Elijah the prophet is given a prominent place in scripture. He is one of seven individuals in the Old Testament to be named as a ‘man of God’; one of two to appear on the Mount of Transfiguration with the Lord Jesus; one of two to be taken to heaven without dying; and unique in prophecy.1
It is also of interest to note the contrast between the character of Elijah’s ministry and that of his successor, Elisha. Elijah anticipates John the Baptist,2 whilst Elisha typifies the Lord Jesus, as the contrasts in the table below suggest.
During his early scriptural history, Elijah spent time in Gilead,3 a region of riches, refreshment, and rocky heights, Cherith,4 where he learned separation and sustenance, and Zarephath,5 where he learned submission. Although these locations were of immense importance in the preparation of the prophet for the service of Jehovah, surely Elijah’s ‘finest hour’ was on Mount Carmel, or at least he thought so!6 Therefore, if 1 Kings chapter 17 speaks of the refining of the man of God, then the events of 1 Kings chapter 18 on Carmel see the restoration of the people of God.
|Book||1 Kings||2 Kings|
|Upbringing||Poor||Rich (12 yoke of oxen)|
|Character||Dramatic, confrontational||Modest, compassionate, humble|
|Ministry||Public. Characterized by law, judgement and severity||Private (often with individuals). Frequently characterized by grace and love|
|Duration||25 years||50 years|
|Name||My God is Jehovah||My God is Salvation|
(1 Kgs. 18. 20-21)
Elijah and the People
At the time of 1 Kings chapters 17 and 18, Mount Carmel, meaning ‘fruitful field’, was a shadow of its typical splendour, and a picture of the barrenness of the nation. Three and a half years of neither dew nor rain had rendered the place desert. This pictured a lack of blessing for God’s people.7 Normally a place of rich pasture and vines,8 there was now no fruit or joy for God. Furthermore, in a place ordinarily of natural beauty and abundance of flowers,9 there was now no fragrance for God.
What was the cause of the physical and spiritual famine? The word of God plainly declares: ‘And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word’, 1 Kgs. 18. 21. The people were ‘halting’ or better ‘hobbling’ on two crutches. Who was their God? Was it Jehovah or was it Baal? There was indifference and half-heartedness amongst God’s people. Like the lame, there was no evenness in their walk. Consistency in their conduct had long gone. By profession, they were the people of God, but by practice the worshippers of Baal. There was head knowledge of Jehovah, but no heart affection. Are we any different? Constantly we ‘wobble’ between devotion to the world and devotion to Christ. This state is abhorrent to God. It is all, or nothing (see Ephesus, Laodicea, or even Obadiah!).10
(1 Kgs. 18. 22-40)
Elijah and the Prophets
The prophet of the Lord now stands deserted,13 as God’s people often do, being found in the minority or alone.14 The prophets of Baal, by contrast, are 450 men and demonstrate their devotion. They call, climb, cry, and cut themselves in an outward display of religion and zeal, but there is no fire of God in it.
As Edersheim notes: ‘First rose a comparatively moderate, though already wild, cry to Baal; followed by a dance around the altar, beginning with a swinging motion to and fro. The howl then became louder and louder, and the dance more frantic … the madness now became infectious’. How important it is that genuine believers should beware of professing Christianity which often engages in a sensuous, fleshly appeal, but has no reality of God about it. One translation of 1 Kings chapter 18 verse 29 puts the point succinctly: ‘They used every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar, but nothing happened – not so much as a whisper, not a flicker of response’.
Now Elijah takes centre stage and bids us ‘come near’.
Come near and see the stones, vv. 31-32. It was sixty-one years since Solomon had died and the kingdom was divided into ten and two tribes, but God had not forgotten that His people were one people. Thus, in a time of ruin and division, Elijah takes twelve stones to bear witness to this unity (note also four barrels of water poured three times).15 Elijah was viewing Israel as God viewed them16 and we should always view each other as part of one body, in both a local and universal context.17 Unity is of great importance to our collective testimony.18
Come near and see the sacrifice, vv. 33-39. The nation is guilty of spiritual adultery. The fire of Jehovah in judgement is due to them. Israel is present at her own judgement day. How is it, therefore, that they can be spared? How can they escape? How can their hearts be turned? Through a divinely accepted sacrifice, bearing the judgement of God in their place! The fire falls; not on the wicked masses, not on the false religious leaders, but on the sacrifice! How important therefore the trench ‘made … about the altar’.19 When all the people saw the fire their hearts were turned again: ‘And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, ‘The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God’, 1 Kgs. 18. 39. In like manner, God can restore our wayward affections through a glimpse of Calvary.
So the challenge of fire has been completely and fully answered.20 The first three references to fire in the Bible indicate the importance of the symbol. It speaks of the presence of God,21 the judgement of God,22 and the acceptance of the sacrifice.23 Praise God, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus has satisfied the justice of our righteous God fully and completely. Although the fire of the Lord consumed the sacrifice at Carmel,24 we thank God the sacrifice consumed the same at Calvary!
Come near and see the slaughter, v. 40. The prophets of Baal had held God’s people in spiritual bondage. They threatened their spiritual future and so they must be slain. In so doing, their deaths brought deliverance. We are reminded of the precious truth that not only has Christ died for us, but we have died with Him. Not only did the fire of the Lord fall on the sacrifice, but it also fell on, and consumed, the stones (representing the nation of Israel). The apostle Paul puts it like this: ‘For ye have died, and your life is hid with the Christ in God. Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth’, Col. 3. 3, 5 JND. Sin no longer has any claim over the believer. We have been delivered, we have died and yet, we live in Christ.
(1 Kgs. 18. 41-46)
Elijah and his Servant
In the light of such a great victory we would allow Elijah some time to refresh and recuperate, yet the victory was not complete. Spiritual barrenness had begun to be addressed, but the physical still remained. The people had seen God’s fire (judgement), now they needed God’s rain (blessing). Consequently, Elijah went up to the top of Carmel (the place of victory) and cast himself down upon his knees. This is dependence, marked by the hearing, praying and watching of faith.25
We are reminded that the mighty victory of the Lord Jesus at Calvary does not mark the end of our Christian experience, but rather the beginning! There is a life of faith to be lived in complete dependence upon God. Are we watching and praying in faith?26 Are our ears ‘dull of hearing’27 or sensitive to the voice and will of God? As A. W. Pink has said, ‘If we were more separated from the din of this world, if we were in closer communion with God, our ears would hear His softest whispers’.
Whilst Ahab was busy minding the earthly (eat and drink), Elijah had his gaze fixed on the heavenly. God was about to open the windows of heaven and pour out a mighty blessing of ‘great rain’. May God grant to us similar exercises of faith as we seek to live in the light of the victory of Calvary and in dependence upon Him.
Mal. 4. 5
Luke 1. 17
1 Kgs. 17. 1
1 Kgs. 17. 2-7
1 Kgs. 17. 8-24
1 Kgs. 19. 10
Gen. 27. 28; Ps. 72. 6
Jer. 50. 19
Isa. 35. 2
1 Kgs. 18. 3
1 Kgs. 18. 37
1 Kgs. 18. 24
1 Kgs. 18. 22
2 Tim. 4. 16
1 Kgs. 18. 33-34
Ezek. 37. 22
Rom. 12. 5; 1 Cor. 10. 17; Eph. 2. 16
Eph. 4. 3; Phil. 2. 2
1 Kgs. 18. 32
1 Kgs. 18. 24
Gen. 15. 17
Gen. 19. 24
Gen. 22. 7
1 Kgs. 18. 38
1 Kgs. 18. 41-43
Jas. 5. 15-18
Heb. 5. 11