Elijah built an altar using twelve large stones (1 Kings 18:31). He might have used ten stones to represent the ten tribes in Ahab’s kingdom, but he used twelve to represent all twelve of the tribes of Israel.
Generations earlier, Joshua had instructed the nation to take twelve stones and build a memorial, a monument to God’s powerful provision at the close of the forty-years of wilderness wanderings. Elijah’s altar would soon become a memorable marker, a monument to God’s powerful provision at the close of three and a half years of drought and famine.
With the altar constructed, Elijah dug a trench encircling it. “Next, he arranged the wood, cut up the bull, and placed it on the wood” (1 Kings 18:33). With this complete, he probably sent servants down the western slope of Carmel to the Mediterranean. “Fill four water pots with water and pour it on the offering to be burned and on the wood” (1 Kings 18:33). Now, do it again... and again. With twelve buckets of water, they drenched to altar, and filled the hand-dug trench.
Abraham, the father of the faithful, had seen fire fall from heaven and consume the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:27-29).
Moses had witnessed God’s wrath, poured out upon Nadab and Abihu, the wicked sons of Aaron. “Fire came from the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has spoken: I will demonstrate my holiness to those who are near me, and I will reveal my glory before all the people’ ” (Leviticus 10:1–3).
When Korah led a group of rebels against God and against Moses, “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, all Korah’s people, and all their possessions... Fire also came out from the Lord and consumed” another two-hundred-fifty men (Numbers 16:32–35). Moses proclaimed, “The Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God”(Deuteronomy 4:24).
With the grand temple of God completed, Solomon prayed a lengthy prayer of dedication (2 Chronicles 6:12-42). “When Solomon finished praying, fire descended from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chronicles 7:1).
Standing alone, yet ever in God’s presence (1 Kings 17:1; 18:15), Elijah prayed, humble yet daring, bold, audacious! “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).
“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16, KJV).