One of the constants in our unpredictable world is contests. In small towns and big cities, throughout the world, there are ordinary scenes of kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, teens playing games on the school fields, and senior citizens playing dominoes in community centers. Contests are something most all of us can relate to. My own personal favorite is a contest with my tennis ball and racket against a tennis practice wall. The wall always wins though.
In the Bible, there was a big contest that took place in I Kings, chapter 18. It was one of the most remarkable Bible stories where there was an actual contest between God and Baal. Talk about a showdown! The winner of this contest was determined by which of the two proved to be the true God.
In 1 Kings 18:19 the prophet Elijah asked King Ahab to gather all of Israel to meet him at Mount Carmel. The King was a Baal fan and didn’t much care for Elijah’s God or for that matter, Elijah. The Israelites would be the spectators in this contest. Elijah also asked the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah to make an appearance as well.
Elijah issued the contest rules. He and the pagan prophets would each have a slain bull as a burnt offering. The objective of the contest was for Elijah to call out to God and the pagan prophets call out to Bael to sent fire down to burn up the sacrifice. The contest winner would be which of the two, God or Baal, who would respond with fire consuming the burnt offering.
The pagan priests did their level best to get Baal’s attention. They did their chanting and dancing around their bull from morning until noon but to no avail. They might as well had been dancing to a fence post. Elijah couldn’t resist making fun of their efforts to get Baal’s attention. He suggested that maybe Baal was deep in thought, or maybe was away on a trip, or perhaps taking a nap. (1 King 18:27)
Then it was Elijah’s turn up to bat, so to speak. He requested that they first fill four jars with water and pour it on his burnt offering and on the wood. Elijah was raising the stakes because water-logged wood is harder to burn. He even said to do it again a second time and then a third. Thus, water was running around the altar and the trench was also filled with water. (1 King 18:34-35) Elijah wanted the spectators to know he was not playing any dirty tricks on them.
After Elijah prayed, fire consumed the slain bull, the wood, stones, and dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. (1 King 18:38). I try to imagine the looks on the faces of the 450 Baal prophets. Surely there wasn’t a smiling face among them. They might have wished they had been on Elijah’s side.
This contest was not Elijah’s idea. I believe it was God who orchestrated this showdown with Baal in front of His chosen people. Elijah played an important part, but it was God who directed it. God still works through His children today. His Spirit nudges at our hearts and it is up to us to listen and follow as Elijah did so long ago.
The pagan prophets were acting on faith too, but their faith was in one that only existed in their minds. Something that couldn’t have moved a stone or a stick of wood, much less burned anything up.
The spectators witnessed proof that God both heard Elijah’s prayer and responded. They were so inspired by what they saw that they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.” Elijah’s act of obedience had an impact on others besides himself. He helped to bring about a people’s return to their one and only true God.
Elijah’s prayer proved that sincere prayers from the heart make it to the Creator of all mankind.