Confrontation On Carmel

by Joseph Hunting

After reading the Bible through a number of times I've learned to appreciate the human drama recorded in its pages. Many of the books of the Bible carry the name of the author, but apart from a brief letter written to one of Israel's kings, Elijah has left no book of prophecies bearing his name.

We know nothing of his parents, nor is there any record of his being married. The Bible states merely that he was a Tishbite of Gilead. And his ministry was confined to the ten-tribed northern kingdom known as Israel.

From the moment he enters the scene Elijah completely dominates his contemporaries, and his entry on to the stage of human history is almost as dramatic as his departure in a chariot of fire.

At the time, Ahab was king over the ten northern tribes in Samaria. His evil character was matched by that of his wife Jezebel. They were both cruel and ambitious and together they stopped at nothing to gain their own ends. Here is the Biblical assessment of Ahab: "Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him" (1 Kings 16:33).

Elijah's Encounter with Ahab

Ahab and Elijah had nothing in common, and when they met it was like a head-on collision. On their first encounter, without so much as a 'by your leave' to the king, Elijah pronounced the sentence of a terrible drought because of Ahab's sin. "As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word" (1 Kings 17:1).

During the drought Elijah was miraculously fed by ravens at the brook Cherith. When the water in the brook finally failed he was again miraculously provided for by the widow of Zarephath, "for thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth'" (1 Kings 17:14).

During that time the widow's son died and was raised to life again at the prayer of the prophet. And at the end of three years, when the land was utterly drought-stricken, there was another confrontation between Ahab and Elijah.

Confrontation on Carmel

The time was now ripe for a show-down between Ahab and his four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and Elijah plus the God of Israel. The ensuing encounter is one of the most thrilling accounts in the Bible.

Elijah commanded that all Israel be gathered at Mount Carmel, including the priests of Baal plus a further four hundred who were Jezebel's private priests. Two altars were constructed, one for Baal and the other for the God of Israel.

Two bullocks were slain, one for each altar, with wood prepared for two burnt offerings, but no fire was lit or provided. Then Elijah threw down the gauntlet to Ahab, the eight hundred and fifty idolatrous priests and the watching multitude of people.

"And Elijah came to all the people, and said, 'How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal then follow him.' But the people answered him not a word.

"'Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, he is God.' So all the people answered and said, 'It is well spoken.'"

From morning till noon the priests of Baal called upon the name of their god, "And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, 'Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.'"

Goaded into a frenzy by Elijah's taunts they cut themselves and leaped upon their altar, all to no avail. When the afternoon wore on Elijah called the people to the altar of the LORD for the final act. Having prepared the sacrifice, he commanded that water be poured upon it until the altar was soaked, and the trench round it was filled; he even had the exercise repeated two more times.

When the priests of Baal were exhausted and the shadows had lengthened, "Elijah the prophet came near and said, '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. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that the people may know that you are the LORD God, and that you have turned their hearts back to you again.'

"Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'The LORD, he is God! The LORD, he is God!'

"And Elijah said to them, 'Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!' So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there."

Having demonstrated beyond all doubt that Elijah's God, the God of Israel was the one true God, there was one more miracle to perform. This great man of God had told Ahab three years earlier that there would be no rain according to his word. Now the time had come for the word to be given to restore the rain.

Joshua had once commanded the sun to stand still, and now Elijah was to command the elements to do his bidding. "And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees ... now it happened ... that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain."

Elijah's Departure

Elijah's exit from the earthly scene has no parallel in all Scripture; his miraculous powers were operative right up to the end. Taking his mantle, he smote the River Jordan and he and his successor Elisha crossed over on dry ground. Then as the two walked and talked, "suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up in a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:11).

Even so, Elijah is yet to make one more appearance to the children of Israel to turn their hearts again to acknowledge the Lord their God. The prophet Malachi, in the last promise that God has given His people in the Tenach says: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse" (4:5,6).