The Word Made Fresh
1Many days passed, then in the third year the word of the LORD came again to Elijah: “Go and stand before Ahab and tell him I will send rain.” 2Elijah went. The drought was very severe in Samaria.
3Meanwhile, Ahab summoned Obadiah, the manager of his palace. Obadiah was a fervent follower of the LORD. 4When Jezebel was killing the LORD’s prophets Obadiah had hidden a hundred of them in two caves, fifty in each, and kept them fed with bread and water. 5Ahab told him, “Travel through the land to the wells and to the wadis. Maybe enough grass is there to keep our horses and mules alive, so we won’t have to lose some of our animals.”
6They divided the land between them; Ahab in one direction, Obadiah in the other. 7As Obadiah traveled, he was met by Elijah. He recognized him and bowed face down to him. “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” he asked.
8“It is,” Elijah responded. “Go tell your lord I am here.”
9“What have I done,” Obadiah protested, “to make you want to give me over to Ahab? Do you want me killed? 10As the LORD your God lives, my lord has been searching for you everywhere. And when they tell him you aren’t there, he makes them look for you and swear an oath that they can’t find you anywhere. 11And you want me to tell Ahab you are here? 12As soon as I leave you the Spirit of the LORD will carry you who knows where. Then when I tell Ahab you are here, and he can’t find you, he will kill me, even though I have been a worshiper of the LORD since I was a boy. 13Haven’t you been told what I did when Jezebel started killing the LORD’s prophets, how I hid a hundred of them in caves and provided bread and water for them? 14And now you want me to go and tell Ahab, ‘Elijah is here?’ He’ll kill me!”
15Elijah said, “As God is my witness, I promise I will appear before Ahab today.”
16Then Obadiah went to tell Ahab, and Ahab came to meet Elijah. 17When he saw Elijah, Ahab called out, “Is it really you, you troublemaker?”
18Elijah answered, “I haven’t caused any trouble in Israel, but you and your family have because you have turned your back on the LORD’s commandments and worshiped the Baals. 19So, do this: tell all the people of Israel to appear before me at Carmel, and bring the four hundred fifty ‘prophets’ of Baal, and the four hundred ‘prophets’ of Asherah, all who dine at Jezebel’s banquet table.”
20Ahab did as Elijah said, and summoned the people of Israel and the false prophets to Carmel. 21Elijah stood before them and said, “How long will you dance along two different paths? If the LORD is God, follow the LORD. If Baal is god, follow Baal.” The people were silent. 22Then Elijah said, “I am the only prophet of the LORD remaining. There are four hundred fifty ‘prophets’ of Baal. 23Bring two bulls. Let them choose one. Let them butcher it and lay it on a pile of wood, but don’t light the fire. I will butcher the other bull and lay it on a pile of wood, but I won’t light that one, either. 24Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the LORD. The one who answers by sending fire to burn the sacrifice is the true God.”
The people all agreed.
25Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You choose a bull and prepare it first, since there are more of you. Then call on your god, but don’t light the fire.”
26They prepared their bull, then called on Baal all morning long, crying out, “O Baal, answer us!” But Baal did not answer as they danced around their altar.
27At noon Elijah began to mock them. “Louder!” he called. “He’s a god, isn’t he? Maybe he’s lost in thought, or maybe he’s wandering around, or has decided to travel somewhere. Maybe he’s asleep – you’ll have to wake him up!”
28So they yelled louder, and as was their practice, they cut themselves with swords and daggers, and dripped blood everywhere. 29They kept it up all afternoon until the time of the evening offering, but no one spoke to them. No one answered. No one responded at all.
30Then Elijah told the people to come closer, and they gathered near him. The altar of the LORD was there, but it had been dismantled, so he put it back in place. 31Then he chose twelve stones, one for each of the twelve sons of Jacob, of whom the LORD had said, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32He arranged them on the LORD’s altar. Then he dug a trench around it, deep enough to hold several bushels of grain. 33He put wood in place, butchered the bull and laid the pieces on the wood. Then he told them to pour four jars of water on the sacrifice and over the wood, 34and then told them to do it again. After they had done it, he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did. The water ran over the altar and filled the trench.
36When the time came for the evening sacrifice, Elijah approached the altar and called out, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make known this day that you are Israel’s God, and I am your servant, and you have told me to do all these things! 37Answer me, LORD! Answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and you are bringing them back to you!”
38Then fire from the LORD came down and burned up the sacrifice along with the wood and the stones and the water in the trench. 39The people all fell on their faces and cried, “The LORD is God! The LORD is God!”
40Then Elijah called out, “Take the prophets of Baal! Don’t let any of them get away!” They seized them and Elijah had them brought to the Kishon wadi and put them to death there.
41Elijah said to Ahab, “Go eat and drink! I hear the sound of a downpour!” 42Ahab and Elijah returned to the top of Mt. Carmel where Elijah knelt and bowed over with his face between his knees. 43He told his attendant to go and look toward the sea. He went, then returned and said, “There is nothing.” Elijah said, “Go and look seven times.”
44On the seventh try the attendant returned and said, “Look – there is a little cloud the size of your hand rising out of the sea.”
Elijah said, “Tell Ahab to harness his chariot and hurry down the mountain before the rain stops him.”
45In no time the sky was black with storm clouds, the wind began to blow, and a heavy rain poured down as Ahab rode off, headed to Jezreel. 46But the hand of the LORD pushed Elijah to gather up his robe and run ahead of Ahab to the gate of Jezreel.
1-2: Three years pass, and finally God tells Elijah to show himself to King Ahab and tell him rain is a-comin’.
3-6: Meanwhile Ahab determines to find water somewhere in his realm and enlists the prophet Obadiah in the search. He does not know that Obadiah is faithful to the LORD and has hidden 100 of the LORD’s followers in caves. The two men split up. We might wonder why a king would think such a task should be undertaken personally and with a high-ranking leader. My guess is that Ahab doesn’t want just anybody to know where the water is.
7-16: Obadiah is met by Elijah coming back from Zarephath. Elijah demands an audience with Ahab. Obadiah protests that Elijah is not very dependable and if he arranges the meeting and Elijah doesn’t show, his (Obadiah’s) goose is cooked because Ahab is eager to get his hands on Elijah and has been searching high and low for him. Elijah assures him that will not be the case, and Obadiah runs the errand.
17-19: Ahab meets Elijah. They exchange insults. Elijah tells him to gather all the people of Israel and all the prophets of the god Baal and the goddess Asherah to meet him on Mt. Carmel.
20-29: The assembly convenes, and Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a contest to prove whether they should worship Baal or the LORD. “How long will you go dancing between two opinions,” he says. He challenges them to slaughter a bull and lay it on an altar and then pray to their god to add the fire. “You go first,” he tells them, and they do. They pray to Baal and dance around the altar they had made. Elijah makes fun of their effort – he is a bit mean-spirited, wouldn’t you say? Try as they might, no fire arrives.
30-35: Now Elijah, with a showmanship that David Copperfield would find admirable, draws the crowds in close. He rebuilds the LORD’s altar and adds twelve stones representing the twelve tribes (including Judah and Benjamin!) to remind the people that the LORD has chosen them. He digs a trench around the altar, butchers his bull and then drowns everything in water, as if there hasn’t been a drought for three years. Such extravagance!
36-40: It is well into the afternoon when Elijah finally prays to the LORD a simple prayer. Fire falls on the altar and consumes everything. The people are impressed. “The LORD wins!” they yell, and Elijah uses the excitement of the moment to have all the prophets of Baal seized and dragged away to a wadi somewhere below the summit to be put to death.
41-46: Elijah tells Ahab to go back up and dine on the offering that has been cooked on the altar. Apparently, Ahab has been a witness to the whole episode, including the execution of the prophets of Baal. Elijah goes also, and his unnamed servant whom we meet here for the first time. The servant goes to look out over the sea and brings a weather report back to Elijah. On the seventh trip he sees a small cloud, and Elijah springs into action. He tells the servant to tell Ahab to hurry down the mountain before the rains come, then he runs down the mountain himself and beats Ahab to Jezreel down in the valley below Carmel. He is able to outrun Ahab’s chariot because “the hand of the LORD” is on him. Ever since that day athletes have been giving credit to God for their successes, but I doubt their claims are as well-founded as Elijah’s.
What a delightful story, but I doubt the “prophets of Baal” would have gotten much respect after that, so maybe there was no need to kill them. Interestingly, the four hundred prophets of Asherah are not mentioned again after verse 19. God will nurse Israel and Judah along for centuries, send them into exile and bring them back. God never gives up on them completely, and will never give up on you and me, either, and will try and woo us back when we stray. All we have to do is surrender.