In 1 Kings 18-19 we are introduced to one of the most magical men in the Bible, and to one of the greatest miracles. Along with Moses and Jesus, Elijah is among the great miracle workers of the world. Elijah used miracles to bring Israel up out of shambles, if just for a moment. He also showed extreme faith and perseverance in the face of great odds. But the true character of Elijah lies in his name, which literally means, “Yahweh is my God (Anderson 246).”
Prelude to The Contest
In order to understand chapters 18 and 19 of 1 Kings, one must get some background on its main character. In 1 Kings 17, we are first introduced to Elijah. At the time, Israel is at one of its lowest points. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were not only endorsing the worship of Baal; they were trying to wipe out all worship of Yahweh (Stafford 388). In addition, one of Ahab’s men rebuilt the city of Jericho, which is strictly forbidden in Joshua 6:23. Out of this defiance of Yahweh rises the prophet Elijah. In a rejection of Baal, the god of weather, he proclaimed that “…there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word (1 Kings 17:1).” Because of this proclamation, Elijah had become a wanted man. It is at this point that we see the first sign of the relationship between Elijah and Yahweh. Yahweh tells Elijah to flee east of the Jordan, and for the next three years he lives a life on the run (Stafford 388).
With the events of 1 Kings 17 as our background, we can now look to chapters 18 and 19. After three years in the desert, Yahweh tells Elijah to go to Ahab. On his way, Elijah meets one of Ahab’s servants, Obadiah. Obadiah was a devout follower of Yahweh, and had saved a hundred prophets from their death. The fact that Ahab would keep such a believer in Yahweh as his servant shows us that he may have used syncretism, or combined the Yahweh and Baal religions.
Elijah tells Obadiah to go to Ahab and tell him that he wants to meet with him. When the meeting occurs, Ahab refers to Elijah as “the troubler of Israel (1 Kings 18:17).” Elijah responds by saying that Israel has brought the trouble upon themselves by worshiping Baal. This is the first statement of the reason that Elijah has been sent on this mission. Ahab is then instructed to gather all of his people and the “prophets of Baal” at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:19).
It is at this point that we come to one of the most dramatic events in the entire Old Testament. One man, Elijah, challenges the most powerful king in the land and his prophets to a contest of faith. He declares that the worshipers of Baal will cut a bull into pieces and set it upon the altar of Baal. As the lone representative of Yahweh, Elijah will then cut up a bull and set it upon the altar of Yahweh. The prophets are then to call upon Baal to strike the altar with fire. Elijah will then call upon Yahweh to strike his altar with fire. The true...