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Ahab’s famine-discipline had gone on for three and a half long years. Ahab and Jezebel were just as bad as ever. They had continued to try to hunt down Elijah, and Jezebel had tried to kill all of God’s prophets.
But Elijah was content to live in the wilderness helping a widow and her son. He didn’t need to feel like he was busy “accomplishing” stuff all the time. So he waited quietly and patiently, until finally one day God said to Elijah, “Go to Ahab and talk to him. It’s time for rain.”
So Elijah left Zarephath and sent a message to king Ahab, “I’m back.”
When Ahab went out and saw Elijah in the distance, he shouted, “Hey, is it really you — the trouble-maker of Israel?”
But Elijah replied, “Israel’s trouble isn’t my fault. It’s your fault — because you have stopped obeying the one true God and are following those false-god Baals instead.”
Then Elijah said, “Now send out messengers to assemble all of the people of Israel before me at Mount Carmel, as well as the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah’s poles — Jezebel’s friends.”
Ahab did just as Elijah said. (I reckon Ahab was tired of the no rain situation, huh?) Elijah stood up in front of all the people, and talked to them, “How long are you guys going to limp between two opinions — wavering back and forth, back and forth? If YAHWEH is the one true God, then follow Him, but if Baal is, then follow him!”
But the people just stood in complete silence, staring at him. They didn’t say a word. (Have you ever been slow to make up your mind about something, so you just sort of “freeze” and stare, thinking back and forth, back and forth? Doing nothing? This is what the people were doing.)
Elijah continued, “Here I am — the only prophet of Yahweh left. But there are 450 prophets of Baal. So what if I do a little competition with these so-called “prophets” of Baal? Somebody bring us two bulls. Baal’s “prophets” get to set up an offering on their altar. And I’ll set up an offering on my altar. You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord Yahweh. Whichever god responds by sending down fire from Heaven to burn up the offering on the altar will show that he is the true God and will be the winner.”
The people thought this sounded like a good idea. They said, “Yeah. That’s fair. Let’s do it!”
So Elijah told the prophet’s of Baal, “You go first, you’ve got the most people. Pick your cow and get it set up. But don’t light the fire yourselves. Call out to your god and have him light your fire for you.”
So they set up their offering and all morning, for hours and hours, the Baal prophets asked, “O Baal! Light this fire!” and they cried, “O Baal! Make your fire burn!” and screamed, “O Baal! Send your fire! Send your fire!”
They called and called out to Baal to send down fire from heaven. They ran and danced and jumped insanely around the altar they had made. They thought if they could just yell louder or jump higher or run faster or be crazier that Baal might actually answer them.
At lunchtime, after this had been going on for many hours, with nothing happening, Elijah started to make fun of those false-prophets of the false-god Baal. He said, “Try yelling louder! Don’t stop. After all, he is a real god, right? So maybe he’s deep in thought. Or maybe he’s busy on the potty. Or perhaps he went on a trip and won’t be back for awhile. Oh, I know, I bet he’s just asleep and needs you to wake him up…”
This made the Baal prophets angry, so they shouted louder and louder to try to get the attention of their false god. All afternoon this went on and on, and got crazier and crazier! “O Baal! Send your fire! Send your fire!” They screamed and danced and yelled. But there was nothing — no sound, no answer, no fire from heaven. Nothing. Finally, they gave up. It was no use. Baal was not hearing them.
Now it was Elijah’s turn. He called to the people, “Come on over to me.” So all the people came in close to watch. Elijah was preparing the greatest show ever, and he didn’t want anyone to miss it.
Elijah fixed the broken altar of the Lord that was there on the mountain. Then Elijah took 12 stones — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 — one for each of the tribes of Israel, and made another altar to the Lord. Around the new altar Elijah dug a huge trench. Then he put the wood and the cow sacrifice on the altar.
Elijah wanted to make this the greatest show ever to prove just how powerful God was!
“Fill four big buckets with water, and dump it onto my offering.”
What? Water? Do you know what happens to wood when it’s even a little bit wet? It gets VERY hard to burn. It just doesn’t want to catch on fire. And Elijah was putting buckets and buckets and buckets of water on his wood!
1… 2… 3… 4.
After the first four buckets of water, Elijah said, “Do that again. Four more buckets.” So they did it again.
5… 6… 7… 8.
“One more time.” So they poured four more buckets of water on the wood!
9… 10… 11… 12.
By now the wood was SOAKING wet. There was so much water flowing that it rolled down the sides of the altar and completely filled up the big trench around the altar. That’s a lot of water!
What was Elijah thinking? Why would he go to the extra trouble to make it even harder for him to “win” against the Baal prophets? He needed God to step in and help anyway, but now he absolutely needed God. Even if you had a big torch you wouldn’t be able to light that wood because now his wood was soaking wet!
Miracle Time. Elijah saw how the people limped around between opinions and he knew more words, words, words wouldn’t help them. He knew he needed to GO BIG or go home. He would have to risk everything so God could do something SPECTACULAR. He wanted it to be clear — beyond a shadow of a doubt — to every single person, that God would be the One to light this fire. No excuses, no “explanations.” He wanted the people to know: With God, is where you want to be.
Elijah stepped toward the soaking wet altar and prayed calmly, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, prove to these people today that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant and have done all these things because You told me to. God, answer me so that these people will know that You, Yahweh, are the One and only true God and that You have come to win back their allegiance.”
God, Light it up!
BOOM BABY! Fire from Yahweh fell down from Heaven. (Have you ever seen fire falling from the sky before? I bet those people hadn’t either!)
That fire was so big and so hot and so clearly from God that it COMPLETELY burned up the wood, and the cow and rocks and the dirt and ALL the water that was on the altar and down in the trench. All that was left of all that stuff was just a little pile of ashes. Whoa. Normal fire could never do that.
When all the people saw what had happened, they weren’t frozen with wavering over what to do and who to believe anymore. They threw themselves down with their faces on the ground and said, “The Lord, Yahweh is the Real God! Yahweh IS the Real God!”
What they had seen wasn’t just words, words, words like the Baal prophets had used and that didn’t work at all. This was POWER! And the people had seen it with their own eyes!
“Now grab those prophets of Baal,” Elijah called, “and don’t let even one escape.” So they did away with every last one of those so-called prophets of Baal.
Thanks to Elijah, God had been able to prove His Incredibly, Credible Power once again. And when the people saw that Power, they knew: This is where we want to be.