The Story of Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
A Day of Decision
“And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? 18 And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim. 19 Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto Mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table. 20 So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. 22 Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men” (1 Kings 18:17-22).
The godly prophet and the godless king were about to meet once more. Three years had passed since the last time the two men were together. These had been long, hot years. There was a drought in the land. Ahab blamed the dryness on Elijah, and informed him of that very fact upon sight. With bitterness in his voice, the King called out within shouting distance,”Art thou he that troubleth Israel?”
The words were spoken to scare, and intimidate Elijah, but the rugged prophet was not afraid of this man. Ahab was wrong. The source of Israel’s problem was not Elijah, but Ahab himself. However, the king did what all people have a tendency to do, and that is to shift spiritual and personal responsibility from self to someone else.Adam blamed God for his sin.Eve blamed the serpent. The Old Serpent had deceived Eve into believing that God was withholding something good from His creation, and so she and Adam had a right to revolt against the known commandment of the Lord. Blame shifting is as old as the Garden of Eden.
In the ninth century before Christ, there was trouble in Israel, but not because of Elijah. The prophet was accused of being a trouble-maker, but he does not accept the blame that Ahab was shifting to him. Elijah knew the truth. The truth was that the origin of Israel’s problem, was in Ahab, and his father, King Omri.Together, in their own ways, these men had forsaken the commandments of the Lord.
At the very moment Elijah confronted him, Ahab was turning the nation of Israel from the Lord. On this point, there was no denying what Elijah said. There was too much evidence.The Temple of Solomon had been desecrated. In 871 BC a heathen princess had been made the Queen of Israel. Jezebel had brought her false religion and her immoral philosophy of life, to be incorporated into the social fabric of Israel.
Sin was transforming the once holy nation. Sin was causing the people of God to suffer. Ahab had led the people in ways contrary to God’s Word. Confronted with the truth, Ahab became quiet. He did not challenge what Elijah said, because the prophet was right. Ahab was the immediate, and the primary cause of the curse on the land.
In righteousness, Elijah grew bold as a lion, and commanded the king to gather unto Mount Carmel the 450 prophets of Baal. What Elijah had in mind was to prove, once and for all, that the prophets of Baal were false prophets, and should be destroyed.
King Ahab did as he was told. Word was sent to all the tribes of Israel, and the prophets of Baal gathered on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20). Not only did the prophets come, but so did a large group of people.The attraction of this large crowd to witness the impending confrontation between the prophets of Baal, and the prophet of Jehovah, provided Elijah with an opportunity to address national Israel.
Elijah had a question for God’s people. While it was a simple inquiry, it was not subtle. It was blunt, and to the point.The question struck at the conscience of every Israelite present. “How long halt ye between two opinions?”
As soon as they heard these words, the people of Palestine knew what Elijah meant. Implied in the question, was the fact that the Israelites were trying to please two gods. There was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was known as Jehovah.
Jehovah was the God of the covenant.
Jehovah was the One that the forefathers had known, trusted, and relied upon.
Jehovah had proven Himself faithful, time, and time again.
The Lord God had delivered Israel from the land of bondage. He had divided the Red Sea, making a way of escape from Pharaoh’s army. The Lord had provided food in the desert for forty years. He had given water, and clothing. Joshua and David had called upon the Lord in the day of battle, and been delivered. Solomon had built a Temple to Him. The Lord God had given to Israel so much over the centuries. Despite His goodness, how was the Lord being treated? “Did the children of Israel love Him with all their hearts, and with all their minds, and with all of their might?”
The answer was, “No!” There was a rival god who had arisen, throwing the people into a spiritual dilemma, and robbing them of spiritual power. The people of Israel stood between two opinions, and a clear choice did not come easily, because Baalism was appealing to the flesh. The god Baal allowed sexual freedom in the name of love and worship. People were being taught that sexual liberation was a sign of spiritual maturity.
In addition, the worship of Baal was politically correct. Queen Jezebel, and King Ahab worshipped Baal, and insisted that all of Israel embrace this new religion.
Finally, the worship of Baal was intellectually thrilling, for it bordered on the side of danger. There is a form of unholy boldness that floods the heart when the old traditions, and the old ways are challenged. This is true in both sacred, and secular matters.
Young people are amazed at how strong, and powerful they feel, when mom and dad are defied – and the earth does not open up and swallow them. Suddenly, youth senses thy have new power. The idea comes that the old standards can be thrown off. Parents do not have to be honored. The youth do not know that heavy chains of evil bondage await them. There is the bondage to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and unholy lust.
There is bondage to raw, unbridled emotions. Young people do not fully comprehend that no one is ever really free. Someone will always be the master of life. Either the world, the flesh, the Devil, or God will dominate life, and dictate the direction a person goes.
The youth of Israel, during Elijah’s day, were caught up in the worship of Baal, because their parents worshiped these false gods, even though everyone knew about the true God. In the ninth century before Christ, a whole nation, young and old alike, felt the tension between true spirituality, and sensual delight. Israel was in conflict. Christians today should be able to understand the situation presented here, because the dilemma of the ancient Jews is still a problem today. The people of God are caught between the quest for spirituality, and sensual delight.
If Elijah could stand in pulpits in America, his question would be just as relevant as it was so long ago. Elijah would ask Christians today, “Why do ye halt between two opinions?” “When the stated services are scheduled, why do you hesitate to come to worship, and learn, and fellowship?” “When there is a questionable program filled with immorality, why do you hesitate to watch something else that is more wholesome?” “When you are asked to do a good work for the Savior, why do you linger?”
In a thousand ways, the truth emerges. There is a struggle between God and the world, God and the flesh, God and the devil. Elijah would ask, “How long will you continue in a state of spiritual ambivalence?”
The Divine Council, the words of Eternal Wisdom would then be given in contemporary terms. “If the Lord be God, follow him. But if Baal be god, then follow him. Choose whom ye will serve! Choose now! Choose today!” If the Lord is God then unite with His people, be baptized, take communion often, find and use one’s spiritual gift, do not cause trouble, live out the ethics of the Christian life, and seek to be like Jesus. If the Lord is not god, then go and be part of the wisdom of this world.” These are the only two options that are given.
When two options were presented to Israel, the Bible says, “And the people answered Elijah not a word” (1 Kings 18:21). Why? Why were the people silent when a perfect opportunity was given to confess sin, to change the conduct of life and to return to a covenant keeping God? What a moment of spiritual opportunity Israel had!
There is a moment in the life of every nation, and in the life of every Christian that is defining. When this moment come, the angels in heaven stop to watch as they observe what the reaction of an individual will be. The angels watched when Job was attacked by Lucifer. The angels watched when Jesus was tempted in the Garden of Gethsemane. Paul said that an angel stood by him one night. Heaven wants to know how the human heart will respond in a defining moment.
On a bright, beautiful, cloudless day in the ninth century, on the side of Mount Carmel, the people in Israel had a chance to be different. Unfortunately, the people chose not to be different, but to be silent. In this choice, they acted unwisely. Instead of seizing the moment, there was an awful silence. There was a halting between two opinions.
I suspect that the silence was difficult for some in the crowd that day. Perhaps some of the people felt a tremendous desire to speak up, and to cry out for forgiveness. Some were sick of their sins. Some were tired of the false pleasures of sin. Some wanted to be clean, and pure, and holy once more. There were some in Israel whose conscience could no longer bear the memories of what they were doing, or had done. Some wanted to make restitution. Others wanted to go and be reconciled to family and friends. But there was only silence. Individuals remained non-committal, and neutral, and therein is the greatest of danger.
When spiritual neutrality grips a person, spiritual death is certain, and it is infectious. The Bible says that the people of Israel were silent, and suddenly, Elijah felt very much alone (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah was one man against 450 false prophets of Baal. He was one man against the king. Elijah was one man against an undecided nation. Nevertheless, Elijah would stand for God. Let the contest begin. What a difference one faithful man, unafraid, and with his mind made up, can do for God.
Many years ago, there was a promising young evangelist who was talking to a friend. In the course of the conversation the gifted evangelist heard these words: “The world has yet to see what one man, wholly consecrated to Christ can do.” When D. L. Moody heard these challenging words his heart was stirred, and he told his friend, “By the grace of God, I want to be that man!” For his generation, in the nineteenth century, D. L. Moody was God’s man. The spiritual mantle of Elijah fell upon Moody, and the world was blessed by a man who had his mind made up.
A common characteristic of all the men and women who have enjoyed power with God, and power with man, is that they did not halt between two opinions. They were wholly committed to God, in public, and in private.
Perhaps today is a day of decision for some. If a Christian listens with spiritual ears, the voice of Elijah can be heard calling across the centuries, “How long will ye halt between two opinions?” The honest heart knows the struggle that is spoken of. “Am I to be baptized, or not?” “Should I take communion often, or not?” “Will I support the worship services, or not?” “Can I learn to love to study the Bible, or not?” “Do I pray, or not?” “Do I forgive, or not?” “Do I go to that man, woman, or child, and humble myself and seek forgiveness, and fellowship, or not?”
The message today is the same message that was given to Israel so long ago. “If the Lord is God, then serve Him. If someone, or something else is god, then be honest, and go serve that god. But stop halting between two opinions.”
The day of decision has arrived. As there were people in Israel that wanted to do right, so there are people today who want to do right. However, the temptation to remain silent is still strong. What will a person do?
There is only one solution, and that is to break the silence. It is only when we confess our faults one to another, it is only when we humble ourselves, it is only when we call upon the name of the Lord, that we are saved.
If a struggling heart is sincere, it could, at the very least cry out, “Lord, save me.” “Lord, sanctify me.” “Lord, cause me to serve you, and to love others.” “Lord, cleanse me.” “Lord, show me how to make right what I have done wrong.” “Lord, make me willing to do right.” “Lord, give me a whole heart for Jesus Christ.”
God will answer such a heartfelt prayer as this, provided a person does not continue to be silent in the day of decision.