Ravens and the Prophet

Fire on Mount Carmel - Chapter Ten

When [Ahab] saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel?’
‘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.’
(1 Kings 18:17-18)

It was always going to be a stormy confrontation. Ahab would have felt more than mildly apprehensive as he set out to meet the man he perceived to be his chief political opponent. The jittery king promptly accused Elijah of being the cause of all the trouble in Israel, but Elijah flung the taunt back in his face. ‘You’ve got it wrong, Ahab. This drought has come upon the nation because you chose to worship the Baals. You’re the real cause of all the trouble – not me!’

The king was dumbfounded. Nobody had ever had the nerve to speak to him like this. The prophet’s bravery struck him as forcibly as the truth he was speaking. Unable to deny the accusations, he agreed to the terms of the challenge Elijah proposed: an unprecedented contest which would demonstrate to the nation whether God or Baal was really Lord.(1)

Why did Ahab agree to meet Elijah face to face when he could have sent a patrol to arrest him? The answer is that when we obey what God has shown us to do, it is His joy to bring about the humanly impossible. Moreover, after three years of devastating drought, Ahab could hardly fail to realise the power of God’s word through Elijah. What he wanted to know now was whether Elijah really did have the power to make it rain again.

As word of the forthcoming contest was sent out, the people streamed westwards to join the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Prophets require a forum for their message, and Elijah knew that there would never be a better moment to call the nation back to God. At the top of his voice, he presented the people with the clearest challenge they had faced since the days of Joshua.(2) ‘Why do you labour for food that spoils and that does not endure to eternal life? If the Lord really is the supreme God, then why is He not also your supreme love? How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if Baal is God, follow Him. But the people said nothing.’(3)

When Elijah had finished cutting through their excuses, he knew that something more than words was necessary to rouse the people from their spiritual sloth. Every preacher knows this feeling. The whole galaxy of our modern day ‘gods,’ with their prized scientific achievements and abundant material possessions, has taken much the same toll on the soul of the nation as the idolatrous Baals did: deadening souls to the call of God on our lives.

It is altogether right and proper that we should cry out for a double portion of His Spirit in our own generation, and a renewed demonstration of the power of God.

Then Elijah said to them, ‘I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has 450 prophets. Get two bulls for us . . . The god who answers by fire – he is God.’ Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”(4)

Elijah summoned his adversaries to prepare a bull and to call down fire from heaven. Like Abraham, who was content to offer Lot the best of the land, he was happy to let his opponents go first in the contest.

Both men showed complete confidence that God was bigger than all the odds stacked against them. Elijah rejoiced that he had trapped the prophets of Baal into attempting what he knew to be beyond their powers to perform.(5)

The Longest Day

The whole episode is a stunning reminder of what can be achieved by faith in the face of overwhelming odds. Because we know the outcome, we should not be tempted to dismiss the contest as a foregone conclusion. Although the words ‘fire’ and ‘God’ are frequently linked in Scripture, the devil, too, has the power to send down fire from heaven.(6) But God would not suffer the devil to intervene, for this was His hour of judgement on the powers of darkness.

For six long hours Elijah endured the rabid sounds of the prophets chanting and shouting to their horrible god. The tension and oppression must have been well nigh overwhelming. Whichever way he looked, he would have seen no friendly face to encourage him.

The devil loves to make us imagine that he is in control of our circumstances. He hates it when we have the courage not to take him seriously!(7) The louder his opponents shouted, and the deeper they lacerated themselves in their desperate attempts to release Baal’s power, the bolder Elijah became, taunting them fearlessly.

Now, the moment of reckoning had come. The followers of Baal had to face the fact that their pleas had remained unanswered. All they could hope for was that Elijah’s God would prove to be equally as impotent.

In a sense, Elijah’s years of hiddenness had been but a preparation for this moment. Long before fire fell from heaven and incinerated the sacrifice, his heart had been burning that God should intervene, so that the nation should again worship their God. For that reason alone he was willing to step forward, and cry out for God to demonstrate His power.

Elijah’s first action was to take twelve stones, one for each of the tribes, and to build an altar to the Lord. This was a symbolic restoration of the altars that Ahab and Jezebel had overthrown. Although only ten tribes were represented on Mount Carmel, Israel had always been one in God’s eyes. Elijah offered his sacrifice on behalf of the whole nation.

Then, to prove beyond doubt that nothing is too hard for the God of Israel, Elijah poured twelve full barrels of precious water over the sacrifice. 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 have done all these things at Your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that You, O Lord, are turning their hearts back again.” 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.(8)

Whatever the fire might do to the worshippers of Baal, Elijah had no fear that it would hurt him. In a moment of holy terror, Elijah’s sacrifice was consumed. What was so extraordinary about this fire is that it blazed from above, rather than from below, as ordinary ones do. It truly was a fire from heaven.(9)

Stunned by what they had witnessed, the people threw themselves prostrate. Slowly they recovered from their shock and took up a chant, its echoes rolling around the hillside as they cried aloud, ‘The Lord, He is God. The Lord, He is God.’ At last they were willing to commit themselves to the true and living God.

A stand for God means taking a stand against the counterfeit. Judgement was immediately executed on the false prophets. We are spared the gruesome details, being told only that the prophets of Baal were put to the sword in the Kishon valley. A new day had dawned for the people of Israel.

Lessons from Mount Carmel

We can learn important lessons from this amazing episode. Firstly, that it is prayer which releases the power of God – but that we must take our stand and play our part. Just as Elijah wasted no time in putting to death those who had been robbing the nation of its vitality, so in our life, too, there come seasons of special opportunity.

The Lord sometimes seems to take forever to respond to our prayers, only to answer many years of prayer all at one go. We stand amazed at all that He is doing, but we must still take care to implement what He is offering us. Opportunities must be seized with both hands, if awakened interest is to mature into fully-fledged discipleship. When God stirs up an interest in spiritual things in someone’s life, we must be at hand to introduce them to the Church, and to help them take appropriate action.

Secondly, we cannot move on without commenting once more on the purity of Elijah’s motivation throughout this, the longest of days. There are many who pray for fire to come, in the naive assumption that heaven will automatically support their cause. There is a fine line between seeking the kingdom of God and our own self-advancement.

What is quite clear is that Elijah was motivated not in the least by his own self-interests, but rather by a passionate desire to see God vindicated in the eyes of the watching nation. As He so often does in the work of intercession, God had inextricably bound His servant’s fate to the destiny of the nation.

And Elijah was willing to place his own life on the line if only God might honour His name with a stunning display of His power. I suspect that if our hearts were similarly motivated we would witness far more works of power than we currently do.

Thirdly, the ecstatic prophets of Baal serve as a warning that mere enthusiasm in religion is no proof of its authenticity. As we shall be considering in the chapter ‘The Challenging Counterfeit,’ spiritual power may come from many sources. It is not only impressionable teenagers, but seemingly solid members of the kingdom, who can be swept away by strange ideas or sudden mid-life crises. The devil strives to inflame our emotions, confuse our minds, ruin our health and damage our reputation.

No matter how exciting some new vision or idea may appear to be, we should give the matter time, and test the spirits before embracing it too readily. Is the hand of heaven really on it? If it is, then we need not attempt to ‘whip up’ the fire from heaven by our own emotional fervour. We can look to the Lord in full confidence that those who wait on the Lord shall not be put to shame.

Fourthly, those who claim that the Church has inherited all God’s promises for Israel, would do well to ponder the fact that there are more than seventy references to Israel in the New Testament. In all but one of these, it is unequivocally clear that Israel stands for literal Israel, and not for the Church. To substitute the one for the other has been the cause of much needless error and confusion. God selected the Jews for much the same reason that He chose us: to be a demonstration to the world of what He can do through a small, stubborn and insignificant people. And He does not forget His promises!(10)

Fifthly, it is salutary to note that many of the most effective prayers of Scripture are extremely short and succinct. Unlike the prolonged ravings of the prophets of Baal, Elijah’s prayer for fire to fall was both brief and to the point. It consisted of just two verses and fewer than sixty words. What a contrast to certain prayer meetings we have all endured!

Finally, we can take heart from Elijah’s confrontation of the Baals. The power of God is able to break through in any situation. The episode is a challenge for us not to be afraid to commit ourselves wholeheartedly when the Lord calls us into action against the powers of darkness.

Members of Wellspring, the worship group I work with, were ministering recently in the cathedral in Karachi. (There has been much discrimination in Pakistan against the Christian community).

As they prayed for the Spirit of God to come on the gathering, several people outside the building saw flashes of what looked like lightning illuminating the sky around the cathedral.

So impressive were these manifestations that one local witness thought a power station was blowing up! Inside, many were being converted, healed, delivered and filled with the Spirit of God. We can take heart. God will move in power when our prayers stem from a heart that has been touched by His fire.

True faith will never be disappointed.(11)

Moreover, those who have trusted the Lord in the face of apparent impossibilities acquire a degree of spiritual confidence that blesses many other people.

Reflections

God is looking for people who will pray for His fire to fall on situations which may appear as outwardly daunting as that which Elijah faced on Mount Carmel. Specifically lift one or two of these dilemmas to the Lord now.(12)

Selah

Thank You, Lord, for the passion You gave Elijah, and for the clarity of his faith. Release more of this power in our lives, and in the heart of your Church.

May it burn up unbelief and confusion, and set us free of much that has robbed our faith.

Right now we take our stand against the specific difficulties that Satan has targeted against us, and release Your power into the work and visions You have set before us. We look less to how big the storm, is, and more to how big You are.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Previous chapter – Interfacing with the World
Next Chapter – The Ministry of Heaven

References

1 1 Kings 18:17-19
2 Cf Joshua 24:14-27. The Israelites had been vacillating between belief and paganism almost since the day they had left Egypt.
3 1 Kings 18:21-24, cf Isaiah 55:2, John 6:27. In the Hebrew, to ‘waver’ means to ‘dance’ between two opinions. 4 1 Kings 18:21-24
5 Moses had likewise performed miracles that even the greatest magicians of Egypt had been unable to emulate. The bull, incidentally, was a focus of Baal worship. Genesis 13:8-12, Exodus 7:8-8:19
6 Revelation 13:13
7 cf Isaiah 14:4-20; Revelation 18
8 1 Kings 18:36-38. Presumably the water had been specially hauled up the mountainside beforehand.
9 David Pawson once instigated a search around the scene of this incineration. Discovering a fragment of unusually hard rock he sent it away for geological examination. The analyst declared that the fragment, whatever it was, had been exposed to a sudden heat of almost unimaginable temperature!
10 Romans 11:11-29
11 Romans 10:11
12 It is wise to be aware, though, that if we are putting anything else in the place of God (our own pleasures, desires, relationships or money) the fire of God will ultimately consume these things! Cf 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-6″

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