Elijah built an altar out of stone, placed wood and a sacrifice on it, drenched it with water (12 barrels), and then prayed that God would answer by fire. God’s response is recorded in 1 Kings 18:38: “Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” How hot would this “fire” have to have been, and what was it?
Here are some considerations. The stones used for the altar were more than likely composed of sandstone. Of the various materials consumed, sandstone would have required the highest temperature. The melting point of sandstone varies according to its density, but it is roughly about 1,300 degrees C (2,380 degrees F). Blast furnaces heat at about 1,800 C (3,272 F) to 1,900 C (3,452 F). This would consume sandstone eventually, but it would take hours. Blast furnaces are like a cool breeze, however, compared to lightning, which measures approximately 30,000 C (about 54,000 F). This is more than 5 times the surface temperatures of the sun! A physicist once told me that lightning could have accomplished God’s purpose here if it were sustained for several seconds.
Was Elijah’s “fire of the Lord” lightning? The record does not say and we don’t know. God might have miraculously used something we mere humans have no way to understand, but He could have used lightning. In dry conditions, a static charge tends to build up in the atmosphere. It hadn’t rained for thee and a half years. There could have been an enormous charge in the atmosphere just waiting to strike a good conductor of electricity. Enter a structure built up higher than its surroundings and drenched with water, a perfect lightning rod. It could be that the thing that would have seemed the most unreasonable to Elijah, drenching the sacrifice with water, was the very thing that brought God’s fire to the altar.
I stand in awe of God’s power and also of Elijah’s trust in the Word of the Lord. Elijah had done all that he did at God’s Word. Pouring water on what he trusted to see burned contradicted everything he knew about fire, and he didn’t know anything about electricity, but he followed through on what God told him to do. May we all put such trust in God and His Word.
1Kings 18:31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.