Mountains of God – Mt. Carmel

Mountains of God – Mt. Carmel

Mountains of God – Mt. Carmel.

“Your saving grace and your righteousness are like the mountains of God.” (Psalm 36:6).

Yes, God lives in heaven. But all through Scripture He appears to have a second home here on the earth, in the mountains. God’s personal involvement on mountains deepen the meaning and significance of what mountains have come to symbolize through the ages… stability; safety; permanence; majesty; beauty; spiritual inspiration. One of God’s names in Scripture is El-Shaddai (Genesis 17:1), and an ancient meaning of that name is “God of the Mountain.” It’s easy to see why. God’s attributes can clearly be seen in mountains, including the fixed foundation of His faithful love. “For even if the mountains move and the hills disappear, even then my mercy for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken, says Yahweh Lord, who has mercy on you.” Isaiah is saying that we all know how next to impossible it would be for a mountain to totter and fall. But it’s more likely for mountains to move away than for God to withdraw His unshakeable love for you.

God is like the mountains: He doesn’t change, He stays the same, He is consistently steadfast and stable. Mountains are referenced over 500 times in Scripture. Not only are mountains the go-to place for momentous events all through the Bible, but God Himself made it clear from the beginning that mountains are His first choice as a site to reveal Himself and His favorite place to meet with people. “I lift my eyes to the mountains; where is my help to come from? My help comes from Yahweh Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Down through history people have assumed that since God is in His heavens, the closer one can get to God on high, the more spiritual enlightenment one can receive. There have been pagan shrines and mountaintop gurus as long as we can remember. People have always climbed to the “high places” for heavenly insight and personal contact with the gods, or with God. Irish Christians consider mountains to be one of those sacred “thin places” where the layer between heaven and earth is so thin that a believer can easily step from one to the other. As one person excitedly told Barbara Brown Taylor, ‘You’re sinners going up, but you’ll be saints going down!” People still refer to a special time with God as a “mountaintop experience.” As we study the Mountains of God in Scripture, we come to appreciate how central mountains are in the Word, how important they are to God himself. Mountains will be seen as a sacred part of nature that consistently has seen powerful events and profound conversations between us mere mortals and the Almighty God. Let us rejoice and applaud the God who is the Rock, who has a glorious history of preferring His own mountaintop experiences with us.

“So King Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and all the pagan prophets to Mount Carmel. Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, ‘How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord Yahweh is God, follow Him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!’ But the people were completely silent.” (1 Kings 18:20-21). 

Mt. Carmel is a mountain range of about 24 miles long, extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the heart of Israel. It has been known as a place of beauty, with lots of trees and foliage. Carmel is largely made of limestone, and because it was unexpectedly fertile, it was named Carmel, which means God’s orchard or God’s garden. Because of all its caves, Carmel was also known as an effective hiding place for criminals and for those on the run and don’t want to be found. David was known to hide out there on occasion. It has one higher peak than the rest of the peaks, and was termed a “high place” as far back as the 16th century BC. The top of Carmel was very popular as a worship site, both Jewish and pagan. Baal worship on Carmel included such atrocities as sex worship temple prostitution and the human sacrifice of children at its many altars. For Elijah to choose this mountain for his duel with the prophets of Baal was especially meaningful, because of its history as both a site of Yahweh worship and Baal worship. What better place to stage a fight to the finish which included an altar of the Lord that had been torn down?

Elijah (1 Kings 17, 18 and 19) thundered into town as a country bumpkin from Gilead, on the other side of the tracks. He was a unique character, full of spiritual audacity from the beginning of his ministry, one of the great personalities in the Hebrew Bible. Elijah enjoyed an unusual personal relationship with God. He was known around Judah and Israel for wearing a cloak made of fur and animal hair, a cloak that became famous and was given to Elisha to carry on the prophetic tradition in Elijah’s absence. He also wore a leather loincloth, a homemade piece of underwear that made him that much more a distinctive person when he walked down the street. He was a shaggy outdoorsman, a loner, and he often felt abandoned as a result. He often felt discouraged, if not depressed. Sometimes he literally ran from trouble, but often enough he ran right into the middle of it. He was unafraid to confront the evil king Ahab, for example, but then ran from Queen Jezebel. Elijah was a prayer warrior, a religious reformer, and a miracle worker. Strangely enough, he was once fed by ravens in the wilderness, and another time he was fed by an angel. As James says in the New Testament (5:17-18), “Elijah was human, just like us.” On the other hand, he was not like us at all. Some of his miracles included causing a drought through his prayers, and then three years later causing it to rain; multiplying food and oil for a poor widow, and then raising her young son from the dead. You don’t see that every day, even in the life of a prophet.

There came a time during Elijah’s ministry when he tired of seeing double-mindedness among the fickle faith of the Israelites. They can’t seem to choose who they want to worship. Should it be the Canaanite gods of Baal and Asherah, or should it be Yahweh, the God Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Or maybe an interesting mix of them all would be best. So Elijah confronted king Ahab, who was responsible for much of this idolatry, and issued his challenge. Elijah demanded that Ahab bring all his pagan prophets, all 850 of them, to Mount Carmel. Let’s have a duel of gods, says Elijah, and see who wins. We’ll see who has true divine power, so the people can see once and for all who to follow after.

What would be the betting odds if Las Vegas was running this contest? Elijah, all by himself, was challenging 850 prophets to a spiritual duel. It doesn’t seem like a fair fight at first glance. Some might be thinking that Elijah always liked the spectacular and dramatic, but maybe he went a bit overboard in this thing. Elijah, on the other hand, pities the pagan prophets. He thought that since he had God on his side, those prophets didn’t have a chance.

So there they all are, standing uncomfortably on a plain on the top of Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). The pagan prophets were there, and so were all the people of Israel. They were anxious to get the show started. In the beginning Elijah laid out for the Israelites the main reason for this contest… “If Yahweh is God, follow Him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” The people didn’t know what to say to that challenge, so they remained quiet. Elijah then asked two bulls to be brought to sacrifice on the constructed altar. He told the prophets to butcher one of the bulls and lay it on the altar. All that was needed was for the wood to be fired up so the sacrifice can be offered. And then  later Elijah would do the same and lay his bull on the altar, and he would need for his wood to be kindled as well. Elijah proposed that the prophets pray to their gods, and Elijah would pray to his God, and whoever’s God lights the fire is the true God. Elijah is obviously going out on quite the limb here. He is assuming Yahweh is going to answer the challenge. Throughout this contest, Elijah is full of confidence and has no doubts whatsoever.

Elijah told the prophets to go first. So they laid the butchered bull on the altar and fervently prayed to Baal to light the fire. They prayed, they danced their special pagan dances around the altar, and still nothing happened. Elijah then started in with his trash talk. C’mon, shout a little louder! Dance a little faster! Maybe Baal is daydreaming! Maybe he is busy doing something else! Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to wake up! One translation has it said that Elijah was wondering aloud if Baal is going to the bathroom! The desperate prophets then started to cut themselves with knives and swords until their blood was everywhere. They thought this would show Baal that they are really serious about this request. By the time the middle of the afternoon arrived, after almost the whole day had been spent trying to get Baal to light the fire, the prophets were exhausted. All their feverish work had no effect. There was no reply. No sound. No fire.

So Elijah called the Israelites over to him so they could see him rebuild an altar of the Lord that had been unceremoniously torn down earlier by the prophets of Baal. This rebuilt altar included twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Then they dug a trench around Elijah’s altar. Elijah then had the bull butchered and placed it on the altar over the wood. Having a flair for the dramatic, Elijah revealed that nothing is too difficult for his God. He had the people pour large jars of water over the bull pieces and the wood. Elijah didn’t think it was all soaked enough, so they poured water over everything two more times. There, Elijah said, that should do it.

After all this preparation, Elijah lifted his eyes to God and prayed a simple, straightforward prayer. “Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Yahweh, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Yahweh, are God and that you have brought them back to Yourself.” (1 Kings 18:36-37).

Immediately an intense roaring fire, unnaturally hot, descended from heaven and burned up everything, the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, even the dust. The fire was so intense that it licked up the water filling the trenches. This was quite obviously a fire from the Lord’s presence, so hot that stones and even dust was vaporized! Yahweh has been declared the heavyweight champion. This astounded the people of Israel, as one would imagine, and they all fell face down on the ground and cried out, “Yahweh is God! Yes! Yahweh is God!” Elijah then revealed that this whole episode was indeed a holy war, and the pagan prophets were combatants. So instead of trying to convert all those prophets, Elijah took charge of executing every single one of them. Evidently, there was no mercy for those responsible for leading the Israelites astray. From beginning to end of this confrontation on Mt. Carmel, Elijah was inspired with holy chutzpah, straight from God.