“Bible prayers: Elijah prays on Mount Carmel”
I Kings 18:36-37
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
To look back on it today, it was one of the boldest things anyone could ever have done.
On May 20th of 1927, at a little before eight o’clock in the morning, loaded with 450 gallons of fuel, Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York. An hour later, he flew over Rhode Island. In another hour, he passed Cape Cod. Then just before eleven, a ten mile an hour breeze blew in from the northwest. And he was tired. So he descended to ten feet above the ocean water to help keep him awake.
Eight years before, back in 1919, a hotel owner from the city of New York by the name of Raymond Orteig had offered a challenge--whoever could complete the first nonstop, transatlantic flight from New York to Paris would win a prize of $25,000 (which would be right about $500,000 today!). And with the help of nine St. Louis investors (hence the name, The Spirit of St. Louis), Lindbergh accepted that challenge.
But as you can imagine, it wasn’t easy. His average air speed was only 105 miles an hour as he flew over 1,500 miles of open water. Thunderstorms loomed around him, fog was heavy, and ice built up on his wings. And with a total flight time of thirty hours and thirty minutes, he didn’t sleep for fifty-five hours straight. His view ahead was nothing more than through a periscope. And he was completely alone.
But when he finally touched down on May 21, 1927, at a little after ten o’clock at night in Paris, France, the world rejoiced.
It was one of the boldest things anyone could ever have done.
If you think about it, the Bible tells the story about quite a lot of bold men. Abraham was bold to ask the Lord for mercy on Sodom and Gomorrah. David was bold to face Goliath with only a sling and a stone. Daniel was bold to pray, three times a day, facing Jerusalem. Joseph of Arimathea was bold to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. And Paul was bold to speak before the best and brightest teachers and philosophers of his day on the Areopagus, Mars’ Hill.
As it says in Proverbs chapter 28: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are like a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).
And among the Bible’s many men and women who were so very bold, there’s one more--and that’s a man, a prophet named Elijah.
I’ll read the words of I Kings chapter 18: “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table’” (I Kings 18:17-19).
Let’s step back for a moment to see what’s going on.
The story of Ahab and Elijah really began two chapters before, back in I Kings chapter 16. It’s where it says: “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him” (I Kings 16:30-31). Then it says: “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (I Kings 16:33).
And that’s why the Lord sent a prophet, a man named Elijah the Tishbite. As one commentator wrote: “He burst into history like the force of a hammer, like brilliant, jagged lightning, cleaving the bosom of the sky. Without introduction, without background, he suddenly stands before us: ‘Now Elijah the Tishbite…’”
Now we really don’t know that much about him or where he came from. All we know is that he came from a little town called Tishbe, in a wild and mountainous region just east of the Jordan.
And he was as wild and rugged as the place from which he came. And wherever he went, just like John the Baptist after him, he seemed to carry the wilderness with him.
Which takes us to the words of our text. As Ahab said in I Kings chapter 18: “Is it you, you disturber, you provoker, you troubler of Israel” (I Kings 18:17).
But as Elijah stood before him, he said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (I Kings 18:18-19).
“Meet me at Mount Carmel,” he said. So why Mount Carmel?
Because politically and militarily, it was the most important mountain in the region. Whoever controlled Mount Carmel controlled half of the kingdom!
And whoever controlled Mount Carmel controlled the nation spiritually. That’s why, years before, the prophets of Baal and Asherah had built an altar there.
And as all the prophets of Baal and Asherah and all of Israel gathered together on the top of Mount Carmel, Elijah said, “How long will you waver, how long will you go on limping, how long will you keep hesitating before two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him” (I Kings 18:21).
Notice that little word “if.” “If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him” (I Kings 18:21).
It’s not both. It’s not some of one, and a little of the other. It’s either God or Baal. The time had come to decide.
It’s been said that, of all the things that plague modern Christianity, the greatest of all is spiritual indecision, spiritual juggling--the inability of the people of God to make up their minds, to decide which side they’re really on.
Even more, notice the next nine words, because they’re some of the saddest words in all of the Bible. It says: “And the people did not answer him a word” (I Kings 18:21).
They didn’t know! They couldn’t make up their minds!
So to help them decide, Elijah set up an experiment, a contest, if you will, between the two “gods.” He said: “Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God” (I Kings 18:23-24).
If you know the story, you know what happened next. For just as soon as the prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifice, they started to dance and scream and shout. And don’t think of it as some nice, little Sunday night prayer meeting. Think voodoo.
In the words of Alfred Edersheim, “As the hours passed, the howl became louder and louder, and the dance more frantic. They whirled round and round, running wildly through each other’s ranks. Always keeping up a circular motion, the head low bent, so that their long disheveled hair swept the ground.”
And that’s when Elijah started to have a little fun. Verse 27: “At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’”
And if all that wasn’t enough, the prophets of Baal suddenly pulled out their knives and swords until, the Bible says, “the blood gushed out upon them” (I Kings 18:28).
Then what happened? Absolutely nothing--not a spark, not a flame, not even a puff of smoke.
Then came Elijah’s turn. Verse 30: “Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come near to me.’ And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down.”
Let’s stop there just once more. Notice it said, “He repaired the altar of the Lord.”
When you see the word “repaired,” you know it means that something was broken or torn down. Apparently, someone, sometime in the past, had built an altar to the Lord. But now it was broken, torn down.
And that’s a question that each one of us must face--how is your “altar”? How is your walk with the Lord? Is it broken? Is it torn down? Does it need to be repaired again?
But as Elijah rebuilt that altar and arranged the wood, he dug a trench around it and poured water on it one time, two times, three times, until the bull was soaking wet, until the wood was soaking wet, until the altar was soaking wet.
And then he prayed one of the boldest prayers anyone would ever pray. Outnumbered a full 850 to 1, he lifted up his eyes toward heaven and said: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word” (I Kings 18:36).
Then what happened? Just as soon as Elijah prayed his prayer, the Bible says, “The fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God’” (I Kings 18:38-39).
It’s been said that, just like Baal and Asherah of old, false gods always push us toward destruction: “Work harder! Do better! Obtain more! Hey, you’re still not getting my attention. Slash yourself!”
So we slash our bodies by going through crash diets to attain that perfect figure. We slash our families by overworking to make that extra money. And we slash our souls by giving up what’s right for what we know full well is wrong.
But while so many wound themselves, there was only one God who was wounded for us, and that’s Jesus Christ.
As the prophet Isaiah once wrote: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Or as another put it: “If, for me, to live is money, to die is loss. If, for me, to live is the world, to die is loss. If, for me, to live is pleasure, to die is loss. If, for me, to live is sin, to die is loss. If, for me, to live is self, to die is loss. But if, for me, to live is Christ, then to die is gain.”
We thank You, dear Father, for the power and the wonder You once showed through Your prophet Elijah. Help us, in our time and place, to also faithfully follow You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen