Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 12, 1958
NUMBER 7, PAGE 9a-10a

Studies From Elijah -- (IV.)

Connie W. Adams. Bergen, Norway

More than three years passed from the time that Elijah stood before Ahab and predicted that there would be "neither rain nor dew" but by his word, and the time when God instructed Elijah to "Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth." 1 Kgs. 18:1. The prompt obedience of the prophet can best be appreciated in the light of the danger it posed to him personally. The drought had spread through all the land until it was parched for want of water. The greenery had withered leaving no food for cattle. As a natural result famine settled over the land. And although it is not likely that the king and his household at first felt its effects as severely as the people, finally it reached his own door, and in desperation he sent Obadiah through one part of the land and went personally through another in search of grass "to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts." 1 Kgs. 18:5. Ahab placed the blame for all this upon Elijah and had searched thoroughly, though in vain, for him. The danger to the prophet can be further seen in the intense persecution of the faithful initiated by Jezebel. What delight it would have given her to see the prophet Elijah put to death. Obadiah, a trusted servant under Ahab, and himself faithful to the Lord, further demonstrated the danger when he expressed fear for his own life should he deliver Elijah's message and then the prophet be concealed. Yet in the face of all these dangers to his person, Elijah said to Obadiah, "As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely shew myself unto him today." 1 Kgs. 18:15.

Troubler Of Israel

This second meeting between wicked king and faithful prophet called forth a bold assertion from Ahab. He said, "Ts it thou, thou troubler of Israel?" As Nathan stood before David and accused "Thou art the man," so Elijah answered: "I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim." 1 Kgs. 18:18. The charge of Ahab and its practical considerations is so well summarized by W. Milligan in his work, Elijah, His Life and Times, that we think it profitable for the reader. "It does not seem to occur to him that he was himself the troubler of Israel. He followed the course taken by the world in every age, when it lays the blame of all that unsettledness of mind which so often disturbs it in the midst of its sinful ease, upon those who would awaken it to a sense of its responsibilities, and lead it to a deeper and more abiding peace. As the words of Christ go out to their fulfillment — 'I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword' (Mt. 10:34) — men disturbed by the proclamation of the truth turn round upon its preachers and charge them with unduly disquieting consciences that would otherwise be at ease, and with unreasonably condemning practices which, but for them, would be considered innocent. It is this Pharisaism, this punctiliousness, this strictness of view, and this harshness of judgment, they contend, that distract society. Let man alone, and there will be peace. Thus it was that our Lord himself, the Prince of peace, was charged by the Jews before Pilate with stirring up the people, as he taught throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee, even unto Jerusalem (Lk. 23:5). Thus it was that the uproarious Jews at Thessalonica complained before the rulers of the city of St. Paul and his companions. 'These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.'. (Acts 17:6). Thus it always is, Men whom misfortunes has overtaken, while they dislike the truth that might have saved them, are ever ready to shift responsibility from themselves, and to charge those as the authors of their sufferings who have simply warned them that they will and must pay the penalty of their sins. In this spirit Ahab met Elijah now." To this we add that he who charges another with "troubling" spiritual Israel now should first pause and consider whether or not he has "troubled" Israel by the teaching or practicing of that which is unauthorized.

This was a time of crisis in Israel. The course of events had marched steadily to this moment. The drought should have brought Israel to its knees before the one God, but something more was needed. In the drought they had reaped the fruit of their own sin, but it took the events on Mt. Carmel to show them the folly of idolatry. The power of God shown there gave added meaning to the drought and enabled them to see their own condition in the proper light.

Mt. Carmel

At Elijah's command, Ahab gathered 450 of the prophets of Baal and all the people to Mt. Carmel. The scene of the contest was most appropriate. In the region below, the song of Deborah had been sung in celebration of the triumph of Israel over Jabin, king of Hazor. (Jud. 5:31.) Judges 7 gives the account of Gideon and his faithful 300 defeating the Midianites in the plain below. The very location, then, of the contest was surrounded by glorious memories of the triumphs of the faithful.

The purpose of the contest was set forth in Elijah's question to the people: "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him." The people were noncommittal. They would wait and see. "And the people answered him not a word." The question implied that all the people had not fully rejected God and accepted Baal completely in preference. It implied that they were inclined to accept Baal along with God. But there was no justifiable middle ground, they were obliged to accept fully one or the other, and just as fully to reject that one which was not God.

The participants presented quite a contrast. Here stood one man alone — a man of coarse manner and garb, a man of the wilderness, a man unafraid, a man who in reality was the best friend Israel had at this time. There stood 450 well-fed, sleek, elegantly arrayed prophets — doubtless confident, perhaps arrogant, and serene in the knowledge that the queen endorsed them. There they were with all the external trappings of the great pomp and ceremony that so often accompanied their idolatrous exercises, and which things were calculated to dazzle the spectator, as they yet do in the cathedrals of error.

The procedure was proposed by Elijah. Two bullocks were to be prepared for sacrifice. The prophets of Baal were to cut their bullock in pieces, lay it on wood, and put no fire under it. Elijah would do the same. They were to call on their gods and he was to call upon his, and the one that answered by fire, should be God. The people said, "It is well spoken." If these were any advantages materially considered, they were with the prophets of Baal. The concept of Baal worship was related to the sun, a form of sun-worship. In the proposal they were dealing with the very element of Baal worship. There were 450 of them to entreat, but only one to call upon the God of Israel.

Thus with the people in agreement as to the fairness of the procedure, the contest began. From morning to noon the prophets of Baal cried out, "0 Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made." After witnessing this vain appeal all morning, Elijah uttered some of the strongest words of sarcasm in all the Bible. It is said that he "mocketh them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or per-adventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked." Such mocking must have been most chaffing to them. Their exercises increased in tempo and violence. They cut themselves, passed through the bodily contortions their frenzy incited, mingled their own blood with that of the sacrifice — all to no avail. At last exhausted, they retired to give place to Elijah and his sacrifice.

The failure of the prophets of Baal could but have intensified the expectations of the people as Elijah beckoned to them to "come near unto me." There had been previously an altar to the Lord here, but like Israel's fidelity to God, it was broken down. He constructed the altar not with ten stones — the number of tribes in the schismatic northern kingdom — but with twelve "according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saving, Israel shall be thy name." This within itself was a rebuke against the division that existed. He then prepared the sacrifice, put the wood in order and laid the pieces of the bullock upon it. Then to show more fully the power of God, he ordered twelve barrels of water poured upon the sacrifice and the wood. "And the water ran round about the altar: and he filled the trench also with water." Now with the exhausted, bleeding and disappointed prophets of Baal retired to the background, the attention of Ahab and all the people focused upon him and the altar, Elijah raised his voice in solemn petition to his God. "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God is Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, 0 Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again." No vain repetitions were needed, no bodily contortions, no abusing of his body; the simple plea of his servant brought response from the Almighty who was neither busy talking, pursuing, in a journey, nor sleeping. "Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench." Notice the movement of the fire. It did not come from beneath the sacrifice and consume upward, it "fell" and consumed first the sacrifice, then the wood, even the stones and dust and then the water in the trench. This was no ordinary fire. Its presence, course and intensity demonstrated beyond doubt the miraculous nature of what occurred.

Witness next the results. Ahab expressed no repentance, though he knew the source of this display of power. Imagine the consternation of the false prophets. Imagine the satisfaction of Elijah on seeing his God victorious. What fear must have seized the hearts of the spectators, what remorse over their past conduct, what feeling of awe and reverence that they should cry out as they did, "The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, He is the God."