24 Fire

[The Misliya chapter precedes this chapter because 1 Kings 18:13 Obadiah tells Elijah he’s hiding bubblers in caves.]i

  1. Fire on the Mountain

861 BC

Fort Jezreel, Jezreel Valley, Israel

Obadiah found Ahab sitting under a dried-up fig tree next to the Dothan cutoff.

“Biah.” Ahab ducked out from beneath the branches. “How much grass did you find?” He glanced at Obadiah’s two bodyguards waiting on their mounts. “What happened to your other guards?”

“They’re with your goatskin kid.”

Ahab knit his brows. “Goatskin?”

Obadiah waggled his eyebrows. “‘Neither dew nor rain.’ That day at the fort. The kid who left without saying goodbye.”

Ahab sputtered. “Goatskin Kid. My people have been starving for three years. You should have wrapped that vagabond in chains and dragged him to me behind your chariot.”

Obadiah shrugged. “He says he’ll see you now.”

“See me?” Ahab’s nostrils flared. “The arrogant twerp. Jerk my chain like I’m his pet lamb? I should have grabbed that kid by the neck that day he pranced up to me in the market.”

Ahab scowled over Obadiah’s chariot rail. “Did he say when we get rain?”

Obadiah pursed his lips. “Um, rain. Yes. The Lord told him to show himself to you, then the rain. He’s with Zak at the foot of Mt. Carmel.”

Ahab climbed into his chariot. “Take me to this charmer.”

His driver wheeled the horses around.

“I sure hope you’ve got this one, Lord.” Obadiah followed Ahab and his bodyguards past Fort Jezreel and rolled to a halt behind them at a low-spreading oak.

Zak and two guards sat with two young men.

As Ahab stomped over to them, one young man grasped a root and pulled himself to his feet. He wore a goatskin too short to cover his knees or elbows.

Ahab shook a finger in his face. “I know you, Goatskin Kid. Elijah. Troublemaker. You’ve ruined our harvests.”

Elijah spoke in soft, clear tones. “My king, you and your father destroyed our crops when you turned from the Lord and followed idols.”

Ahab’s face turned gray as ashes.

The young man turned toward the mountain. “The Lord didn’t send me to argue, my king. Bring the tribes.” He aimed his long, bony arm up the slope. “Here on Carmel. The fourth day of next week. At sunrise.”

Obadiah held his breath. Gideon and Saul had called the tribes together—to declare war. Ahab would laugh this soft-spoken youngster out of the valley.

Yet Ahab lowered his eyes under the silent stare and took a step back.

Elijah tilted his head. “And please invite the four hundred and fifty Moloch agents along with those four hundred Asherah officials who eat with Jezebel.”

Obadiah gave a slow shake of the head. Where did this young man find his bravado? What was his interest in the queen’s goons? And how would he affect bubblers in hiding?

Elijah raised his chin toward Ahab. “Don’t leave anyone out. Understand?”

As Ahab trudged to his chariot, he bowed his head and bent so low his white linen robe dragged in the dirt.

Obadiah’s jaw dropped. Ahab acted like any junior officer who knew a dismissal when he heard one.

Ahab gripped the rail. “That kid has me by the short hairs. I can’t just… If we don’t get rain…”

Obadiah covered Ahab’s hand with his own. “I’ll notify the tribes, my king.”


Obadiah stood with Ahab and their bodyguards, surrounded by the murmur of the crowd.

Elijah and his brother stood on his right.

In front of him, tribal leaders waved the banners of Gad, Simeon, and Reuben. On his left, the standards of Manasseh and Ephraim. On the far north side of the crest, early light showed the banners of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. And on Obadiah’s right, against the dark blue of the Great Sea, Issachar and Zebulun.ii

Ahab cocked his head toward Elijah. “Everybody’s here, kid. Start your show.” He patted the top of a shoulder-high boulder.

Zak crouched, cupped his hands for Elijah’s foot, and boosted him onto the rock.

Elijah ran a hand through his scraggly beard and tugged his goatskin over his skinny knees.

“Who’s the guy on the rock?” The call came from under Zebulun’s banner, a ship in full sail.

“Where’s Ahab?” came from a waving banner of Reuben.

Elijah planted his feet, squared his shoulders, and let the goatskin ride up.

Obadiah tugged on his lip. These tribal leaders needed to see more than good posture.

Elijah lifted his chin and sang out over the crowd, “How long will you stumble between two opinions?”

Jaws closed. Heads turned.

Standing tall, Elijah opened his arms wide. “If the Lord is God, then follow the Lord. If Moloch is God, then follow Moloch.”

Men answered not a word.

As Obadiah crossed his arms over his chest, his stomach fluttered. More. Give us more.

Elijah spread his hands to the crowd. “So, who’s God? Moloch or the Lord? A test. Let the real God answer with fire.”

He pointed his lanky arm at the Moloch officials clustered behind the Manasseh and Ephraim tribes. “There they are. Four hundred and fifty. Let them butcher a bull and lay the pieces on the wood.” He drew out the words. “But here’s the catch. No fire.”

A low murmur swept the crowd. Mouths opened. Men glanced from face to face.

Obadiah squinted. What did he mean by “no fire”?

Elijah called to the crowd. “We Hebrews will do the same. Butcher a bull and stack the meat. But without fire.” He swung his arm in a deliberate arc across the crowd. “You get the picture. Two bulls. And no one starts a fire.”

He turned to the gaping Moloch officials. “You call on your idol, I call on the Lord, and the one who sends fire is the true God.” He took a step back on his rock.“How about it?”

Obadiah gripped Ahab’s arm. Did people understand? Would they agree?

“Fire.” On the far north edge of the mountain top, an olive-tree banner bobbed. The tribe of Asher. “You got it right. Fire!”

Obadiah tapped Ahab’s shoulder with his fist. “There.”

Ahab pointed to a Zebulun banner on the right. An elder yelled, “The real God. Fire.” Another stepped forward under Dan’s coiled serpent. “Fire! By fire!” An elder of Ephraim tossed back, “Fire.” Then a low chant rumbled across the mountain—fire-fire-fire-fire-fire.

Ahab slapped his thigh. “What is this trickster up to?”

Obadiah muttered in his ear. “We’ll learn together.”

Elijah called to the Moloch officials huddling at the edge of the crowd. “Do you black tunics know how to build an altar?”

They gawked at him.

He held up two fingers. Then one. “Remember? Two altars. One fire.”

“I like where he’s going with this.” Obadiah bumped Ahab’s elbow.

“If he ever gets there.”

Elijah shouted across the crowd to the Moloch agents. “No flint, no pyrite. Got it? Those little idols you carve from stone. The ones that tell you which babies to burn? Ask them for a spark.”

He drew himself up to full height. “Since there’s four hundred fifty of you and only one of me, you get to supply both bulls. And since I’m in a generous mood, I’ll let you go first. Okay, boys? Build your altar, butcher your bull, and beg your baby-burning masters to light your fire.”

“They’re insane if they go for that,” Ahab sputtered in Obadiah’s ear. “Moloch can’t make fire.”

Obadiah wrapped his arms around his chest. Moloch made neither fire nor rain. But if these officials refused Elijah’s offer, they were out of business.

As the black tunics rattled large stones into a rectangle, they shot looks to kill at the young man in the goatskin. Branches cracked and snapped as they dragged them in and stacked them for firewood. Their bull bellowed then sank to his knees under their knife. They skinned him, cut him into pieces, and laid the meat on the wood.

Elijah yelled, “Stay clear. Let us see your hands. No flint. No pyrite.”

“How will they make fire?” Obadiah poked Ahab in the ribs.

Ahab shook his head. “I don’t care what those birds do. I just want rain.”

The officials called out, “Moloch, put your fire under our bull.” They twisted and writhed, gyrated and shouted.

The air sat still and dry.

Elijah imitated their dance steps. “Nice moves, but I don’t see smoke or sparks. Did your little stone gods go to the beach?”

The dancers twirled faster.

Elijah yelled, “Why do you call them ‘Lords of dew and rain’ when they only make dust and wind?”

Obadiah laughed. “If you’d hired the goatskin kid for court jester, we could have avoided this drought.”

Ahab sneered. “I need rain, Biah. Not jokes.”

In a desperate frenzy, the Moloch officials jerked from side to side, swinging their hair round and round, strewing their robes and headscarves on the ground.

Shortly after noon, Elijah held his skinny belly and laughed for the crowd. “Louder, boys. Louder! You couldn’t wake your gods with a brass band.”

They drew tiny lancets and sliced their skin, so when they flailed their arms, blood flew into the crowd. Yet, as the sun passed its peak, the dancers leaped lower, stepped slower, ground to a halt, and sank to the ground.

On the raw meat of their sacrifice, blood—whether of the ox or the dancers—still glistened.

Ahab turned his back. “A useless game.”

Obadiah’s stomach knotted. Would the Lord send Elijah fire?

“Who knows how to rebuild this altar?” Elijah pointed to several large stones protruding from the soil—an abandoned Hebrew altar.

Tossing dead branches aside, Obadiah waved Ahab over. “Did you know this was here?”

Ahab stomped over and bumped shoulders with Obadiah. “Rocks. The Goatskin Kid wants to show me rocks.”

Graybeards the age of Obadiah’s father adjusted the stones into three tight rows of four. Twelve natural, uncut stones, one for each son of Jacob. The crew dusted their hands, snapped dead branches, and laid the wood on the stones. With Jamin, the elder from Shechem, nodding approval of each cut, they butchered the second bull and stacked the meat on the wood.

Obadiah turned to Ahab. “How about your troublemaker now?”

“He puts men to work.”

The sun stood well past its apex when Elijah spread his legs and called the crowd to the rebuilt Hebrew altar. “Gather around nice and close. Let everyone see.”

Representatives of the ten tribes crowded in, stretching, peering over shoulders, the younger making way for the older.

Elijah announced, “Our kind village friends have agreed to make a ditch.” He yelled to the Moloch officials. “Don’t go looking for your worthless idols, or you’ll miss what the Lord has for you.”

Worn out from their hopeless calls for fire, they sat with their chins glued to their chests.

Three men with shovels opened a shallow trench around the altar.

Ahab poked Obadiah. “Friends in high places?”

Elijah thanked them and spoke to the graybeards. “These generous men from the village also collected water the drought had left in their tiny spring. Please stand back, so everyone can watch.”

“What are they doing?” The question came from under a banner of Dan.

The villagers lugged in four large jars.

“Where’re you going with that?” an elder protested. “Stop. No.”

“Water for my cabbage,” another yelled.

But they emptied the jars over the meat and the wood.

“It’ll never burn.” Several elders shook their heads.

Elijah nodded. “Again, please.”

While the four helpers poured on four more jars full, a man holding the banner of Ephraim groaned, “You waste this water while my goats die of thirst.”

Elijah raised his voice. “Once more, please.”

“Is he crazy?” Ahab guffawed. “At least nobody will say he smuggled in fire.”

The water splashed over the meat and through the wood. As the trench filled, Elijah turned to old Jamin. “Is it time, sir?”

Jamin nodded toward the sun hovering low over the sea. “The priests in Jerusalem are preparing the evening sacrifice.”

“Thank you, sir.” Elijah bowed to the elder from Shechem and turned to the meat stacked on the water-soaked wood. He lifted his hand and sent ringing tones out over the crowd. “Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, show people today you are God in Israel. That I am your servant and do this at your command. Hear me, O Lord. Hear, so this people will know you are the Lord God and you have turned their heart.”

As the echo settled, the words hung in the emptiness.

The hair raised on Obadiah’s arms.

The air sizzled.

A thunderous roar slashed the sky, and an orange ball of blinding fire, bigger than Ahab’s two muscled stallions, arced from the east onto the sacrifice.

“Ah!” Elijah escaped to the other end of his boulder.

A flame as big as Obadiah’s house in Keslote whooshed up, and one long gasp surged from the crowd. “Ooooh!”

People fell back shouting and tripping over each other. Some froze in place with their hands over their mouths.

Sparks and smoke soared in a giant column. The smell of burning meat and wood touched Obadiah’s nostrils. His legs wobbled, and he grabbed Ahab for support.

Flames touched the trench and shot up a cloud of steam. The twelve stones turned to powder and spread as a fine gray silt.

People fell, faces in the dirt, and peeked at tiny wisps of steam rising from the blackened earth.

“The Lord.” The words came from one who helped rebuild the altar.

From beside him, “It’s the Lord.”

“The Lord. He is God!” another declared.

Beside Obadiah, Ahab opened and closed his jaw.

The Moloch officials trembled wide-eyed as the leaders of the tribes surrounded them.

Elijah jumped to the ground and brushed ashes from his goatskin. “Let no one escape.”

The leaders herded the four hundred fifty whimpering Moloch agents down to the Kishon River.

Elijah marched through the group, pausing to make sure every baby burner’s throat was slit.

Obadiah turned his feet toward Fort Jezreel. With such simple words the young man had prayed. Then the Lord burned the place up. Obadiah pushed curls off his face. “Lord, we’ve got Jezebel’s four hundred killers on the loose and I need help hiding bubblers.”


More of Elijah on Mt. Carmel in The Boy Who Closed the Sky, chapters 34-38

Obadiah and Ahab look for grass – 1 Kings 18:1-20

You and your father – 1 Kings 18:18

Altar of uncut stones – Exodus 20:22 & Deuteronomy 27:5

A sweet aroma – Genesis 8:21

Showdown on Mt. Carmel – 1 Kings 18:21-45

Turned their heart לִבָּם – I Kings 18:37

i[The Misliya chapter precedes this chapter because 1 Kings 18:13 Obadiah tells Elijah he’s hiding bubblers in caves.]


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