Elijah bounded from obscurity onto the pages of Holy Scripture to challenge the wicked king of Israel. “As the Lord God of Israel lives, in whose presence I stand, there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!” (1 Kings 17:1). In the Bible’s first mention of the prophet, Elijah wagged his figure in the face of the mighty monarch, proclaiming God’s harsh judgment… severe drought and famine.
Faithfully, Elijah simply proclaimed God’s word. The Bible said it. Elijah believed it, so he boldly declared it. “Be careful that you are not enticed to turn aside, serve, and bow in worship to other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut the sky, and there will be no rain; the land will not yield its produce, and you will perish quickly from the good land the Lordis giving you” (Deuteronomy 11:16–17).
Ahab, the wicked king in Elijah’s cross-hairs, was the seventh king of Israel’s Northern Kingdom. During his twenty-two-year reign, “Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight more than all who were before him… He married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and then proceeded to serve Baal and bow in worship to him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he had built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole. Ahab did more to anger the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:29–33).
Baal was the Canaanite’s most supreme god, believed to control the weather and fertility. Baal worship included the work of temple prostitutes and altars were constructed, “high places to Baal on which to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal” (Jeremiah 19:5).
Just as Elijah had predicted in his initial declaration, God’s judgment fell upon Ahab’s kingdom bringing three years of intense drought. Not a drop of rain fell in Israel as the stench of death and decay hung heavy over the land.
At the second meeting between the prophet and the king, Elijah thundered, “you have ‘ruined Israel … you and your father’s family have, because you have abandoned the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals’ ” (1 Kings 18:18). The lone prophet then brazenly commanded the king to “summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:19).
With absolute confidence in God’s power and grace, Elijah, standing alone, and yet standing in God’s presence, proposed a contest. A duel. “Let two bulls be given to us. They are to choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and place it on the wood but not light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the wood but not light the fire. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The God who answers with fire, he is God” (1 Kings 18:23–24).
Later that afternoon, as Elijah stood before a watching nation, he prayed. “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:36–37).
“Then the Lord’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, ‘The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!’ ” (1 Kings 18:38–39).
God is great. God is good. God is gracious.