Day 1 1 Kings 18:15-46 ... Mountaintop Showdown

In ancient Africa, tribes would sometimes fight their battles single-combat style. Great armies lined up across from each other, waving their weapons menacingly and hurling insults back and forth. When tribal hatred reached a kind of critical mass, two warriors - only two - stepped forward to fight on behalf of all the rest. Whoever drew first blood would prove the gods were on his side, and his opponentâs army would surrender.

Single-combat warfare cropped up throughout ancient times - remember David and Goliath - and in Middle Ages in Europe. The pioneer West offered a classic American version: the one-on-one showdown between gunslingers representing the forces of good (white hat) and the forces of evil (dark hat). Something like single-combat warfare took place at a moment of deep crisis in Israel. As usual, the prophet Elijah was on center stage.

Elijah journeyed across Israel to a rugged mountain to confront his pagan enemies. Few scenes in history can match the one that transpired on windswept Mount Carmel. On one side stood a resplendent array of 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah; on the other side stood a lone, bedraggled desert prophet of God. Elijah let the pagan prophets have first turn. As they danced around an altar beseeching their gods, he sat back, enjoyed the show, and taunted them to frenzy. "Maybe your god is deep in thought, or traveling, or sleeping," he yelled, and the priests slashed themselves with swords until the blood ran.

Elijah may have been outnumbered, but he proved a worthy adversary. When his time came, he worked the crowd like a master magician. He stacked the odds against a miracle by dousing the site with twelve large jars of water - the most precious commodity in Israel after a three-year drought. Just when it seemed Elijah was perpetrating a huge national joke, the miracle happened: fire fell from heaven. The crowd dropped to the ground in fear and awe. The heat was enough to melt even the stones and soil, and flames licked water from the trenches as if it were fuel.

Elijahâs very name meant "The LORD is my God," and, in the final analysis, the showdown on Mount Carmel was no contest at all. Elijah went on to orchestrate one of the greatest outbreaks of miracles in biblical history. It was as if God was sounding a loud, unmistakable final warning to the North - a warning they failed to heed.

Point to Ponder: This chapter shows God revealing himself in a spectacular public display. Have you known him to do such things today? If not, why not?