By Fire and By Water
October 15th, 1961 @ 7:30 PM
1 Kings 18:1-46
BY FIRE AND BY WATER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Kings 18:1-46
10-15-61 7:30 p.m.
That is what I like! Ah, you can see the clouds gathering and the lightning flashing, and the thunder reverberating, and the deluge coming, and Elijah saying to Ahab, "Get thee down to thy chariot. Kishon will be a swollen torrent and it will cut you off from home, ride!" And the eighteen miles to Jezreel, Ahab found in front of his fiery chariot, and his steeds Elijah, the prophet of God, running. And for eighteen miles, Elijah outran the horses and the chariots of Ahab, for the Spirit of the Lord God was upon him. Can you feel that in that song?
I tell you, it is too long for us to read the whole chapter. I am going to preach through the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Kings tonight. So let us read the last part of it. First Kings chapter 18, we will start at verse 41. And all of us read it together, and if your neighbor does not have his Bible, share yours with him. First Kings chapter 18, verse 41, now, let us everybody read it together, 1 Kings, chapter 18, verse 41, together,
And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.
So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees,
And said to his servant, Go look now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times.
And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.
And it came to pass in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
[1 Kings 18:41-46]
The most astonishing thing that I think you could read in the Word of the Lord! Now, that’s the climax of the chapter. And we’re going to follow the story in the whole chapter.
The word of the Lord came to Elijah and said "Hide thyself." [1 Kings 17:3] So Elijah hid himself, according to the word of the Lord. And now in chapter 18, it came to pass, after many days, after three and a half years, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, "Go, show thyself." [1Kings 18:1] So Elijah, according to the word of the Lord, reentered the land of Israel after he had been gone for three years to show himself unto Ahab, according to the word of the Lord.
And Elijah went to show himself unto Ahab, and when he entered into the land of Palestine, the famine was sore in Samaria. The famine was brutal and merciless everywhere, but it was doubly disastrous in Samaria. I can imagine the devastation that greeted the eyes of Elijah as he entered into the land of his people. The vineyards had died. The olive trees had shed their leaves. The calves and the wild beasts and every living thing was gasping for water and for life. The very ground had turned to dust and to powder. The heavens above were brass, and the earth was iron.
It was a scene of indescribable loss and desolation. I can imagine, as Elijah walked down those dusty roads that he saw the corpses of the poor who had fallen in death due to their awful and indescribable privation. And the famine was sore in Samaria.
But also, as Elijah walked through the length of his land to appear before Ahab in Samaria, also Elijah must have looked upon the altars of Jehovah that were thrown down and the stones strewn in contempt and unbelief over the ground. And he could have seen also the altars of Baal rising on every high place and hidden away in every grove, and have seen the false prophets of the Phoenician idolatry calling upon the names of their false deities.
I can imagine Elijah, as he walked down those roads seeing the places where God’s prophets had been slain. I could suppose that it was with mixed emotions that Elijah walked through the length of his country. This is the curse of God upon our people that forsake their Lord.
So Elijah comes and he meets the godly Obadiah, the steward in the household of the king. And seeing godly Obadiah, Elijah says, "Go, tell thy lord Ahab that I have come to present myself before him, according to the word of Jehovah God" [1 Kings 18:8].
And when Obadiah saw Elijah and when Obadiah heard what Elijah said, Obadiah replied, "You do not mean that. You do not realize the fury Ahab against you, for," said Obadiah, "there is not a nation and there is not a kingdom in this earth whither Ahab has not sent for thee; and has taken an oath from every king in the earth that thou art not hiding in his kingdom. You do not know the fury of Ahab against you."
Then Obadiah said a second thing, "And if, peradventure, you are foolish enough to brave the wrath of Ahab, the Lord God would take thee away in order that thy life might be spared" [1 Kings 18:1-12]. Or, thought Obadiah, this man Elijah doesn’t realize the wrath of the king, or, if he did, the Lord God would take him away, lest Ahab slay him before his eyes.
But you know, the fear of the Lord does something for a man; a man who fears God fears nobody else! There are twelve legions of angels at his side [Matthew 26:53]; there are mountains filled with horses and chariots of fire around a man like Elijah [2 Kings 6:16-17], fearing God, fearing no man that lives, not the face of a man in the earth. So he says, "You go tell Ahab that this time tomorrow I will appear before him." So Obadiah goes, and according to the promise of Elijah, the prophet appears before Ahab, the husband of Jezebel, and the cause of the ruin and the disaster and the famine in the land. And when Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, "You, you, you that trouble Israel" [1 Kings 18:15-17]. And Elijah answered:
I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, breaking down the altars of God, and slaying the prophets of the Almighty.
– and then, Elijah makes a promise –
You gather all of the false prophets of Baal and all the false prophets of Astarte. And gather all the people on Mount Carmel; and there we will have a trial by fire. After that trial, God will send rain.
[1 Kings 18:1, 18-19]
And baited by the promise of rain and the end of the drought and the famine, Ahab agrees. And in his acquiescence, all the prophets of Baal are there – four hundred and fifty – and all of the people of Israel are there [1 Kings 18:20, 22].
I can see them making their trek up to the top of Mount Carmel by the thousands and by the thousands. From the north, they come from Dan. And from the south, they come from Bethel. And from the east, they come from Gilead. And from the west, they come from Sharon. And from the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, there do they gather, there do they gather on the top of Mount Carmel. And I can imagine that no tiger ever more fiercely watched and stalked his prey than Ahab looked upon Elijah, as that great concourse of people assembled on the top of the Mount next to the Mediterranean Sea. Then when they were gathered, Elijah spoke seven times. First, he flung out a great challenge. "How long halt ye," he says, "between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him. But if Baal be God, then follow him." [1 Kings 18:21]
Same thing as the Lord said about the Laodicean church: "You are not hot and you are not cold, and you are not for and you are not against, and you are lukewarm, and just middlin’ and tolerable and in between." [Revelation 3:16]
"How long," says Elijah, "do you debate the thing in your heart. If God is God, follow Him. If Baal is God, then follow him." And the people answered not a word, not a word. They were ashamed and conscience-stricken before the great prophet Elijah. That was his first word.
Then his second word was a proposition. Elijah said, "Baal is the sun god and the god of fire. So, let us try it by fire. And the God that answers by fire, let Him be God [1 Kings 18:24]. They will build an altar," said Elijah, "and I will build an altar, and we will put a sacrifice thereon, and we will ask, and the God that answers by fire, let Him be God." And the Baalites couldn’t demur. They couldn’t refuse; for their god is the god of the fury and of the burning and of the flame and the fire. And Elijah’s God is the God that spoke to Moses in a burning bush [Exodus 3:2]. He is the God that guided Israel by a pillar of fire by night [Exodus 13:21]. He is the God that burned on the top of Sinai [Exodus 19:18]. And He is the God that slew the people when they murmured [Numbers 16:41-]. And He is the God that burned the sacrifices on the brazen altar, when it was dedicated to the Lord [Leviticus 9:24]. "Let Him be God that answers by fire."
Now the third word that Elijah spake was when he mocked and ridiculed the prophets of Baal. From nine o’clock in the morning until twelve o’clock at high noon, they went around in their choric dance. And they repeated that monotonous chant: "Baal, Baal, send the fire. Baal, Baal, send the fire. Baal, Baal, send the fire." And they leaped on the altar, and they cut themselves with knifes and lances, until the blood gushed from their body. "Baal, send the fire." [1 Kings 18:2 6-28]
And then at twelve o’clock, at high noon, Elijah began to ridicule them and to mock them. And he said, "Cry louder." And they already were crying until they were busting their diaphragms. "Cry louder," said Elijah, "cry louder, for he is a god. Surely, Baal is a god. He may be talking to somebody, or he may be on a journey, or, perchance, he is on a vacation, or he might be asleep. Cry," said Elijah, "cry aloud" [1 Kings 18:27]. And they cried louder. And they cried from twelve o’clock at noon until three o’clock in the afternoon. Six solid hours did they cry unto Baal to send the fire, nobody answered. Nobody said, nobody looked, nobody observed, nobody, nobody! It was deaf and stillness and silence.
Then Elijah spake the fourth time, and he said to his people, "Come near unto me." [1 Kings 18:30] And those people that had been around there at a distance, watching all those prophets of Baal go through all of those incantations, they drew near to Elijah. And with tender and loving hands, Elijah searched out the twelve stones that had once been a part of the altar to Jehovah God. And Elijah reverently and tenderly and preciously put the stones back in their places, until the altar was reared as one in the presence of God. And then, he slew his sacrifice, the bullock, and laid it in place in the altar [1 Kings 18:31-32].
Then Elijah spoke the fifth time, and he said, "Bring four barrels of water." And from the sea, they brought four barrels of water. And then he said, "Do it a second time and do it three times" [1 Kings 18:33-34], until there were twelve barrels of water poured on the altar and in the trench – filled it up. No possibility of some kind of a chicanery or some kind of a magic trick: the whole thing doused and covered and swimming in water. And then Elijah spake the sixth time. At the time of the evening sacrifice in the temple at Jerusalem, at three o’clock in the afternoon, when the lamb was offered before the Lord, why, Elijah prayed in quietness and in confidence. I think this is why, why it is in the Bible that Jesus said, "You are not heard from your much speaking" [Matthew 6:7]. You are not heard because you are going through all of those jargons and gyrations and all of the other things that sometimes I see people do, trying to get God to listen. You’re not heard for your much speaking. Just say it to the Lord earnestly, and faithfully, and confidently, and with great assurance.
That’s what Elijah does here. He speaks to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he says, "Let it be known today that Thou art God, and that I, Thy servant, have done all of these things at Thy word. Hear me, O Lord. Hear me, that these people may know that Thou art God, and that Thou hast turned their hearts back again" [1 Kings18:36-37].
And when he offered that prayer of earnest supplication to the Lord, the Lord answered by fire. And the flame and the fury came down from heaven, and it burned the sacrifice, and it burned the wood, and it burned the stones, and it burned the ground, and it licked up the water itself! And the people, when they saw it, fell on their faces by the thousands and the thousands and said, "God, He is the Lord. The Lord, He is the great God" [1Kings 18:38-39].
And then, Elijah spake the seventh time: "These false prophets, they have slain the servants of God and have brought this desolation on the land, seize them!" [1 Kings 18:40]. There, by the Brook Kishon, did Elijah slay them, to expatiate the blood they had shed and the terror they had brought upon God’s land and God’s people.
And then, and then – the passage we began to read together – and then, Elijah said unto Ahab, "Get thee up. Get thee up; for there is a sound of an abundance of rain" [1 Kings 18:41]. And Ahab went up to eat, and Elijah went up to pray. And Elijah went up to pray, and on the top of Mount Carmel, facing the great, blue expanse of the Mediterranean Sea, Elijah bowed himself down to pray [1 Kings 18:42].
That prayer: may I say these five things about it? First, he prayed on the basis of a divine promise. First Kings 18:1 begins: "Go, show thyself unto [Ahab]; and I will send rain upon the earth." The promises of God are to incite us to pray, to encourage us to pray. And the promises of God are to point out what we should pray for. God has these things written in His Book that we might take them before the Lord and say, "According to Thy Word," and standing on the promises, kneeling on the Word of God, to pray according to the Lord’s appointment and the Lord’s will. So Elijah kneels down, and on the basis of the promise, "I will send rain upon the earth," Elijah began to pray.
A second thing about his prayer: he prayed earnestly. In James 5:17: "Elijah prayed earnestly," sincerely, deeply. He didn’t pray like we pray. We go to bed and in the midst of our prayer, oh, we go to sleep. Or, we pray when it is convenient to pray. And we pray so nonchalantly and so indifferently. And if God were to hear it, fine; if He does not, fine. If He answers it, fine; if He does not answer it, it is just as well. "He prayed earnestly." He poured out his soul.
And he prayed humbly: "And Elijah went up to the top of the mountain, and he cast himself down upon the earth, and he put his face between his knees" [1 Kings 18:42]. Why, this man had stood up just a little while before like a towering oak in a great forest. And now, he is bent over like a bulrush. And he prayed humbly, casting himself on the ground with his face between his knees.
You know, I have a little motto I keep in the front of my Bible: "He stands best who kneels most. He stands strongest, who kneels weakest. He stands longest, who kneels lowest." There he is, God’s great prophet, there on his face, down in that dusty ground that hasn’t seen a drop of water for three and a half years, and there, prostrate before God, with his face between his knees, crying unto the Almighty in his humility.
Now, he prayed in perseverance. And as he prayed, he said to the young servant, "Go, go, and stand at the crest of Mount Carmel." I’ve stood there and relived every syllable of this great scene. "Stand at the brow of Mount Carmel," there jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. "Stand at the crest of Mount Carmel and tell me what you see."
And the young fellow came back and said, "Nothing, nothing," and he went up and looked, and said, "There is nothing" [1 Kings 18: 43]. Oh, how it tries a man’s soul in prayer: "And there is nothing." There is emptiness. There is void. There is just a blue sky between the man who is interceding and the high heavens above.
How much easier it is when you have got something to do, if you have an Ahab to catch by the beard and brazen it out with him face-to-face, or if you have prophets you can slay with a sword, or if you have a sermon you can preach, or if you have a race you can run, anything. But when there is nothing between you and God, but the open sky, . And he prayed and he asked God. And he sent the young man one time, and he said, "There is nothing. There is nothing." The young fellow was honest. How many times do we encourage people, "Oh, we are getting along fine"; we aren’t getting along fine at all. "Oh, we are doing great"; we’re not doing great at all. "Oh, we’re achieving things for God." We are not achieving things for God at all.
Like when the Lord talked to Peter about his fishing: he said, "Lord, we have toiled all night long and have caught nothing, nothing" [Luke 5:5]. "And there is nothing."
And Elijah bowed himself, and he agonized before God; like Jacob wrestled with the angel [Genesis 32:24-31]; like Jesus, with strong crying and tears, prayed unto the Lord [Hebrews 5:7] – Elijah prayed.
What did he pray? Isn’t that a strange thing? There is no reporter there, so we do not know what he said. How in the world would you report a prayer, anyway? How would you do it? You can’t even report preaching like it ought to be, and like it really is, if a man is really preaching!
How does a printer’s ink ever catch the clenched fist of a man, or the trembling of his soul, or the moving of his whole spirit and body, or the tear that falls from his eye? How do you catch a thing like that in word and syllable? Much less, how do you print a prayer that agonizes with God?
"The Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" [Romans 8:26]. And this man of God prayed: "O God, rain, rain." And finally, as he continues his prayer, he just comes to God in sharp, piercing intercessory exclamations: "Rain, the thirsty land, the dying people. Rain, Lord, rain according to the holy promise. God, rain, rain, rain."
And he sent the young man the seventh time, seventh time. [1 Kings 18:44] And the seventh time, God bowed down to look at His servant. And the angels of heaven looked over the battlements there on Mount Carmel, where God’s man, on the shoulder of that great mountain, was as near heaven as a man could get. And the Lord said, "And it is enough. And it is enough." And the angel said, "Glory, glory, glory."
And the fifth thing: the sound of an abundance. Why, bless your soul, for three and a half years, the sun had been gathering tiny droplets of mist from the sea and the oceans and the rivers and lakes, to answer the prayer of Elijah! The very stars in their courses work for the people of God.
"The sound of an abundance of rain" [1 Kings 18:41]. "The cloud the size of a man’s hand." It augered, it was a harbinger of, it was an earnest for, the great deluge that was to come: "The cloud the size of a man’s hand" [1 Kings 18:43].
"When you hear the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees,.Thrust, march" [2 Samuel 5:24], said God to David. And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit ushered in the great day of the church with a sighing and with a sounding and with a blowing of the Spirit of God upon the people [Acts 2:1-4]. "There is a sound of an abundance of rain."
And he said to his young man, "Go," say to Ahab, "Get thee down in thy chariot, for Kishon will soon be turned into a swelling, swollen torrent. Lest it cut thee off from thy home, get thee up" [1 Kings 18:44-45]. And Ahab, according to the word of Elijah, entered into his chariot. And the heavens turned black with the fury of God’s answer from above! And there was a great rain. The hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins, and in that eighteen miles from Carmel down to Jezreel, Elijah, in the power and Spirit of the Lord Jehovah, ran in front of the horses of the chariot of Ahab [1 Kings 18:46]. And there was rain. And it rushed along. And it rushed along. And it rushed along. Thanks be to God!
Oh, I can see it in a thousand places in Israel. The man with his vineyard, thanks be to God! And the man with his few sheep, thanks be to God! And the man in the field, thanks be to God! And I can see the people, who hadn’t seen the heavens turn black with a cloud for three and a half years, rushing out of their homes and out of their places, and there lifting up hands of gratitude to God for the rain that was laving the thirsty land.
I have told you I think, I have told you I have lived in the drought in West Texas when, like the Scriptures say, "the heavens turned to brass, and the earth turned to iron." And on a farm on the Texas line, the drought, the lowing of the cattle, the pastures burned and dry and the fields wilted and dead; and upon a time as a small, small child, standing by the side of my father, in the backdoor of that humble farm home, my father began to shout – humble, self-effacing, quiet all of his life. It was raining! It was raining!
And my father stood in the back door of the kitchen and shouted to the top of his voice, an amazing thing to me! And looking up in his face, I said, "And father, why do you shout so?"
And he replied, "Son, the rain, the rain, the rain. Rain for the fields. Rain for the pastures. Rain for the flocks. Rain for the herds. Rain for the people of God. Son, the rain, the rain." And there was a great rain.
Oh, the spirit of intercession and the spirit of perseverance and the spirit of a great commitment in a great faith! And Elijah prayed earnestly, and it rained." He was a like man in his passions, and in his life, and in his manhood as we are today. But the promises are to those who seize them, for the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force [Matthew 11:12]: those who seize it, and those who open their hearts to it, and those who wrestle before it, and those who enter into it.
"God help me, here I come, and here I am." And the Lord opens wide His arms to receive us, and He bows down His ear to hear us, and He lengthens His great mighty arms to war for us. That’s the same Lord God today as to whom Elijah prayed in this time of the long, long ago.
While we sing this song of invitation tonight, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus, and somebody you, to put your life with us in the fellowship of the church, as the Spirit of the Lord shall say the word and as God shall open the door, would you come tonight? From the top row of that top balcony, somebody you, there’s time and a plenty and to spare to come, down one of these stairways, at the front or the back, make it tonight. On this lower floor, somebody you, putting your life in the fellowship of the church, as God shall say the word and the Spirit of Jesus shall open the way, make it tonight. "Preacher, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God." Or, "Pastor, this is my wife. These are our children. All of us are coming together to be with God’s people in this holy congregation, and we are doing it tonight." On the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle or down one of those stairwells: "Here, I am preacher, and here I come." Amen. God speed you in the way, as we stand and as we sing.
BY FIRE AND BY WATER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Kings 18:1-46
I. Hide thyself/Show thyself
1. Elijah enters Israel after 3 ½ years of hiding
2. Elijah entered Samaria during terrible famine
3. Elijah appears before Ahab boldly
II. Elijah speaks seven times
1. Rebukes Baal worship
2. Challenges- God or Baal?
3. Mocked and ridiculed Baal and prophets of Baal
4. Invitation to come to God’s altar
5. Command to douse the altar with water
7. Order for execution of prophets of Baal
III. Prayer of Elijah
1. Based on God’s promise; show thyself to Ahab, rain will be sent
4. Full of expectant faith
5. Abundant answer