The contest on Carmel, in 1 Kings 18, between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal is an epic, even by Biblical standards.
At its heart is a call to the people of Israel to compare. To compare between YHWH and Baal, and stop ‘limping’ between the two: “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, then follow him” (v21). As I’ve previously written, it was not that the people had given up on YHWH completely, it was that they were dividing their affections and loyalty between him and Baal.
It was by forcing them to compare the two that Elijah intended to end that state of affairs.
And as the contest gets under way, Elijah calls the people’s attention to an obvious, or seemingly obvious, mismatch. He compares his solitary status as the last man standing of the LORD’s prophets to that of the 450 prophets of Baal (v22). If spiritual power lay in numbers he was outnumbered and outgunned. But as Elijah points out - this was not a contest to be decided by a popular vote. Rather, “The God who answers by fire, he is God” (v24). That was to be the crucial comparison.
With the contest underway, Baal’s men called upon him to act, from morning until noon and on until ‘the time of the offering of the oblation’ (v29), that is, 3pm. But despite working themselves into a 6-hour frenzy of self-harm and gushing blood, there was no response from Baal. How could there be? Instead, we are told, ‘There was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention’ (v29).
In comparison, Elijah’s preparations were decidedly cool. Cold stone was placed on cold stone as he assembled an altar of twelve stones, each representing a tribe of Israel. A trench was dug, wood was placed and the pieces of the sacrifice arranged. And then in place of the gushing blood of Baal’s men, Elijah ordered that jar upon jar of water be poured upon the altar. Four jars, poured out three times each. Twelve jars in total, one for each tribe, until the water ran freely.
And in comparison to the raving of the prophets of Baal, when Elijah spoke he was calm and collected: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel” (v36). And whereas with the false prophets there was no voice, no answer and no attention paid, this time the response was immediate: fire from heaven (v38). With that the people rapidly made up their minds: “The LORD he is God, the LORD he is God” (v39). The comparison had been made for them.
As you consider the opposition that faithful, orthodox, historic Christianity increasingly faces in our Western culture, remember the contest of Mt Comparison. In comparison to those standing against you, you may feel solitary and alone. That’s how Elijah felt. But the LORD is still God, and that fact is never decided by a majority vote. But also, take the time to compare the LORD to the idols that capture your heart. It’s by comparing them to him that you can truly begin to break free of them. And as you do, the fire will fall in your heart, or, at least, it will begin to burn more brightly.