the ox and altar, until then the water filled the trench.
The time of the evening offering had arrived, and Elijah stood to his feet, raised his hands up over his head and said in a voice like a trumpet,
"O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word.
"Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again."
At that moment, while Elijah’s words were still echoing in the distance, a pillar of fire descended from the sky directly upon Elijah’s altar. The roar it made was at once terrifying and wonderful. The heat was intense. I don’t know how Elijah could stand so close and not be consumed, but he stood right there, hands raised, face to the blaze.
As suddenly as it came, it was gone. The fire was gone; The heat was gone; The ox was gone; The wood was gone; The stones were gone; The fire even consumed all the water in the trough. Nothing was left but the old man. Strangely not a hair on his head was even scorched.
He turned to us, and lowered his arms.
Immediately everyone in the crowd fell, face to the ground, and began to cry out, “Yahweh is God. Yahweh is the only God. There is no God but Yahweh.” We cried out for what seemed like an hour, worshipping the Lord Almighty, the God who answers by fire.
Elijah called out to king Ahab then, and told him to gather up all the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Asherah, 850 in all, and bring them down to the brook Kishon. He insisted that not one be allowed to escape.
There, with the nation watching in awe and horror, this prophet who just called down fire, killed every one of these false prophets, and let their blood double the flow of the brook.
Finally, he turned to Ahab, as the crowds began to disperse and said,
"Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower."
I gathered my family and we headed back down to our tents. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I could see how my life had strayed from the true worship of Yahweh. Of course I was still doing my sacrifices. But I allowed other things to fill my time, and we almost never spoke of Him outside of the synagog. We did not worship Him in our home. We did not teach our children when we arose and before we retired.
That day, I turned my heart back to the Lord God of Israel. That day I became a priest to my family once again. That day changed everything for me.
I will never be the same.
If you want to read the biblical account of Elijah on Mt. Carmel you can find it in 1 Kings 18:19-46. If you enjoy hearing the scripture stories from a new vantage point, check out my book, Encounter With Jesus, available now on Amazon.com.
Thanks for coming by today,
Shine where you’re screwed in.