Many people might say that the prophet Elijah’s contest on Mount Carmel against the prophets of Baal was no contest. They would say that of course God answered with fire when Baal did not simply because God exists and Baal doesn’t. Some people think that false gods like Baal were just myths, the inventions of men’s imaginations.
But that understanding would be a mistaken. Because Baal did indeed exist. Behind that pagan religion, the false god Baal which the Canaanites worshipped was a real being, a supernatural being, a demon.
And the contest on Mount Carmel was not just about proving that Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses, actually exists. The contest was a demonstration of the superiority of God Almighty, the Living God, over all the other spiritual beings, principalities and powers which hide behind all false religions then and now. The contest on Mount Carmel was spiritual warfare pure and simple. It is the story of how Almighty God demonstrated his superiority over the false god Baal which was seducing away God’s chosen people Israel. In this we can learn a great deal from Elijah about spiritual warfare, from Elijah’s concern for God’s glory and his example of faith in the God who answers by fire.
CONCERN FOR GOD’S GLORY
1 Kings 18 18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 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 first Commandment was unambiguous. God demanded loyalty from His chosen people, the people He had redeemed.
Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3“You shall have no other gods before me.
But now in the time of Elijah the people of Israel were choosing to worship and follow false gods instead of the one true God. No doubt these false gods were giving some signs of their limited power. Some minor miracles. Satisfying some of the Israelites selfish desires. Evil has its ways of seeming very attractive. False gods like money and success and different forms of the occult all give people what they think they want – as long as you don’t read the small print: prosperity and power and satisfaction in this life in exchange for eternal condemnation. The Israelites had to make their minds up – as people still need to do even today. If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” That choice had eternal significance. And God’s honour and God’s glory were at stake on Mount Carmel, just as God’s honour and glory had been at stake in the Exodus when the Israelites arrived at the Red Sea.
Exodus 14 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
God demonstrated His power in the Exodus and God demonstrated His power on Mount Carmel for His glory. And God’s honour and God’s glory are at stake in the events of the lives of ordinary Christians and ordinary churches week in, week out.
Ephesians 3 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
All of our lives have a cosmic dimension. God’s grace working in our lives and in our church is a demonstration of God’s wisdom even to the principalities and powers, the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. God is not only saddened as He looks at all the lives spoiled by greed and immorality and violence and drugs. God is also angry at the evil powers which lead human beings into these kinds of sin and more. Evil powers which manipulate lives and draw people to worship false gods of money, sex and power. God is ready to act, and show His greatness and His glory, and to crush the power of sin and death and hell and to prove to the whole world that He is God almighty and He is really God!
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
Did you notice Elijah the prophet’s courage? Outnumbered 450 to 1. “I am the only one left.” Yet Elijah still steps out and speaks in God’s name. That is true faith. Going out on a limb for God. Elijah put his trust in the God of Israel. We put our trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and in Jesus, Lord of all, Name above all Names!
We find that kind of faith in Moses as he lifted his staff and the Red Sea parted. We find that kind of faith in Joshua marching the Israelites round the city seven times until God brought down the walls of Jericho. It was that kind of faith which had led Elijah to prophesy a period of drought as God’s judgment on the sins of the people.
17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
And we find that example of amazing faith commended in the New Testament.
James 5 16 … The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
God calls us to show that kind of faith. To go out on a limb for Him, proclaiming the gospel, even bringing healing and deliverance in Jesus’s all-powerful Name. Praying that even “lost causes” will be gloriously saved, all for the glory of God and the honour of His Name.
That is the kind of faith we see here on Mount Carmel. Faith believing God to do the impossible. Faith that was not afraid to mock the false gods in front of their passionate followers.
25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon 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.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
Elijah even made things more difficult for himself!
33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
And the God who is God, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth,
GOD ANSWERS BY FIRE
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
38 Then 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.
39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!”
Here we see the awesome power of God Almighty. In contrast to the puny powers of the false gods, the demons behind Baal-worship. Compared to Almighty God even the devil is weak and feeble – although the devil tries to deceive people so that they believe otherwise. In the presence of Elijah the false god Baal had been powerless. But the fire of God fell on Elijah’s sacrifice. God brought his judgment on the enemies of Israel and they were all defeated.
In the Exodus God had brought judgment on his enemies. The tenth plague, the plague on the firstborn of Egypt, had been God’s judgment on the false gods of Egypt.
Exodus 12 12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.
In the same way here on Mount Carmel God brought his judgment on the prophets of Baal and their master, the false god called Baal. And the day is coming when God will bring judgment on the principalities and powers, the false gods of this present evil age. Judgment Day is certainly coming!
“If the Lord is God then follow Him,” said Elijah. And God answered by fire. He demonstrated His power and his glory and the people did turn to follow the Living God once again. They repented of their idol-worship. And God showed his mercy on the drought-stricken land and sent them rain.
Our world, even our town, is in a drought. The world needs the rain of God’s blessing. The world needs God to show again that He is God – even the God who answers by fire! The world needs God to show His glory against the evil powers which are dragging men and women to their deaths. The world needs to discover the power and the victory of Christ and the Cross.
For God to show His power we need to become like Elijah. The man of faith who asked God for the impossible and was not disappointed!