“It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, ‘Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.’ So they cried out with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:27-29)
A Quick Look At The Day
We began our journey the night before in Tel Aviv, which is near/essentially the ancient city of Lod. We drove to Joppa, the site of Jonah and the fish and the place of Peter’s vision of the clean and unclean animals. Later that day, we went to Caesarea Maritime. There we explored the ruins of one of Herod’s palaces, one of the praetoriums, a hippodrome, one of the major aqueducts, and a major theater. This was also the location of imprisonments for both Peter and Paul (the events described for Peter in Acts 12 took place here). This location also contained (it has since been moved to a museum) the only archeological evidence outside of the Bible for the existence of Pontius Pilate.
Next, we traveled to Mt. Carmel (more on that in a moment), the site of Elijah’s stand-off with the priests of Baal. We then explored ancient Megiddo, visited Nazareth, and went to Cana – the place where Jesus performed the miracle of turning water to wine.
Mt. Carmel and The Priests of Baal
On a clear day (which we did not have), you could see for 5 miles or more all around you on the top of Mt. Carmel. You have a view of the Valley of Megiddo (famous as the site of Revelation 16:16). You can look toward Galilee, Samaria, Cana, Nazareth, etc. There is a lot of history from the vantage point of the mountain top.
While on the mountain, we had a reading of the narrative of Elijah and the priests of Baal from 1 Kings 18. During the reading, it began to rain – which has a bit of historical irony to it: 1 Kings 17 was the prediction of the extended drought! When considering the story, there at the site, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the significant pictures of Jesus and the gospel to be seen.
First, there were two altars constructed. We all worship something; we all build altars. Elijah simply wanted that out in the open. Jesus did something quite similar. He called men to follow Him. To leave father and mother, and lands, and home, etc., and follow Him. Second, the priests of Baal tried to gain Baal’s attention through self-inflicted suffering. It was their odd form of self-righteousness. They believed that their own effort, their own work, their own “sacrifice of blood” could give them favor with their god. How true this is of us! How often do we present our best efforts to “the Divine” and consider it worthy of notice? How often do we go to personal extremes for the appearance of holiness? Third, there was the mocking by Elijah. This may seem harsh, but is actually within the framework of God’s character as it relates to idolatry. He mocks the rebellious nations (Psalm 2); throughout Isaiah He deems the idols to be nothing and worthless; He commands His people to not make idols; even Jesus Himself notes that self-righteousness is nothing more than the worship of self, and if the things He had said and done had happened in the worst of ancient cities, they would have repented – while those around Him at that time continued in their sin. Finally, there is the work of God. While sitting on that mountain, I could not help but marvel at the consistency of God’s means of deliverance. It is always by an act from Him. He moves toward humanity. He extends grace. You see, Elijah did not light the fire upon the altar. Elijah had the men pour four jars of water on the altar three separate times (which, as an aside, is 12 – equaling the number of the tribes of Israel). Then Elijah simply prayed for God to be God. Nothing more; nothing less.
“O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you are God, and that you have turned their heart back again.” (1 Kings 18:36-37).
Then, God Himself sent a fire that consumed the sacrifice, the altar, the wood, the stones, the dust, etc. God did the work and God turned back the hearts of His people. God issued out judgment and God sent forth grace. Elijah did have to scream; he didn’t have to dance; he didn’t have to cut himself; he didn’t have to wail, pine, plead. Elijah simply asked God to be God – to be a covenant making, covenant keeping God. And He did.
Just over the ridge of Mount Carmel, looking out across the valley, through the haze of the rain, you could just discern the outline of city, which was once a small town. You could just see the shape of Nazareth. And there, several hundred years later, a young boy would look across the valley from Nazareth at Mt. Carmel. One day, He would climb his own mountain. One day, He would wage his own battle. Only, rather than false priests cutting themselves for their god to hear them, this man would allow Himself to be pierced by His own Father. This man would allow the fire of God to fall on Him. This man would become the sacrifice, the altar, the one who in His very flesh would extend grace. There, just across the valley, a boy would grow up to become a man – and yet He was so much more than that. There, just across the valley, God was doing what He always does; He was reaching out to us. He was preparing an altar. Only this time, it would be made of living stone – flesh and blood. After that fire, after that sacrifice, there would never be the need for an altar ever again…