(1 Kings 18.17-46)
In 1 Kings 17.3 God had said to Elijah, "Hide thyself", and during this time the prophet had proved God in private during the ordinary circumstances, conditions and crises of life. Now God says, "Shew thyself" (1 Kings 18.1). It was now time to prove in public what he had learned in private with his God. We do well to heed this principle, especially in its application to aspiring, as well as experienced, public servants of God.
The Challenge (vv.17-19)
Elijah went boldly to obey the command of the Lord, "Go shew thyself unto Ahab", and was immediately branded as "he that troubleth Israel" (v.17). Poor blind, perverted Ahab! How often God's servants are blamed for things they are supposed to have said or done and how difficult it is to bear. He was accused by the widow (17.18), and now Ahab blamed him for the drought and hated him for his denunciation of sin (cp. Paul at Philippi in Acts 16). Elijah lays the blame on Ahab's wickedness in his having "forsaken the commandments…and…followed Baalim", and challenges Ahab to gather all the false prophets of Baal, and the people, to Mount Carmel (fruitful field) in Asher (happy). To this Ahab agrees; he had no option if he wanted to see rain again.
The Choice (vv.20-25)
The people, therefore, and the prophets came to Carmel, though Jezebel's prophets were not there. Elijah appeals to the people, not the prophets (they were apostates for whom there was no hope), "How long halt ye between two opinions?". They had no convictions, like many nowadays, but they could not be neutral and could not serve two masters, decisions must be made. This has a clear gospel application for today. It is a simple, stark choice, God or Baal? Both cannot be right! Baal stands for idolatry and immorality; God stands for all that is good, true and holy. The people were silenced, self-condemned, and "answered him not a word" (v.21). Elijah had spoken with authority and certainty, unfazed by the fact that he stood alone: "I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men" (v.22). We admire his courage; he was on the Lord's side - one man and his God! Elijah was prepared to stand up for his God - are we? Elijah's proposition required a bullock to be sacrificed, laid on wood, but with no fire under it, and the God who answers by fire and consumes the sacrifice, is the real and true God. "Who is the God of Israel?", that was the question. The people were silent, the prophets dare not oppose; after all, did they not claim that Baal the sun god was the god of fire?
The Contest (vv.26-35)
Elijah gives them the first opportunity, but their cries and chanting to Baal are in vain and their efforts futile. Morning to noon they cry and on to mid-afternoon. Frenzied they dance, leaping upon their altar and cutting themselves but all to no avail. Elijah mocks them: "Cry aloud…he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth" (v.27). How different is Elijah's approach. He had spoken to the people's conscience (v.21) and to their reason (v.24); now he appeals to their heart - "Come near unto me" (v.30). He wanted them to scrutinise his careful, reverent preparation of his altar, reminding them of spiritual truth, and exposing falsehood. The altar of Israel was in disrepair spiritually speaking, as worship and fellowship had been grossly neglected (cp. Ezra 3). Elijah prepared the altar after the original pattern (see Ex 20.24-26). The people of God were divided; worship and unity must be restored before divine blessing can be assured. God sees His people's oneness unbroken, unaffected and unveiled in the twelve stones (as at Gilgal) that Elijah took to build his altar, he then took twelve barrels of water - it was all highly symbolical. The water (from the sea, Jer 46.18) was poured over the altar and into the trenches to ensure no trickery was involved. What matchless faith!
The Conquest (vv.36-40)
Elijah waits for the "time of the evening sacrifice" to remind the people of Jerusalem and the sacrifices (Ps 141.2; Mk 15.34). The prophet came near to God. His prayer was selfless and God-centred; His glory and the people's blessing were his only motives. There was an immediate response - the fire fell, not on the people, who deserved it, but on the sacrifice. What a picture of Calvary! "From above hath he sent fire into my bones" (Lam 1.13). The sacrifice consumed the fire and was greater than the fire! The people saw it, fell down and worshipped. There was conviction and confession. The prophets of Baal were taken and slain for their deception and wickedness.
The Consequence (vv.41-46)
Note his passion - God had promised rain (v.1) so he "prayed earnestly" (James 5.17); his posture – he stood before Ahab but bowed before God! His persistence - keep looking, wait, watch and continue in prayer. Elijah could not conceal his glee:, "Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain" (v.41). Such is the hearing of faith! Oh that God would raise up men today "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Lk 1.17, RV).