1 Kings 18


‘After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: ‘Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’ So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria, and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the LORD. While Jezebel was killing off the LORD’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.) Ahab had said to Obadiah, ‘Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.’ So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another.’ 1 Kings 18:1-6

Elijah And Obadiah

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.

‘As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, ‘Is it really you, my lord Elijah?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Go tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’ ‘What have I done wrong,’ asked Obadiah, ‘that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? As surely as the LORD your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you. But now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ I don’t know where the Spirit of the LORD may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the LORD since my youth. Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the LORD? I hid a hundred of the LORD’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. And now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ He will kill me!’ Elijah said, ‘As the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today. So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah.’ 1 Kings 18:7-16

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 he 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. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’ 1 Kings 18:17-19

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.

Elijah On Mount Carmel

‘So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, ‘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. Then Elijah said to them, ‘I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.’ Then all the people said, ‘What you say is good.’ 1 Kings 18:20-24

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 said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.’ So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. ‘Baal answer us!’ they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.’ So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.’ 1 Kings 18:25-29

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.

‘Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come here to me.’ They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, ‘Your name shall be Israel.’ With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, ‘Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.’ ‘Do it again,’ he said, and they did it again. ‘Do it a third time,’ he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you 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. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!’ Then Elijah commanded them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!’ They seized them and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.’ 1 Kings 18:30-40

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.

‘And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.’ So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. ‘Go and look toward the sea,’ he told his servant. And he went up and looked. ‘There is nothing there,’ he said. Seven times Elijah said, ‘Go back.’ The seventh time the servant reported, ‘A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.’ So Elijah said, ‘Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’ Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.’ 1 Kings 18:41-46

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.

Go To 1 Kings 19