The prophet Elijah stood on the slopes of Mount Carmel and cried out to the people,
How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal,1 follow him.
Silence expressed eloquently their confusion and hopelessness. All they had known for so long was sin and compromise with the world around them. The flamboyant and seductive prophets of Baal had led Israel astray from simple obedience to their God, and their guilt had silenced them.
Their interest rose as they understood the challenge Elijah was casting at those prophets. There would be no fire lit under the sacrifices – just a slain animal piled on the wood. “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the god who answers by fire, He is God.”
But though the prophets of Baal cried out all day long, Baal remained silent, and Elijah’s mockery of them began to awaken the people to the futility of their false worship. Elijah called the people to himself. They watched as he repaired the altar of twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel. At that time the nation was divided, no longer twelve tribes in unity, but Elijah’s altar of twelve stones expressed hope for the future.
Everyone felt a rising excitement as he dug a trench around the altar and repeatedly soaked the sacrifice with water. Even the trench was filled. They sensed the faith in this man and it stirred something deep in their hearts.
As Elijah stepped back from the altar an awesome fear filled their hearts. They could see that he had no doubt that fire was going to fall from heaven. They backed up as his powerful voice boomed, calling on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their hearts back again.”
Instantly, a blinding flash of sizzling energy bolted from the skies above down upon the altar. The people were screaming and moaning in fright. When it was over, the fire from heaven had consumed the sacrifice and the wet wood! All that remained was a pile of dust that had once been the twelve stones. The people fell on their faces in awe, crying out with all their hearts, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”
Great story, isn’t it? Can you imagine what that must have been like? Those people were terrified when the fire fell from heaven, and when they finally looked up, even the altar had been consumed. Why doesn’t God do something like that today? Well, in spite of that awesome encounter with Elijah and his God, those people did not continue on with a whole heart to fulfill what they were created for. No, God is bringing a different fire today, not something terrifying, but still very, very bright. It is the fire of His love, a love so different from what the world knows of love, that it could be called a light to the world.
But where? Where is that light today on the earth? Well, wherever it is, it’s going to be unavoidable. Men will see it and find hope. Did you know that the fire would not have fallen in Elijah’s day if the sacrifice had not been laid on an altar of twelve stones? The fire won’t fall today either, except where His people, a twelve-tribed spiritual nation,2 are giving their bodies daily as a living sacrifice, as the apostle Paul described.3 It is only there that the fervent love of God burns among a people who have given up everything to be His disciples.4
Our Master 5 questioned the people around him, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord!’ but do not do what I say?”6 Meanwhile the modern-day prophets of Baal cry, “Lord, Lord!” while their followers secretly wonder why God does not deliver them from their cold and lonely lives. Is it any wonder that there’s no fire?