Summary: As I stood on Mt. Carmel, looking down toward the valley below, I listened to our tour guide and thought of the story of Elijah, Ahab, and the prophets. In my mind's eye, I could hear Elijah telling the Israelites they must choose between God and Baal.
My dad didn’t know how to deal with my being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He never asked me any questions but just watched me. After he saw that I was not going to become an invalid anytime soon, he came to me and said, “Pick any place is the world you want to go, Sis, and we’ll go.”
I thought about it long and hard. Think about it…if you were given the opportunity, and all your expenses were going to be paid – even your food and souvenirs, where would you go? Finally, the answer I gave him was not what I had always thought it would be. Paris? Rome? Egypt and the pyramids? London? Daddy was silently hoping for Australia. I said, “Daddy, I want to go to the Holy Land.”
One of the stops during our twelve days was Mt. Carmel, the site where Elijah most likely confronted the Prophets of Baal. I stood there taking in the site, looking at the Kishon River below, listening to our guide tell the story, and somehow magically transporting myself there:
King Ahab and Queen Jezebel are purely evil. Under their rule, Israel has gone further down the path toward paganism than ever before. Some people resist the worship of Baal, but they are few, and they are keeping their thoughts to themselves. Most of the people, though, are just going through the motions of worshiping God and full-on partying for Ba’al without fully committing to either.
Elijah has been preaching that people must return to God, bit King Ahab keeps Elijah fleeing for his life, playing a biblical hide-and-seek. Finally, God tells Elijah to quit avoiding Ahab and meet with the king. Elijah sends for Ahab, and after mutually trading insults, Elijah tells Ahab to bring the people of Israel, the 450 prophets of Ba’al, and Jezebel’s 400 prophets of Asherah to Mt. Carmel.
Ahab brings the 450 prophets of Baal and the people of Israel to Mt. Carmel, but Queen Jezebel is not going to be caught dead doing anything Elijah tells her to do, so she does not send her 400 prophets of Asherah. The King, Elijah, the prophets, and the people of Israel are all around; Elijah looks at his people and says, “How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow God. If Baal is God, follow Baal.” Sadly, no one steps forward to support Elijah.
Have you ever been in a similar situation where you knew someone was right, but you didn’t want to be that one person to step forward to fight the tide?
In the rest of the story, there is a contest between Elijah and the Prophets of Baal, but that is for tomorrow night. Tonight, I want us to look at this one question: “How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions?”
In 1886, Southern Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee released a book about Elijah – Elijah Vindicated: Or The Answer by Fire. That little book has 386 pages and devotes chapter sixteen – sixteen pages – to that one little question. I promise that this sermon isn’t sixteen pages long, but isn’t it interesting that 133 years later we are still trying to answer that same question?
The Hebrew word used in this passage can be translated several different ways. I love reading different translations, so I looked at seven different ones. Two say, “How long will you waver between two opinions.” Others ask, “How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions – sit on the fence – hesitate between two opinions – be divided between two ways of thinking – how long will you go limping with two different opinions – or jump back and forth between two positions?”
Though I did not find the verse translated this way, some commentators liken this to birds hopping from one branch to another, not staying on one branch very long until they hop to another one that looks better.
The authors of Elijah Vindicated say this question “is as pertinent at this day as in the days of the Tishbite (Elijah). It is a question that must be answered, sooner or later, by all having a revelation from God and still halting between two opinions. Upon its decision depend the momentous issues of life and death, of heaven and hell.” This question is as relevant today as it was 133 years ago and the approximate 3000 years ago when Elijah first asked it!
How often do we jump about from limb to limb or hop from one foot to the other, never making a stand for our faith? Think back to World War II.
In 1935 Hitler was on the rise. He had a stranglehold on the church so strong that the church of Germany had accepted his Nazi ideology. Just like the Israelites of Elijah’s time, Protestants in Germany found a way to be both believers in Christianity and supporters of the Nazis. People who refused to compromise were dragged off to concentration camps. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant pastor professed sympathy for Jewish victims and proclaimed that Christianity and Socialism were incompatible. He was later executed for his beliefs, just one month before the war ended.