The Conflict – The Encounter
The Contest with Baal was No Contest.
One man of YAHUAH ELOHIYM overcame 450 false prophets.
Scripture References MELEKIYM RI’SHON (1 KINGS) CHAPTER 18 Eth Cepher
The encounter between Ahab and Eliyahu (Elijah) begins with a surprising calm. The fury of Ahab that was implied in 1 Kings 18 is meet is to establish blame.
Ahab describes Eliyahu (Elijah) as the troubler of Yashar’el (Israel). We may assume that Ahab believed that Eliyahu (Elijah) had insulted Baal and that all the problems of the drought were not YAHUAH’s doing, but Baal’s angry punishment because of the insult he had suffered.
The verb “trouble” in Hebrew was used of an infectious influence that brought pollution.
The Old Testament Law understood that such pollution disrupted society and would cause the polluted one to be cast out.
Thus Ahab suggests that Eliyahu (Elijah) was an infection that had brought a disruptive pollution to Yashar’el (Israel).
The obvious solution in Ahab’s mind would be to excommunicate Eliyahu (Elijah).
Eliyahu (Elijah) responds that it is Ahab and his father Omri that have been the disruptive infection in Yahshar’el (Israel). His accusation is specific.
Ahab is the troubler of Yashar’el (Israel) because he has forsaken the commands of YAHUAH and has followed Baal.
Eliyahu (Elijah) has correctly applied Scriptural teaching to this question of who was troubling Yashar’el (Israel).
Disobedience to YAHUAH ELOHIYM is always a polluting influence that must be removed. Deuteronomy 21 and 22 contain a series of drastic punishments that are explained as necessary to purge evil from Yashar’el’s (Israel’s) midst.
The Old Testament was not naive about the way evil influences spread.
Our culture is naive about evil’s pernicious influence. To tolerate evil in any area of our lives is to leave the door open to the spread of worse evil. Habits, thoughts, and attitudes that are wrong are not harmless; they are dangerous influences weakening a person’s whole moral structure.
The moral collapse of many contemporary Christian leaders can be traced to allowing seemingly insignificant sins to remain. The presence of evil in our society opens the door for the increase of evil – both in depth and range.
More people will be ensnared by sin when we tolerate evil in society. Those involved in sin will sink to lower depths of depravity. Disobedience to YAHUAH ELOHIYM is the real troubler of society and of persons.
Eliyahu (Elijah) then proposes a contest at Mt. Carmel between the prophets of the baals and himself.
Though Baal was the name of the chief storm god of Canaan, most cities had their own local baal fertility god.
Thus Eliyahu (Elijah) summons all Yashar’el (Israel) to a meeting between representatives of all the local baals, of the chief Baal, and of the asherah, the female consorts for the baals and himself.
The choice of Mount Carmel as the location of the confrontation may be significant.
Mt. Carmel is on the only jut of land breaking the straight Yahsar’e’liym (Israelite) Mediterranean coastline. Present day Haifa is located on the northern slopes of Mt. Carmel. At Eliyahu’s (Elijah’s) time it was near the border between Yashar’el (Israel) and Phoenicia. Possession of it had fluctuated between Yashar’el (Israel) and Tyre through the previous centuries. Since it had been possessed part of the time by the Phoenicians it was the one of the first places Baal worship had been introduced to Yashar’el (Israel).
Thus Eliyahu (Elijah) picks the most Baalistic territory in Yashar’el (Israel) for the contest between YAHUAH and Baal.
In the minds of the people the home court advantage would belong to Baal.
When representatives of the people of Yashar’el (Israel) were gathered, Eliyahu (Elijah) appealed to them to make a choice between YAHUAH and Baal.
His question revealed the history of the Northern Kingdom.
YAHUAH had never been formally rejected as Yashar’el’s (Israel’s) ELOHIYM. The Northern Kingdom had simply wanted to worship Baal also. While Baal could tolerate such an arrangement, YAHUAH would not.
Eliyahu (Elijah) compared the situation to being crippled. The general idea of what Eliyahu (Elijah) intended is clear, but the exact reason he chose the word “limped,” is debated.
It is the same word that was used to describe the ritual dance of the prophets of Baal in verse 26. The question may be, “how long will you limp along doing the Baal dance?
When will you choose the obviously correct choice, YAHUAH?”
Another interpretation is that Yashar’el (Israel) was hobbling along trying to use two canes – both YAHUAH and Baal – to walk.
After the three years of drought in which YAHUAH had shown His superiority to Baal, Yashar’el (Israel) would now be forced to acknowledge and choose the TRUE ELOHIYM.
They would be forced to throw away one cane and only rely on YAHUAH.
The tragedy of verse 21 is that the people of Yashar’el (Israel) are challenged to make a choice about whom they will follow, but the people did not answer him a word.
Yashar’el (Israel) had become so spiritually bankrupt that they could not or would not even verbalize the obvious choice.
One of the most heartbreaking experiences for a Christian is to see a person that needs the MASTER confronted with the obviously right time to make a spiritual move, and to watch that person sit stone silent, unable or unwilling to accept what ABBA was ready to do for them.
Eliyahu (Elijah) makes five different proposals in verses 21-40. The first proposal was to the people to choose whom they would follow.
They are silent, and that proposal dead-ends.
The second proposal is made in verses 23-24 and suggests that the prophets of Baal and Eliyahu (Elijah) each prepare an offering, and that the ELOHIYM who answers by fire will be acknowledged as ELOHIYM.
The people accept this proposal and thus the action will advance along these lines.
The third proposal comes in verse 25 where Eliyahu (Elijah) offers to the prophets of Baal for them to go first in their effort to get Baal to answer. Verses 26-29 describe the response of the prophets of Baal. The fourth proposal did not come until verse 37 when Eliyahu (Elijah) prayed, a prayer that was successfully answered. The fifth proposal comes in verse 40 to seize the prophets of Baal.
Verses 26-35 form the central part of this story. Here the prophets of Baal make their attempt to win fire from heaven from their god; Eliyahu (Elijah) mocks them, and then Eliyahu (Elijah) makes his preparations for YAHUAH to answer with fire.
No details of the preparation of the prophets of Baal are given in verse 26. Perhaps that indicates that Mt. Carmel was already being used for Baal worship and the altar was ready. It also may mean that the prophets of Baal were nervous and insecure and rushed directly into the act of prayer without proper preparation of the altar and sacrifice.
Their action is contrasted with Eliyahu (Elijah) careful preparation of the altar before his prayer.
The narrative action slows down at this point. More details are given which has the effect of slowing the story down and emphasizing the fact that nothing is happening from Baal.
Verse 26 points out that the prophets of Baal had prayed from morning until noon with no results.
The Hebrew phrase is important. There was no voice and no answer.
YAHUAH was ELOHIYM who spoke. He spoke the world into existence; He called Abraham out of Ur, and He spoke to the prophets. There was always a word from YAHUAH, but there was no voice, no answer from Baal.
At noon Eliyahu (Elijah) began to up the ante by mocking the prophets of Baal. Scholars debate the exact meaning of the insults, but the effect is clear: Baal is being diminished by the insults being sustained by his prophets.
The suggestion that Baal is meditating or musing implies that he is forgetful and is so preoccupied with himself that he does not notice the dilemma of his prophets.
Eliyahu’s (Elijah’s) comment that Baal may be gone for a bit has often been interpreted as a euphemism for having a bowel movement, an idea picked up in the Living Bible and the Good News Bible versions.
Though some readers find such humor distasteful it does express the raw sarcasm of Eliyahu (Elijah). Baal is being laughed at as if he were no more than a human being. Who would want to follow a elohiym like that?
Perhaps Baal is asleep, Eliyahu (Elijah) suggests. Psalm 121 declares that YAHUAH does not slumber or sleep (although Psalm 44:23 urges YAH to awake and respond). It is possible that Eliyahu (Elijah) is referring to an aspect of Baal theology.
Tablets found in the excavations at Ugarit in the 1930’s show that in some parts of Canaan Baal was thought to die in the fall as the dry season began and to lie dead in the winter before rising again in the spring when the rains returned. Eliyahu’s (Elijah’s) joke is that Baal might be taking his dry-season nap.
The prophets of Baal fall into the joke themselves by crying louder and cutting themselves with swords.
The Canaanites mourned the dead by cutting themselves with knives. Thus their desperate actions suggest that they too fear that Baal is dead and cannot hear them. The author of 1 Kings then repeats and expands the dreadful report of verse 26, there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
If Baal isn’t dead, he might as well be, because he does not respond to his prophets at all. The silence of Baal sets the stage for Eliyahu (Elijah).
Eliyahu (Elijah) first invited the people of Yashar’el (Israel) to come close.
The ELOHIYM of the Scriptures is always involved in the lives of people. His followers cannot remain withdrawn and uninvolved. They must come close to each other and to YAHUAH Himself as He acts in their behalf.
Then Eliyahu (Elijah) repaired the altar of YAHUAH.
This sentence also suggests that Mt. Carmel had been a place where YAHUAH had once been worshipped, but the altar had been thrown down.
The language of verses 30-32 reminds us of the heritage of the twelve tribes and of the way YAHUAH brought Yahshar’el (Israel) across the Jordan River. Eliyahu (Elijah) reminded the people of their national name, “Yashar’el.” In Genesis 32:28 Ya’aqov’s (Jacob’s) name was changed to Yashar’el (Israel) after he had wrestled all night with YAHUAH. Part of their heritage was struggle with YAHUAH. Ya’aqov (Jacob) had prevailed with YAHUAH; Eliyahu (Elijah) now calls upon the people to remember their heritage.
Eliyahu (Elijah) also further stacked the deck against YAHUAH. By digging the trench and drenching the altar, sacrifice, and wood Eliyahu (Elijah) made an answer by fire almost inconceivable.
Then he had the water poured over the altar two more times. Baal had failed when he had the first opportunity to answer by fire. Baal had failed when he had 450 prophets praying to him.
YAHUAH was up against His own people who had turned against him and even the altar, sacrifice, and wood were totally drenched. From a human standpoint there was not much reason to expect a miracle and a response from YAHUAH.
Verse 36 indicates that Eliyahu’s (Elijah’s) prayer began at the proper time for the offering (oblation).
This is a subtle reminder of the importance of obedience.
YAHUAH had laid out a program of worship in the Law.
Obedience to all the details, even the time of offering, was an important part of this story. The prayer went straight to the heart of the matter. The people must come to know that YAHUAH is ELOHIYM in Yashar’el (Israel).
The Hebrew word for “known” speaks of the knowledge of experience more than intellectual knowledge.
The people were aware of their history and of the claim of YAHUAH on their lives. What had not happened was the reality of them experiencing YAHUAH as ELOHIYM.
Their theology was ahead of their personal experience with YAHUAH.
Eliyahu (Elijah) knew that the crucial issue would not be to educate them about the nature of YAHUAH ELOHIYM (theology) but to see their hearts turn toward personal relationship with and obedience to YAHUAH.
The climax of the prayer comes in verse 37 where Elijah asks that Yahshar’el (Israel) not only know in their own experience that YHAUAH was ELOHIYM, but also that YAHUAH himself had turned their hearts back to Himself.
Here again in the Scriptural notion of grace. Yahshar’el (Israel) would have to choose to follow YAHUAH instead of Baal.
But when they made that choice to return to YAHUAH, Eliyahu (Elijah) prayed that they would realize that it was not by their own initiative and wisdom that they had repented.
Rather YAHUAH ELOHIYM had graciously given them the desire, the opportunity, and the willpower to make that right choice.
This is another example of the way the Scriptures places all the responsibility for serving YAHUAH upon us to make that choice.
But at the same time all the credit and glory for the choice to follow YAHUAH belongs to YAHUAH who invites and enables us to choose to serve Him.
Once Eliyahu’s (Elijah’s) prayer was recorded, the rest of the story unfolds with breathtaking rapidity. The fire of YAHUAH fell; the whole altar, sacrifice, water, everything was consumed; the people fell on their faces and confessed that YAHUAH was ELOHIYM, and they seized the prophets of Baal and executed them all.
The contest with Baal was no contest. YAHUAH answered with fire instantly; Baal had failed after a whole day of prayer from his prophets.
One man of YAHUAH ELOHIYM overcame 450 false prophets.
In every way YAHUAH ELOHIYM was triumphant.
There only remained for YAHUAH to show that He could exercise the prerogative of Baal and produce rain.