Showdown on Mount Carmel

By Jessica McKillip

Finally, after three and a half years of drought, everyone is gathered at Mount Carmel for what most believed would be the ultimate showdown. King Ahab is there with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah. Elijah stands alone. Elijah asks the people, “‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people did not answer him a word.” (1 Kings 18:22). The people must have been wide-eyed not only in hope that this day would end in rain, but also with fear watching this showdown unfold.  Whose God will answer with fire?

Elijah seems to give all of the advantages to the prophets of Baal. Mount Carmel was long seen as the home of Baal. Elijah invites the prophets of Baal to choose the ox and prepare it first. The prophets proceed to call on the name of Baal from morning until noon. They receive no answer so they leap about the altar. They cry louder. They cut themselves with swords until the blood gushes out of them. Can you imagine the frenzy? And yet, “there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:29). What must it have been like for the people of Israel to witness this? Were they still standing silent hoping that the prophets would cry louder, leap higher, or cut themselves more? Or was doubt beginning to grow in their minds? 

Now it’s Elijah’s turn. He repairs the altar of the Lord and prepares the second ox. Then, Elijah seems to disadvantage himself. He pours four pitchers of water onto the wood and the sacrifice. Again and again. Water flowed around the altar and filled the trench around the altar. Water is a precious resource in a time of a drought. The emptying of the pitchers of water over the sacrifice was a double act of faith on Elijah’s part. Elijah is trusting God to send not only fire from heaven but also rain. 

And then Elijah prays, “‘Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.’  Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:36-38).   

And just like that, the people knew the God that they would serve. They fell on their faces and said, “the Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”

Just as the people of Israel were faced with the question of who they were going to follow, so are we in our lives today. And when faced with the frenzied calls to silent gods or a simple prayer to the living God, the choice is ours to make.

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

Psalm 62:1-2

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