Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
“Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God’” (vv. 38–39).- 1 Kings 18:20–40
No look at Elijah’s life would be complete without a consideration of the most memorable event of his ministry—his confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. In this episode we see the courage that the office of prophet required as well as the might of the Lord who sent the prophets to Israel.
The context for this event is the syncretistic worship of the old covenant community. King Ahab ruled about 150 years after David, and by that time, the northern kingdom of Israel was practicing the very evil that the Israelites were supposed to have driven out of the land, namely, idolatry. Under the patronage of Queen Jezebel, prophets of the Canaanite high god Baal had carte blanche to do what they wanted in Israel (1 Kings 19:1–2). These prophets brought paganism to the ancient Israelites and gave false comfort to the royal court. For his opposition to this pagan worship and the kings who endorsed it, Elijah was labeled the “troubler of Israel” by Ahab (18:17). But the prophet was only doing what the faithful people of God always do, and that is live at peace with others unless and until a response to idolatry is needed.
This sparked a confrontation between Elijah and the false prophets on Mount Carmel. There, before the people of Israel, Elijah called the nation to choose whom it would serve: the Lord or Baal. It was not possible for them to serve both or to be double-minded (vv. 20–21). Of course, this is a theme that appears throughout the prophets and, indeed, the rest of the Bible. God is not interested in halfhearted commitment. He will either have our hearts in their entirety, or He will have nothing to do with us at all (Josh. 24:15; Ps. 119:113; Matt. 6:24; John 14:6).
From a human perspective, Elijah did not have the upper hand. He was outnumbered by the false prophets of Baal. However, that did not stop him from confronting them. We are familiar with the account of each side building an altar to its deity and calling down fire from heaven to prove which one was the true God. Elijah did everything possible to prove that Yahweh was God; he even soaked the sacrifices and built a moat so that only a powerful fire from heaven could consume the offering. That consuming fire is exactly what came for his sacrifice (vv. 22–40). Grounded in the Word of the Lord and trusting fully in His power, Elijah stood down a powerful enemy and testified to divine truth.
Ultimately, God only demands one thing—our full commitment to Him. We were made for our Creator, and He will not share us with another. He will not have us as His if we try to divide our ultimate allegiance between Him and anything else. In Elijah’s day, many in Israel tried to serve God and someone else on the side. We are ever tempted to do the same. Let us remember the One for whom we were made that we might realize that we can be satisfied in Him alone.
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 12:24