Elijah's Challenge

In the third year of famine G‑d ordered Elijah to appear before Ahab and to inform him that G‑d would send rain upon the earth. Elijah went to Samaria. There he first met Obadiah and requested him to announce his arrival to the king. Ahab went out to meet Elijah and when he saw him face to face, he exclaimed: "Are you back, you troublemaker for Israel?" Elijah fearlessly replied that it was not he who had caused the trouble, but Ahab himself, and the house of his father, who had forsaken G‑d and served idols. Then, challenging the king to stage a public contest between him, the only prophet of G‑d, and the eight hundred and fifty prophets of the Baal and Ashtarte, Elijah promised to meet them on Mount Carmel.

The Contest

Ahab complied with Elijah's request. He understood the purpose of this gathering, and was eager to have a public contest of power between these two conflicting spiritual forces who claimed supremacy and exclusive control over the land.

The entire nation was assembled on Mount Carmel, and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal came there also, proud and contemptuous and sure of their victory over Elijah. Ahab the king appeared too, eagerly anticipating the outcome of the momentous contest.

Facing the entire people, Elijah addressed them sternly: "How long will you waver between two sides? If the L-rd be G‑d, follow him; and if Baal be G‑d, then follow him!" The people did not reply, and Elijah's voice rang forth again: "I have been left as the only prophet of G‑d; but the prophets of Baal number four hundred and fifty men; therefore give us two bullocks. Let the Baal's prophets choose one bullock for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the altar; but put no fire under it. I will prepare the other bullock and lay it on the altar without putting fire under it. Then they shall call on the name of their gods, and I will call on the name of the L-rd; and the G‑d who answers by fire, shall be the true G‑d!"

The people voiced their approval and immediately the prophets of Baal picked one bullock and prepared it for the altar. Then they prayed and called on the Baal from morning till noon. But there was no sign of an answer. Elijah ridiculed them and bade them call louder as their god might be asleep or engaged in other and more important business. Not realizing the irony of Elijah's words, the prophets cried louder and louder, and leaped wildly around the altar. They even cut their own flesh until their blood spurted forth, as was their custom. But cry as they might, Baal replied neither to their voices, nor to their wild and desperate gestures. Thus they raged furiously till late in the afternoon, yet there was no sign of an answer.

Divine Revelation

Then Elijah called upon the people to gather around him. In the name of G‑d he built an altar of twelve stones, symbolizing the number of the Hebrew tribes, and ordered a wide trench dug all about it. Then he laid the other bullock on the altar and had water poured over it, till the trench was filled to the brim. Having completed all these preparations, he stepped before the altar and prayed to G‑d. " L-rd G‑d of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel! Let it be known this day that Thou art G‑d in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. Hear me, O L-rd, hear me, that this people may know that Thou art the L-rd G‑d, and thus turn their hearts back again."

Hardly had he finished praying when a flame of fire came down from G‑d and consumed the offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the earth, and licked up even the water that was in the trench. Seeing this, the amazed and overawed people prostrated themselves and exclaimed: "The L-rd He is G‑d! The L-rd He is G‑d!" Then, at Elijah's command, they seized the prophets of Baal, led them to the brook of Kishon, and slew them,

End of the Famine

After bidding the king eat and drink for the drought would presently end, Elijah went to a solitary place on the mountain to pray for rain. Then he asked his servant to look in the direction of the sea for the first sign of a cloud. The servant did so, but reported that he had not noticed anything. Seven times Elijah repeated the order, till his servant returned with the news that a cloud no bigger than a man's hand had become visible. Immediately Elijah sent word to Ahab to have his horses harnessed and to return to his palace before the rains began to fall. Soon the whole sky became overcast. Strong winds drove large clouds and sent the rain down in torrents. The heavy rains drenched the parched earth of Israel, which had been craving water for almost three years.

Ahab fled before the storm, and rode into Jezreel, but the spirit of G‑d seized Elijah, and carried him on before Ahab to the entrance of the city.

Elijah's Flight

Ahab related to Jezebel all that had come to pass on Mount Carmel, and told her also of the death of her prophets. Jezebel flew into a rage and swore that she would do unto Elijah as he had done unto them. Elijah fled to the desert of Judah. There he sat down amongst the bushes in a mood of despondency and deep disappointment. Wearied by his flight, and tortured by hunger and thirst, he lay down and fell asleep. But an angel of G‑d touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. Elijah opened his eyes and saw beside him a cruse of water and a cake. He ate and drank and fell asleep for the second time. Again an angel awoke him and said: "Arise and eat because you are' facing a long journey." Elijah got up, ate and drank, and set out on his way. With the strength derived from that meal, he walked forty days and forty nights until he reached Mount Horeb.

G‑d's Message on Mt. Horeb

Elijah took refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. The next day the word of G‑d came to him, asking, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" Elijah complained of his sufferings in his zealous struggle for the honor of the one and only G‑d and His commandments. He mourned the loss of all the true prophets of G‑d, expressing his apprehension as to who would carry on his work, now that he was the only remaining prophet of G‑d, and the enemies of G‑d sought to take away his life.

In reply, G‑d told him to step outside and stand on the mountainside. Elijah did so, and G‑d manifested Himself to him. At first a great and strong wind rocked the mountain. But G‑d was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake; but G‑d was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came fire; but G‑d was not in the fire. Then Elijah heard a still, soft whisper, and he covered his face with his mantle and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Once again came G‑d's question, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" And Elijah gave the same answer as before. Then G‑d instructed him as to his work. Elijah was to go to Damascus and anoint Hazael, who was to be king over Syria. Next he was to anoint Jehu, the son of Nimshi, who was to be king over Israel. Finally he was to anoint Elisha, the son of Shaphat, of Abel-Meholah, who was to be prophet in Elijah's place.

Elijah's Successor

Fortified and encouraged, Elijah left the desert to carry out G‑d's command. At Abel-Meholah, a village in Issachar, he met Elisha, ploughing in the fields. Elijah approached Elisha and threw his mantle over him. The inspired youth left his oxen to follow Elijah. With Elijah's permission he ran home to bid his father and mother a hasty farewell, then he returned to Elijah, followed him, and became his ardent disciple.