I Kings 17-18
Have you ever seen someone with one foot on the edge of a boat and the other on the dock. As the boat begins to drift away from the dock, the person can’t decide whether to get onto the boat or the dock and in the moment of indecision, they end up in the lake.
Wavering between two decisions is a decision and usually results in disaster. In I Kings 18:21, Elijah asked the people of Israel a very serious question. “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
As we examine the issues which raised this question, we will be invited to ask the same question of ourselves. Are we fully following the Lord, or are we also wavering between two opinions? If the Lord is God, will we follow Him?
About three weeks ago, we learned that Solomon did not end well. He opened the way for worship of other gods because of the many foreign wives he had married. Because of his sin, God took the kingdom away from him.
Two weeks ago, we learned that the once great kingdom was divided into the northern tribes, from then on referred to as Israel and the southern tribes referred to as Judah. We saw a succession of kings who continued to walk away from God and walk in the way of idolatry.
The focus of I Kings 17,18 is on the northern tribes of Israel. In the chapters which lead up to these two, we see an increasing movement away from God. We hear again and again about the evil of the kings who reigned in Israel.
In 12:28 we read about how Jeroboam made two golden calves and told the people that these were the gods who brought them out of Egypt. We read in 15:26 that Nadab “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” We read in 15:34 that Baasha “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” And so the story goes with every king, for example, Elah “provoked the God of Israel to anger by their worthless idols.” And finally we get to Ahab who “did more evil than any of those before him.” In 16:31 we learn that “he began to serve Baal and worship him.” Baal was the god of the Sidonians which was where his wife Jezebel came from. She was the one who prompted him to such evil and he willingly followed. So severe was the evil that Jezebel was even killing the prophets of the Lord, as we learn in 18:4. Baal was being promoted as god and the Lord was being forgotten by the people.
As we read about this movement away from God, we might think that it was a deliberate and obvious walk towards disobedience, but I wonder if they saw it as that obvious? Gradually they had come to accommodate to something that was against God’s will until they saw no problem with it. When Elijah confronted the people and asked them how long they would waver between two opinions, they did not answer. They were not sure how they should answer and had become quite comfortable having two gods. They did not mind if God was their God and Baal was also worshipped. It seemed to make sense to them. They had come to accept this mixed religion and it didn’t seem like an issue that needed a decision made.
But we don’t worship Baal. We do not have idols in our house and we do not go to the shrines of other gods in order to worship them. This makes us wonder what the application of this passage might be for us. But let us think this through once again. The critical question is, “Are we following the Lord fully?” Is it possible that there are other ways in which we are wavering between two opinions? Have we really understood what it means to follow the Lord?
For example, if we have something against another person and we have allowed bitterness to grow up and we refuse to forgive them for what they have done to us, are we not wavering between two opinions? The teaching of scripture is absolutely clear on this. We are to forgive those who wrong us. Whenever we don’t forgive, we demonstrate by our actions that we are not really following the Lord, but rather yielding to our vengeful feelings.
We live in close contact with a world that has values that are opposite to those of Christ. When we listen to the radio, watch television or engage in entertainment, we are constantly bombarded by these opposite values. We should not stop living in close contact with this world, but we should question each activity to see if it promotes the values of Christ or undermines them and constantly make sure that we are not wavering between two opinions.
Recreation and sports are great gifts of God in our life. They are meant to be enjoyed. But when they are our whole life, when we put these things ahead of the work of God, ahead of worship, ahead of serving others, then the question could well be asked of us whether we are perhaps “wavering between two opinions.” Are we serving our recreation or are we serving the Lord?
In a few weeks we will have the opportunity to participate in a province-wide evangelism effort. God’s word is quite clear that He has called us to go and make disciples of all nations. If we do not take the opportunity to participate in this great evangelism effort, are we really following the Lord, or are we allowing our fears or what is important to us to cause us to waver between two opinions?
Each of us needs to open our hearts to the Lord in order to have them revealed to know whether we are truly following the Lord or wavering between two opinions.
Israel was wavering between two opinions. God was the one who had brought them out of Egypt, Baal was widely worshipped. It was time for a decision.
God began the process of forcing a decision by bringing a drought upon all the land. Elijah actually prayed for disaster so that the people would return to God.
It is interesting that God should use a drought to force people into rethinking whom they put their trust in. Baal was the god of storms and was believed to bring rain and lightening. During the dry season, it was believed that he was dead, but it was also believed that he came to life twice every year to water the earth. The rains in this land were very regular. There were the early rains between October & Jan and another set of rains called the later rains in April and May. The agricultural system was used to this cycle and when it didn’t happen, it was devastating. The purpose of the drought was to cause the people to doubt the power of Baal.
After the drought began, we read several interesting stories of God’s power and provision in the midst of it. The stories provide an interlude between the beginning of the drought until three years later when the contest took place. They demonstrate how God is able to look after his own. Elijah was supported, first by food brought by ravens and water from the Kerith Ravine. Then there is an interesting story about how he is provided for through the help of a widow. The interesting thing is that this widow lived in Sidon, which was where Jezebel, the wicked queen of Israel was born. This widow came to believe in God when she saw how God provided for her and for Elijah by never allowing the flour and oil to run out and then when she saw God to raise her son to health.
These stories in which Elijah must trust in God also help to strengthen his faith for the difficult confrontation that is coming.
The severity of the drought is seen in the need for Elijah to find sustenance. It is also seen in the fact that this widow who was probably a wealthy widow because she owned a house with an upper room was now reduced to gathering sticks and making one last meal before she died.
In 18:17 the time of decision has come. Elijah met king Ahab and he asked, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” His perspective was that Elijah’s actions had resulted in the anger of Baal so that he did not send rain. That is why Ahab looked at Elijah as the troubler of Israel. Elijah, however, gave the true perspective on this. He told Ahab that it was he who was the troubler of Israel because of his idolatry which was bringing down the wrath of God.
The drought got the people’s attention and in God’s timing, Elijah was sent to invite the people to make a decision. Instead of wavering between two opinions, they were to decide.
After Elijah met with Ahab, he told him to gather all the people. As they were gathered together, he asked them the question we have been examining. “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” The response of the people was interesting. The text tells us “the people said nothing.” They continued to waver between two opinions. How hard hearted, how indecisive they were. In reality, their refusal to answer is in fact a decision to dance with Baal’s prophets.
It was at this point that Elijah proposed the contest. This is a wonderful story which I always enjoyed telling our children. It is a story which also invites us to make a decision.
Elijah stacked the deck against himself. There were 450 prophets of Baal and he stood alone. How easy it would have been for them to kill him and silence God forever. He allowed them to go first and to possibly pre-empt the desired effect. If Baal had sent lightening, he would have been finished. Baal was the god of storms and the Baal prophets and the people presumed that he could send lightening.
The Baal prophets prepared their sacrifice and began to call on their god. But what kind of a god did they call on? They saw him as a god who had to be persuaded, a god who was not really interested in them, but who by the right sacrifices, and the right noise and the right kind of self mutilation could be persuaded to give attention to their needs.
Elijah’s mockery, which happened at about noon, was biting and demonstrated the emptiness of their position. He laughed at their empty worship and the emptiness of their beliefs. He suggested, “perhaps your god is sleeping.” Some suggest that he is even mocking them that the god couldn’t give them attention because he was in the bathroom. In all their frantic efforts, there was no response. Elijah is emphasizing the emptiness of Baal. He is no god; he is a joke!”
As the time for the evening sacrifice came, Elijah stepped forward. He had very little time left to accomplish alone what 450 prophets could not accomplish all day. He further stacked the deck against himself by drowning the sacrifice and the wood with buckets of precious water. Then, with a prayer that is a huge contrast to that of the Baal prophets, he asked God to show himself. He prayed a simple prayer which acknowledged the power of the covenant God of Israel, whose purpose was not to impress, but to turn hearts.
The result was immediate and powerful. God sent fire which not only consumed the sacrifice, but the wood, the water, the soil and even the stones. A great act of God finally succeeded in getting a response from the people. Now they didn’t sit on the fence any more. They saw the power of God and they responded with a statement of belief. They acknowledged that Jehovah is God, that He alone is God. The contest was not between two gods, but between God and an empty delusion.
The result was the destruction of all the Baal prophets according to the word of the Lord in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, which says, “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” … That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God…”
After this, God’s power and compassion is demonstrated once again when in answer to prayer rain fell on the land.
The point of the story is that God is God and since he is God, he must be fully followed.
God brought the drought in order to show the people the emptiness of their dependence on Baal and to bring them to a readiness to depend on God alone. Although we cannot look at every difficulty as a punishment from God, every trial we face is an opportunity to examine our priorities. Sometimes God allows us to go through difficult times so that we will make a decision about what we value and about whom we worship. Sometimes we get to the place where we depend on ourselves instead of on God, where we hope in good times and happiness instead of on God, where we want the good things of this earth instead of God himself. There is no doubt that God disciplines us to draw us. Hebrews 12:5, 6, “…My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves…”
One example of this is the illness and physical limitations which often come as we grow older. If our bodies continued to be healthy right until we died, we might never want to leave this earth. Sometimes when our bodies begin to fail us in old age, we get to the place where we are not so excited about life on this earth and look forward to the life that is to come.
Another example is when we place great value on our home, or our career and then when they are taken away by flood or by job loss, we suddenly have to reach out to realize that there is something of higher value and that is our relationship to God.
Is there some trial which you are experiencing which is an opportunity to re-examine whether you are fully following the Lord? Do not squander this opportunity. Whether it comes through crisis or through reading or thinking or through a message, there are times in our life when we have to make a decision on whether we will follow God completely or not.
For the people of Israel’s day, that crisis came when they saw the power of God in burning the sacrifice. A powerful demonstration of God’s work convinced them that He was God.
We sometimes wish that God would do something great so that we could see His power and put our trust in Him. If we only saw some great miracle, then it would be a lot easier to quit wavering between two opinions and to make a clear and decisive choice. The fact of the matter is that we have seen a great miracle of God. He came to this earth, died in front of our eyes and then rose again from the dead. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a greater miracle than the fire coming down from heaven. We know about it and know that it happened. As we recognize this demonstration of God’s great power, will we stop wavering between two opinions and fully follow the Lord?
Some of the harshest words Jesus spoke to Christians were spoken in Revelation 3:15, 16. There he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
When we are wavering between two opinions, we are lukewarm. There is nothing Jesus dislikes more than lukewarm Christians. So the challenge to each of us today is to first of all ask ourselves, “Am I wavering between two opinions?”
If we are wavering, or lukewarm, then it is time to make a decision. Will you, will I fully follow the Lord? He is God, who loves us, cares for us, has all wisdom and power and so the invitation is before us, “If the Lord is God, follow Him!”