The Audio Summary
Melakhim Alef Chapter 18
Hashem instructs Eliyahu to appear before Ahav and tell the king that He will soon bring rain to Israel to end the three-year drought. In the meantime, Ahav and Ovadiah, the manager of his household, are foraging through Shomron in search of any remaining pasture that might save the surviving horses and mules who have been starving. Ovadiah is a deeply God-fearing man. Although Izevel, wife of Ahav, conducted fierce persecution and massacre of the prophets of Hashem (possibly in retaliation for Eliyahu’s decree of a drought), Ovadiah took the initiative to hide and support one hundred of them in two caves, where he secretly provided them bread and water.
Eliyahu encounters Ovadiah and tells him to inform his master, Ahav, that the prophet is present. Ovadiah is hesitant to comply with Eliyahu’s command. Ahav has been searching across the world for Eliyahu for three years and if Ovadiah claims to have found him and then Eliyahu “disappears”, Ovadiah fears being punished severely for the false alarm. Eliyahu swears in the name of Hashem that he will indeed meet Ahav, reassuring Ovadiah.
Ahav arrives to see Eliyahu and derisively calls him “troubler of Israel”. Eliyahu responds that it is in fact Ahav and his household, with their abandonment of Hashem and embrace of idolatry, who have brought suffering upon the nation. Eliyahu proposes a showdown with the prophets of the Baal. He tells Ahav to call upon the prophets of Baal and Ashera and to have them gather at Mount Carmel. Ahav complies with Eliyahu’s request and the prophets are assembled together.
Eliyahu acknowledges that he is the one remaining prophet of Hashem facing four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. He confronts the people on their hypocrisy – if they believe in Hashem, they should reject the Baal, and if they believe in the Baal, they should quit pretending to serve Hashem.
Eliyahu outlines a contest to determine which deity is the true God. Each side of the dispute will select a bullock and prepare an offering. They should then call upon their respective gods; whichever one responds with a miraculous fire to consume the sacrifice will be worshiped as God. The Baal prophets agree, and Eliyahu allows them to go first, since they are the larger group.
The prophets of Baal arrange their bull-offering on an altar and begin calling out to Baal, dancing upon the altar. By the afternoon, there has still been no response, and Eliyahu mocks the prophets of the Baal, suggesting that perhaps their god is distracted, traveling, sleeping or otherwise indisposed. The prophets of the Baal become desperate and engage in ritual self-mutilation, cutting themselves until blood gushes forth. There is no answer, and eventually, the prophets of the Baal give up.
Eliyahu then summons the assembled audience to draw close to him. He proceeds to construct an altar to Hashem made of twelve stones, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He digs a trench around the altar and fills it with water. Eliyahu then lays wood and the butchered meat of his offering on top of the altar. He tells the people to douse his offering with water; they pour four pitchers of water on it three times, again for a total of twelve.
Eliyahu beseeches Hashem to answer his prayer and demonstrate that He is the true God and that Eliyahu is his faithful servant. A miraculous fire descends from heaven to consume the sacrifice, burn the wood and evaporate the water in the trenches, and the people are inspired to proclaim that Hashem is the only true God. Eliyahu takes advantage of the enthusiasm of the moment and directs the Jews to seize all of the prophets of the Baal, who now have been revealed as charlatans. Eliyahu kills all of the false prophets by the Brook of Kishon.
Eliyahu tells Ahav to go eat and drink because a rainstorm is imminent. Eliyahu ascends to Mount Carmel and waits with his face between his knees. He asks his servant to look out on the horizon to see if he spots any rain clouds; the seventh time, he sees a tiny cloud arising from the sea. Eliyahu instructs his servant to urge Ahav to rush home to his palace before the heavy rainfall arrives to deter him. Soon after, the sky blackens with cloud cover and an intense rainstorm follows. Eliyahu himself runs before the chariot of Ahav in agesture of respect for the newly repentant king.
There are a couple of interesting ideas to reflect upon in this chapter. First, although Hashem informs Eliyahu that He plans to finally put an end to the lengthy drought and famine in Israel, Eliyahu still proceeds under the assumption that some change must occur in the nation to justify this. Apparently, he interprets Hashem’s instruction that he engage with Ahav not just as a command to inform the king what is about to happen but as a command to teach or inspire the king in some way and make him thereby worthy of receiving the blessing of rainfall. Change in our fate does not happen because of a shift in Hashem’s perspective but because of a shift in our own attitudes, values and behavior.
The fact that Eliyahu encounters and speaks with Ovadiah before meeting with Ahav is fascinating and their dialogue is quite instructive. While Ovadiah refers to Eliyahu as his master and draws attention to his own piety and fear of God, Eliyahu subtly “rebukes” Ovadiah by calling Ahav his master instead. In some ways, Ovadiah represents the nation of Israel, torn between the spiritual authority of the true prophets on one hand and the temporal power of the corrupt monarchy on the other.
Ovadiah claims allegiance to Eliyahu and belief in his message, and he has indeed protected the prophets of Hashem, yet he is employed by Ahav and subservient to him. The conflict experienced by Ovadiah no doubt afflicted many of the Jews who wanted to maintain a level of connection to Judaism and Torah while benefiting from the stability and security provided for them by the regime of Ahav, which was unfortunately steeped in idolatry.
Eliyahu identifies this somewhat hypocritical stance in Ovadiah but is even more strident when he confronts the Jews who have gathered to witness the spectacle at Mount Carmel. He castigates the assembled Israelites for their self-contradiction and inconsistency in worshiping both Hashem and the Baal. In a statement that sounds almost blasphemous, Eliyahu suggests that if they truly believe Baal is god, they should abandon the service of Hashem altogether and follow the Baal exclusively! Why does Eliyahu endorse such an extreme and exclusive position? Isn’t it better to worship both Hashem and the Baal than not to worship Hashem at all?
Upon reflection, we can appreciate Eliyahu’s point, and it fits perfectly with his generally uncompromising worldview. An individual who takes a definite position on an issue can be argued with and proven wrong. He or she is engaged in the search for truth, seeks explanations that make sense, and will discard those that are irreconcilable with the facts.
On the other hand, a person who is comfortable living in a state of self-contradiction and inconsistency is much more difficult to debate or to educate. Since they haven’t subscribed to a single, clear opinion on the issue at hand, anything goes – and since their position is constantly shifting back and forth (in the words of Eliyahu, “hopping between two sides”) they are immune to disproof. Like slick politicians who resist the temptation to commit to any one principle, they can easily avoid the pain of losing an argument by changing their views as needed.
The whole point of Eliyahu’s demonstration at Mount Carmel is his demand that the Jewish people stop equivocating and agree to abide by one absolute truth. This way, the proof he provides of Hashem’s existence will automatically necessitate the rejection of all other objects of worship.