A-Z: Famous stories from the Bible: Elijah and the prophets of Baal


Stained glass window depicting Elijah's offering being consumed by fire from heavenLed by their King, Ahab, and his wife Jezebel, many of the Israelites had started to worship local gods such as Baal and Asherah. Some of God’s prophets were killed and the rest were in mortal danger. However, one of them, Elijah, told Ahab to gather all the people at Mount Carmel, including the hundreds of priests who led the worship of the local gods, especially of Baal.

Elijah spoke to the people: ‘How long are you going to dither about? Choose today whom you are going to worship! If you believe that the Lord is God, then follow him. If you think Baal alone is god, then follow him.’ But no one answered him.

‘Listen to me,’ he went on. ‘There are four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal here – and I am the only one of God’s prophets standing here. Bring us two bulls. They can prepare one for sacrifice and I will prepare the other. Then they and I will both call upon our own gods to send fire to burn the sacrifice. The god who answers with fire – he is God.’

The people agreed to this. So Baal’s prophets prepared their sacrifice, cutting up the flesh and laying it on the wood of their altar. From morning to evening, they shouted their prayers to Baal, begging for fire. They danced around the altar and even slashed themselves to show their devotion. Elijah taunted them. ‘You must shout more loudly!’ he said. ‘After all, he is a god. He may be thinking or travelling – or perhaps he is sleeping. Wake him up!’ But, whatever they did, no fire set the wood alight.

Then Elijah called the people to him. He repaired the ruined altar of the Lord with twelve stones – one for each of the Israelite tribes. He dug a deep trench around the altar and laid the prepared sacrifice and wood upon it. Then he ordered the people to soak the offering with water, three times! The water seeped through the wood, ran off the altar and filled the trench.

At the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah began to pray: ‘O Lord, let it be known today that you are God of Israel and that I am your servant. Let these people see that you are their God and that you are bringing them back to you today.’

Miraculously, fire set the sodden wood alight. It burned fiercely, consuming the sacrifice, the wood and stones and the soil around. It burned so fiercely that the water in the trench was dried up. In response, the people shouted, ‘The Lord is the God of Israel!’ as they fell down on the ground.  

The story illustrates:

  • The power of God over nature and his desire to reveal himself
  • The power of faithful prayer
  • The reality of God’s power compared to other gods.

Related Topics

Big Ideas: Miracles; Prayer

Bible References

1 Kings 18:16-39
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