There are some stories that just grip our hearts and imaginations at the majesty and power of God. One of my favorite stories is found in 1 Kings 18. The prophet Elijah confronts King Ahab, an evil king of Israel, and challenges him to a contest. Elijah wanted to show everyone who the true God was for Israel. So, two supernatural powers would be on display that day: Yahweh versus Baal. One would be proven true, while the other would be shown to be a fraud. Even though Elijah was outnumbered (one prophet of Yahweh versus 450 prophets of Baal), he was still convinced that his God was the true God to be followed. The objective was simple: each side would be given a bull and they would put it on an altar and pray to their supernatural power to strike their bull with fire. If Baal answered with fire, then Baal is the true God. If Yahweh answered with fire, then Yahweh is the true God. “The god who answers by fire—he is God” (1 Kings 18:24).
Everyone agreed to the rules. Elijah allowed the 450 prophets of Baal to go first. The prophets of Baal cut up the bull and placed it on the altar and started to call on the name of Baal. They did this for hours. We are told that from morning until noon, they cried out in prayers to Baal. They danced around the altar to get Baal’s attention. But there was no response. There was no answer.
Around noon, Elijah started to taunt them. He told them to shout louder…maybe Baal can’t hear them. Then Elijah really got into it and suggested four other reasons why Baal was not responding: (1) deep in thought; (2) busy; (3) traveling; (4) sleeping. One of the Hebrew words here in this section suggests that Elijah said something like, “Maybe he is going to the bathroom to relieve himself.” I can just picture Elijah mocking them. He knew that Baal was fake. He knew that the true God would come through for him. That is why he was so sarcastic with them.
The prophets of Baal became so desperate that they started to slash themselves with swords. Blood flowed from their bodies. They were shouting at the top of their lungs, but Baal was not responding. Maybe Baal wasn’t an actual god after all.
After several hours of trying to get Baal to respond, it was now Elijah’s turn. Elijah took twelve stones and repaired the altar that had been neglected for quite some time. He then cut up his bull and placed it on the altar. He arranged some wood along with the bull. But then he did something odd. He dug a trench around the altar. He told the people to fill four large jars with water and pour it on the bull and the wood. We all know that water puts out fire. Ask any fireman. As the people poured water on the bull and the wood, Elijah told them to do it a second time. They did it a second time. Then he told them to do it a third time. The bull, wood, and trench were completely soaked with water. The offering was now ready.
Elijah stepped close to the bull and prayed a simple prayer. There was no shouting in desperation. The time Elijah needed to get Yahweh’s attention was not measured in hours. It was measured in faith. There was no cutting with swords. Here are the words to the prayer:
“Let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and have done all these things at Your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36-37).
This prayer took no more than thirty seconds! As soon as Elijah finished this simple prayer, fire from heaven burned up the bull, the wood, the twelve stones, the soil, and even the water in the trench! That is supernatural power! Science teaches us that fire is always extinguished by water. But when a supernatural being is involved, the laws of nature can be reversed.
The people’s response was exactly what Elijah was looking for: “When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord—He is God! The Lord—He is God’” (1 Kings 18:39)!
Baal had lost. He was fake. Yahweh had won. He is a living God! The 450 prophets of Baal were all executed that day because they had been leading people away from the true God. What a great victory for God and for His prophet Elijah!
What does this story teach us? Read Elijah’s prayer again. The lesson for us is found in this phrase: “answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God.” Elijah stuck his neck out for God. He needed God to respond so that the people could see Yahweh as alive. There were other prophets at the time, but they were hiding in caves (1 Kings 18:4). Elijah was the only prophet who would stand up with such courage for Yahweh. He faced ridicule. He faced rejection. He faced death. But through his brave act, he showed the people that “The Lord is God!” God looked mighty and powerful on this day because one faithful servant was willing to stand up to the false belief system of the day that Baal was the true God.
When you are given your moment to stand up for the true God, will you courageously show others that God is real? I believe that God gives all of us moments in our life to show the world that He is real. Some of us get really grand moments, like Elijah did. Other times, the moments seem ordinary, like when you are talking with an agnostic coworker over lunch about your faith. When the moment arrives, is it your prayer to show others that the God you serve is alive?
What if Elijah would have been hiding in a cave? He would have missed this moment. I wouldn’t be writing about it. It wouldn’t be one of the great stories of the Christian faith. It would have never happened. Make sure your life is not filled with “moments that never happen” because you keep silent about your faith. Take a hold of the moment when it arrives, and ask for the power of God to overwhelm those who are in your midst so that they walk away saying, “The Lord—He is God!”