Biblical People

Biblical People: Elijah (2)

Our first encounter with Elijah in Scripture occurs when he goes to King Ahab to warn of a famine-producing drought; no dew or rain will fall until Elijah says so. During this famine, God provides for Elijah, first through ravens at a brook and later through a widow in Zarephath.

After three years of no rain, God sends Elijah back to Ahab. Elijah challenges Ahab’s prophets of Baal and Asherah to a spiritual competition of sorts. Elijah and the prophets will each build an altar and pray for fire to rain down from the sky and ignite the offering. The deity who answers will prove he is God. 

The 450 prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah build their altar and cry out to their gods to send fire. Nothing happens.

Elijah taunts them. 

They plead even more, dancing with fervor and mutilating themselves to get their gods’ attention. Still, nothing happens.

Now it’s Elijah’s turn. He builds his altar and arranges the sacrifice on it. Then he drenches everything with water. He prays a simple prayer to God—no pleading, dancing, or self-affliction—asking the Almighty to send fire so the people will know he is the one true God.

Fire shoots down from the sky, burning up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the soil around the altar, even consuming the water Elijah poured on everything.

The people bow low in worship, proclaiming the Lord is God.

Instead of joining the celebration, however, Elijah instructs the people to seize the prophets of Baal and Asherah. He executes all 850 of them. 

Elijah prays for rain and a downpour occurs.

This would be the perfect place to end our story, but there’s more.

When evil Queen Jezebel learns what Elijah did, she threatens to kill him. He runs away in fear.

Yet God doesn’t give up on his fickle prophet. He reveals his presence and speaks to Elijah in a quiet whisper. Among other things, God tells him to go and anoint Elisha to succeed him.

Elijah does, and later God takes him up into heaven in a whirlwind. That’s the end of the story.

Do we have the courage to do what God says even when the odds are against us? Have we ever floundered under the threats of one person, like Elijah did?

[Read Elijah’s story in 1 King 17–19 and 2 King 1–2. Discover more in James 5:17–18.]

Learn about more biblical characters in Old Testament Sinners and Saints, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at