A Note on Elijah’s “Fire from Yahweh” -- By: Jon Ruthven

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 12:2 (Spring 1969)
Article: A Note on Elijah’s “Fire from Yahweh”
Author: Jon Ruthven


A Note on Elijah’s “Fire from Yahweh”

Jon Ruthven, B.D., M.A.*

*Lincoln, Nebraska.

N.H. Snaith,1 H. H. Rowley,2 John Gray,3 and a number of other commentators4 have pointed out the likelihood that the “fire of Yahweh during the Mt. Carmel contest (I Kings 18:38) was lightning.

This suggestion is certainly not recent, but it was rejected by some older, more conservative commentators on the grounds that a “natural” stroke “could not have produced such an effect.”5 In pointing out one of the effects, according to the biblical account, Bahr6 says: “To give full expression to the intensity of the fire, it is stated that even the stones and the ground were burned.” Another common objection to the lightning theory of the origin of the fire is that the story indicates that it was a cloudless day (vvs. 41–44) .7

On the other hand, with regard to the water poured over Elijah’s altar, some rationalistic commentators have suggested “that not water, but naphtha or some such substance susceptible to spontaneous combustion was used. R. H. Kennett went even further and suggested that a burnished reflector was also used. If such hypercriticism is worthy of reply we may object ... that the Baal-prophets would be especially vigilant, and would be as much au fait with such elementary science as Elijah8

However, a survey of modern knowledge regarding the nature of lightning together with another look at some significant aspects of the Elijah story will indicate to us that the “fire of Yahweh’ very possibly was lightning. The above objections, from both the left and right, can be satisfactorily answered by this hypothesis.

First, the absence of any clouds (vvs. 41-44) need not preclude the possibility of a lightning stroke. The Encycfopaedia Britannica in its opening paragraph on the article “Lightning” states9 : “It is an accepted belief that lightning is a secondary phenomenon brought about by the abnormal meteorological conditions always associated with thunderstorms. However, lightning strokes have been observed on ...

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