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fearlessly, and reproachfully replied : “I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house, in that thou hast forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and hast folloved Baalim.” He then assumes the haughty attitude of a messenger of divine omnipotence, and orders the king to assemble all his people, together with the eight hundred and fifty priests of Baal, at Mount Carmel, - a beautiful hill sixteen hundred feet high, near the Mediterranean, usually covered with oaks and flowering shrubs and fragrant herbs. He gives no reasons, — he sternly commands ; and the king obeys, being evidently awed by the imperious voice of the divine ambassador.
The representatives of the whole nation are now assembled at Mount Carmel, with their idolatrous priests. The prophet appears in their midst as a preacher armed with irresistible power. He addresses the people, who seemed to have no firm convictions, but were swayed to and fro by changing circumstances, being not yet hopelessly sunk into the idolatry of their rulers. “How long,” cried the preacher, with a loud voice and fierce aspect, “halt ye between two opinions? If Jehovah be God, follow him; but if Baal be God, then follow him.” The undecided, crestfallen, intimidated people did not answer a word.
Then Elijah stoops to argument. He reminds the people, among whom probably were many influential men, that he stood alone in opposition to eight hundred and fifty idolatrous priests protected by the king and queen. He proposes to test their claims in comparison with his as ministers of the true God. This seems reasonable, and the king makes no objection. The test is to be supernatural, even to bring down fire from heaven to consume the sacrificial bullock on the altar. The priests of Baal select their bullock, cut it in pieces, put it on the wood, and invoke their supreme deity to send fire to consume the sacrifice. With all their arts and incantations and magical sorceries, the fire does not descend. They then perform their wild and fantastic dances, screaming aloud, from early morn to noon, “O Baal, hear us !” We do not read whether Ahab was present or not, but if he were he must have quaked with blended sentiments of curiosity and fear. His anxiety must have been terrible. Elijah alone is calm ; but he is also stern. He mocks them with provoking irony, and ridicules their want of success. His grim sarcasms become more and more bitter. “Cry with a loud voice !” said he, “yea, louder and yet louder! for ye cry to a god; either he is talking, or he is hunting, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud, and cut themselves, after their manner, with knives and spears, till the blood gushed out upon them.
Then Elijah, when midday was past, and the priests continued to call unto their god until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, and there was neither voice nor answer, assembled the people around him, as he stood alone by the ruins of an ancient altar. With his own hands he gathered twelve stones, piled them together to represent the twelve tribes, cut a bullock in pieces, laid it on the wood, made a trench around the rude altar, which he filled with water from an adjacent well, and then offered up this prayer to the God of his fathers: “O Jehovah, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear me! and let all the people know that thou art the God of Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, Jehovah, hear me! that this people may know that thou, Jehovah, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back again.” Then immediately the fire of Jehovah fell and consumed the bullock and the wood, even melted the very stones, and licked up the water in the trench. And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces, and cried aloud,“ Jehovah, he is the God! Jehovah, he is the God!”
Elijah then commanded to take the prophets of Baal, all of them, so that not even one of them should escape. And they took them, by the direction of Elijah, down the mountain side to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. His triumph was complete. He had asserted the majesty and proved the power of Jehovah.
The prophet then turned to the king, who seems to have been coinpletely subjected by this tremendous proof of the prophetic authority, and said: “Get thee up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of abundance of rain.” And Ahab ascended the hill, to eat and drink with his nobles at the sacrificial feast, – a venerable symbol by which, from the most primitive antiquity to our own day, by so universal an impulse that it would seem to be divinely imparted, every form of religion known to man has sought to typify the human desire to commune with Deity.
Elijah also went to the top of Carinel, not to the symbolic feast, but in spirit and in truth to commune with God, reverentially hiding his face between his knees. He felt the approach of the coming storm, even when the sky was clear, and not a cloud was to be seen over the blue waters of the Mediterranean. So he said to his servant: “Go up now, and look toward the sea.” And the servant went to still higher ground and looked, and reported that nothing was to be seen. Six times the order was impatiently repeated and obeyed ; but at the seventh time, the youthful servant — as some think, the very boy he had saved —- reported a cloud in the distant horizon, no bigger seemingly than a man's hand. At once Elijah sent word to Ahab to prepare for the coming tempest; and both he and the king began to descend the hill, for the clouds rapidly gathered in the heavens, and that mighty wind arose which in Eastern countries precedes a furious storm. With incredible rapidity the tempest spread, and the king hastened for his life to his chariot at the foot of the hill, to cross the brook before it became a flood; and Elijah, remembering that he was king, ran before his chariut more rapidly than the Arab steeds. As the servant of Jehovah, he performs his mission with dignity and without fear; as a subject, he renders due respect to rank and power.
Ahab has now witnessed with his own eyes the impotency of the prophets of Baal, and the marvellous power of the messenger of Jehovah. The desire of the nation was to be gratified; the rains were falling, the cisterns and reservoirs were filling, and the fields once more would soon rejoice in their wonted beauty, and the famine would soon be at an end. In view of the great deliverance, and awe-stricken by the supernatural gifts of the prophet, one would suppose that the king would have taken Elijah to his confidence and loaded him with favors, and been guided by his counsels. But, no. He had been subjected to deep humiliation before his own people; his religion had been brought into contempt, and he was afraid of his cruel and inexorable wife, who had incited him to debasing idolatries. So he hastens to his palace in Jez