Elijah at Mount Carmel
- Imagine and tell about what happened at Mount Carmel.
- Sense that God can answer our prayers in amazing ways.
- Offer our own prayers to God.
This is certainly among the most dramatic stories in the Bible: a confrontation on the mountain between the God of Israel and the gods of Canaan.
Baal means "Lord" or "Master." Baal is probably not the actual name of the god being served but the word by which the god is addressed, much as Yahweh, the God of Israel, is addressed as Lord. From the beginning, the Israelites had a hard time resisting the lure of the regional fertility gods of Canaan, figuring they could at least include these gods in their worship in order to guarantee a good harvest.
Ahab, and especially his foreign wife, Jezebel of Tyre, had been proud sponsors of Baal worship in Israel. Elijah had already confronted him about it, informing the king that a famine would come on the land as punishment for Baal worship. After three years of severe famine, Ahab set out to meet the prophet. Ahab's first words at their meeting set the scene: "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?"
Elijah lights into the king for his idolatrous ways and ultimately proposes a great challenge to take place before an assembly of all the people on Mount Carmel. As the people gather, Elijah throws down the gauntlet: "How long will you waver between two opinions?" The Israelites wanted it both ways---the worship of God and the supposed guarantee of good harvest by sacrifices to the local gods.
Elijah now sets up the showdown on the mountain. He has an altar built, a sacrificial animal prepared, and wood piled on the altar. He proposes that people on each side pray to their God/god to light the fire on the altar and consume the sacrifice.
The prophets of Baal draw the first play. All four hundred and fifty begin to circle around the altar, chanting, dancing, and crying out "Baal, answer us!" As the day wears on they grow more frantic and begin to cut themselves with knives and swords, hoping to catch their god's attention.
Meanwhile, Elijah waits on the sidelines, commenting on their fruitless prayers: "Maybe he's sleeping, or traveling at the moment, or just too preoccupied." As the sun begins to set, the prophets of Baal fall exhausted to the ground, but "no one answered."
Now it's Elijah's turn. He calls the people to gather around, builds a simple altar with twelve stones (one for each tribe), and places the bull on the altar. But before he calls on the Lord to send the fire he pours gallons of water all over the altar and the wood repeatedly. Then, "at the time of the sacrifice"---that is, the time designated in the Law of God---he stepped forward and offered a simple prayer. He called upon the covenant God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to act now and turn the hearts of his people back again.
And God sent down fire that consumed the altar, the sacrifice, the wood, and "licked up the water."
Notice the contrasts here. One prophet against four hundred fifty. A simple prayer against frantic chants and demands. No response from Baal against a powerful fire from God. In the end, the people bow before the power of the living God---"The Lord (Yahweh)---he is God."
Step 1 Breathe
Use this time to focus your attention on God.
Do this with me: calm your head, heart, and hands as you slowly breathe in . . . and out. (Demonstrate a few deep "in and out breaths" with eyes closed.)
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