We first read about Elijah in 1 kings 17 v 1...
"Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” So there was to be no rain....a drought instead. At the end of the three years, Ahab, the king of Israel was desperate.
There was no water to be found. Farms and ranches were in foreclosure because the crops and cattle were dying. In a last ditch effort to save the nation’s economy, Ahab went in search of a bailout.
He sent his top financial advisor, actually,(what would be equivalent to his chief of staff), a man named Obadiah, in one direction and Ahab went in the opposite direction.
They were in search of water for their cattle. Verse 5 of 1 Kings 18 says: "Ahab had said to Obadiah, "Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals." 6 So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another."
(Although archeological clues are absent, it has one point in its favour because it has a spring, from which water could have been drawn to wet Elijah's offering, and secondly there is a sea view, where Elijah looked out to see the cloud announcing rain. But then again in the Bible text it says that Elijah had to climb up to see the sea.)
It was a big problem and God wanted to show them just how big!
They......the people.... had left God and were following Baal, so Elijah met up with Ahab and told him to call all the people so they could have it out, once and for all. They were to meet him at Mt Carmel.
1 Kings 18: 21 Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."
But the people said nothing.
No one spoke.
Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.
Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it.......
and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it.
Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord,my God..... and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, “That is a good idea.” [Note Elijah gave the other prophets first choice]
If we have read the story we know that the baal prophets danced and yelled and Elijah made fun of them and the prophets cut themselves and yet...
In verse 26 we read that they went on like that from morning till noon.... and still nothing had happened...and still they continued on until the evening sacrifice...So they were virtually at it all day......nothing happened.
I wonder how the people of Israel were feeling?
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.”
So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down...[ a long time ago]
He took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.”
So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed.
Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood.
We read he purposely dug a trench around the altar.
And then Elijah spoke to the people again....Verse 34: “And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.”
And he said, “Do it a second time,”
and they did it a second time.
And he said, “Do it a third time,”
and they did it a third time.
The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water.
Where did the water come from?
They had not had any rain for 3 years and the animals were almost starving, as we read before....even the king was out, looking for the stuff.
And why does it matter where the water came from?
Well.... now.....suddenly the people where no longer watching.
They were involved.
And not involved in singing..... or praying..... or any other religiously approved worship activities.
They had to get involved with what mattered most to them.
It hadn’t rained in almost three years. The only water anyone had was what they had carefully, even sacrificially saved.
I can probably imagine.........well,......
they were probably not exactly ignoring Elijah.......just doing other things.
Elijah stood still, in front of the altar, facing the people, waiting.
We have gone through droughts, we know what it is like to be very low on water....
(Now, o me, this seems a bit like a pump, it needs priming before you can get more water, much as you want to use what's there, by priming, you get a lot more....)
and you have to trust.....
to believe.... that the priming of the pump will work...
I imagine this would be kind of like “priming” for the people of Israel....
He got his water..... in four jars..... but then he said....”Do it again”
and after that 2nd time he says, “Do it again.....12 jars of water, ( maybe one for each of the 12 tribes?)
They would have had some for special occasions and had to give that up as well?
It would no longer be Elijah they had to trust.
It would be God.
And they did it.
They gave the last water they had.....in faith.
These spectators at a show had become intimately involved participants.
The climax of the story......fire from heaven, takes on new meaning, as God responds to his people’s trust, obedience and sacrifice.
The third round of jars had been poured out, then everything was drenched.....
and the fire of God took it all. Verse 39: “When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD -he is God! The LORD -he is God!"
There was nothing left to do but wait.
Elijah prayed.....he was exhausted. He sat down with his head on his knees and told his servant to go look at the ocean and tell him what he saw.
Seven times he went...
Minutes ticked by.
Finally, the servant saw a cloud the size of a fist form over the ocean.
Elijah needed no more. Verse 44: Elijah said, "Go and tell Ahab, 'Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'
V45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came.
That is the whole story, not of Elijah and the prophets of Baal,
but of God and his thirsty people.