Elijah Prophet of God
It would become one of the most spellbinding historical accounts of the power of God. This showdown was bigger than any NFL Super Bowl or the Summer Olympics. This was an event that would be verbally passed on for hundreds of generations to come. A single man had come to stand up against some of the abominations that were occurring, and hundreds were present to watch. The teams were grossly uneven, yet a man named Elijah was not afraid. He exclaimed to the crowd gathered there: “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men” (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah was ready and willing to serve on the front-line.
The Bible does not give much indication of the outward appearance of this courageous man. The only indication comes after King Ahaziah heard from his messengers, the King inquired: “What kind of man was it who came up to meet you and told you these words?” They answered him, “A hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah, the Tishbite” (2 Kings 1:7-8 emp. added). Yet we know that God does not look on the outward appearance. It was Elijah’s courage and righteousness that separated him from the mainstream people of his day. A cursory glance around his society would quickly reveal devotion to false gods (Baal), ritual prostitution, and child-sacrifice. Elijah refused to give in to the religious tolerance of his day, and he was determined to do something about it. Thus, we find him taking center stage at a showdown on Mt. Carmel.
His decision to stand for truth and righteousness had earned him the nickname “troubler of Israel.” Like many individuals before him and many individuals who would follow, Elijah was ridiculed for pointing out that the societal norms were sinful. In 1 Kings 18:16-19 we learn:
So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah. Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals. Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (emp. added).
Not wanting to be marked as a “troubler of Israel,” many today remain silent and watch as the world continues to imbibe on a diet of ungodliness. The very next verse tells us: “So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel” (1 Kings 18:20).
The location of Mt. Carmel was one of panoramic beauty. A mountain that rises over 1600 feet in elevation, it is located majestically beside the Mediterranean Sea. But we can safely assume this grandiose setting was no home-field advantage for Elijah, for we learn he “repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down” (1 Kings 18:30). This was a place that had long forgotten the importance of worshipping the One True Living God. Additionally, at this showdown Elijah did not jump up and demand a coin-toss so that he could go first. Instead, he encouraged those who were doing wrong to step up to the plate and demonstrate the power of their beliefs. Elijah asked the prophets of Baal to prepare their bull first and validate the power of their false god.
The outcome of this showdown was nothing less than phenomenal. After watching the prophets of Baal beg, pled, and later cut themselves so that Baal might hear and light their altar, Elijah mocked them, ridiculing their efforts. He even suggested that maybe Baal was “meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Then Elijah took center stage and lay bare of the power of the Jehovah God. He built a trench around the altar and requested water be placed all around the trench, sending them back even a third time for additional water. The stage for the final showdown was set. This soldier for God had come to fight.
Rather than doing some amazing feat or ritual dance, Elijah then turned to God in prayer. He prayed: “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again” (1 Kings 18:36-37). Elijah’s prayer was immediately answered in a powerful fashion. Fire from God reigned down and “consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench” (v. 38).
Before we finish the account regarding this man who was proud to serve on the front-line, I want to consider a radically different ending to this showdown. If the showdown at Mt. Carmel were presented on a modern-day DVD, we could theoretically press “Disc Menu” on our remote and select “alternative endings.” Think about where you would be today if the Bible contained the following alternative endings:
- On the day he was to go to Mt. Carmel for the showdown, Elijah became nervous and scared, and he decided that maybe those religious abominations were not really that bad. After all, he realized he could live a lot easier life if he simply found a home and faded away from the spotlight. With the pressure and stress of the upcoming showdown mounting, Elijah decided to forego the entire spectacle. And so, on that life-changing day, Elijah was a no-show. (Years later we find Elijah further compromising and joining the prophets in their worship to Baal.)
- On the day he was to go to Mt. Carmel, Elijah realized he had some important business at work that needed to be finished, so he decided to put off the showdown. After all, he was busy now and he could demonstrate his religious zeal at a time that was more convenient for his career. Surely, God did not expect him to take time from work or lose some prospective business. And so, on that life-changing day, Elijah was a no-show.
But Elijah is not the only religious person who has been on the front-line. Consider some additional alternative ending from other biblical accounts:
- Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5) got fed up with preaching the Truth and not converting anyone outside of his family, so he abandoned the Truth in favor of a more “appealing” message to those around him. He began preaching cotton-candy sermons that tickled the ears of his neighbors. Having been ridiculed for decades for wasting his time building the ark, Noah decided to stop construction and began to devote his time to “programs” that would entertain the masses. His new attitude and his new message helped convert thousands. Then it started to rain. The animals came together to be placed on an ark, only to find it uncompleted. And so, on that life-changing day, Noah was a no-show.
- Peter, a fisherman had the distinct honor of preaching the first Gospel sermon in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. His named was forever etched in history. So why did it fall to his lot to teach a Gentile? You can’t be serious! After all, it had taken him a great deal of time to get over grief and embarrassment of denying Jesus. He was still being singled out for that moment of weakness. And now he was supposed to introduce salvation to this dirty bunch of Gentiles? Surely God didn’t want the first gospel preacher to lower himself and spend time with a man named Cornelius. Peter, realizing the intense scrutiny and embarrassment this single event might bring upon him, decided to postpone setting up a study with Cornelius, and instead focused his efforts in a more comfortable works of the church. And Cornelius died, having not been baptized. And so, on that life-changing day Peter was a no show.
- Mary knew Jesus was supposed to “grow and become strong in spirit, filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40), but she was tired. She’d been working all day, and she really didn’t have the energy to fill His mind with wisdom from the Scriptures. After all,
Jesus would probably get enough Bible teaching from the priests in the Temple. So like she did most days, she sent him out to play games with the neighborhood kids. She even justified her actions because on a recent trip to Jerusalem, Jesus had stayed at the Temple when they went for the Feast (Luke 2:42). I mean really, how weird is it to have a child that interested in the ancient Scriptures? That’s not “normal.” Obviously, Jesus needed to get out and experience some of the joys of life. What would a life filled with games and entertainment hurt? Besides, with Jesus out of her hair she could enjoy some of her own hobbies. So for the next decade Jesus was able to grow up unencumbered by home Bible study or devotionals. He was free to play. And then Jesus “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Having not prepared his mind to combat the devil with Scripture, Jesus fell back on what He knew—entertainment, games, and fun. Years earlier, on the life-changing days when Jesus should have been growing in wisdom, Mary was a no-show.
- Esther had it made. She was the new queen (Esther 2:8-22). She was living a comfortable life until her cousin Mordecai asked her to approach King Ahasuerus on behalf of the Jews. Who was Mordecai to ask her to do something like this? She was busy. She had so much going on in her life at that moment. After all, she was just a woman, and she was comfortable on her throne (pew). Esther knew going in front of the King could result in her losing her life! Why make any ripples or endure a confrontation when things were so peaceful? So she decided rather than stepping out on the front-line that she would continue her busy weekly routine and “hope” things got better. As a result, Haman’s evil decree was enforced, and many Jewish families met their demise. And so, on that life-changing day, Esther was a no-show.
This is just a small sample of “alternative endings.” Thankfully, the people we read about in God’s Word were not satisfied with simply sitting in the pew or doing the minimum. They knew they needed to serve God on the front-line. Who can forget the life-changing moment when Mordecai reminded Esther: “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, emp. added).
How many times have zealous new Christians looked around auditoriums to find apathetic Christians who are satisfied with giving God 1-2 hours per week, only to then walk back out into the world? Where does the zeal of these new Christians come from? Could it be these individuals have a fresh reminder of what God really did for them, and now they are willing to “spend and be spent” in service to God? They look around and see the sin that we overlook each day, and they want to do something about it. Many newly baptized Christians become surprised and discouraged by New Testament Christians who are willing to tolerate (and maybe even embrace) secular abominations. If you were to hold a mirror to your life (and actions), would that mirror reveal a life that is tolerant or one that is ready to defend the tenets of God? Are you zealous or comfortable sitting in the pew? If we are going to make positive changes in our nation, we must rekindle our zeal and remind ourselves what God has done for us. It’s only when we fully understand the complete picture of His beautiful plan for salvation that we realize being a Christian is more than “clocking in” on Sunday morning.
So what happened to Elijah? He won the showdown on Mt. Carmel. Ironically, however, after Elijah went through his Mt. Carmel experience, he ran off scared and became depressed. He had probably hoped for an immediate change, and was unable to see God’s full plan for him. In 1 Kings 19:9-10 we read: “And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ So he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.’”
How many times have we felt alone in a world drunken with sin? However, God reminded Elijah that he was far from alone. After telling Elijah to get up and go to the Wilderness of Damascus, God stated: “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18). God wanted Elijah to know that he was not alone on the front-line. And neither are we. Elijah’s ultimate fate is revealed in 2 Kings 2:11 where we learn “as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” His ending resulted in him being taken directly by God, having not tasted death. What will be your ultimate ending? Are you ready to serve on the front line or are you content with alternative endings? Too many Christians view their Christian voyage as if from the deck of a luxury cruise ship. They want to remain comfortable. And yet, the Lord has called faithful Christians to serve on battle ships. Only then can we know we are prepared for that life-changing day, for “who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”