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Today's Study

1 Kings 18:40: Why Did Elijah Kill All 450 Prophets of Baal?

Why was it necessary to kill the prophets of Baal once it had been shown that they could not call down fire from heaven as Elijah had? Wasn't it enough to prove that they were false prophets without any power? And if some of the prophets of Baal had to die, why all 450?

Elijah stepped forward after the prophets of Baal had been asking Baal to send down fire from six o'clock in the morning to three o'clock in the afternoon with no results. In less than a minute's petition to Almighty God, the fire of God fell from heaven. The crowd was impressed and fell facedown, crying, "The LORD--he is God! The LORD--he is God" (1 Kings 18:39).

The fire of God could just as well have consumed the 450 prophets of Baal right then and there (and the 400 prophets of Asherah, for that matter). But the divine fire was not the fire of judgment this time, but the fire that signified that the bull Elijah had placed on the altar was accepted. After three and a half years in which the weather forecast was "sunny, clear and warmer" each day, you would have thought that the God that answered by rain would prove he was Lord. But no, before the mercies of God could come, there must first be the sacrifice that prepared the way for those mercies and graces.

Immediately Elijah commanded that all the prophets of Baal were to be rounded up and taken down to the Kishon Valley to be slaughtered there. There was no hesitation on the part of the people; the Lord's command now came to a crowd that had been startled into responding positively and quickly. Once they had collected all the prophets of Baal, the actual killing may have been done by the people, for on linguistic grounds it is possible to read the fact that Elijah "killed" the prophets of Baal in the sense that he ordered them to be put to death (as in NIV). Here again is another case where secondary causes were passed over as being unnecessary to state, for to attribute the action to the primary or ultimate cause could also involve secondary causes as well.

Why Elijah chose the Kishon Valley instead of using Mount Carmel we may only guess. Perhaps he did not wish to defile the place of sacrifice where the Lord had sanctified himself in a miracle.

The wicked crimes of these prophets of Baal demanded the death penalty (Deut 13:13-15; 17:2-5). Modern thought might consider this to be an overreaction and quite unnecessary, yet when one considers that because of these prophets many persons went into eternity forever cast away from the presence of God, the sanction is completely justified.

Seen in this light, not only are the reaction of the people and the command of Elijah understandable; they are also according to the law of God. It is a serious matter to fool with the holiness of God and his truth.