Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal

1 Kings 18:1-15   In the third year of the drought (c.867BC), Elijah goes to Samaria to see King Ahab. En route he meets Obadiah, Ahab’s chief steward, who has tried valiantly to rescue the LORD’s prophets from the clutches of Jezebel. Elijah goes with Obadiah to meet Ahab (see 8 on Map 58).

1 Kings 18:16-24   Elijah rebukes King Ahab for abandoning the LORD and worshipping the gods of Sidon. He tells Ahab to assemble the people of Israel and the prophets of Baal (together with the prophets of the fertility goddess Asherah) on Mount Carmel (see 9 on Map 58). He challenges the people to make up their mind – to serve Baal or the LORD (Yahweh, the God of Israel).

1 Kings 18:25-40   Elijah tells the prophets of Baal to prepare a sacrifice and ask their god to consume the offering with fire. The prophets of Baal shout and dance all day, but nothing happens. Elijah then builds an altar and lays a bull on it as an offering to God. He pours water over the offering and the wood, and then prays, “LORD, you are the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel... Prove that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant” (1 Kings 18:36). The LORD sends down fire on the altar. The people shout “The LORD is God!” (1 Kings 18:39) and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal are put to death in the valley of the River Kishon.

 

An ancient stone altar at Mount Carmel

An ancient stone altar on Mount Carmel

 

1 Kings 18:46   Elijah then climbs to the top of Mt Carmel, looks west across the Mediterranean Sea and sees a small cloud on the horizon. He tells Ahab to return to Jezreel before heavy rain bogs down his chariot. Elijah runs ahead of the chariot to Jezreel (see 10 on Map 58).

1 Kings 19:1-4   Jezebel seeks revenge and Elijah hides before fleeing to Beersheba (see 11 on Map 58). From Beersheeba, Elijah walks into the desert and prays he might die.

1 Kings 19:5-8   An angel sustains Elijah with food and water and he walks forty days across the desert to Mt Sinai (see 12 on Map 58).

 

Mount Carmel and Elijah’s flight to Beersheba

The Mount Carmel range (Hebrew ‘Kerem-El’ - ‘the Vineyard of God’) stretches inland from the Mediterranean coast at Haifa and runs south of the River Kishon and the Valley of Jezreel. It was one of the celebrated ‘high places’ where altars to the god Baal were commonplace and sacred wooden ‘Asherah poles’ (representing fruitful trees) were set up to worship the Sidonian fertility goddess, Asherah. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal on their ‘home ground’ and claimed this ‘holy place’ for the one true God.

Today, visitors to Mount Carmel can look out across the River Kishon and towards the Mediterranean Sea from the Carmelite monastery at Daliyet el Carmel. Inside the chapel is a replica of the stone altar that Elijah built to make his sacrifice to God. Above the altar, Elijah is depicted praying beneath a locust bean (carob) tree.

 

View from Mount Carmel (Hanay)

View towards the Mediterranean Sea from Mount Carmel  (Hanay)

 

Elijah’s Cave at the foot of Mount Carmel in modern-day Haifa is said by Jewish tradition to be the cave in which Elijah hid from King Ahab before fleeing south towards Beersheba. The fortified Monastery of Mar Elias, on a hilltop to the north of Bethlehem, is believed to mark another spot where Elijah rested during his southbound flight from Queen Jezebel. The Greek Orthodox monastery - at which visitors are welcome - was built by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in 1160AD.

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