Under the influence of Queen Jezebel, Ahab and Israel began to serve and worship Baal. Ahab built a temple in the city of Samaria for Baal and set up an altar. Ahab also set up an Asherah pole. The worship of Baal was a Canaanite practice that followed the seasons and focused on productivity of crops and the fertility of the people.
Baal was the god of the storm. Since fresh rain water was a necessity for the success of agriculture and the survival of a community, Israel followed the Canaanites into Baal worship. According to Canaanite theology, Baal could be awakened and empowered in his struggle against the opposing forces through rituals which included sacred prostitution. The Israelites were swayed by the influence of Baal worshippers to minimize their Lord YHWH as the God of certain powers that might include things like war or the wilderness, and they could easily make room for the god such as Baal who could bring rain and productivity.
Asherah was the female consort of Baal. She was represented by a carved pole or tree trunk that was often draped with material and set up near the altar of Baal.
It is into this religious deterioration that God sent one of the most enigmatic prophets of history. Elijah left his village of Tishbe on the other side of the Jordan in the land of Gilead (map HERE), crossed into the land of Israel and proceeded into Ahab’s palace in Samaria and said:
“As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” - 1 Kings 17:1
This, of course, seemed like a ridiculous statement to the faithful followers of Baal and it was dismissed as ludicrous. But, after three years of no rain, the Baal crowd was in a panic as the whole country searched for Elijah, and Ahab offered rewards for his capture.
Elijah eventually meets Ahab and all of his Baal prophets on Mt. Carmel (map HERE) for a dramatic showdown between the rain god, Baal, and the Lord God, YHWH. The prophets of Baal and Elijah each build an altar to their God with a large crowd of Israelites watching. After hours of crying out to Baal and attempting to get his attention through self-mutilation the prophets of Baal cannot physically continue. Elijah turns from mocking them to praying and asking the Lord to answer by sending fire to his altar. God responds with a glorious demonstration of power for the Baal infested audience. Elijah slays the prophets of Baal and then for good measure turns to pray for rain.
God answers by sending an enormous rain storm (1 Kings 18:16-19:13)