The drought had lasted for three-and-a-half years. Brooks had dried up. The landscape was brown, littered with the skeletal remains of livestock and wild animals that had suffered and died. Outside every village, the cemetery had too many fresh mounds of dirt, covering the remains of the old and the weak. The famine had left the land in ruin and its people in utter despair.
Elijah was hated and hunted by Ahab’s administration. Surely this unprecedented destruction was his fault. With seething hatred, Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel, swore that Elijah would pay with his life. Elijah was wanted, dead or alive!
Before the military henchmen could capture the prophet, “the word of the Lord came to Elijah: ‘Go and present yourself to Ahab. I will send rain on the surface of the land.’ So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab” (1 Kings 18:1–2, CSB).
He came with a challenge: “Summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah” (1 Kings 18:19, CSB). With the waiting and watching nation as witness, the Prophet drew a line in the sand. He challenged the pagan preachers to 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, CSB).
And so it was. The altar was prepared. The kindling and the dry logs were arranged, and the fresh meat placed on top. Starting with moderate decorum, the heathen priests prayed that their god would answer, accepting the offering with fire. When there was no answer, they prayed louder. They chanted and sang. The screamed and cried.
“Louder!” Elijah taunted. “Maybe he’s thinking it over; maybe he has wandered away; or maybe he’s on the road. Perhaps he’s sleeping and will wake up!” (I Kings 18:27, CSB). When that didn’t work, they “cut themselves with knives and spears, according to their custom, until blood gushed over them” (I Kings 18:28, CSB). But their gods didn’t hear. They couldn’t hear. They were manmade, molded with silver or carved from wood. When the pagans were finally exhausted, the altar, with the sacrifice, lay unchanged.
Then it was Elijah’s turn. Much as they had done, he prepared the altar, the wood and the sacrifice. To make it a sporting challenge, Elijah drenched the altar with barrels of precious water. Then he prayed. “ ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:36–38, ESV).
Elijah prayed. He prayed trusting that God was truly able. He prayed like it really mattered, like it was a matter of life or death. He prayed because God’s reputation was at stake. He prayed because a broken nation needed to know the grace of Almighty God.
Elijah prayed, and Almighty God answered!
Do you believe that God is really the same, yesterday, today, and forever? (Hebrews 13:8). Do you really? Would you be willing to stake your life on it? Elijah did.
South Georgia Baptist Church
Mike Martin, Pastor