“A Nation Divided”: Elijah at Mount Carmel
I’ll admit it: I have selective hearing at times. My wife and kids know this well. There are times when I am focused on something for work, school, or who knows what and someone will try to talk to me, but I don’t hear it. I like to think it’s because of my laser focus. My wife and kids see it more as me being uncaring. They are probably right more than I am. My selective hearing is likely born more out of selfishness and my limitations than anything else. But at least I am real, which is more than can be said of Baal as we see in this week’s session.
This week we examine the powerful story of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The land had been in a drought induced famine for some time, and Ahab, the king, was not exactly happy about that. He also was not happy with Elijah, the culprit behind the drought. Yet, God sent His prophet to stand before Ahab, and the encounter went as one would expect. Ahab vented on Elijah. Elijah rebuked Ahab. Then, Elijah instructed the king to have 850 of his false prophets to meet him on Mount Carmel.
As you read this, you just know this is going to be good.
The False Prophets’ Vain Attempt to Be Heard
When the prophets of Baal and the people arrived on Mount Carmel, Elijah asked how long they would waver between following God and Baal. The people had been trying to have it both ways: to worship God and Baal at the same time, and, of course, God would have none of that. They had to choose one or the other. So Elijah suggested a contest. The prophets of Baal would build an altar and call on Baal to send fire to consume the offering. He would do the same and call on God. Whichever answered would be the one the people worshiped exclusively from then on.
It wasn’t a fair fight really. Sure Baal had 850 people and God only had one, but that was meaningless. It wasn’t 850 against one. It was one against zero. The one true God against a made-up god in Baal. God against a myth. All those prophets never stood a chance.
The prophets of Baal went first. They built an altar and placed a bull on it. Then they began to call out to Baal from morning to noon.
“Baal, answer us!” they cried.
But there was no answer. Of course there wasn’t. A fictitious god cannot send fire from the heavens.
So the prophets amped up their efforts. They danced. They shouted. They even cut themselves to prove their allegiance. Yet, there was still no answer.
I love Elijah’s response to all of this. Maybe Baal is busy. Maybe he is traveling. Maybe he is thinking. In other words, maybe Baal is like me and simply distracted and hasn’t noticed you. But he knew the truth: Baal did not answer, not because he was distracted or could not hear, but rather because he was not real.
Elijah’s Quiet Confidence to Be Heard
Contrast this with Elijah’s turn. Elijah repaired the altar to the Lord, placed the wood and bull on it, and then drenched the entire thing with water. Water and fire don’t get along so well. Elijah wanted to make it abundantly clear to the people that they were about to see a mighty work of God.
And then it was his turn to call on God to act:
36 At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah approached the altar and said, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” (1 Kings 18:36-37 CSB)
We cannot be certain based on the text, but it seems as if Elijah approached the altar without any of the theatrics of Baal’s prophets. Elijah knew that shouting, dancing, and cutting would not move God to act. Rather, Elijah understood that God would act for His own glory: to reveal who He is to His people and draw them to Himself. This is why Elijah was confident, enough to drench the altar. He knew that God is real, unlike Baal, and he further understood why God acts.
Our Comfort in Always Being Heard
This is a great story for us to share with our preschoolers and kids. Lots of action, some humor, and an eye-opening display of God’s power. But we want to be careful not to lose sight of that relatively brief statement by Elijah as he prayed to God. In it, we see why we too can have great confidence in the God who always hears us. This is how the apostle John put it:
14 This is the confidence we have before him: If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14 CSB)
Notice the ending of that verse—it connects to the ending of Elijah’s prayer. God hears us and He will always act in accordance with His will. That means that we need to seek to be in relationship with Him deeply enough so that we can recognize His will. That comes from spending time with Him in prayer and in His Word. But that also means that we can know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God hears us. Always. He is never distracted. He is never busy. And that should give us great confidence in Him, His love for us, and His sovereign work in our lives and in the world.
The depressed don’t simply need to feel better. They need a Redeemer who says, ‘Take heart, my son, my daughter; what you really need has been supplied. Life no longer need be about your goodness, success, righteousness, or failure. I’ve given you something infinitely more valuable than good feelings: your sins are forgiven.’” — Elyse Fitzpatrick 
Preschool Tip: For preschoolers, you may want to focus on God being the only true—the only real—God. There are many different important concepts and lessons in this account, but trying to communicate all of them may mean your little ones miss out on all of them. Rather, if you believe focusing on one big idea is best, consider that critical truth.
Kids Tip: Your kids not only need to rub shoulders with the uniqueness of God—they likely already hear competing narratives all around them—but they also need to understand that God hears them and loves them, not based on what they might do, but on what Christ has done.
 Elyse Fitzpatrick, “The Gospel Cure,” Ligonier Ministries, March 1, 2008, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/gospel-cure.