In I Kings, the prophet Elijah had called for a gathering at Mount Carmel. The single agenda item was to discern which God was the true God: Yahweh or Baal.
“Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (I Kings 19:38-39, ESV).
As the fire fell, so did the people; as God responded to the prayer of the prophet, the people fell on their faces.
There were several things that led to this gathering, but a key factor was that the Lord’s prophets had been being killed off. This might seem like religious persecution to us; however, it’s important to understand the context.
“The polytheism of the ancient world was an open system—there was always room for more gods … No question arose in ancient Near Eastern theology of whether a certain god was a ‘true god’ or not, though there were discussions of some gods being stronger than others.
Prophets in the ancient world often served in the hire of the king and, more than anything else, served as mouthpiece for the gods to support the legitimacy and programs of the king. The prophets of Yahweh, therefore, would not likely offer support for the legitimacy of Ahab and Jezebel’s rule, and this made them enemies of the state.”Keener & Walton, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture
This background helps us understand the role of prophets within politics and culture. However, might it also be possible that the confrontation playing out on Mount Carmel was not only between the prophets, but also between Baal and Yahweh themselves? To be sure, there was and is no god that can compare to Yahweh. In this regard, there really was no threat to the most high God.
How might this relate to our world today? Is there more going on in the unseen realm that is happening in the world today than we as God’s people realize?
Paul tells us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12, ESV).
While this is true, we still need to deal with flesh and blood. Rather than killing all the prophets of Baal today, we look to Jesus who shows us how to deal with those working against the unfolding reign of God.
In Luke 9:54, Jesus rebuked two of his disciples for wanting to call down fire from heaven, similar to Elijah, on the Samaritans who had not received Jesus. On Mount Carmel, fire fell on the sacrifice prepared by Elijah.
What or who tends to make us angry? Do we, like the disciples, wish we could call fire down from heaven? What if we would act, instead, to the contrary, as Paul writes, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21, ESV).
How might we engage in releasing more of God’s consuming love in the world? Is there someone you need to do good to instead of calling down fire from heaven?