Israel was steeped in idolatry under King Ahab, and God had cursed them with a drought. Rainfall was crucial to a civilization’s survival in the ancient world; drought was usually followed by famine. But God was getting ready to shake things up. And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth (I Kings 18:1).
Rain was coming; but first the Lord had a plan to rid Israel of its wickedness. Elijah stood before Ahab: And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table (verses 17-19).
Ahab confidently gathered 450 of his prophets to build an altar at Mount Carmel. Elijah stood alone before them while all Israel came to see the spectacle. The prophet knew this was the time to force the people to decide who they were going to serve: God or Ba’al. Verse 24: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
The prophets of Ba’al went first. They killed a bull, laid it upon their altar, then chanted for hours. But there was no answer. As morning turned to noon and then evening, they became increasingly desperate, resorting to dancing and cutting themselves. But still nothing. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded (verse 29).
Pay careful attention to what Elijah did before proceeding: And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down (verse 30). The altar at Mount Carmel had been in a state of disrepair after being abandoned for years, indicating the spiritual state of Israel; but reform was to begin now.
First Elijah slew a bull as a sacrifice to God, letting its blood flow on the altar. But then he went a step further. He dug a trench around it. Four barrels worth of water (a precious commodity in the midst of a drought) drenched it, running down and filling the ditch like a moat. This was repeated three times to prove that the following would not be a trick. No natural fire could burn this altar.
Verses 36-38: And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
Elijah didn’t pray a long, ceremonious prayer. But because of the prophet’s faith, it contained unspeakable power. The holy fire of God came down from heaven, fully consuming the sacrifice. Even the water that had soaked the altar and filled the ditch was no match for God’s power.
And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God (verse 39). The followers of Ba’al had been utterly humiliated. And now they were going to pay the price for leading God’s people astray. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there (verse 40).
Do Old Testament-style miracles still happen today? Many would laugh at the idea. Some discount the entire Bible because of it. Even some Christians would probably feel uncertain about the possibility of the Red Sea parting like it did in Exodus.
When people are in a drought for long enough, the idea of abundant rain probably seems like an impossible dream. Miracles may have occurred in Old Testament days; but in the New Testament era, there are no limits to what God can do for the human race. We can see greater miracles than the waters of the Red Sea parting or the walls of Jericho falling. The Lord poured out His Spirit when the church was born. In the past century, the Pentecostal movement has seen great healings, from Azusa Street to today. He can do it again.
The Christian church is in the same position as Israel in the days of Elijah. God did something great in the past. But now we’re in a spiritual drought. Miracles are a tale of the distant past. We’ve long since accepted Satan’s premise that it can’t happen today. Judges 6:13: And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?
We need to ask ourselves why God held back the rain from Israel. It was a curse from rampant idolatry. Christianity is compromising all too much with the world. We need more Elijahs to start rebuilding the altars in our lives. Men with such great faith they can call the fire down from heaven with a simple and short prayer.
Pentecostals talk about the “three works of grace;” that is, being saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost. To be more specific, salvation through Jesus is just the first in a three-step process. Being sanctified, which often is synonymous with water baptism, is a cleansing process where we destroy all future opportunities to go back into sin form our lives. Being filled with the Holy Ghost is a baptism in fire, the same phenomenon that struck the apostles on the Day of Pentecost: And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:3-4).
In my studies, I’ve noticed that these three works of grace appear symbolically over and over again in the Old Testament. For example, when the Law was given, the atonement ritual occurred in three steps as follows: the ram was sacrificed outside the tabernacle and its blood spilled on the altar (Calvary), the priests had to wash the blood off their hands in the laver before entering God’s presence in the tent (sanctification), and separate the clean meat from the unclean, both to be burned (the baptism of the Holy Ghost). The unclean meat (organs and dung) was burned outside the camp while the clean meat was burned on the brazen altar, producing a “sweet savor” before the Lord. The Holy Spirit is almost always represented by fire in the Bible. Fire has a purifying effect. Precious metals are burned at extremely high degrees to remove the impurities. The Holy Ghost fire has the same effect on us.
Observe the same pattern in this story. First, Elijah sacrificed a bullock and its blood was spilled on the altar (Calvary). Then, the altar was doused in water (sanctification). Finally, fire came down from heaven and thoroughly consumed it all (the Holy Ghost). Once Israel saw the true power of God displayed, they forsook Ba’al. The world is waiting to see the same power.
So can we pray fire down from heaven the same way Elijah did? Absolutely! We may not literally be killing the prophets of Ba’al. But the Lord is sending us to call the Holy Ghost down to destroy the works of the devil in this world. Don’t assume that controlling the Third Person of the Godhead is too much for us. If an Old Testament prophet could call that fire down just to revive the nation of Israel, then how much more power do we wield in the New Testament Age, when Christ has sent us to preach the gospel to the entire world?
When we’re in church, remember that the altar call is the most sacred moment in the entire service. It’s when sinners have the opportunity to come to know the Lord. One of the greatest blasphemies taking place today is idolatry in the house of God; the moment when the pastor has finished preaching, the music is playing, and the conviction power is sweeping throughout the congregation is the most sacred moment in the universe. But people don’t take it seriously. They play on their cell phones or text. They look at their watches and sneak out early to get to beat the lunch crowds. Children act restless. But this is not a game. This is when we have the opportunity to call the Holy Ghost fire down from heaven. If you have no need to go to the altar, pray for conviction on those who do. This is the same responsibility Elijah bore. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: (Acts 2:16-17).