Three years of drought and famine had made King Ahab desperate for relief. He summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace, to join him in scouring the countryside for a water source. Ahab had already conducted a thorough search for Elijah, the prophet who had pronounced the drought, making his neighbor nations swear that they were not giving him asylum.
While looking for water, Obadiah found Elijah, the missing prophet! He was reasonably afraid that Ahab would find the coincidence suspicious, but Elijah insisted that he arrange a meeting. The exchange between the prophet and the king was brief and tense (v.17-19). Ahab spoke first, accusing Elijah of causing the drought: “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” The prophet threw his words back in his face: “I have not troubled Israel, but you have…because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals (idols, false gods).” Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel — one of the most wicked people, and definitely the most wicked woman, in the Bible — not only worshiped Baal and the goddess Asherah, but they had brought these pagan beliefs into the palace and instituted them as the state religion! Elijah demanded a meeting on Mount Carmel (1,800 ft.), a mountain in northern Israel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, where there was an altar to the Lord that had been abandoned. He told Ahab to bring the prophets of Baal and Asherah, all 850 of them, for a showdown.
On the appointed day, Elijah stood before Ahab, the false prophets, and a crowd of Israelites. In his characteristic bluntness and boldness, he challenged the people to make a choice, to decide once and for all if they would serve the false gods or the one true God. When the people did not answer, Elijah called for a contest to reveal which God was real. He proposed that the God who could send fire to consume an offering would be the one who was true and worthy of worship.
The prophets of Baal went first, and as Elijah mocked them they prayed, begged, shouted, and even cut themselves, but “no one answered; no one paid attention” (v.29). Then Elijah carefully rebuilt the abandoned altar of the one true Lord, the God of Israel. He dug a trench around it and had it drenched with water, and then he prayed (v.36-37). His prayer was simple: “Answer me, O Lord, that these people may know that You are God.” Immediately “the fire of the Lord fell” and consumed not only the offering on the altar, but the altar itself! In response, the people fell down on their faces, confessing their faith in the Lord.
Elijah, as the messenger of God’s wrath, executed the false prophets, ensuring that they could no longer spread their lies. Afterward he bowed down and prayed for rain, and the Lord sent it. The drought was over, the prophet was vindicated, and the truth had won the day.
I am inspired by the courage of Elijah, who stood alone for the Lord. Isn’t it amazing what God did with just one person who was willing to put their faith into action? Just imagine what He can do through you today! Be bold, be strong, and the God who flashed fire from heaven will show Himself to be powerful in your life.