This article was previously published by the Lepanto Institute
The history of the people of God is filled with stories of miraculous salvation. Joseph saved his family from starvation, thus saving the whole of Israel. Later, Moses saved the Israelite nation from genocide by getting them out of Egypt. Both are types of how Christ will save His Bride the Church from her enemies every time. In my opinion, there is one special battle that is a type of the times the Church is living right now. All the elements are there. There is an unfaithful king (Ahab) married to a foreigner (Jezebel) and the people of Israel have fallen into the heresy of indifferentism, worshiping both the True God and the false pagan gods promoted by the priests introduced by Jezebel. Do you begin to see the type?
Unfaithfulness results in a drought
A severe drought caused a famine in all the territory of Israel. The unfaithful king was at the end of his wits, trying to save his horses and other animals from starving. He sends his servant Obadiah to search for pastures near the few surviving wells of water. Early during his search, Obadiah meets the great prophet Elijah whom the king wanted to kill.
And as Obadiah was on the way, behold, Elijah met him. And Obadiah recognized him and fell on his face and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’” (1 Kings 18:7-8 NIV)
When he finally meets the king, Elijah challenges him to send all the false prophets to Mount Carmel and meet him there.
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” (1 Kings 18:17-19 NIV)
The prophets of Baal fail
So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. (1 Kings 18:20-29 NIV)
After the prophets fail miserably, Elijah calls the people to rebuild the altar of the Lord. He makes sure that all the credit goes to God for the miracle that is about to occur by drenching the offering and the altar in water. That gesture of the prophet has a hidden message: by wasting all that precious water at a time of a severe drought, he was communicating the nature of the miracle that God was about to perform, restoring not only the faith of Israel but even its environmental integrity. The water spread over the altar of the oblation by Elijah symbolizes the Christian sacrament of baptism that will be introduced by John the Baptist, whom many compared to the great Elijah. There the heavenly rain mixes with the dry soil (sinful mankind) to form the mud symbolized in the brown garment of the Carmelites.
Altar and Faith restored
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:36-39 NIV)
This manifestation of the awesome power of God, purifies the people’s hearts and make them faithful again. This may be a type of the renewal of the true unpolluted faith after the great apostasy that I’m afraid we are living right now. But now … what do we do with the false prophets? I hope I’m not giving anyone murderous ideas here but the type is clear.
And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there. (1 Kings 18:40 NIV)
The great prophet announces the rain although there is not a cloud in the sky. Then he goes to the top of Mount Carmel and starts to pray.
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
The early fathers of the Church agree that “the little cloud like a man’s hand” is Mary the Mother of God. She appears like the Morning Star over the sea (like Elijah’s little cloud) to announce that the Sun, Christ Our Lord is soon to arrive. At the beginning of the history of redemption she is sent ahead and through her, God makes His Glorious Incarnation happen. In time the Body of Christ, the Church will become a mighty army of faithful but the beginning of it all was a young maid who freely accepted to be the Mother of the Messiah when she said “Let it be unto me according to your word.”
In 1 Kings 19:1-8 we see how the king wants to take revenge on Elijah. But Elijah flees to the wilderness in a figure reminiscent of Revelation 12:1-6. That ties both types to the destiny of the Church with Our Blessed Mother in the center of the action: she is the New Eve about to give birth to a new humanity but she is also the Church as it was in the beginning of her human life when she became the first faithful disciple of Christ, and a perfect model of the Church.
As Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mary will preside over the purification of the Church and the reconstruction of the Altar of God. Reading about Elijah and the events at Mount Carmel we have much to meditate these days.