At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said,
‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’
Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’ Elijah said to them,
‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’
Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there. Elijah said to Ahab,
‘Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of rushing rain.’
So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; there he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. He said to his servant,
‘Go up now, look towards the sea.’
He went up and looked, and said,
‘There is nothing.’
Then he said,
‘Go again seven times.’
At the seventh time he said, ‘Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand is rising out of the sea.’
Then he said,
‘Go and say to Ahab, “Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.”’
In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was heavy rain. Ahab rode off and went to Jezreel. But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
Elijah prays to Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. He prays for a revelation of God’s power to Israel, to affirm Elijah as a true prophet and to draw the people back to undivided commitment and faith in Yahweh; but notice that Elijah doesn’t tell God how this power should be demonstrated. He trusts God to determine the mode of revelation; and fire descends to consume the saturated offering and the surrounding water. Instantaneous, supernatural power is displayed by Israel’s God and the offering is accepted. Israel’s immediate response is to confess Elijah’s faith in Yahweh as their own.
The assassination of the prophets of Baal that follows offends our Christian sensibilities but in the context of the narrative it represents a complete rejection of the Baal cult. Israel – including Ahab? – has turned towards Yahweh.
So Elijah proclaims the end of the drought. The sequence of verses 41-45 seems strange; the sound of pouring rain is announced (v.41) and the adverse effect it will have on transport (v.44), before the clouds gather and the rains fall (v.45). Once again we are reminded of the truth and the efficacy of the prophetic word that originates from Yahweh. Whatever the true God declares will come to pass; but God remains in control of when it happens, not the prophet.
Further evidence of Yahweh’s supreme power is expressed through God’s ‘hand’ on Elijah enabling him to outrun Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel.
Ancient stories remind us that God isn’t limited by our human understanding of how things work; but they should not encourage us to pray for specific signs and wonders. God’s power over evil and injustice was revealed, not through the exercise of might, but through love, forgiveness and the cross of Christ. God’s power confounds our expectations.
Almighty God, nothing is beyond your capability and I marvel at the diverse ways in which you reveal yourself in human experience.
Be to each of us today according to our need, so that we may know your presence and recognize again that we can always trust you whatever befalls.
In the name of Christ, Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.