One of my favourite Old Testament stories growing up was that of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Truth be told, it’s still one of my favourites.
If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a little back story: Israel has had a long line of kings each one more evil than the last. The prophets of the Lord have gone into hiding and Elijah was nowhere to be found. The king of the day, Ahab, had married an evil woman, Jezebel, and built her temples and altars for her pagan gods. Israel had turned completely from God.
At the word of God, Elijah makes his return to the king and seeks audience with him. The land has been taken by severe drought and the prophets of Baal have had no success in bringing the much-needed rain. Elijah requests that the pagan prophets be gathered for a contest of sorts.
Once everyone has gathered on Mount Carmel, Elijah lays the ground rules. The prophets of Baal will build an altar and slaughter a bull.Without setting fire to the altar, they will pray that their god consume the offering. Elijah is to do the same.
The prophets of Baal get to work. They shout and call out to their god and cut themselves until the ground around the altar is muddy with blood. At this point, Elijah is obviously amused. He calls out to them and suggests that their god may be on vacation or perhaps taking his time on the toilet. The prophets of Baal pray harder with no result.
Elijah’s turn. He rebuilds the altar to God with twelve stones – one for each tribe of Israel. He sets wood and the slaughtered bull on it. Then he digs a trench. Then he drenches the whole thing with water. Three times. The sacrifice is thoroughly soaked.
Elijah offers a simple prayer:
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.
1 Kings 18:36b-37 (ESV)
Fire came down and not only consumed the wood and the bull, but the entire altar and all the water that had been poured on it.
I love that God came in an all-consuming fire. He proved himself to Israel yet again just like He had been doing for centuries.
I sometimes find myself wishing that God would show himself like that again. And then I wonder what the response would be. I doubt it would be met with an entire nation turning to Him. People would be sceptical and assume it to be some sort of trick or hoax.
How then, does God show himself in our generation? What do we have that Israel did not? We have the Holy Spirit living in us. That very same power that brought fire down from Heaven is available to us all the time. Yet we often choose to ignore it and continue to pray for fire much like the prophets of Baal.
If we changed our prayer from the constant pleading for signs and just asked God to show himself real to us in a single moment, how many more people would turn to Him? If we simply obeyed the Word of God and allowed Him to work through us as Elijah did, I imagine we’d me more effective in our own lives and in drawing others to God.
Daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 16-18, John 1:29-51