In 1 Kings 18:20-46, Elijah the prophet is seen setting up a competition.
Earlier Elijah had asked King Ahab to have all the people of Israel gathered together at Mt. Carmel, including the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who always sat at the table of Ahab’s wife Jezebel. The site was ideal for what was about to transpire. The soil, with its stony surface and large fragments of rock was well adapted for the building of an altar. The area was perfect for digging a trench because the nearby springs flowing from the Kishon River provided plenty of water. Also, a more conspicuous spot could not have been chosen for those who, unable to make the climb, would need to witness everything from below the mountain.
Subsequent to everybody arriving (except for the 400 prophets of Asherah), Elijah began to address the assembly saying: “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” Desiring to combine worship of the God of Israel with the worship of Baal, the people chose to refrain from having a hostile attitude toward either position and remained silent.
As the crowd adhered to double-mindedness, Elijah suggested that the deity himself decide who was the true God. In seeing him stand alone in opposition to a large number of Baal’s prophets, yield precedence to his rivals, and give them the choice of the two oxen to be offered, everyone viewed his proposal as fair and agreed. The prophets of Baal would offer a sacrifice to Baal and Elijah would offer one to the God of Israel. In answer to calling upon his name, the true God would make himself known by kindling the offering with fire from heaven.
Elijah had successfully established a contest for supremacy! Clearly, he knew the Creator, and of His ways, because Leviticus 9:24 records another time when fire fell and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering, the first sacrifice presented in front of the tabernacle. Being a man who sought God in everything before doing anything, Elijah walked in blessed assurance that He would demonstrate His glory in like manner.
The prophets of Baal proceeded according to the prescribed rules; they prepared the sacrifice and seriously called upon Baal from morning until noon. No voice was heard. Therefore, according to their custom of rushing about wildly in perfect confusion, they cried out even louder and scratched themselves with instruments until blood trickled down their abused bodies. Still no answer!
Now it was Elijah’s turn. He began to prepare for his own sacrifice by restoring an altar of the Lord that had previously been broken down and asked the people to draw near so they might see and hear with great clarity. Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, and built them into an altar. The twelve stones were a sign, and a declaration by the prophet that splitting the tribes into two kingdoms was at variance with the divine calling of Israel. The design of twelve tribes was to form one nation under God. Therefore, Elijah’s approach was a prophetic act directing attention to the fact that the ten seceding tribes had done wrong in claiming the name of Israel for themselves. The name Israel belonged to the nation in its entirety by God’s authority, and for His glory.
Next, Elijah made a trench of considerable breadth and depth, signified by the expression two seahs of seed, equal to approximately 18 quarts/17 liters. He then arranged the wood and placed upon it the cut pieces of bull. Three consecutive times he poured four buckets of water over the burnt sacrifice and the wood. Water filled the trench, and flowed all around the altar; everything was saturated. The incredulous would never be able to deny that “The Deity” executed the miracle they were about to observe.
At the time of the evening sacrifice after having made all necessary preparation, Elijah prayed: “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (the name Israel vs. Jacob acknowledged God’s blueprint of one nation opposed to two), let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and I am your servant and do all these things through your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that these people may know that you are God, and turn back their hearts!” Being pleased with the cry and the sacrifice, God caused His fire to fall, which consumed everything. It swallowed up the burnt offering, and pieces of wood; the stones of the altar, and the earth that was lifted to form the trench. Finally, it licked up all the water in the entrenchment.
At the conclusion of this showdown, all knew which of the gods was “The True Deity.” Everyone dropped to the ground on their faces in worship. Now fully convinced, they all said in unison, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”
In compliance with the law of the Old Testament recorded in Deuteronomy 17:2-3; 13:13, which prohibited idolatry on pain of death and commanded that false prophets be destroyed, Elijah had the people seize the prophets of Baal and put them to death at the brook Kishon. In representing God, Elijah dealt a fatal blow to God’s enemies who tried to entice His people to turn against Him and His way.
Jesus was typified in the sacrifice of cut flesh with dripping blood placed on pieces of wood. The act pointed to centuries ahead when a fatal blow would be dealt to the one called the Devil and Satan, Adversary, Tempter, Deceiver, Father of Lies, and Accuser of the Brethren. And the time came! Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself in His atoning sacrifice, was crucified, died, and resurrected. Having shed His precious blood on the Cross made of wood, He destroyed the works of the enemy.
Immediately following the showdown, God caused Elijah to hear the sound of rain, long before it arrived. The idolatrous priests and prophets had been destroyed, and the curse upon the land was going to be removed. The three years of drought were about to be lifted. In response to this knowing, Elijah proceeded to the mountain top to pray for the completion of God’s work and the fulfillment of His promise. Just before leaving, he told Ahab to go to the place of sacrifice on Mt. Carmel, and be refreshed with something to eat and drink. In his eagerness to see the result of the contest, the king had gone without food from morning until evening.
There on the mountain top, Elijah’s servant looked out upon the sea seven times. The last time he saw ascend a small cloud about the size of a man’s hand, and he called to Elijah. Upon receiving the report and knowing rain was about to begin, the prophet sent him to tell Ahab to go to his chariot at the foot of the mountain and hurry home. However, he hadn’t considered that three years of drought made the plain of Jezreel a deep layer of dust, and the downpour created a bed of mud through which no chariot-wheels could move.
In His goodness, God mercifully intervened! Just after Ahab departed the hand of the Lord came upon Elijah and propelled him to run ahead as far as Jezreel and make the path clear. This was done in respect for Ahab’s kingly position, and to show that he had been a faithful subject. It was also to serve in deepening the impression of God’s majesty already made upon Ahab’s heart and to fortify him against the temptations of his wife who abused his weakness to support the cause of ungodliness.
This showdown on Mount Carmel is a miniature picture of another showdown spoken of in Revelation 16:16 and 20, referred to as the battle of Armageddon situated in the valley between Mount Carmel and the city of Jezreel. This battle will take place when Jesus returns to destroy the armies of Satan and to establish His rule on this earth for a thousand years. At that time, all who doubted will see and know that Jesus is the only true and living God. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord! At the end of His thousand-year reign when Satan is released, and for the last time gathers the nations to come against God’s saints and His beloved city, Jerusalem, “fire” will descend out of heaven. All of God’s opposition will be devoured, and the devil will be cast into the lake of fire where he will remain forever.