Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

The Priests of Baal

It was only at the end of the third year of drought, that God bade Elijah leave the widow’s house and go to Ahab, King of Israel. The prophet did not find the king at his palace, as usual; for Ahab was traveling around the country in search of pasture for his horses, which were suffering sorely from the long drought.

The moment that Elijah appeared, the king remembered his former visit, and, thinking that the prophet was to blame for all the suffering of his people, he angrily cried: "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?"

But Elijah stood fearlessly before the king, and boldly answered:

"I have not troubled Israel, but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim."

Then, to show the king the power of God, and to convince him that the idols which he worshiped could really do nothing at all, Elijah invited him to bring all his priests to Mount Carmel. There, he said, the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal might build an altar to their god, while he himself, the only believer in the true God who still dared make his faith known, would erect an altar for Jehovah (the Hebrew name for the Lord).

All the people gathered together on the mountain, where they knew that a test of the powers of God and of Baal was to be made. Then Elijah boldly addressed the multitude, saying: "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him."

Next, Elijah went on to say that they would now call upon the true God to make himself known by sending down fire from heaven to burn up the sacrifice laid upon his altar. Not daring to refuse this test, the priests of Baal built their altar, and made use of all their arts, prayers, incantations, and magic, to make Baal hear them.

But the hours passed on without any sign of their prayers being answered. The heathen priests became more and more excited, and danced, and screamed always louder. Elijah, who stood by, watching their antics, mockingly spoke to them from time to time, saying that perhaps their god was out hunting, or that he was talking, sleeping, or away on a journey. He also advised them to make more noise, so that their prayer might be sure to reach Baal’s ear.

But when all the efforts of Baal’s priests were seen to be vain, and their strength was quite exhausted, Elijah stepped quietly forward and built an altar in his turn. He dug a deep trench all around it, and poured water on his fuel until it was soaked through, and until the ditch around it was full. Then he placed his sacrifice on top of the pile, as usual.

When all was ready, the prophet stood calmly near the altar; and, instead of the wild cries and dances which the priests of Baal had used, he said this simple prayer: "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word."

The prayer was scarcely out of his mouth when the fire of heaven came down upon the altar from a cloudless sky, burned up both fuel and sacrifice, and even dried all the water in the trench. When the assembled people saw this miracle, they were afraid, fell down upon their faces, and cried aloud: "The Lord, he is the God."

Elijah now took advantage of the people’s admiration for the power of the true God to make them seize the priests of Baal, who were all slain on the very spot where the uselessness of their prayers had been made known.