Elijah and the Miracle of Fire from Heaven
- Bianca Juárez Olthoff PropelWomen.org, A21.org
- 2016 22 Aug
If God had a resume, I’m pretty sure it would include “trained in the use of a flamethrower.” In Exodus He’s lit up a bush and lead people like an ever-moving campfire by night. And in 1 Kings He threw down some heat and lit up some barbeque for Elijah to demonstrate His power. As Elijah promised, he showed himself to be the one true God. In the words of my mother, when things need to get awakened, God will sometimes light a fire under our butt to get us moving.
After three years of drought and barren lands, God told Elijah to meet King Ahab. If he confronted the king, God said he would bring rain to the land. One small detail: AHAB HATED ELIJAH. One big detail: JEZEBEL HATED ELIJAH MORE THAN AHAB. God’s command could have very well been the death of Elijah, but Elijah boldly called out to King Ahab, challenged him to gather all the Israelites and the false prophets to meet at Mount Carmel.
Picture the scene. All the Israelites had come from near and far, all the prophets rolled up, and King Ahab spoke to Elijah. There was a battle of words. Some smack talking was exchanged. Ahab called Elijah a troublemaker. Elijah shot back a retort and even included Ahab’s daddy and family as the one to cause trouble for the nation. You know it gets serious when you start talking about family! Elijah told the king God had brought the drought because the people had turned from the one true God and worshipped Baal. And he didn’t stop there. The 850 prophets who ate at the royal table, who’d condoned Ahab’s sin, were called out too.
This scene may not mean anything to you, but being raised in the ‘hood provides context for what went down in my mind. The king steps to Elijah, but Elijah doesn’t back down and calls out King Ahab to back up the smack he’s been talking. Elijah just lays it down. This is the battle to trump all battles. Neither the Capulets versus Montagues, the Jets versus Sharks, nor Hatfields versus McCoys could rival the drama that was about to see go down.
When the people all gathered on Mount Carmel, Elijah asked them to commit, to choose which God they would serve. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, asked them to place a bull on the altar and pray for Baal set fire to the bull. The prophets did as they were told, then wailed and cried out, but nothing happened. They shouted and cut themselves to gain the attention and favor of Baal, but no fire fell.
Elijah, tired of waiting, began to taunt and make fun of the prophets. “Maybe you should pray louder,” he said. (1 Kings 18:27) The insults grew increasingly heated, and, as some theologians describe, Elijah asked if Baal hadn’t answered because he was busy in the bathroom. OH NO, HE DIDN’T!
Yes, he did.
There was no barbecue for Team Baal. No fire or spark sent down and now it was time for God to move. This was the ultimate Hunger Games scenario, and the odds were not in his favor. Consider what Elijah was up against:
- The king and queen who despised Elijah and wanted him dead
- 850 prophets of Baal
- Slim chances of survival if God didn’t show up in fire
- And all of this without proof that God had ever acted as Elijah was asking.
Undeterred, Elijah trusted God, and when it was his turn to call for fire, he upped the ante. Elijah rebuilt God’s altar, dug a trench around it, and prepared a bull to lay across the altar. Then, he drenched everything in water four times over. Why the water? Simple. If the sacrifice lit, no one could claim happenstance or coincidence. It would show that an all-powerful God had done what no other god could do.
And then, in his grand moment with the prophets of Baal pitted against the one man of God, Elijah cried out to God on behalf of the people of Israel. God was the answer to this desert showdown, and only by his power would the people see his greatness. And His greatness, they saw. At Elijah’s cry, God rained fire from heaven upon the altar, and the flames not only consumed the sacrifice, but the wood, the altar and the dust around it. After seeing this amazing display, the people fell on their knees and proclaimed, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God! (1 Kings 18:39)” And as revival broke out in the land, the dams of heaven broke, too. Much needed rain pattered down on the dusty soil, bringing a new season of fruitfulness to a dead land.
In the moment of waiting for the miracle, Elijah repaired the broken altar and called the people by name, “Your name shall be Israel.” I don’t want to glaze over this without recognizing what is needed for revival. First, the enemy knows our name, but calls us by our sin; God knows our sin, but calls us by our name. Sometimes a reminder of who we are is stronger than a rebuke of what we are not. Secondly, altars symbolize prayer, fellowship with God, dying to self, and trusting the will of God. The fact that the altar was in shambles was a powerful symbol of just how far the people were from God.
In life there will be moments where we will be faced to choose our way or God’s way. Will we fight for control, dance at the altar of our own Baals, or will we cry out and surrender to deliverance. Will we put our works on the altar and let them be consumed by fire. How will we respond?
Bianca Juárez Olthoff is a writer and teacher passionate about life change through the power of the gospel. She spends her week as Creative Director for Propel Women (PropelWomen.org) and Chief Storyteller for The A21 Campaign (A21.org), an anti-human trafficking organization, and shares about true freedom for those who are in bondage. Bianca lives with her husband, Matt, two children, and their cute dachshund in Southern California.
Publication date: August 22, 2016
Photo credit: Max Kukurudziak/Unsplash.com