Behind the Ranges: Mount Carmel
The mountain I want to look at today in our series ‘behind the ranges’ is Mount Carmel, and the very wonderful part of the story where Elijah has prayed and there has been no rain in the land, in order to bring the people to a place of repentance. He then has sent word to Ahab, the wicked king, that he will meet the prophets of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel, where they will make sacrifice, and the God who answers by fire coming down on the sacrifice will be God. The prophets of Baal have tried all day and have had no success. And so we come into the reading:
At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah walked up to the altar and prayed, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.’
Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, ‘The Lord – he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!’
Then Elijah commanded, ‘Seize all the prophets of Baal. Don’t let a single one escape!’ So the people seized them all, and Elijah took them down to the Kishon Valley and killed them there.
(1 Kings 18:36–40)
It is a theme of tremendous triumph, one that many of us love and at times have identified with as we have seen God triumph and perhaps have seen people set free from the power of darkness, and we have found the victory of Christ coming into various situations in life. There is a certainty in us that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that we have the God who answers by fire.
I thought about Elijah and his preparation for this hour. Soldiers being prepared for battle undergo very rigorous and difficult training, with great rehearsing of warfare. But we don’t read of Elijah struggling with the powers of darkness before that. We actually find a very unusual training that is very revealing and shows to us something of the hidden ways and the deep ways of God. There are three years of drought in the land brought about by Elijah’s prayer, and Elijah finds himself at the brook Cherith by God’s commandment alone. He passes many a lonely hour there, dependent on God to send the ravens morning and evening to bring him food. He has no other security than God, and he is alone. For a servant of God I think it is part of the training that there is a certain loneliness and aloneness in spirit, and I imagine that in these hours his faith was being tested. What it must have meant to him every day to see the ravens coming and the water flowing, until one day the brook dried up!
God sometimes lets us come to extremity in circumstances before He seems to act. For Elijah it would have been more comfortable, I’m sure, if God had told him before the brook dried up just what he was to do. But we read that the brook dried up, and then He told him to go to Zarepath, where there was a widow woman who would provide for him. He goes and he finds a woman, presumably poor, who has only a little oil and a little meal, just enough to make a cake for herself and her son, and then they’re going to die. And Elijah says: ‘Feed me first.’ It took some faith in the woman also! But she does that, and he says: ‘The meal in the barrel will never give out, the oil will never run dry, and there will be food for us.’ And so he is brought from the situation of absolute aloneness to being with just one person and her son, provided for – but provided for, not really by her, but very miraculously by God. But she also is blest – and what that must have done to her faith!
It seemed to me there were some echoes of our very present situation, in the aloneness, then being allowed into just one household, and a training ground for Elijah that seems to us quite unusual, and a preparation for the hour when he’s to come out of the aloneness to face the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. But the key to his victory is tremendous faith in God, and that has grown in the silent places, in the hidden quietness, in the back parts of the desert. We don’t know what was going on in Elijah’s mind and spirit. We don’t know how many a conflict he had with the enemy during that time. But we do know that he emerges with an incredible faith in God and a God-given power over the power of the enemy.
It caused me to think of where the very ultimate victory is won, and that is on Calvary. On Carmel, the prophets of Baal are seized and slain, it’s acknowledged that God is God, Elijah prays and the rain comes, and there are 7,000 that have not bowed the knee to Baal. There is tremendous victory. But Calvary is a greater victory. It’s not just 7,000 that will not bow the knee to the wicked one. Myriad myriads proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.
Christ’s preparation for Calvary in some ways is a contrast with Elijah’s, in that He is not hidden away these three years; He is actually in public ministry, even amongst the people. He is working miracles, and none are able to touch Him. And yet, in His own spirit, such an aloneness with God, nobody else walking the path that He is walking. We find too that there is that same principle, that Elijah initiates the confrontation on the top of Mount Carmel, and it is Christ – it is God – who initiates the confrontation on Mount Calvary.
Where is mine adversary? Let him come forth that I may contend with Him. (Isaiah 50:8, paraphrased)
That is faith: that is the faith that knows that the victory is secure, that is unafraid of the enemy and what he might do.
There on Calvary we know the fire came down on the sacrifice, but the sacrifice was Christ. The fire was within Him and the fire came down upon Him, and that sacrifice could not be consumed, for the life of Christ the Son of God could not be extinguished. The flesh went through the article of death, but His spirit was triumphant.
These things are told us, I think, to open to us the secret of victory: that a Christian is called to live not in the shadows and defeat, but in a place where there’s no absence of trouble and the arrows of the enemy can come thick and fast, but we have a great God. God’s triumph on Mount Carmel was just a forerunner. Elijah was like a forerunner of the Christ who was to come, who was our forerunner into an excellent glory, and He went by the way of Calvary but by the way of victory. The enemy makes dupes of us: he tricks us into thinking that we’ll not make it, that we have to struggle to get victory in life over sin, over self, whatever. And what is the secret of victory? It’s not just that we make a lot of song and shout – although there can be a happy time for that too – but it is that like Elijah we find ourselves dependent on God, drawing food from Him, often in circumstances when we can feel very alone and leaning only upon God, and then we’re ready for the crisis hour. We’re ready to see the glory of God and the routing of the enemy. And we find that He takes the fear out of us and causes us to enter into something of that yet greater victory, the victory of Calvary, because we live by the faith of the Son of God.
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