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“Ahab sent among the children of Israel and gathered the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elie approached everyone (1 Kings 18:20-21)”
Today we will visit one of Israel’s most beautiful and off-the-beaten-path sites, the Carmel mountain range. Although the majority of tourists pass along the mountain, only a few actually enter. Historically, due to its sloping hillsides and deep caves, Carmel has been sparsely populated and a great place to hide from the authorities. It was here that the Jewish refuges hid from the Romans (the contemporary historian Josephus wrote that the Romans would not enter here).
Those who make the effort to come here are rarely disappointed. The area has some of the best hiking in the country, and its natural beauty and scenic views are second to none. It is one of the few remaining places where Israel’s natural forest (filled with oaks and laurels) can be seen. In the late 19th/early 20th century, the Turks destroyed most of the forests to build railways and factories. Most of Israel’s dense forests have been planted by hand over the past 70 years!
“Carmel” means the Vineyard of Gd. The majesty of this beautiful mountain is referenced in the Bible (Song of Solomon 7:6). In Isiah 35 when mentioning the end of days, it says that the deserts will bloom like the majesty of Carmel!
Although there are several biblical references to Carmel, one story (arguably the most well-known in the entire Hebrew Bible) stands out. It is the story of Elijah challenging the false prophets of Baal.
At that time the country was divided into two kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judah to the south. The northern kingdom of Israel was ruled by wicked King Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel.
When Ahab married Jezebel (a non-Jewish Sidonian princess), she brought Baal, a form of idol worship, to Israel, thus enticing the king to join her. At her own expense, hundreds of false prophets were supported, and in order to rid the country of true prophets, she began slaughtering them. Prophet Ovadia, at the risk of his life, hid 100 prophets, saving them.
Elijah spoke out against the idolatry of the king. G‑d then ordered him to hide in a cave, where the crows brought him food daily. According to Jewish sources, the crows brought the food from the king and queen’s table. After three years, Gd told Elijah to leave the cave and confront Ahab. Upon meeting him, he challenged Ahab to gather the 850 false prophets to Mount Carmel, to see who the true Gd really was. Ahab was so convinced of the superiority of the idols of Baal that he invited the children of Israel to come and witness the test.
Elijah warned the gathered people saying, “How long will you dance between two opinions? If Hashem is Gd, go after Him and if Baal, go after Him. (1 Kings 18:21)”. Historically, at that time, it was rarely believed that it was “all or nothing”. A person could believe in Gd, but the temptation to idolatry was so strong that people fell into temptation and submitted to it, even though they intellectually felt that Gd was responsible. According to Jewish sources, Gd made idols very spiritually appealing, even addictive, in order to test people and allow them to grow spiritually by resisting them. The ability to resist idol worship required extreme willpower and inner strength. It was especially difficult when the king, many influential people, and society as a whole encouraged this behavior, even persecuting those who opposed it!
Why don’t people feel the need to bow to weird statutes today? In the early Second Temple period (after the Babylonian exile), Jewish sages feared that the traumatized nation was no longer at a level where the majority could resist these painful urges, so they prayed to Gd to remove the bad inclination of the Idol. worship, which he did. However (prophecy, the positive counterweight to idol worship) has also been removed, which is why we have no prophets or inclination to bow down to statues today.
For the test, Elijah said he and the “prophets” were each to take a bullock, cut it up, and put it on an altar without applying fire. He let them choose the bull they wanted first, so they wouldn’t blame him later for their impending failure. He then told them to call in the name of their gods while he would call in the name of Hashem. Whoever succeeded in getting G‑d to consume the sacrifice with fire would prove to be the true prophet. Onlookers responded that this proposal was good (1 Kings 18:24). Although the baal prophets knew they were wrong, since the challenge was issued publicly, they could not back down.
From morning to noon, they called their gods but there was no answer. They tried to scream loudly, dance and cut each other frantically to draw blood, but to no avail. According to Jewish sources, someone hid under the altar and was going to light it from below to make it look like this sacrifice was being accepted by fire, but Gd sent a poisonous snake to kill him. !
Elijah then asked the congregation to “come near” to him. He then built the altar, prayed to God to accept his sacrifice, and a heavenly fire came and consumed him. The people then fell facedown saying, “Hashem-He is the Gd, Hashem-He is the Gd” and the whole nation repented.
Elijah said, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Let none of them escape (1 Kings 18:40). They were taken to Kishon Brooke, just below the mountain, and slaughtered.
Currently, there is a small church on the site dedicated to Elijah. Tourists can climb to the roof to see (arguably) Israel’s largest panoramic view!
On a clear day, one can see from the rooftop, the coast (and sea) of Israel, the biblical Jezreel Valley, the Samaritan Mountains, Galilee, and the snow-capped peaks of Mount Hermon.
On your next visit to Israel, be sure to make a quick stop here!
Please visit the author’s site about tourist guides in Israel: https://guidedtoursofisrael.com
Relive biblical Mount Carmel with Nosson Shulman for yourself luxury private tour in israel. To experience Israel from the comfort of your own home, check out our new Virtual tours including our new Hebron tour.