By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 18
Elijah challenged Ahab to a test of Baal's power. He demanded that the question should be settled, whether the Lord or Baal was the true God. Baal's prophets were summoned, therefore, to meet with Elijah on Mount Carmel. On one side stood Elijah, alone, as the prophet of Jehovah; and on the other side the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal. All day, from morning until evening, Baal's priests had been about their altar, crying, dancing, and gashing their flesh, after the custom of their heathen worship. But Baal had not answered, and, with mortification in their hearts and curses on their lips--they turned away in defeat. It is now Elijah's turn. Will Jehovah answer by fire and thus prove Himself the true God?
Elijah called the people to come near to him, that they might see all that he did, for there were no secrets in the worship of the true God. Then he repaired the altar of Jehovah, which had been broken down. Once the fires had burned on this altar--but it had been neglected, the people having turned away to worship calves of gold, instead of the true and living God.
While this picture of the ruined altar is before us--we may think of other altars that are broken down. There are homes where once the voice of prayer was daily heard, where the family bowed in worship. But now no longer does the morning and evening prayer ascend. There are those who at their mother's knees were taught to kneel, and who through infancy and youth continued to pray--but who no longer bow before God. All about us, everywhere, are these broken-down altars. The first thing the prophet did at Carmel that day--was to rebuild God's altar which was in ruins. The first step toward blessing in prayerless homes and lives--is to build again the old altar of God.
Elijah then made preparation for the great test. He prepared the altar, put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. That was all he could do; the fire must come down from God. Common fire would not do--it must be fire from heaven. It is the same in our sacrifices. "Present your bodies a living sacrifice" to God, is our part. God will never lift us up on His altar--we must lay ourselves there willingly. We present our bodies a living sacrifice when we yield our will and surrender ourselves to God with love and praise, ready for obedience and service.
We cannot change our own heart--Elijah did not bring fire from some furnace or smoking hearth to kindle the wood on his altar; he prepared the sacrifice--and then waited for God to give the fire. When all the preparations were made, Elijah prayed for God to send the fire. We get nothing spiritual from heaven, without prayer. Prayerlessness receives no blessings. A day without prayer--is a day unblessed, unsheltered, and open to all disaster. If we are seeking blessing and are ready to yield our wills and affections to Christ--we have but to cry to God, and He will send down the divine fire to consume the sacrifice which we have laid upon His altar. But we must always pray. "Ask--and you shall receive." Mere waiting is not enough--there must be supplication as well as consecration.
The form of Elijah's prayer must be noticed. "Let it be known this day that You are God in Israel." The prophet was not seeking his own glory--but God's. He was not trying to work a miracle to show his power--but to show the people that Jehovah was the true and the only God. We should never think of honoring ourselves in doing God's work--our aim always should be to honor God. After anything we have done for God, we should not exult in our own exaltation--but should thank God and honor Him.
A king, when his army had won a great victory, bared his head in the presence of his soldiers and reverently repeated, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us--but to Your name be the glory!" We should never concern ourselves about our share of the honor, about the reputation or the glory we are to get from any work we have done, any duty, any sacrifice we have made; we should seek that God's name alone shall be honored, that it may be known that He is indeed God.
All day, the prophets of Baal had prayed in vain beside the altar--but the moment Elijah began to pray "the fire of Jehovah fell, and consumed the burnt-offering." A god that cannot answer prayer is not the God for needy, tempted, perishing, dying men. Baal had been proved no god. He was unable in that great crisis to give any answer. But the moment Elijah prayed, the fire fell.
The test of Mount Carmel is being repeated every day in thousands of places on the earth. Our God is the Hearer of prayer. Burdened hearts are crying to Him--and He is answering their requests. Blessings are falling upon needy, suffering lives--in response to earnest, faith-filled supplications. The fire of the Lord is always falling. It fell on the day of Pentecost on the praying disciples. It has fallen since on millions of heart-altars, consuming earthliness and sin, and leaving the glowing flames of love, devotion, and holy service.
The effect on the people was tremendous. When they saw it they "fell on their faces, and they said, Jehovah, He is God!" Jehovah had been forsaken and His worship abandoned. Jeroboam's sin had thus ripened into its full, terrible fruitage. Baal was now accepted as the god of the nation. Jehovah's prophets had been hunted to death. So utterly had idolatry driven out the true worship, destroying or sending to hiding places, the followers of the true God--that Elijah thought he was the only one left in the whole land who was loyal to Jehovah. Then came this test. It was a magnificent occasion--one man against king, prophets, priests, people; but one man with God is more than a match for all the world against God.
This test is going on still. Baal's worshipers are yet prominent in the world, though known now by other names. What are the evidences of Christianity? What demonstration of power have we ever had which shows that Christianity is divine? We may point to the whole history of the Church, in answer to this question. Wherever the gospel has gone through the centuries, divine power has been with it. A little study of history and a little examination of the map of the world--will show thousand of Carmels. Idolatry and false religions have done their best--but nothing has come of their experiments--no moral improvements, no lifting up of the people, no sweetening and purifying of homes, no building of hospitals and asylums, no restoring of lives, no saving of souls.
Then Christianity entered with its simple story of divine love, its fire from heaven, the power of the Holy Spirit; and wherever it has gone all has been changed. Men have turned from their sins--unto God. Evil hearts--have been made holy. Cruelty--has given place to gentleness. Happy homes have been built up. Society has been transformed. As we see these wonderful results of Christian life--the Carmel days over again--we can say with joy and triumph, "Jehovah, He is God!"
The victory was complete. The fire consumed the burnt offering, even the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that filled the trench. Baal's prophets had been defeated and must die. They had been proved guilty of high treason, as representing idolatry. Events moved rapidly. Elijah announced to Ahab the coming of rain. The prophet then went to the top of Mount Carmel, and we see him next in the attitude of prayer--praying for rain. Although God had promised the rain--yet it was necessary that Elijah should pray for it. "Ask--and you shall receive."
Elijah's prayer suggests to us also the importance of expectation. When we ask for things which God has promised, we should look for an answer. The prophet sent his servant to watch for the clouds. The picture is very beautiful. The answer did not come immediately--but the prophet continued pleading with God. Again and again and again the servant went up and looked--but there was nothing to be seen, no cloud in the sky. At last, a little cloud as small as a man's hand appeared. The answer was coming. The prophet ceased to pray--and set out on his journey to Jezreel.