Mount Carmel, God's Vineyard
Mount Carmel stood in the fertile and strategic Jezreel Valley. For God's people, it became a symbol of God's blessing on their land.
Mount Carmel, which literally means "God's vineyard," is a mountain range running about thirteen miles southeast-northwest in the western Jezreel Valley. This part of Israel receives thirty inches of rain each year and is the most heavily forested area in the country.
Near Mount Carmel, the major international trade route of ancient days"the Via Maris" passed by. Because of its fertility, the surrounding land was also the breadbasket of Israel. Mount Carmel stood as a high point in this strategic area.
Looking at the fertile Jezreel plain and Mount Carmel's ancient olive trees today, we understand why this place symbolized fertility and blessing to God?s people. It was pictured in the Bible as a beautiful and fruitful area.
But the area also symbolized God's judgment on the land. On several occasions, God allowed Mount Carmel to become withered and desolate as a result of the Israelites' disobedience. One of these droughts ended with the famous confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.
Confused about God
As they left the wilderness and settled on ferrtile lands, the Israelites started to wonder if God, who they saw as God of the wilderness, could control the farmlands as well.
Although God had demonstrated his power time after time, many Israelites still embraced other gods. As they left the wilderness and settled on fertile lands, they started to wonder if God, who they saw as God of wilderness, could control the farmlands as well.
Many Israelites joined fertility cults, mistakenly believing that the pagan god Baal would provide the rain they needed for healthy crops. They continued worshiping God, but they incorporated pagan religion into their lives as well.
Around 850 BC, Ahab became king of Israel—the northern ten tribes of the divided kingdom. "Ahab, did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him" (1 Kings 16:30). He married Jezebel, a Phoenician woman who practiced an extreme form of baal worship. He also built a Baal altar and Asherah pole in Israel's capitol city of Samaria.
But King Ahab did not completely abandon his faith. He gave his children Hebrew names with forms of God's name "Yahweh" in them. Like many Israelites of his day, he seemed to believe that both Baal and Yahweh were true gods.
The First Prophet - Elijah
Elijah told King Ahab that God would demonstrate his power by stopping the rains, something Baal supposedly controlled
God was displeased when his people blended baal worship with worship of him. Baal followers perverted the truth, and God wanted his people to recognize them as frauds.
God sent prophets to point out the empty promises of Baal and to warn of the consequences that would follow if Israel continued to hope in false gods. The first of these prophets was Elijah, whose name literally meant, 'Yahweh is God.'
Elijah told Ahab that there would be no rain or dew in Israel for years (1 Kings 17:1). This message cut to the heart of those who believed in Baal, the supposed God of rain and fertility. Elijah's message claimed that God was not a just God of wilderness, he was God over all.
The ensuing drought created a dilemma for Baal worshipers: Who was really god of the land, Baal or Jehovah? Three and a half years later, Elijah, whose very name answered the question, came onto this scene to confront the prophets of Asherah and Baal.
Confrontation on Carmel
On Mount Carmel, Elijah confronted the pagan prophets and challenged the Israelites to stop wavering between faith in Yahweh and Baal.
When Elijah met with the pagan prophets and people of Israel, they gathered on a desolate Mount Carmel, made barren by years of drought.
At the beginning of their meeting, Elijah challenged the Israelites, saying, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). Elijah knew the Israelites had not completely abandoned God, but they were not giving him their total allegiance.
Elijah's challenge echoed the words Joshua had used years earlier to call the Israelites to complete loyalty. "If the serving of the Lord seems undesirable to you," Joshua had said, "then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve" (24:15a). In Joshua's day the people had enthusiastically responded, claiming faith in God alone.
But Elijah's challenge was met with silence: God's people were confused. Elijah asked God to demonstrate his power over Baal so that the people would know he alone was God. He prepared an offering, and challenged Baal's followers to see whose God produced fire to burn it.
After hours of frantic efforts, Baal still had not responded to the cries of his followers. So Elijah stepped to the altar, doused the sacrifice with water, and prayed to God. In response, God sent down such consuming fire that the sacrifice, altar, and water were completely burned up.
The people's silence was broken. They chanted "Elijah! Elijah!" meaning, 'Yahweh is God!' The Baal prophets were put to death and Elijah prayed again, asking God for rain. Empowered with the Spirit, he ran to Jezreel—nearly nineteen miles away—even faster than King Ahab's chariots! The drought ended as the one true God sent rain to the land.
Who is God?
Today, Christians still face a culture filled with false gods. We must challenge each other to follow God with complete loyalty.
Today, there are still many people confused about God. The world around us offers various attractions: health, wealth, entertainment, romantic love, and promises that they will bring happiness and prosperity. While these things are not evil in and of themselves, they become problematic when people treat them like gods.
These false gods easily creep into our own lives. We may visit the mall, a modern-day "temple" to the gods of materialism, and find ourselves seeking self-esteem in the things we buy. Some pursue romance or financial investments, seeking joy and security in love or money instead of looking first to God.
Looking at the Israelites, we easily recognize how mistaken they were to blend baal worship with faith in God. But as we look at our own lives, the task becomes more difficult. The lines look blurred and the promises of false gods sound so convincing at times.
Standing amidst the competing ideas of our world, Christians must remember the lesson of Mount Carmel: God alone is Lord of our lives. Like Elijah, we should challenge our culture and each other to follow God with complete loyalty: "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, but if money or romance or entertainment is God, follow those."
One True God
As we go about our day-to-day activities, will people see the one true God or will they see the gods of our culture?
Elijah understood his calling well: His very name meant 'Yahweh is God' and his life displayed God in a powerful way. Because he developed a constant relationship with God, he was empowered to perform the amazing miracle on Mount Carmel.
In a world where people waver between false gods, Christians should stand out because of their total commitment to God. Like Elijah, we are empowered by the Spirit. And if we live out our calling—to show our world the one true God, we can successfully expose the false promises of other gods.
In a sense we should all become "Elijahs"—people whose very existence points to the one true God. As we go about our day-to-day activities, what god will people see: The god of self, the god of materialism, or the one true God?
As people observe you: at home, at work, at school, at play, will they know the answer to the question, who is God?