The Contest On Carmel

by Joseph Hunting

In all literature, both secular and sacred, there is no more exciting and faith-stimulating, action-packed account than that of the contest between Ahab and his 850 priests of Baal, and Elijah, the lone man of God on Mt. Carmel.

There is a tremendous contrast between the characters of Elijah and Ahab. On the one hand Elijah was a prophet of the most high God. He ranks among the 'greats' of Biblical history, whilst king Ahab was one of the most evil men in Israel's history, for "Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him" 1st Kings 16:33).

The prelude to the contest on Carmel was a severe drought for which Elijah was directly responsible. "And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word" (1st Kings 17:1). After three years, during which time Samaria was stricken by the drought, God commanded Elijah to confront Ahab again and end the famine.

Scripture does not say whether Elijah knew beforehand what his plan of action would be. However, he instructed Ahab to assemble all Israel to Mt. Carmel, including 850 false prophets of the Canaanite deity Baal. Then Elijah threw down the gauntlet. "HOW LONG HALT YE BETWEEN TWO OPINIONS? IF THE LORD BE GOD, FOLLOW HIM: BUT IF BAAL, THEN FOLLOW HIM" (18:21).

Someone has well said, "One man with God has the majority". Never was this more true than in the case of Elijah in his contest with the priests of Baal. He commanded them to build an altar upon which was laid a bullock for a burnt sacrifice, but they were to put no fire under it, "For the God that answereth by fire, let him be God".

Let it be remembered that Ahab and his wicked queen, Jezebel, had slain most of the prophets of the Lord and had made Baal Israel's deity. And now Elijah stood alone before the multitude assembled on Mt. Carmel as well as before the impressive array of false prophets and priests of this pagan deity.

From morning to noon they called upon Baal to consume their offering with fire to no avail. Then Elijah taunted them with jibes: "Cry aloud: for he is a god: either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awaked."

By mid-afternoon the prophets of Baal had worked themselves into a frenzy, leaping upon the altar and gashing themselves so that their blood mingled with that of the sacrifice on the altar, but "There was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded."

At the time of the evening sacrifice Elijah called a halt. In the hush that followed he took twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel and constructed an altar to the Lord. He then placed upon it a bullock for a burnt offering. His next action? He dug a trench round the altar and commanded that it be filled with water. He also commanded that the bullock and firewood be drenched with water three times so that the wood and offering were saturated.

There have been awesome moments in mankind's history when God has intervened with spectacular demonstrations of supernatural power. He caused the sun to stand still in the heavens in Joshua's day; He turned the clock back ten degrees on the sundial in Hezekiah's reign; now He revealed to Israel His mighty power over the impotency of Baal by fire from heaven.

Remember, the nation of Israel by and large had abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for Baal. Now Elijah exercises tremendous faith as all Israel awaits the outcome. Let us mingle with the multitudes and witness this drama. Without any display or oratory Elijah offers a simple prayer: "LORD God of Abraham, Isaac and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell." So intense was the heat that nothing remained. The bullock, stones and water were completely consumed.

This was a day of total triumph for Israel's God as demonstrated by the obedience and faith of Elijah. Having routed the credibility of Baal, Elijah then slew his prophets.

And having convinced the assembled people, possibly numbering hundreds of thousands, that the God of their fathers was still in business, Elijah knew that it was time to end the drought. There had been no rain for three years "according to my word", so now it was time for phase two of this great contest on Mt. Carmel.

Elijah told Ahab that he could hear the sound of an abundance of rain yet there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Then the man of God took his servant to the top of Carmel "and he cast himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, Go up now, and look towards the sea. And he went up and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again, seven times" . Then the servant saw a small cloud on the horizon. "And it came to pass, in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain."

In times of great crisis in Israel's history God has raised up men and women who have stood in the breach. The New Testament lists some of them in the Letter to the Hebrews chapter 11, and James encourages us mere mortals that "Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and earth brought forth her fruit" (4:17-18).