Elijah returns to face King Ahab as the clouds begin to gather over Israel. The stage is set on Mount Carmel for one of the bibles’ most impressive demonstrations of God’s omnipotence. The nation had turned their hearts and worship towards other gods of wood and stone as an evil king and queen continue to rule the northern kingdom of Israel. In a direct response to the nation’s disobedience God has withheld rain for three years causing one of the most destructive droughts the world has ever seen.
At the pinnacle of this drought we watched as God continued to provide for Elijah, a widow and her son. We witnessed resources miraculously being sustained as a flour bin and oil jar never reached the bottom. God’s power was further demonstrated as the widow’s son dies but at the petition of the prophet is brought back to life!
Elijah gathers the nation of Israel together on top of Mount Carmel and poses this question to them “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” Elijah then proposes a challenge to the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal that they should each prepare a bull for sacrifice then call upon their respective gods to consume it. The god who answers by fire is the real God.
Jezebel’s prophets go first. Around noon it was clear that their god, Baal, must be sleeping, on a journey or busy on the toilet as he was not around to answer their request. But now it was Elijah’s turn. As the prophet prepared the bull for sacrifice he instructed his helpers to dig a trench around the altar and ordered that water be poured three times over the bull and the wood until it completely filled up the trench.
Elijah asks God to demonstrate his omnipotence by sending down fire to consume the sacrifice. God not only answers his request to accept the sacrifice but in the process He also consumes the wood, stones, dust as the flames lick up every drop of water in the trench. What a display of power that must have been as the loins of the prophets of Baal were obviously loosened.
If I could be anyone I wanted from the bible, you got it; it would have been Elijah all hands down. What faith this man had to put everything on the line and watched as God showed up to defend His name! The text in 1 Kings 18:40 goes on to describe how Elijah then ordered all four hundred and fifty prophets of Jezebel to be executed down by the brook Kishon.
But this mountain top experience is not the end of the story. Soon a small cloud appears and begins to grow in size until the sky is black with clouds and wind and heavy rain begins to fall. But what happens next is so important to the story and all of us to understand. The bible’s transparency, its honesty, is really what makes the words come to life! It is that moment when we take our eyes off of God and begin to focus on our own situation, our failures and weaknesses that we begin to fall away from God.
The king informs Jezebel that Elijah has executed all her prophets. Furious with anger the queen sends a messenger to find Elijah and threaten him that she will execute him by the same time tomorrow. So this brave, fearless man of God having just witness the hand of the Almighty God sending down fire from heaven, immediately left his servant standing there and ran away in fear of losing his life.
It’s not our strength that pushes us to do great things for God. It’s never been our own power that draws men, encourages men to turn towards God. He alone is our strength; He alone is our high tower and refuge. It has always been God’s power working through imperfect vessels, literally cracked cisterns, that is always the source for our good works.
God alone is worthy of our praise and worship. There has never been one man born that in his own strength, in his own power that has conquered our mortal enemy, death. That is, not until Jesus Christ was born. God’s own Son came to the earth to show Himself strong, strong even unto death on a wooden cross. The God-man Christ Jesus, in one defining moment, redeemed all of mankind by paying our sin debt in full.
From the words of a famous song “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand all other ground is sinking sand.” Remember to stand firm on Christ who has taken away the sting of death.