Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, 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, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you,Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” – 1 Kings 18:25-39
Elijah is having a “duel” of sorts with the followers and prophets of Baal….sort of a spiritual one on one match…God against Baal. The order of events here is interesting. First Elijah calls to the people “come here to me”. Once they are there he rebuilds the altar in a manner similar to the way the Israelites were instructed by God to build the first altar in the promised land. He builds the altar out of 12 smooth river rocks which represent the 12 tribes of Israel. He brought them along while he was faithfully following what God called him to do….i.e. rebuild the altar.
Elijah confidently states that God’s fire will come to take the bull sacrificed on the newly reconstructed altar. Elijah is so confident that God will show up that he has the people douse the altar and sacrificial bull with 4 large jars of water….three times. Elijah wants to male it clear that if the fire shows up it is from God and not some “conjurer’s trick”.
Before Elijah calls on God He prays and let’s everyone know that God is the God of Israel, not an idol made by men. The purpose of this miracle is clearly relational…”so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and are turning their hearts back again”. I think Elijah and God want to rebuild more than just an altar, they want to rebuild a relationship between God and His people. This is the first step in that process.
God shows up in a big way and the fire he sends burns up everything — it even “licks up the water” leftover in the trench they dug around the altar. This miracle had to be on par with the parting of the Red Sea and Moses bringing forth water from the rock. The response of the people gathered is to acknowledge that “He is God”. This is the fundamental truth that God has been trying to get the Israelites to remember since they left the Garden of Eden.
So what does this mean for us as followers of Christ today? What if we are not able to call down fire from heaven like Elijah? Can we still lead people to discover the same thing the Israelites did…that “He is God”. We can start by following Elijah’s example in terms of his approach. We can: 1) invite people along as we pursue God and our relationship with Him; 2) rebuild broken relationships between God and His followers; and 3) Boldly expect God to show up, not in a cocky way that tests God, but in a way that makes it clear we have seen God do great things before.
Prayer: God you desire to be in relationship with us. Help us to bring others along as we seek to know and love You.