I want to continue our look at Elijah. In the second part of our story we come to the showdown on Mt. Carmel. God expresses himself as real in this epic encounter.
Elijah comes out of hiding to meet Ahab only to be called a trouble maker. Living in a land with a king today, I can’t believe anyone would have the intestinal fortitude to say this. Elijah, speaking on behalf of YWHW says, nae nae, King Ahab, you are the trouble maker. You and your family, rejected God and now follow Baal. Jezebel, the princess from Phoenicia and quite possibly a high priestess brought the worship of Baal to Israel when she married Ahab.
This is the context in which Elijah faces Ahab and requests a showdown between the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the god of rain and lightning (Baal). Here is where we love to read the story as one of power, which it is, but this story also contains a big look into the compassionate nature of God. All the while he is setting up an opportunity to reveal himself as real, he is turning the hearts of his people back to him, I Kings 18:36, 37.
When God acts in power, it is to draw people to know him. Charles Kraft talks about three encounters that people have in conversion.
- Truth encounter
- Allegiance encounter
- Power encounter
When God acts in power, it is to draw people to know him. He constantly desires relationship with us and all peoples. I am reminded of the moving story of Watchman Nee when God acted in power to bring rain on a small island of the coast of Southern China. Watchman Nee was an evangelist in China after his conversion in 1927 until his imprisonment under the Mao regime.
Nee and a band of Christians entered the island to share the wonderful story of God with its inhabitants. However, the islanders who worshipped a false god didn’t open their hearts to the story of God. During one conversation with one of Nee’s disciples’ the islanders told how their god provided clear days during a special ceremony each year. When finding out the day of the ceremony, Nee’s group challenged the islanders to see if God was real. They promised on the day of their ceremony God would send the rain. It hadn’t rained in over 200 years on this ceremony. Nee and his group realized the severity of their proposal and began to pray fervently. When the prescribed day came, God sent heavy rains. The islanders baulked and changed the day of the festival, to which God sent rain on that day as well. The residents of the island then abandoned their former worship and came to believe in God due to the power encounter they witnessed.
Back to Elijah, He finds himself confronting 850 priests on Mt. Carmel, a range bordering Phoenicia and Israel near the modern power city of Hiva. He throws down the gauntlet asking each sided to prepare an offering. He leaves one caveat…no fire. Each must call on their god to send fire. The god who sends fire would be real. Here in v. 18, he echoes the call of Joshua to the people of God watching in anticipation of what will happen. He says essentially, choose today who you will serve. He even allows the group of priests to go first, since there is so many of them. How kind of him.
After they begin the shouts and pleas with no response, the humor of the story begins. Elijah taunts them, saying maybe their god is busy, deep in thought, away or even sleeping. These all contrast the nature of God who is everywhere at all times. They pull out swords and knifes to slash themselves as per their customary worship. I am glad that we don’t worship like that today. Now, I love what the narrative says next. There was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
Elijah stepped forward and said it is my turn.
He put the altar of the Lord back together as it likely was torn down under Jezebel’s command. He then asked for four large containers of water. Hmmm, in a drought, but this mountain happened to be the location of a fresh spring of water, so Elijah used that to soak the dry wood not wanting any doubt in the minds of this attentive audience. He soaked the sacrifice three times with all the water as it filled up the trench he dug around the altar.
Now Elijah prayed an awesome prayer and saw God answer with fire…fire that licked up all the water and burnt the sacrifice.
God answered in power, turning the hearts of his people back to him. God’s power has always been a real way to show himself to people. Paul said as much in I Corinthians 22:1-5 saying that he came not with eloquence or human wisdom, but with a demonstration of power and of the spirit that the Corinthians would put their hope in God and not human wisdom. God is a real God, and Christianity is not a mere philosophy.
I am reminded of incredible stories in Thailand of God showing his power. One story is that of a woman I met in Had Yai during a celebration of the church there. This woman was being baptized with about a dozen other people who recently came to know God. Her story stood out as she came to find God when he showed up in power. She had been divorced after her husband who contracted AIDS from a prostitute gave it to her. Now she was left in a culture that overlooks widows to care for her children and fight a devastating disease. As her body withered, and she lay in the hospital, one of her friends kept coming to comfort her. Her friend was a member of this church. Finally, she was ready to allow her friend to pray for her. God healed her of AIDS right there in the hospital room. Now she is walking with God as the church came alongside of her to help her care for her children as well.
We see the compassion of God as he moves in power to draw us to know him.