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1 Kings 18:30-37

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which was in ruins. 31 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.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench round it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 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.”

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O Lord, 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. 37 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.”


We are looking at the words Elijah spoke on Mount Carmel, and we now come to number:

 

(5) Look at v 30: Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. 31 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." 32 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 (about three gallons).

 

Elijah may have searched out the original twelve stones that the broken altar had been built with. The only clue to this is in the word ‘repaired’. (Get everyone to imagine what size an altar would be. Divide that size into twelve stones and you have big heavy stones! When the altar was destroyed, no-one would want to move the stones very far.)


The people who had gathered close to him watched while he built it (they would probably have helped to lift the heavy stones) and were certainly in a position to see that there was no trickery, and no secret flame hidden under the wood.


(6) Elijah speaks again: v33 "Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood."


The altar was repaired, the wood laid in order and the bull cut into pieces; but to prevent any possibility of fraud, and to make the coming miracle still more wonderful, Elijah called for water to be poured on the sacrifice until the wood was soaked, and the water filled the trench. (Where the water came from might side-track your study – possibly from the sea, possibly from the Kishon, possibly an underground stream in one of the limestone caves, maybe even resourceful water-sellers seeing the crowds as an opportunity – there is no definitive answer!)


Elijah's faith was bubbling over. He was so sure of God that he could even heap difficulties in his way, knowing that there can be no difficulty for infinite power. The more unlikely the answer was, the more glory there would be for God.


Do we ever treat God as if he is not truly almighty? Would we deliberately pile difficulties in his way?

Do we ever, even in our thinking, contrive situations to make it easier for God to reach people? Or easier for God to help us?

 

If we do, it demonstrates how ignorant we are of his power, and how feeble our own faith is. Again we are reminded that the faith Elijah had is just as freely available to us if only we had the courage of our convictions.


And so the scene is set. The actors are in their places. The props are in position. The offering is prepared. God himself is ready in the wings with the special effects to prove that he is the only God. The noise of the restless audience begins to grow less, then suddenly everyone is silent. The spectacle can begin!


But have we missed something? Could we have ignored the clues and pointers to motives and actions far higher than those we have so far recognised?


Consider for a moment a Holy God whose chosen people have systematically disobeyed him, ignored him, and given to idols the worship due to him. Imagine his reaction then when those same people decide to hold a competition to see which god is best.


It had not rained for three and a half years, was that not enough? And now they are demanding fire from heaven; did they really know what they were asking? Had they forgotten what Moses said when he addressed the people before they entered the Promised Land: Deuteronomy 4:15-24


15 You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17 or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18 or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. 19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshipping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. 20 But as for you, the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.

21 The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance. 22 I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land. 23 Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.


Had they forgotten how the LORD rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah? (Genesis 19:24)


Had they forgotten when Korah and his followers set themselves up as priests? Numbers 16:35

35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.


Had they forgotten another mountain where the people were told not even to touch the mountain lest they die? (Exodus 19:10-23) Mount Sinai, where the LORD descended on it in fire.


Surely if God's fire was to fall it would not be to please these wicked people. If God's fire fell it would be God's wrath falling on this sinful and unrepentant nation.

Exodus 32:10

10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.


Fortunately this also was not God's intention and to understand this we will look again at Elijah.


(7) v36 "I have done all these things at your command."


Not only the commands that had been directly given to Elijah, but those that had been laid down in scripture to guide and warn the people against such a time as this. Let’s recap and look at some of the words and actions of Elijah:


"There will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years." (1 Kings 17:1) Where was the justification for this? When the children of Israel entered the Promised Land the Lord gave some commands. They ended with:

Deuteronomy 11:16-17

16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you.


It wasn’t just that the people had forgotten how God had provided miraculously for them, but that now they openly doubted his very existence. Idol worship was the outward evidence of their denial of God; they had brought the drought upon themselves. Elijah’s prayers were simply to ask God to be true to his word.


Look again at 1 Kings 18:23:

Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God."


And so v33: He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood.

Wasn’t that a bit elaborate if this was just a test to see which God would answer with fire? Surely just a bonfire would be sufficient?

Why the bulls? Why cut them in pieces? Why did Elijah build an altar?


Only one thing could now avert the full wrath of God from falling on this sinful people; they had to be truly repentant, and their sins must first be atoned for. Elijah was not interested in just making an offering, there had to be a sacrifice (Note the word in v 33 changes in v38). This was not a contest between the forces of good and evil, no trial of strength between the creator and the gods his creation had invented. Sin had to be dealt with first, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  (Hebrews 9:22)


Again God's command was not specifically to Elijah but had already been recorded in scripture. Let’s compare Elijah's actions with the instructions in Leviticus.


Leviticus 4:13 If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty. When they become aware of the sins they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering. .  .  .

1:12  Cut it into pieces  .  .  arrange them  .  .   on the burning wood that is on the altar.


The whole sacrificial system, established by God, with it’s very specific rules and regulations was not something anyone took lightly. Building an altar, taking the life of a bull, and offering it to God merely as a visual aid would have been a travesty, it would have been a mockery and repugnant in the sight of the holy God who had ordained that sacrifice would be the only way his people could hope to have their sins forgiven.


So this was a sacrifice that was to be offered on behalf of the Nation; but something else was necessary. If the sacrifice was to be effective the people must be associated with it. Yet Elijah could not state his purpose outright - the people were not yet ready for that. So what should he do?


Firstly he called the people to 'his' side. Then he used twelve stones to rebuild the altar, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Finally twelve jars of water, representing the life of the people, were poured out on the altar of repentance. This too had a precedent in scripture:

1 Samuel 7:3-6 "If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only .  .  ." When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD.


There would still have been many in the crowd who would have recognised the actions of Elijah and who would have been able to answer the question: ‘What is he doing that for?’ – Elijah was offering a sacrifice for them. The people had spent all day coming to the inevitable conclusion that if Baal was not God, then probably the true God they had turned their backs on would not be best pleased with them. And the need for a sacrifice would have become painfully obvious.


So far so good, but could Elijah really expect God's fire to fall?

Again we turn to the scriptures and we find in Leviticus 9:23

Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. When the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down.


Elijah has not only been obedient to the specific commands God gave him but he has also been totally consistent with the word of God recorded in scripture. So it is with unshaken confidence that he makes his final preparations. Note too the timing: verse 29 and 36 – twice we are reminded that it was the time of the evening sacrifice:

 

1 kings 18:36 at the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, 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, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."


Verse 37:Then the fire of the LORD fell.


This was no competition. This was no ‘visual aid’. This was God's wrath falling in judgement. 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. Can you see the picture that this conjures up? Can you imagine being present at that awful moment when God's wrath is unleashed against the sacrifice, with realisation flooding into the people's minds that it is only that sacrifice which had prevented God's anger burning against them. Note too that it was only when the fire had consumed everything down to the very bedrock that God’s wrath was satisfied and the people safe.


The Bible specifically states that the fire of the Lord fell. There are some people who would like to have physical explanations for miracles. They would say that this was lightning, coming as the rain-clouds began to form, attracted to the highest spot, which was already soaked with water. An attractive idea, but not supported by the facts.


Firstly we are told that it was some time later before even the smallest cloud could be made out on the horizon (v44).


Then a lightning strike is instantaneous and even our modern technology would find it difficult to distinguish between a lightning strike hitting the sacrifice, and then the wood beneath it, and then the stones, and so on. Also, wet stones would dissipate the electrical energy and fire would only be started as a result of the heat that would be generated. But that heat, generated in the cracks between the stones of the altar would have an explosive effect, scattering the stones – not consuming them.


Direct lightning strikes can cause structural damage to masonry structures by a behaviour known as Ohmic or Resistive Heating, where moisture and/or air trapped in confined spaces can heat rapidly causing a powerful explosive event. These types of events are typically fast and catastrophic. A current of 100,000 Amps can shift blocks of stone weighing 5 tons, and rocks weighing 50 pounds may be thrown 20 yards or more.


No, we are told 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. This was a steady, continuous fire, directed downwards like some heavenly blowtorch, which burnt steadily through the sacrifice, then the wood, and then continued through the stones to the bedrock beneath. A lightning strike would have been impressive, but fire from heaven was terrifying. This was totally beyond the comprehension of the people and (v30) they fell prostrate on the ground.


Is this all we can glean from the narrative? Have we looked at it from all possible angles? No – God's point of view was different again and we will look at that in our next study.





1 Kings Elijah 101 Kings Elijah 12








ELIJAH 11   1 Kings 18:30-37
No contest on Carmel

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