After being miraculously fed by the ravens, miraculously feeding the widow from Zarephath and her son and after miraculously raising her son back to life, the Lord speaks to Elijah and tells him to go to Ahab.
The drought had been in the land for three years, and now it was time for Elijah to meet Ahab face to face. It appears that now was the time for God to display His power through Elijah because of the idolatry in which Israel was involved with Baal. It was time to get rid of the 450 false prophets of Baal.
Notice that Jezebel was ‘killing off the Lord’s prophets’, this tells us she wasn’t interested in what God had to say or what God’s true prophets had to say.
Obadiah was Ahab’s servant, saving 100 of God’s true prophets by hiding them in a cave, he was looking for grass so that he could save the domestic animals from starvation. As always when evil people are around, there will always be those who want to live right for God.
When Obadiah met Elijah, he asked if it is really him, and the answer to Obadiah’s question was that Elijah was his master. This question also tells us that Obadiah was a good, righteous man because he accepted Elijah as the spiritual leader of Israel.
Obadiah is understandably reluctant to go before Ahab, he obviously rejected the idea of worshipping Baal, which was promoted by Ahab and Jezebel, he obviously knew that the prophets of Baal were false and so, this tells us that he must have secretly maintained his faith in God alone.
When Ahab meets Elijah, he calls him a troublemaker. The reason he called him a troublemaker was because, in Ahab’s mind, Elijah had troubled Israel by reminding them that they were committing idolatry and had neglected to keep the Lord’s commands. In Elijah’s case, it appears that people can be troublemakers for all the right reasons.
Elijah tells him that he hasn’t troubled Israel, but Ahab and his fathers before him have. The real troublemaker in all of this was Ahab himself because he was supposed to be Israel’s leader but instead of leading people to God, he led them into idolatry.
It’s at this point that Elijah tells him to gather the people at Mount Carmel and bring 450 prophets of Ball and 400 prophets of Asherah.
We don’t know why Mount Carmel was chosen, but it’s possible because it was located in the high hills, that this place was the main location for Baal worship. Whatever the reason this place was chosen, the stage was not set for the great showdown between God and the false prophets of Baal.
Elijah set a challenge against those who wanted to live in idolatry and those who wanted to live by God. This was basically God versus man. What we are going to see is that this contest wasn’t really for the false prophet’s benefit but Israel’s benefit.
Elijah straight away takes the offensive by offering the false prophets a chance to prove themselves before the people. He begins by mocking them, which I’m sure would have really upset the emotions of the false prophets.
He tells them that maybe they’re not shouting loud enough and so they should shout louder. He tells them maybe their god is too busy thinking about other things, or on holiday somewhere. He tells them maybe their god is sleeping and needs to wake up.
It’s clear they became frustrated because they started dancing, shouting louder, started slashing themselves and frantically prophesying. The word ‘prophesying’ here means to rave on, out of control, 1 Samuel 18:10. In this visible event, the priests of Baal staged an unbelievably outrageous and bloody demonstration of frenzy, confusion, and screaming madness.
Sadly, this kind of self-delusional worship still remains today in some churches, where people run around wild, claiming that the Spirit has taken hold of them, 1 Corinthians 14:33. Some speak in uncontrollable so-called tongues etc. Everything in their worship is all about feelings and emotions and like we see happening here, their god doesn’t answer them and nothing happens, Colossians 2:20-23.
The first thing Elijah did was ‘repair the altar of the Lord’, this again shows us how much neglected their true God. When Solomon reigned, instead of destroying all the high places, he allowed God’s people to worship God on the formerly Canaanite high places of Israel, 1 Kings 11:7-8.
This may well have been one of those altars which Elijah repaired and it could also have been an altar which was used by those who were faithful to God but had to hide their faith because of the persecution of Ahab.
Notice that Elijah took ‘twelve stones’, this tells us that God still saw Israel as twelve tribes. After repairing the altar, Elijah goes on to dig a deep trench and he arranges the wood and cuts the bull into pieces. He then tells them to fill four large jars with water and pour it over the wood and sacrifice.
It’s clear that he didn’t want anyone to think that what was going to happen was his own doing. He didn’t want anyone to think that there was some kind of ‘secret spark’ that would start the fire.
Elijah then prays to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that is Jacob, which would have prompted memories in Israel’s mind. He asks God to intercede so that they will know God and know that God has turned his heart towards them again, which was the main reason for this showdown in the first place.
When God answered Elijah’s prayer in a very powerful way, the people were terrified and fell prostrate to the ground and cried out that ‘the Lord, he is God’. They knew because the fire came from heaven and because the fire consumed everything in and around the altar that God was with Elijah.
The unbelievers quickly became believers and because of what God had done, they were now ready to obey the command of Elijah to carry out the execution of the false prophets. As the leader of the prophets of God, Elijah had all the prophets of Baal executed.
Some believe that the killing of these false prophets was unjust and not necessary, however when we think about how Jezebel had earlier murdered a lot of God’s true prophets, 1 Kings 18:4, we see this was absolutely just and necessary. We must also keep in mind that false prophets were commanded to be put to death by God, Deuteronomy 13:1-5.
In Old Testament times it was widely believed that the gods were in control of the rain which brought about life to the crops of the fields. Baal was one such god and the people of Elijah’s time believed that he controlled the weather in order to bless the people.
We don’t know who Elijah’s servant was but when he initially looked toward the sea, he couldn’t see anything and so Elijah tells him to go back seven times. When he goes back for the seventh time, he sees a small cloud rising from the sea. It rises higher and higher, and becomes larger and larger with astonishing celerity, till the whole sky is black, and the cloud bursts in a deluge of rain.
Elijah tells his servant to prepare a chariot and go down to Ahab before the rain stops. The reason for this was simple, the river Kishon would be suddenly so swollen, which meant it would be impassable. It could also be because the wheels of the chariot could get stuck in the deep layer of dust when the dust turned into mud.
It was Elijah who originally called for the drought, 1 Kings 17:1 / James 5:18, because the people of that time deceived themselves into thinking that Baal controlled the weather.
But here we see that Elijah prays again and the rains return, which now demonstrated to everyone present that it was actually the true God of Israel who controlled the weather and blesses all people with it, Matthew 5:45.
Notice that ‘the power of the Lord came on Elijah’, this is a reference to the sudden miraculous endowment of Elijah with the physical ability to run ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel which was around 17 miles away. We see this supernatural empowerment happening with Samson, Judges 16:3.