The Expository Files

 

What Time Was It On Mount Carmel?

1 Kings 18:20-40


 

Without question, this is one of the more dramatic events on the pages of the Old Testament. But it wasn’t given just to entertain or excite. In addition to natural human interests there is high value spiritual truth conveyed in this confrontation. 

The background: There was this aggressive conflict between two men, Elijah and Ahab. It was not just a personal rivalry. Elijah is a chosen spokesman for God. Ahab is a raw, tightly wound paganists who “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him,” (1 Kngs. 16:30). So – in one corner - Elijah, God’s servant. In the other corner, Ahab, who served his own interests and who had abandoned the commandments of the Lord to follow the carnal system of idolatry, to worship Baal.

 That bring us to this powerful narrative: 

1 Kings 18:20-40

So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal's prophets are 450 men. 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.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”  Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.  And 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 they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

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. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,”  and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near 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. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then 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.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.

What time was it on Mt. Carmel? Let’s use that question to highlight some of the valuable lessons embedded in this history. 

It Was Time To Make A Choice

In verse 21, Elijah said to the people who were assembled: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him.”And it says, “…the people did not answer him a word.” It was time to make a choice. 

I believe many people – even some who profess to be believers and assemble with Christians – never really make a personal choice to follow the Lord. 

People have said to me something like this: I was baptized mostly because I was afraid of hell and my parents expected me to. I formed the habit to attend church services. I believe there is a God, and I know what is right. But I’ve just never really made a personal choice to follow the Lord. 

People seem to get along in that way over many, many years. And everybody thinks they are faithful. They maintain the routine. But then something happens and they must face their absence of genuine, personal commitment.  

To people like this it should be said: You knew it wasn’t really personal all along… you kept up the appearances… perhaps you planned to really get serious someday… But then something happens, and you face the reality that you have never really and personally made the choice to follow the Lord. Some powerful temptation hits you. There is some personal crisis. You see that your children are in moral trouble. Your marriage is in crisis. Whatever it is – something happens, and you have to face the fact that you’ve never really made the personal decision to follow the Lord. 

Other people make a real and sincere choice to follow the Lord but they gradually drift away, and again, while maintaining conduct that appears to be faithful. To that group we say: How long will you continue without that necessary personal commitment? Are you limping between two ways? 

You have no promise of another day. There may be opportunities you imagine way out in the future, when you think you will fix everything. But you know in your heart, there is no assurance of that. It is time to make a choice. That’s what time it was on Mt. Carmel. 

This Was A Time To Ignore Numbers! 

Verse 22: “Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men’.” 

All some people do about religion is COUNT!! No serious Bible reading.  There is no personal effort to obey Jesus Christ. There is little interests in what the apostles of Christ said and what is written in the New Testament. I tell you – all some people do about religion is COUNT. 

Counting is entirely and essentially a human measure. It just tells you – how many people are here, and how many people are there!!  That doesn’t tell you anything about God, about His will, or about the person and work of Jesus Christ. It certainly is no indication of who will go to heaven. Yet many make their choices about religion based on nothing but numbers, size, popularity and crowds.  

It will be useful to remember, in the days of Noah, John the Baptist, Elijah and Jesus Christ – there were only a few who were faithful to the Lord. 

Elijah said to the people – this is a time to make personal choices, and this is the time to ignore numbers. 

This is the time to see who is real! 

Elijah set up this “contest” and it wasn’t a contest between humans. It was set up to establish in a powerful and visible way, who is really God. He said to Ahab and the prophets of Baal – Bring your offerings and place them on the altar.  Then ask Baal to ignite the altar with fire. He said – I’ll follow up, and we will see where the power is.                                               

Here’s what happened: 

And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.  And 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 they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. 

Failure. Then Elijah said, “gather around.”

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. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,”  and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water. 

No action from Baal, but extraordinary, visible and powerful action from God, igniting the offering, the altar and all the water. Everything was consumed. Case closed! 

Now you may think – those people had this visible, miraculous manifestation.  What do we have, to convince us today of the reality of God?  How can we know God is real? Let me answer that. 

FIRST I need to say: God made us with the ability to know Him. Gen. 1:27 says we were made in God’s image. Eccl. 3:11 teaches God instilled in us the capacity to sense and long for eternity. 

But it is not automatic.  If you want to know the Creator, you can - but it is not something imposed on you. God has revealed His reality to us in three ways – in the natural world, in the Scriptures and through Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead. As I take in what God reveals in nature; as I read His Word and see the truth of it – and as I come to a conviction about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ … 

Then – as I become engaged in a wholehearted response to Jesus Christ, I am able to come to fuller and fuller recognition – that God is real. 

It Was Time To Pray 

A very important part of this story: 

Elijah the prophet came near 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. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 

Do you see, this was not just a personal fight between Elijah and Ahab?  Greater issues were at stake. You see, Elijah did not ignite the fire, God did! And this public prayer became part of the evidence that God was at work in these events. Elijah makes this appeal, not to his own power but to God’s power! 

So it is true for God’s people today, that in all our confrontations it is always time to pray. In fact I should say, before our confrontations; before the unexpected tragedy . . . before the assaults of the devil . . . We ought to be a people who pray fervently. 

We’ve already mentioned that the numbers were on the side of Baal. Elijah was one man. But even one man – even one feeble person – who has a good heart and speaks to God can defeat evil, resist temptation and let God deal with the powers of darkness. 

It Was Time To Confess The Truth 

 “When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God’.” 

I don’t know exactly how many people made this confession, and I have no way of knowing how they lived after the confession - - But at this point – the evidence was so overwhelming, the people were brought to the point of confession.  “The Lord, He is God.” And they repeated – “The Lord, He is God.” 

Reading and learning about Jesus Christ, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the good and honest heart is prompted to confess as Thomas did, in Jno. 20:28.  “My Lord and my God.” 

I believe people who come in contact with the evidence and do not confess Jesus Christ hurt inside, because they have not confessed Him. Over time – as the conscience is seared over – they may be able to  suppress the guilt of sin and the unbelief.  

But after meeting Jesus Christ, you are never the same. Paul said, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Rom. 10:9). 

It Was Time – on Mt. Carmel – For Reckoning 

As this confrontation came to a close, the prophet said: “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” 

“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…,” (Heb. 2:1,2). 

If you know this message is true and yet you do not obey it, or drift away from it, the question here is – “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…” There will be a time of reckoning. 

Conclusion

Reflect on the purpose of stories like this in the Bible.  The drama pulls you in. It is – at some level – entertaining to read narratives like this. But once you get pulled into the story, step back and see what is there! What is illustrated? 

This story – in addition to its role in Biblical history – illustrates truth we need today, and can help preachers say to modern audiences: 

Make a personal choice, not based on numbers. Make a personal choice to accept the reality of God’s power – to live by the activity of faith in Christ, confessing the truth of the gospel with such sincerity, you are ready for the final reckoning. 

Had you been present on Mt. Carmel where would you be at the end of the event? Where you will be at this end of this (earthy life) event?

 

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 17.8; August 2010

 

 

 

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