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28 Two altars, one fire

Obadiah poked Ahab. “What’s he found?”1

Elijah pointed to an arrangement of ancient stones covered with weeds and stretched an arm to the crowd. “Who knows how to rebuild this altar?”

Three greybeards the age of Obadiah’s father stepped forward.

Elijah jumped down from his boulder. “Can you men organize the right helpers and make sure it’s as right as when it was first built?”

Ahab tapped Obadiah on the back of his head. “Did you ever notice that old altar under those weeds?”

Never. Must be from Abraham’s time.”

The team of greybeards set in place twelve natural, uncut stones, one for each of the twelve sons of Israel. “The altar is right again.” They stacked it with firewood and turned to Elijah. “Ready.”

Ahab cocked his head. “I like his style. If I could teach that boy to respect his commanding officer and how to fight from a chariot, I’d put him in charge of a small troop.”

Obadiah shook his head. Three days ago Mr. Dew-nor-Rain grabbed Ahab by the short hairs and backed him into a corner. But instead of bowing his head and stepping away, the king imagined giving him responsibility. Ahab’s care for the troops endeared him to his men and helped him defeat the Syrians. Yet this same man allowed Jezebel to import four hundred Asherah officials and dozens of slave girls. Yes, the king was a complicated guy.

Elijah kept at the task at hand. He pointed to the Baal officials. “And you guys know how to build a Baal altar, right?”

They gawked at him, and he grinned back. “Here’s the catch. Nobody lights a fire. Those little gods you carve? Ask them to provide your fire. And we who serve the Lord will ask him to ignite our fire.”

He raised both arms to the crowd. “The god who sends fire is God for real. What do you say?”

A low murmur swept through the crowd. A man waved and yelled, “You said it, boy.”

Another called out, “God for real.”

And another, “By fire!”

The word rumbled into a low chant. “Fire, fire, fire.”

Ahab slapped his thigh. “Biah. Really? What kind of tricks is Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain going to show us?”

The Baal chief stalked to a high spot. “Here.” Fifty Baal officials spread out, scrounged up large stones, and lugged them to him.

The chief directed. “Make a low wall.”

A hundred more officials dropped smaller stones inside the wall to form a platform. They dragged in branches and stacked their platform with a flat-topped pile of firewood.

Elijah pointed to the Baal officials. “We’ll let you cut up a bull for your altar first.”

Nathan, Elijah’s brother, led two bulls into the center. “Take your pick.”

Ahab sucked in a quick breath. “How did these boys from out of town come prepared with two bulls?”

Obadiah shrugged and looked straight ahead.

Ahab snorted. “You?”

Obadiah’s eyes twinkled. “I claim no special knowledge of sacrificial protocol, sire. I’m a simple country boy who serves the king.”

Ahab tilted his head. “A country boy with a soft spot for troublemakers.” He shook his head. “You serve with noisy thoughts.”

His face a mask, Obadiah fixed the gleam in his eyes on Elijah. “Please, my king. Let us not distract Jamin, our honored guest, from his careful observance of the sacrifice before us.”

The chief Baal official led a bull to the altar and pulled out a knife.

Old Jamin hung his head. “Those pagans don’t know the first thing about butchering.” He curled his lip and wrinkled his nose. “Watch. They won’t even lay the pieces of meat in the proper order. Should be slaughtered themselves.”

Elijah reminded the Baal officials, “Stay clear, so we can see your hands. Light no fire, but ask those little gods of stone to bring it.”

The officials danced [hype please] and shouted, “Baal, put your fire under our bull.”

Nice moves, guys. But I don’t see sparks or flame. Not even smoke.” Elijah teased. “Your little tin gods don’t seem to be listening. Did they go to the beach?”

The dancing continued?

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

Ahab smirked. “I should have hired Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain for court jester. We could have avoided this drought.”

The Baal officials increased their dance tempo to a desperate frenzy. Shortly after noon, Elijah held his belly and laughed for the crowd. “Louder, boys. Louder! Your gods are taking a nap you couldn’t wake with a brass band.”

Obadiah laughed. “Ahab, remember the other day calling Elijah a trouble maker? I’ll bet those Baal officials agree with you.”

The officials yelled louder and sliced their skin, so their dance moves sent blood flying over their butchered bull and into the crowd. But as the sun moved closer to the sea, the officials of Baal wore down. Their leaps lower and steps slower. They ground to a halt, slouched, hung their heads, and dropped to the ground. No energy. No answer. No fire.

So the Baals cannot make fire.” Elijah beckoned the crowd to the rebuilt Hebrew altar. “Gather around. Nice and close, so you can see what happens.”

Obadiah raised an eyebrow. “What’s Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain doing now?”

Elijah turned to the greybeards. “We need a shallow trench around the altar broad enough to plant two full measures of seed. Villagers have graciously loaned shovels to my brother.” Four greybeards took shovels from Nathan and opened the trench.

Elijah yelled over to the Baal officials. “Are your little gods still out of town? Don’t go looking for them, or you’ll miss what the Lord has to show you.”

He spoke to the greybeards. “Our generous village friends brought monster jars of water from their stream that still flows strong. Please soak the meat and the wood.”2

The greybeards emptied four jars on the sacrifice.

Again, please.”

They poured on four more.

Once more, please.”

When the water ran over the meat, through the wood, and filled the trench, Elijah folded his arms and smiled.

He’s either nuts or….” Ahab scowled and tapped his foot. “What’s he doing, Biah?”

Patience, my king.” Jamin’s quiet voice startled Ahab and Obadiah. “Whatever happens next, nobody snuck fire under that young man’s pile of wood.”

Is it time yet?” Elijah looked at the greybeards.

Old Jamin nodded. “It’s time, boy. It’s time.”

A greybeard tipped his head back at the sun. “The officials in Jerusalem should be preparing the evening sacrifice right about now.”

Obadiah bumped Ahab’s elbow. “He does it right.Mr. Dew-Nor-Rain might be a smart aleck, but he was no independent operator.

All eyes turned to the young man in the goatskin, and his clear tones rang 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 that I do all this at your command. Hear me, O Lord. Hear, so this people3 knows you are the Lord God, and you have turned their heart back.”

A ball of fire roared down from the sky and burned up the drenched meat and the water-soaked wood.

Elijah jumped clear.

Ooh!” The crowd fell back.

The fire turned the stones to powder and licked up the water in the trench, then dissolved the topsoil. People fell on the ground and lay facing the tiny wisps of steam that rose in the stillness.

A greybeard who rebuilt the altar searched the sky. “The Lord.”

From beside him. “It’s the Lord.”

And another. “The Lord. He is God.”

The wide-eyed Baal officials whimpered and huddled together.

In eerie silence, elders and town fathers, heads of clans and curious onlookers surrounded the Baal officials.

Elijah nodded to the crowd. “Don’t let one escape. Kill them at the Kishon. The Lord is sending enough rain to wash their blood into the sea.” He turned to Ahab. “If you want anything to eat or drink before you return to the fort, you better get it before the rain washes out the road.” Surrounded by the crowd, Elijah led the captives down the mountain.

Ahab and his circle of guards watched them go. “I’ve killed twice that many Syrians in one afternoon.” He pursed his lips and shook his head. “Does that boy think he won the war? Today wasn’t even a skirmish.” Ahab nudged Obadiah. “But, hey. Catch a bite with me before the rain?”

You go ahead, my king. I’m not hungry.”

Obadiah stroked his chin. Ahab’s insides had to be churning. All day, Baal officials dance and scream to an empty sky. Then Mr. Dew-nor-Rain stands with both feet on the ground, utters a simple request, and the Lord burns the place up. Tribal elders, heads of clans, and city fathers react by slitting the throats of four hundred and fifty officials. Yet the king talks of getting a bite to eat.

Obadiah squinted at his king. A few days ago, he called Elijah a troublemaker and this evening mocked his experience in war. Yet he took Elijah’s word that a deluge was coming. The king played a complicated role, but who wrote the script?

When Elijah climbed back up the mountain, Obadiah searched his face for clues. What was wrong with this young man’s thinking? Ahab was so right about the boy’s lack of experience. Elijah acted like he was leading a successful coup, yet Jezebel and her four hundred Asherah troops would eat him for breakfast.

Elijah bent over. Supple? He bent all the way to the ground. Obadiah couldn’t bend like that even when he was seven years old. The young man put his face between his knees. No. Ouch. That must hurt. Could he straighten back up? Ah!

Elijah pointed to a boulder. “Check for rain, please, Nathan.”

Nathan jumped onto the boulder, shaded his eyes with his hand, and looked out across the Mediterranean. “Nothing. Clear skies every direction.”

I heard rain.” Elijah bent and put his head again between his knees. “Once more, Nate. Please?”

Six times Nathan looked and six times reported, “Nothing.” But the seventh time, he jumped down and grinned. “Way out there. Just the teeniest speck of white fluff. About the size of your hand.”

Thank you. That’s our rain.” Elijah stood. “One more favor, please. Tell the king to harness his horses, so we can get back to the fort before the storm. And tell him I will run at the head of his team.”

Obadiah gasped and took half a step toward Elijah. Only a naïve village boy would say this thing.

Nathan took Elijah by the wrists. “Lijah, don’t do that. You don’t understand. Trust me, little brother. This is not the time for you to run before the king.”

But Elijah’s smile brightened the twilight. “Don’t you see, Nathan? We won. The Lord won. Things are going to be different now.”

Different? I’ll say. You just swatted a hornets’ nest.”

My big stubborn brother. You never see the good, the hope, the potential. This is a new day, Nate. The Lord sent the fire, and the people chose the Lord. We got rid of the Baal officials, and the Asherah officials go next. Ahab and I are on our way to tell the queen.”

You don’t understand, Lijah. The Lord sent the fire, yes. But the shouting’s all over, and everybody’s going home. What they saw here will be a nice little story they tell the folks who stayed to milk the goats. Tomorrow they’ll tell how the queen got rid of the village boy who prayed that beautiful prayer.”

Yet Elijah’s face showed enough energy to jog to Jezreel and back. His fierce glance at Nathan stopped Obadiah in mid stride. If the village boy could not accept the advice of his own brother, he would never listen to a stranger surrounded by bodyguards.

Obadiah followed4 Elijah and Nathan back down Carmel. Black clouds rolled in, the wind pushed him off the path, and sheets of rain hit him in the face. He stood [how?] with Nathan while Elijah placed himself at the head of Ahab’s chariot horses. Three chariots of guards led onto the road, Ahab’s chariot with Elijah by the horses went next, and three more chariots of guards followed.

Obadiah and his guards stepped up into his own chariot. “Hop in with me, Nathan. Your brother’s going to need you sooner than he thinks.”

1 [Not sure this question gets answered, IMHO. Maybe more like. I see where he’s looking, but what’s he thinking?]

2 I wonder if someone complained about wasting water during the drought. Bunny Trail question.

3 “this”, “knows” and “heart” (singular) – Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

4 Maybe a stronger verb here or some indicators of his mood or how he followed.

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