1 Kings 18:1 After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.
The land was parched because of the drought, but the nation had not returned to God. God was about to make it rain again, but he wanted the people to know that it was from him, not Baal. So Elijah challenged the king to meet him on Mount Carmel, with hundreds of false prophets and many others. We should imagine thousands of people who followed a false religion, and Elijah as the only one speaking for God.
Here we see that truth is not determined by majority opinion. Most people have no reason for their beliefs except that others believe them too. They go along with the majority, believing the majority is usually right. But if everyone in the world disagrees with God, then everyone in the world is wrong. It is not easy to stand with God against the majority, but Elijah was a man of character.
1 Kings 18:21 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.
The Israelites had a long history of believing in God, and also believing in other gods. But the other gods were not helping very much, and now God’s people were wondering what to do. Elijah told them to stop wavering and make up their minds.
Christians also waver between serving God and other options. We accept Jesus as Lord, but we also accept the values of our culture, even when they disagree with Jesus. Instead of following the Lord wholeheartedly, we might follow him halfheartedly, or even less. We are like someone with a foot in two boats. Unless we make up our minds, we will end up in the water. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:8), wrote James.
1 Kings 18:22-23 Then Elijah said to them, I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us.
To demonstrate who the real God was, Elijah proposed a sacrifice. He and the prophets of Baal would each prepare a bull, put it on wood, but not start a fire. Then they would pray, and whatever deity answered with fire was God.
The prophets of Baal went first. They called on Baal and danced around the altar from morning until noon. When there was no response, Elijah began 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.
So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. . . . But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention (1 Kings 18:27-29).
Then Elijah built an altar out of stones, and dug a trench around it. Then he cut up the bull and laid it on the wood. Then he had water poured on the sacrifice until the trench was full.
Then he offered a simple prayer, and 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. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God! (1 Kings 18:38-39).
This was an awesome display of God’s power which seemed to win the day. God revealed himself so clearly that it was hard not to believe. We might wish that God would do this more often. But ordinarily, God calls us to believe in him due to his revelation in nature, Scripture, conscience and Christ. Since the evidence is conclusive, there is no excuse for not believing (Romans 1:20).
1 Kings 18:40 Then Elijah commanded them, Seize the prophets of Baal. Do not let anyone get away! They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
This seems a little harsh, but it was actually less than what the law of God required. The full penalty would have required the destruction of entire towns (Deuteronomy 13:12-18). It is a serious thing to teach a false religion, and God hates it.
Leading someone away from God is no longer a capital offense, but it is still a serious sin. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6), said Jesus.
1 Kings 18:41 Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
God had promised rain (1 Kings 18:1), and Elijah knew it was coming (1 Kings 18:41), so he began to pray. Go and look toward the sea, he told his servant. And he went up and looked. There is nothing there, he said (1 Kings 18:43).
Seven times Elijah told him to go back and look, and on the seventh time he saw a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising out of the sea. The sky grew dark with clouds, the wind picked up, and a heavy rain began to fall.
Here we learn the importance of prayer for bringing about the will of God. God does not need our prayers, but he likes to use them to accomplish his will. God’s will is to bring his kingdom, so Jesus taught us to pray, your kingdom come (Matthew 6:10). God could bring his kingdom without our prayers, but he prefers to use our prayers to bring his will to pass. Whenever we understand the will of God, we should pray for God to do it.
1 Kings 18:46 The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.
Jezreel was about sixteen miles away, and Elijah ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way there. He must have been thrilled over the defeat of Baal in the presence of so many witnesses. Now God was sending rain to show his approval. God was using the prophet to turn the nation around, and this was a glorious moment.
Reflection and Review
Why is it hard to stand for God against the majority?
How does God usually reveal himself?
Why did Elijah pray for rain if he knew it was on the way?