"How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if (the idol) Baal is God, follow him."
-- The prophet Elijah,
I Kings 18:21
With "wavering between two opinions" a frequent charge during the just-completed political campaign, it seems fitting to consider a time when God accused his people of doing the same thing.
Israel's prolonged drought was largely King Ahab's fault.
Failed crops? His fault. Dried-up wells and streams? His fault. Widespread famine, starvation and death? All his fault -- but not if you asked the king. In his opinion the blame for this terrible calamity lay solely at the feet of Elijah, the evil prophet of God who had dared to stand before him three years earlier and announce, "As the Lord God of Israel lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain for the next few years, except at my word" (I Kings 17:1).
Now, God said to Elijah, it was time for prophet and king to meet again, and the obedient prophet made another trip to the palace.
"Is that you, you troubler of Israel?" Ahab jeered.
"I have not made trouble for Israel," Elijah replied, "but you have, because you abandoned the Lord's commands and followed Baal...." (I Kings 18:17-18)
Whenever I'm faced with a conflict so strong the only alternative to taking one side or another is to wear dark glasses, bury my ostrich-feathered head in the sand or water both sides down, I think of the story of Elijah, Ahab, and the 400 prophets of Baal.
Ahab, who had descended from godly stock, nearly severed his relationship with God when he married the idol-worshipping Jezebel and allowed her to bring her religion to the once God-fearing country. The drought was God's punishment for Israel's fall from faith, and Elijah was God's mouthpiece for announcing his plan.
It couldn't have been easy for Elijah. His speech to Ahab had hardly left his lips before the king and his entourage began their attack.
"As surely as your Lord lives," Ahab's servant said in a secret meeting with Elijah, "there is not a nation or a kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you." The servant feared for his own life should the king learn he knew where to find the hated prophet.
But Elijah stood his ground, spent three years in hiding, and then agreed to a preposterous contest between himself and the 400 prophets of Baal in full view of a great assembly of his own people.
Mt. Carmel was the setting for the suspense-filled contest to see whether Israel's God or idol Baal would send down fire from heaven to consume a waiting sacrifice (I Kings 18:20-46). Before the contest began, Elijah admonished his people for wavering between two opinions (gods) and asked them to have the courage to stand up for one deity or the other. The final phrase of verse 21 reveals the heart of the story: "But the people said nothing."
Only when the lengthy, tortured prayers of the Baal prophets also yielded nothing, and following Elijah's simple prayer "The fire of the Lord fell," did the people bow down and cry, "The Lord -- he is God!"
Elijah would understand the Christian's dilemma today. It's not easy in our super-tolerant culture to speak out against corruption or immoral behavior, especially in high places. It's much more comfortable to be like the Israelites on Mt. Carmel and say nothing.
But wavering, hesitating to stand for what we believe reveals something more than cowardice. Not being willing to speak up, or to support those who have the authority to root out evil and those who cause it, advertises how weak our commitment is to what we say we believe. It didn't take much commitment for the Israelites to stand beside Elijah and watch.
Joshua, the successor to Moses who led Ahab's ancestors into the Promised Land, laid the foundation for Elijah's challenge to the Israelites, and all who follow their God today, with these words:
"Choose you this day whom you will serve... As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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