Israel 2022: Contested on Mount Carmel

View from Mount Carmel

Let’s have a little contest – simple really. Your gods against mine. Who is stronger? Who is more powerful? Baal? Asherah? Yahweh? Who is worthy of the worship and adoration of the Israeli people (or, anyone)? Who is the one and only God of the universe?

Elijah, the prophet, called the people to come up to Mount Carmel – beautiful Mount Carmel – sacred ground to the people of Israel.  He had commanded Israel’s King Ahab to bring the prophets of Baal (450 of them) and the prophets of Asherah (400) to the mountain to meet with him.

Mount Carmel, one of the ancient Canaanite “high places” in Israel where the people had come to worship and make sacrifices for thousands of years. The Egyptian Pharoah, Thutmose III listed a “holy headland” considered to be Mount Carmel among his holdings in Canaan. Even into the Common Era (CE)…or, as we continue to call it, Anno Domini (AD), the mountain was referred to as the most holy of all mountains by Pythagoras and Tacitus mentions knowing of an oracle located there.  The Catholic Carmelite Monastic Order originated there in 1209 AD.  The Druze people settled on Mount Carmel in the 15th – 16th century. There is even a religious group called the Baha’i Faith that established a headquarters on the mountain at Haifa in the 19th century. 1

Entrance Area to Carmelite Monastery Chapel on Mount Carmel

The coastal mountain range known as Mount Carmel stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Plain of Esdraelon (Armageddon) in Israel.  In Arabic, the range is known as Mount Mar Elias – Mount Saint Elias/Elijah1. The word “Karmel” which means “garden land” could have been taken from “Kerem” & “El” literally meaning “vineyard of God” or from ‘kar male’ meaning “full kernel”1. The name itself speaks of the beauty and fertility of the land at Carmel.

According to BiblePlaces.Com, Mount Carmel is also known as Antelope-Nose, Har Karmel, the Holy Headland, Jebel Kurmul, Mar Elyas, Mount of User, and Rosh-Kedesh.3 I don’t really know what all those names might mean but I particularly liked Antelope-Nose so I included the little factoid.

On the drive from Mount Carmel, a tomb showing a stone door.

When people speak of Carmel, they could be talking about the whole mountain range or just the northeast portion of the range, or just the headland or highest point. The range is formed primarily of limestone and flint with many caves and volcanic rocks. Those caves include many springs and have provided refuge for criminals for many hundreds of years. It also provided a place for prophets such as Elijah and Elisha seeking a safe place to hide from persecution and death.

Our tour group had traveled from Caesarea Maritima to Mount Carmel and we had all gathered on an outside roof platform at a Catholic chapel that is part of the Carmelite Monastery overlooking the Kishon Valley.

Carmelite Monastery Chapel on Mount Carmel
Inside the Chapel on Mount Carmel

Dr. Bramer2, one of our tour leaders from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), was telling us the story taken from 1 Kings 18 of Elijah and the false prophets of Baal that the queen, Jezebel, had brought into the land pulling the people away from worship of the true God. The odds were greatly stacked against Elijah. Just one prophet of God, Elijah, pitted against four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal.  

A little backstory: Ahab became the 7th king of Israel (871-852 BC/E)7. He had married this Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians. Remember Tyre & Sidon? Ahab and Jezebel had brought worship of Baal back to the Israelites in a big way. Some believe the “Baal” in question was Melqart, a Phoenician god, also known as the Son of Baal, king of the underworld and protector of the universe.1

This evil of bringing the worship of Baal back to Israel had caused God, working through Elijah, to hold back rain from the area for three years. Ahab and Jezebel did not like Elijah at all. Elijah was the only prophet left after Jezebel had ordered the other prophets of God to be killed.

Ahab called Elijah “the troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17) when he met with Elijah who commanded him to bring all the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel. Of course, Elijah was not the problem, he was the one bringing the solution.

View of Kishon Valley from Mount Carmel

Elijah admonished the people who had gathered that day at Mount Carmel:

How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him. But if Baal is God, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21)

Elijah proposed a contest.  He called for two bulls to be sacrificed to the gods.  The altars would be built, the sacrificial bulls would be placed on the altar with wood for fire to burn the sacrifices, but the actual fire would have to be provided by the gods. The God who answered with fire would be the true God.  The people agreed that it sounded like a good thing to do.

The prophets of Baal would go first. They began to call upon Baal to light the fire and accept their sacrifice. They gave it their all, calling for hours…all day long, leaping and jumping around the altar and even cutting themselves allowing their own blood to flow around the altar…. all to no avail. They tried. There was no answer…. not even when Elijah taunted them saying perhaps the gods of Baal were sleeping or busy elsewhere and that the prophets should yell a little louder.

Using twelve stones for the twelve tribes of Israel, Elijah rebuilt the ancient altar to God that had previously been destroyed. He then had a trench dug all around the altar. The sacrificial bull was laid on the altar along with the wood for the fire. He directed the people to fill four large jugs with water which was then poured on the sacrifice, the wood, and the altar… three times the water was poured onto the altar and, draining off, completely filled the trench surrounding the altar.

Then Elijah prayed.

 “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel [Jacob], let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and have done all these things at Your command.  Answer me, O LORD! Answer me, so that this people will know that You, the LORD, are God, and that You have turned their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:36)

The fire of God came down, consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and even the dust…everything! It completely consumed all of it, even drying up the water that had filled the trench surrounding the altar. The test was over. God had triumphed. The people then realized that the Lord was indeed God.

Cross on the top of the Chapel at Mount Carmel

As Dr. Bramer2 had told us in his narration – “Numbers don’t count, and the odds don’t matter” when you are dealing with the God of the universe… something well worth remembering.

And what became of the prophets of Baal whose false gods did not answer their cries?  Elijah had them taken down to the Kishon Valley and they were killed….every last one of them.

Statue of Elijah Slaying the Prophets of Baal

As you can imagine, Jezebel was not happy.  But that’s another story for another day.

Scriptural Sources for Mount Carmel from BibleHub.Com:

  1. 1 Kings 18 for the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.
  2. Song of Soloman 7:5 – Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.
  3. 2 Kings 2:25 – Elisha went to Mount Carmel.
  4. 2 Kings 4:25 – The woman from Shunem visits Elisha at Mount Carmel.
  5. Isaiah 35:2 – The deserts will be given the splendor of Carmel.
  6. Isaiah 33:9 – The land dries up…..Bashan and Carmel have been plundered.
  7. Amos 1:2 – The Lord roars from Zion….the grass on Mount Carmel will wither & die.
  8. Amos 9:3 – Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, I will find them.
  9. Joshua 19:26 – On the west, the boundary touched Carmel.
  10. Micah 7:14 – Shephard your people….in the midst of Carmel.
  11. Nahum 1:4 – Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
  12. Jeremiah 46:18 – One will come who is…….like Carmel by the sea.
  13. Jeremiah 50:19 – I will bring Israel back…..they will graze on Carmel and Bashon.
  14. 1 Samuel 25:2 – Wealthy man from Maon who owned property in Carmel.

(I found no references to Mount Carmel in the New Testament and I found that to be quite interesting. If you have any thoughts on that or know of any references to Mount Carmel in the NT, let me know.)

Sources for More Information about Mount Carmel:

(Other than the Biblical parts, my research comes predominantly from Wikipedia1 and Bible Places.Com3 websites.)

  1. Wikipedia Mount Carmel
  2. Stephen J. Bramer ( Theological Seminary.
  3. BiblePlaces.Com – Mount Carmel
  4. New Advent (Catholic) – Mount Carmel
  5. Haifa – Mount Carmel – Camp S’dei Chemed International (mystical Jewish)
  6. Gems in Israel – Jezreel Valley
  7. Wikipedia – Ahab

ICYMI (In case you missed it) – Previous blogs in the Israel 2022 series:

Pinch Yourself – April 4, 2022

Israel 2022: Caesarea Maritima – Birding Boomers – April 11, 2022