Elijah and a Very Bad King

Elijah versus Ahab and 850 false prophets in 1 Kings 18

There was a prophet in the Old Testament who did not write a book of prophecy. The king during his time was Ahab, and Ahab would best be categorized as an evil king. In fact, he has a rare distinction that some other kings also had. “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30) However, he met his end with a random arrow. See 1 Kings 22:29-37 for the account of his death. Let me propose that the arrow was only random in the sense that the archer wasn’t shooting for the king of Israel.

The random arrow death of King Ahab

Ahab had an Opportunity He Missed

The thing that I find most interesting is that Ahab had a unique opportunity to change course. In first Kings chapter 18 he was confronted by Elijah. King Ahab proposed that Elijah was responsible for the severe famine in the land. 1 Kings 18:17 says, “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’” Elijah wasn’t shy about his response (18:18-19): “And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’” So Elijah had a one against 850 prophet-strong proposal. Let’s have a contest!

The Proposed Contest and the Results

Elijah proposed a unique sacrifice where his team (one man) would challenge the 850-man team. He was outnumbered by most standards of competition, with one distinct advantage. The contest he proposed could only be accomplished by someone outside of the teams. The idea was to propose that there was only one God in the competition, and the goal was to see which team’s God was the real deal.

Each team got a bull, built a sacrifice, and called on their god. Team Baal had the advantage. They tried to get fire from their god, but nothing happened from morning until noon. Elijah then taunted them by 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.” That is one of the funniest things I read in the Old Testament.

The Fire God

Elijah then proceeded to make his sacrifice hard to burn. He took what was a precious commodity during a famine, water, and poured a bunch of it on the sacrifice to the LORD. Here is what it says in 1 Kings 18:36-40:

“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.’”

Elijah put forward for consideration an opportunity to pick the real, powerful God. His proposal caused many of the people to draw the right conclusion. One team did lose and Ahad did not pick the right side.

How to Identify a Follower of Jesus

They serve their God. “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

In reality, everyone serves a god. It is less than prudent to choose the wrong one.

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of the weekly Five-Minute Friday link-up.

All scripture passages are from the English Standard Version except as otherwise noted.