I was meditating upon the life and ministry of Elijah this morning as I prepared for a teaching opportunity in a couple of weeks. The cowardice or uncertainty of the people on Mt. Carmel really stood out to me today. “Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people did not answer him a word” (1 Kings 18:21).
In The Message, Eugene Peterson renders this verse as follows:
“Elijah challenged the people: ‘How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!’ Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.”
Nobody said a word.
“When Ahab had assembled the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel to confront Yahweh’s prophets (v.20), Elijah addressed the many people who had gathered to see the contest (v.21). Joshua’s choice (Josh 24:15) was theirs: Serve God or serve another (cf. Matt 6:24). But unlike Joshua’s people, Elijah’s audience held its peace” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 4: 1 Kings, Zondervan, p.144).
They were either afraid or they were uncertain.
Although they resided in Israel, these individuals were citizens of a polytheistic culture (the worship of many gods rather that the position of their forefathers). Ahab was king and he served and worshipped Baal (1 Kings 16:31). He actually had a temple for Baal built in Samaria, which included an altar (1 Kings 16:32). His lovely wife, Jezebel, was even more zealous for their religion. Using her authority as queen, she had many of Israel’s prophets killed (1 Kings 18:4). Thus, their fear of declaring their allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is understandable. Perhaps some were also uncertain. “Is the LORD God?” Their heritage unashamedly screamed, “Yes!” Their hearts most assuredly whispered, “Of course.” But the circumstances caused them to wonder. It was the third year of a historic draught (1 Kings 18:1). People were literally starving (1 Kings 18:2). Many had followed the king’s example and had bowed their knee to Baal. Since the LORD was not hearing their prayers, maybe Baal would.
This context allows us to gain a better understanding for their hesitancy when Elijah arrived for this time-sensitive event. Some of us may have been hesitant as well. God appeared to be absent. Our prayers seemed hollow. We were losing hope.
Elijah continued. He had a proposition.
“‘You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, ‘That is a good idea'”(1 Kings 18:24).
Now they responded!
“That is a good idea!”
They were desperate for a sign, a positive sign. Negative signs were all around them. They needed to know that the LORD as immanent (present and engaged) as well as transcendent. But would God show up?
Elijah took a risk. He knew God existed. He understood that God could easily answer by fire and consume the offering, the wood, the stones and dust and all the water (1 Kings 18:38). But would the LORD do so? If not, Elijah was toast. He would have been killed immediately. Ahab and Jezebel would have had a party for the ages! The “troubler of Israel” would have been removed (1 Kings 18:17). Another faithful man named Obadiah would have been persecuted along with the prophets that he sheltered (1 Kings 18:13). A very dark time would have become a long night without even the light of the moon.
BUT GOD DESCENDED ON MT. CARMEL!
You recall the story. False gods cannot hear or respond. Consider these words of Psalm 115 in light of the events just considered:
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.
Why should the nations say,
“Where, now, is their God?” But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
Those who make them will become like them,
Everyone who trusts in them.
I am thankful that it pleased God to show His glory to the nation that day on top of Mt. Carmel! He unequivocally proved that “[He] is in the heavens” (Ps. 115:3) and alive and well in Israel (1 Kings 18:38).
“When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39).
Fear of men was replaced by fear of God! They fell and they worshipped the only wise God (Romans 16:27)! Uncertainty vanished. Passion returned and the enemies were destroyed (1 Kings 18:40). Rain fell (1 Kings 18:45). Hope returned.
I wonder where we all find ourselves today. Some of us are like Elijah. We are confident that the Lord can and will show up. Others of us are like the crowd on top of the mountain. We are either fearful of men or uncertain in our faith. And some of us may have rejected the God and the teachings of the Bible completely. We have consciously chosen the gods offered to us by our culture.
My hope is that this particular blog entry has something for wherever we are today. Thanks for stopping by Striving For Reality!