1 Kings 18

Who was Obadiah?
A. He was a man (not to be confused with Obadiah the prophet whose book is a part of the Old Testament) “who was over the household” of Ahab (18:3).

B. He “feared the Lord greatly” (18:4) from the time he was a young person (18:12). One scholar noted, “To be pious with the pious, to maintain one’s faith in the midst of the faithful, is not difficult; but in the midst of the world, to preserve one’s self unspotted from it, to keep a pure heart, and have God before our eyes and in our hearts, wherever the Lord places us, this is, indeed, greatly to fear the Lord.”

C. He was instrumental in saving the lives of a hundred prophets of the Lord in a cave when Jezebel went on a persecuting rampage (18:4). He “provided them with bread and water” (18:4) at considerable risk to his own life. [Compare Obadiah to Queen Esther and recall Mordecai’s words to Esther (4:14), “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”]

What task did Ahab assign to Obadiah?
Ahab recruited Obadiah to help him search the land for water and pasture to keep the horses, mules, and cattle alive (18:5). It is interesting to note that Ahab was more concerned about his cattle than his people. We read of no efforts on the part of this monarch to alleviate the sufferings of his people. Apparently the drought had done nothing to soften the hard heart of this evil monarch. Ahab and Obadiah divided the land between them and went in search of water and pasture.

Who did Obadiah encounter on the way?
He encountered none other than Elijah himself (18:7). He fell on his face and asked Elijah to confirm his identity. Elijah responded by saying “It is I” (18:8).

What did Elijah instruct Obadiah to do?
Elijah instructed Obadiah to go and tell Ahab that he was here (18:8).

What was Obadiah’s response?
He was afraid to follow-through. He knew how fervently Ahab had searched for Elijah. Ahab had conducted an international search for Elijah and went so far as to make kingdoms and nations swear that they were not harboring the fugitive (18:10). Obadiah feared that if he announced to Ahab that Elijah had been found, God’s Spirit might carry Elijah to parts unknown thus leaving Ahab to vent his anger on Obadiah (18:12). Understanding his concern, Elijah promised Obadiah that he would show himself to Ahab that very day (18:15). Obadiah then went and told Ahab that Elijah had been found and Ahab went to meet Elijah (18:16).

What accusation did Ahab hurl at Elijah?
He accused him of being the “troubler of Israel” (18:17). Ahab attributed the national distress to the man who had announced its coming. Ahab was blind to his own sin.

What was Elijah’s response to Ahab?
Elijah calmly and authoritatively told Ahab that Israel was in trouble and troubled because he had forsaken God’s commandments and followed the Baals (18:18). Elijah then instructed Ahab to gather all Israel at Mount Carmel along with the “450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (18:19). Ahab did as Elijah instructed (18:20) and thus the stage was set for one of the most dramatic confrontations of all time.

What did Elijah ask the people?
He asked them to make up their minds regarding who they were going to follow (18:21). The people were trying to serve both God and Baal (as if hopping from one leg to another). This was an impossibility. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other…” (Matthew 6:24). Our love for one master will always determine our attitude toward the other. God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:3-5) who will not tolerate a divided loyalty.

How did the people respond to Elijah’s question?
“But the people did not answer him a word” (18:21). Perhaps because:

A. They felt that it was possible to serve two masters.

B. They were afraid to take a public stand lest they incite the wrath of Jezebel.

C. They wanted to “play it safe” by waiting to see the outcome of the events on Mount Carmel.

D. They were comfortable with things as they were.

E. They had never been confronted so boldly and directly regarding their tolerance of idolatry and were afraid to respond.

In spite of the silence of the people, Elijah made his stand clear (18:22): “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.” (See Joshua 24:14-15). This is a picture of great bravery in the midst of overwhelming numbers and opposition.

What rules did Elijah set down for the contest?
Two oxen would be prepared and placed upon wood (18:23), one by the prophets of Baal and one by Elijah. No fire was to be ignited by either the Baal prophets or by Elijah. Each side would call upon their deity to set fire to the wood and consume the sacrifice. “The God who answers by fire, He is God” (18:24). This contest seemed fair to all parties concerned. Surely such a contest would settle the matter and force the people out of their complacency and tolerance of idolatry.

What advantage did Elijah give the prophets of Baal?
He allowed them to go first (18:25). The prophets prepared their ox and then proceeded to call upon Baal to consume it with fire. They called upon Baal from morning until noon, leaping about the altar (18:26). “But there was no voice and no one answered” (18:26).

What did Elijah say to the prophets of Baal at noon-time?
Elijah mocked them and suggested they call out with a loud voice because (18:27):

A. Baal might be occupied! (“either he is occupied”)

B. Baal might be in the outhouse! (“or gone aside”)

C. Baal might be on vacation! (“or is on a journey”)

D. Baal might be sound asleep! (“or perhaps he is asleep”)

What effect did Elijah’s words have on the prophets of Baal?
Their efforts intensified as they continued in pathetic desperation to cry out and “cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them” (18:28). This continued until the evening “but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention” (18:29).

What steps did Elijah take to prepare his sacrifice?
A. He repaired the altar of the Lord, rebuilding it with twelve stones according to the number of tribes (18:30-31).

B. He dug a trench around the altar capable of holding about 22 quarts of water (18:32).

C. He placed wood on the altar and the ox (cut in pieces) on the wood (18:33).

D. He instructed some attendants to fill four pitchers of water and pour it on the wood and the offering (18:33). He instructed that this procedure be done three times (18:34) until the water flowed around the altar. The four pitchers filled three times may bear the same symbolism as the twelve stones. He went a step further and filled the trench around the altar with water (18:35).

Why do you think Elijah went to such extreme measures?
Perhaps to assure everyone present that no tricks would be used and to make the miracle seem even more miraculous.

What are the most notable differences between the prayer of Elijah and the prayers of the prophets of Baal?
A. Elijah’s prayer was brief. The prophets of Baal prayed all day.

B. Elijah’s prayer was calm. The prophets of Baal shouted and danced and raved and cut themselves with swords and lances.

What was the content of Elijah’s prayer (18:36)?
A. “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel…” Elijah wanted the people to remember their past.

B. “today let it be known that Thou art God in Israel…” Elijah wanted for the people to remember what they should have never forgotten: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

C. “and that I am Thy servant…” Elijah wanted for the people to know that he was God’s servant.

D. “and that I have done all these things at Thy word.” Elijah wanted for the people to know that he was acting upon divine instruction and not his own agenda. The “these things” of the prayer would include the drought and the contest on Mount Carmel.

E. “that this people may know…” Elijah wanted for the people who were trying to serve two masters that only one master was worthy of their devotion, the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.

What happened next?
A. God sent fire to consume the sacrifice (18:38).

B. The people who witnessed the miraculous event fell on their faces and acknowledged that “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God” (18:39).

C. Elijah had the prophets of Baal seized and put to death by the brook Kishon (18:40).

D. The drought was broken (18:41-46). Elijah told Ahab that rain was coming (18:41). Elijah then prayed for the rain to come (18:42-43) as he crouched down on top of Mount Carmel (see also James 5:17-18). As Elijah prayed his servant announced the coming of a cloud from the sea (18:44) after which came a heavy shower (18:45).

Practical Considerations

We should remain faithful to the Lord even in the midst of a difficult working environment.
Obadiah remained faithful to God even in the midst of a terrible and evil working environment. We have a responsibility to “live above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15). Obadiah’s faithfulness made a difference in the lives of a hundred of God’s prophets who were in danger of being executed by Jezebel. Our faithfulness in the work-place can also make a difference in the lives of those around us.

We must not tolerate mediocre Christianity.
Elijah asked the people to make up their minds regarding who they were going to follow, either God or Baal (1 Kings 18:21). Jesus said you cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). John said God cannot stand lukewarm Christianity (Revelation 3:15-16). God always calls His people to a devoted and loyal commitment to Himself.

We must not be fearful of making our devotion to God known in public.
Elijah made his stand clear on Mount Carmel. The people, however, would not publicly acknowledge their devotion to God. They were fearful of reprisal from those in authority. We must not be fearful of making our commitment to God known in public.

One person can make a difference.
The widow of Zarephath was only one, but she made a difference. Obadiah was only one man in the court of a wicked king, but he made a difference. Elijah was only one prophet of God facing a king, 450 false prophets, and a complacent people, but he made a difference. God can use one person to make a difference in the world!

1 Kings 18 NIV

1 Kings 18:17-18
18:17 When he [Ahab: king of Israel (Northern Kingdom); cf. 16:29-33] saw Elijah [name means “my God is the Lord”], he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler [from the Heb. aker which describes the harmful effects one’s bad behavior has on others; cf. 1 Kings 17:1] of Israel [Ahab attributed the national distress (turmoil, problems, famine caused by the prolonged drought) to the man who had announced its coming; Ahab was blind to his own sin; Ahab unwittingly admitted Elijah held more power with God than he did]?”

18:18 “I have not made trouble for Israel [real problem was a spiritual problem],” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned [no longer loyal; forsaken God, the only true source of power] the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals [Israel was in trouble and troubled because Ahab had forsaken God’s commandments and followed the Baals (2 Kings 10:18); Ahab’s wife Jezebel had prophets of the Lord killed (18:4)].

1 Kings 18:20-26
18:20 So Ahab [in response to Elijah’s challenge in 18:19] sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets [cf. 18:19] on Mount Carmel [in northwest Israel; regarded as the sacred home of Baal (which would give a strategic/home court advantage to the prophets of Baal)].

18:21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver [to be lame, to limp; to hesitate] between two opinions [cf. Matt. 6:24; Josh. 24:14-15; Ex. 32:26; our love for one master will always determine our attitude toward the other; God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:3-5) who will not tolerate a divided loyalty]? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing.

18:22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left [even though he knew there were other prophets hiding in caves (18:4,13); only one willing to take a stand for his convictions], but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets.

18:23 Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it.

18:24 [Elijah set the contest rules: 18:22-23] Then you call on the name [represented one’s character, nature, essence] of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire — he is God.” Then all the people said [broke their silence], “What you say is good [fair and right].”

18:25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one [the one they believed Baal would accept] of the bulls and prepare it first [Elijah invited the opposition to go first], since there are so many [450 prophets (1 Kings 18:22)] of you. Call [a synonym for “pray”] on the name [an indication that worshiper had a relationship with the deity and believed in the deity’s nature and power] of your god, but do not light the fire.”

18:26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon [suggests that Elijah gave them ample time to get a reply from Baal]. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response [translates the Heb. word meaning “voice”]; no one answered [people heard only silence; prayers and worship directed at a god that does not exist produce no results]. And they danced around the altar they had made.

1 Kings 18:30-39
18:30 Then [after Baal’s prophets had prayed to no avail (18:25-29); read Ps. 135:15-18] Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins [because the people had not been using it].

18:31 Elijah took twelve stones [reminder of the twelve tribes and of God’s original covenant with Israel], one for each of the tribes [divided into two nations in Elijah’s time] descended from Jacob [name meaning “deceiver”], to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel [name meaning one who “struggles with God”].”

18:32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he [made task difficult] dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed.

18:33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars [used by women to carry a day’s supply of water for the family] with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

18:34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time [four pitchers filled three times may bear the same symbolism as the twelve stones],” he ordered, and they did it the third time [thoroughly soaking the offering, the wood, the altar].

18:35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench [an effective guarantee against fraud].

18:36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed [compare length of Elijah’s prayer with that of Baal’s prophets (18:26-29)]: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel [a reminder that the true God had made a covenant with their ancestors, the patriarchs; Elijah asked for three things in his prayer], [1] let it be known today that you are God in Israel [2] and that I am your servant [3] and have done all these things [drought and the contest on Mount Carmel] at your command [Elijah was acting upon divine instruction and not his own agenda].

18:37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

18:38 Then [the answer came quickly; the difference between Elijah’s prayer and that of the prophets of Baal lay in the One addressed] the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

18:39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate [in humility and repentance] and cried, “The LORD — he is God! The LORD — he is God!”

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