1 Kings 18:24 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.” – ESV
This was Elijah facing off with the prophets of Baal. As he went into this confrontation with a false god, the litmus test all agreed on, was that the true God would answer by fire. Elijah did not concoct this scenario himself, just in case we get the idea he was putting God to the test. In verse 36, as he prayed, he said he did it all at God’s word.
The Lord showed Himself powerful and as the only true God when Elijah called on Him. The prophets of Baal had spent a whole morning trying to get Baal’s attention. They even cut themselves until their own blood gushed. Elijah mocked them and their god.
After they finished their pitiful display, Elijah repaired the alter of God and placed his sacrifice on it. He even had the people pour lots of water over and around it. When he prayed, the fire of God came and consumed the whole sacrifice—even the water.
God’s Fire In The Old Testament
Throughout the Old Testament, God showed Himself in the form of fire. Even just reading further on to 2 Kings, Elijah once more calls down fire from heaven, consuming the King’s messengers. God led the Israelites in the wilderness in the form of a beacon of fire. On top of Mount Sinai, God showed Himself in power once more in the form of fire and thick smoke. The wrath of God came in the form of sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. He was in the form of fire when He passed between the halves of the animals Abraham had cut to covenant with God. Moses found God in the form of fire in the burning bush.
There are more examples, but I think this gives us an illustration. And perhaps that is what God was after in so much of the Old Testament—to give us physical illustrations of spiritual things. The last account in the Bible where God came in a visible form of fire, was in Acts at Pentecost.
Once more there was a conflict of beliefs. The mainstream Jews had rejected Jesus as their Messiah and the disciples who were in the minority, were hidden in an upper room. Those who had rejected the Messiah, had done everything they could to triumph in their own way and had done their best to suppress the truth about Jesus. Even to the point of killing Him on a cross, and lying about His resurrection. Despite all this, God once more showed Himself mighty beyond their wit and deception by answering His true servants by fire.
This time fire came down and entered the believers who had placed themselves on God’s alter instead of a bull. God affirmed to them and to the thousands of mainstream Jews in Jerusalem, that they were serving the one true God and all else was false doctrine and deception. Try as they might, the mainstream Jews could not suppress the attraction and validity of God’s fire among the disciples.
God Doesn’t Change
God’s way of doing things has not changed. He set this pattern of affirmation and power throughout the Bible and it is still relevant today. We would do well to follow the disciples’ example, placing ourselves on God’s alter in an acceptable posture of surrender to the true God. If we do this, He still answers by fire through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The fire itself may not be visible to to those around us, but the results in our lives attest to its work nonetheless. Let’s not fear the fire. Let’s embrace it. It feels good when it provides us with boldness and zeal, but it also hurts in those times it finds rubbish in our lives that needs burned up.
No matter if it hurts or brings joy, it is always doing a good work that brings glory to the Father. And His glory is our mission. A noble one, entrusted to us along with the deposit of the Holy Spirit. Let’s not quench the fire or become embarrassed by it. It is the form God visits us with in the Holy Spirit, our helper. What a privilege. What an honor to have the Spirit of God dwelling in us and showing Himself through us. Let’s not settle for anything less. Or anything that does not answer by fire!