What is the significance of Mount Carmel in the Bible?Mount Carmel in the Bible is actually a mountain range in northern Israel. It is twenty-four miles long, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea in the north near Haifa southeastward into the heart of Israel. It stands over 1,700 feet in elevation at its highest points and is known for its lush vegetation. In fact, the name Carmel means "God's vineyard" or "God's garden," from the Hebrew words kerem (vineyard/garden) and el (God).
In Isaiah 33:9 we see Mount Carmel was known for its leaves, and Jeremiah 50:19 references Mount Carmel as a place to pasture livestock. It is also dotted with springs of water. The prophet Nahum warned his hearers that if God wants to, He "dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither" (Nahum 1:4, see also Amos 1:2). So this lush mountain land is dependent upon God's provision.
Because it is a limestone mountain range, the side of Mount Carmel is also dotted with caves that became a place of hiding. David, before he became king, stayed in the caves of Mount Carmel and, with his mighty men, protected the shepherds working there. In this way, he met his second wife Abigail (1 Samuel 25:2, 3, 20). The prophet Elisha lived there when he was summoned to heal the Shunammite woman's son (2 Kings 4:25). By the time of the prophet Amos, Carmel's caves were known as protective hiding places, but God assured His people He could find them even there (Amos 9:3).
Mount Carmel was also known for its soaring heights as the mountain range rises up out of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding landscape. For this reason, the lover in the book of Song of Solomon told his beloved, "Your head crowns you like Carmel" (Song of Solomon 7:5). God warned that a king and his army would rise up "and like Carmel by the sea, shall one come" (Jeremiah 46:18). The soaring heights, protective caves, and verdant hillsides combine to make Mount Carmel a majestic sight (Isaiah 35:2).
Mount Carmel's soaring heights unfortunately also became high places of idol worship. King Saul set up a monument to himself there after military victory (1 Samuel 15:12). Many years later, there were altars to the false god Baal and his goddess wife Ashtoreth on Mount Carmel. For this reason, Elijah chose this mountain range as the place to challenge the priests of these false gods and show the people which god was the True God (1 Kings 18:19). In perhaps the most well-known account featuring Mount Carmel, Elijah told the false priests to build altars, prepare their sacrifice, and to pray to their god for fire to then burn the sacrifice. After the priests failed to call down fire from their god, Elijah asked that water be poured over the altar he had built to the One True God. He asked that so much water be poured over it that the wood was saturated and water overflowed to lay in a trench below. When Elijah then prayed to the One True God, God sent down fire that consumed not only the sacrifice, but "the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench" (1 Kings 18:38). The people fell on their faces and proclaimed, "The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God" (1 Kings 18:39). The false priests were put to death and Elijah prayed that God would relieve the drought. Therefore, from this mountain, Elijah's assistant looked out over the Mediterranean Sea to watch for an approaching storm (1 Kings 18:42–46). So, here at Mount Carmel, God displayed His power through Elijah, using both a consuming fire and life-giving water in the form of rain. God revealed Himself to be the One True God worthy of all our worship.
Mount Carmel, with its dramatic history, protective caves, soaring heights, and lush foliage stands as an example of majesty, but also as a stark reminder that God is sovereign as Creator of this mountain range and the only One worthy of our worship.
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