So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel. 1 Kings 18:20
Mount Carmel is part of a coastal range and rises to a height of 1724 feet (525 m) above the plain of Jezreel. Today, Israel third largest city, Haifa, sits on its northern slope. It’s not very tall, as mountains go, but it was the site of one of the most dramatic displays of God’s power in all of Scripture. (And admittedly one of my favorites.)
You remember the story. After a three-year drought, the prophet Elijah called for King Ahab to gather the people and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He intended to settle once and for all who was God in Israel. It was 450 prophets (plus another 400 on the bench) to 1. But GOD answered Elijah’s prayer with fire and proved yet again that He alone is GOD.
So what do we learn on Mount Carmel?
There is no place for waffling. In announcing the contest, Elijah first confronted the nation of Israel. “How long will you falter between two opinions?” (Kings 18:21) How long will you cherry pick the things about Baal worship that you like and fall back on the things about worshiping God that make you feel good? By definition, whoever or whatever is God in your life is the one who receives your supreme allegiance. If that is anyone other than the One True God, there will be problems. That was the case for Israel and its the case for us. (Hint: If you’re treating the worship of God like a salad bar, picking the tomatoes and leaving the cucumbers, picking the love and leaving the obedience … you can probably guess who your god really is.)
The majority was wrong. Not just the overwhelming majority of prophets, but Ahab’s court and the general population held to some degree of Baal worship. It was the state-approved religion, after all. Since Baal was the god of fertility, it seemed like a good idea to court his favor to get the drought to end. Except the majority was completely wrong. Our theology should never be left to the will of the majority but rather the revelation of God. That’s what Elijah was going on.
Rituals don’t replace relationship. The prophets of Baal had a lot of rituals that accompanied their worship, and some of them were quite intense and demanding (including bloodletting). A willingness to go to those extremes had to count for something, right? Except “there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:29) All that energy and sincerity was wasted on empty air. Elijah knew the One True God. He heard His voice and he obeyed His commands. Because of that relationship, when Elijah prayed, God heard.
When Israel saw the fire fall, they decided pretty quickly who was God. That’s kind of a no-brainer. But consider this- you and I have not just seen, but experienced the fire of God in the person of the Holy Spirit filling us from the day we trusted Christ. And unlike the fire on Carmel, the fire in us continues to burn, to refine, to purify, to energize us. We just have to decide to live like it.