“And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts …” (1 Kings 19:10)

We usually think of jealousy as a bad thing. However, the Scriptures give us an example of a man that was jealous in a good way. His name was Elijah, the hairy prophet of God that wore a leather belt and was jealous for the Lord (2 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 19:10). Notice, he was jealous for the Lord, not of the Lord. Most Bible scholars think that means he was zealous and had an intense desire to make sure that God was honored. Through the Scriptures we see how he got very upset with those who had no concern for the glory and majesty of God.

Elijah was a prophet of God at one of the lowest points in Israel’s history. The nation had been split in two after Solomon’s reign and the ten northern tribes never had any godly leadership from their kings. During Elijah’s ministry they were ruled by King Ahab, a weak and selfish Israelite that did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all who came before him (1 Kings 16:30). Ahab married a Phoenician woman named Jezebel who worshipped a false god called Baal, believed to be the god of land that controlled the weather and crop growth. Baal’s female consort, Ashteroth, was worshipped as the goddess of fertility. The worship of these idols included all manner of evil practices, including prostitution and child sacrifice. Groves of trees were being set up all over the land for the people to enjoy these practices. Ahab and Jezebel helped to immerse the nation in idolatry and succeeded in the murder of many of God’s prophets.

One day, under the direction of the Lord, Elijah boldly stood before King Ahab and proclaimed, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1). God was making a point to the people of Israel in a way they could not misinterpret. Only He has the power to control the weather.

After three and a half years of no rain, the country was dried up and there was a severe shortage of food. It was at this time that the Word of the Lord came again to Elijah saying, “Go, show thyself unto Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 18:1).

When Ahab saw Elijah, he tried to blame him for the drought and food shortage. He asked him, “Are you the one that troubles Israel?” Elijah answered him, “… 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” (1 Kings 18:18).

Elijah then issued a challenge to Ahab. There was to be a contest; Elijah versus the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets from the groves. There were to be two sacrifices prepared; one for the idol and the other for the Lord God of Israel. Elijah explained, “And ye call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the god who answereth by fire, let him be God” (1 Kings 18:19).

Of course, it was really no contest. The Baal prophets went first. When their sacrifice was prepared and laid upon the altar, they began to call upon their god from morning until noon, but nothing happened. Then they began to leap upon the altar and cry out. Still nothing happened.
It was then that Elijah started to mock them. He suggested that they cry louder to Baal. Maybe their god was busy and they needed to get his attention. Maybe he was talking to someone else or gone on a journey, or maybe their god was asleep and needed to be awakened!

Finally, after many hours of attempting to get Baal’s attention, his prophets became desperate. They started to cry aloud and cut themselves with swords and lances until their blood gushed forth. Still nothing happened.

What a sad commentary on their god. What must it be like to worship a god that can’t hear you when you pray? How awful it must be to think that your god might be asleep or too busy to be concerned for you. He wouldn’t be much of a god, would he? The Bible assures us that the One, True, Living God is omniscient. He knows every one of our thoughts and feelings. He knows when we sit down and when we get up (Psalm 139:2). He even knows how many hairs we have on our head (Matthew 10:30). He is also omnipresent; everywhere all at once (1 Kings 8:27). How comforting it is that He knows what we need and is always there for us.

Next, it was Elijah’s turn. He told all the people to come close as he took twelve stones (the number of the twelve tribes of Israel) and built an altar in the name of the Lord. Around it he dug a deep trench and carefully placed the sacrificial bull upon the altar. Then he did something very unusual. He asked that four barrels of water be poured over the sacrifice and the wood. Then he asked for it to be done a second and a third time. They were in the middle of a severe drought. There was very little water to spare and everyone knew that wet wood would not burn, but Elijah wanted to prove that the Living God was more powerful than any idol. So, everything was drenched. The water ran around the altar and filled the trench.
Then Elijah prayed, “… 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 thou hast turned their heart back again” (1 Kings 18:36-37).

After his prayer, fire fell from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice. Not only was the sacrifice burned, but also the wood and the stones of the altar. The fire even burned up the dust and dried up all the water in the trench. 1 Kings 18:39 says, “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces, and they said, The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

Through Elijah, God proved that Baal had no power at all. After this, all of the 850 false prophets were taken out and executed. Under the Law of Moses this was the punishment required for anyone proven to be a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:5).

This contest was very important to Elijah. Not because he wanted to win it for himself. He wanted to prove Who the real God in Israel was. His jealousy for the Lord led him to act boldly in order to convince the people to turn their hearts back to the Lord.

Although, we will never be called upon to set up a contest of sacrifices, all believers should have that kind of zeal for God. We should work diligently in order to spread His message of love and hope to a dying world. Romans 12:11 tells us to be, “fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.” The word fervent means to be hot, such as liquid when it boils or a solid when it glows under intense heat. Titus 2:14 says the Lord Jesus Christ “… gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

Next Issue: “Elijah’s Zeal Consumes Him”