21 And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word. 1 Kings 18:21 NKJV
In my own life, there have been several occasions where this challenge would have cut deep into my heart.
Here, Elijah was challenging the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to make a choice. They had been slowly and methodically tempted away from following the Lord who had planted them in that land and provided all they needed to live a good life. But the temptations of Baal worship, strongly supported by their leaders, Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, provided a pleasurable and desirable alternative, and one cannot do two opposing things at the same time.
God had had enough of this disrespect and led Elijah to set up a challenge between Himself and Baal. Behind the scenes, this was also a challenge between God and Satan, as Satan was the power behind these false idols, and had also led Jezebel to kill all the prophets of the Lord that she could find.
To bring the three-and-a-half-year drought to a dramatic end, God had Elijah prepare a challenge for the 450 prophets of Baal – they were to prepare a bull offering on Mount Carmel, and call fire down from heaven to light it. Satan had previously demonstrated himself perfectly capable of doing this, as he had done it before to Job.
8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”
9 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”
12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” Job 1:8-12 NKJV
With God’s permission to test Job, Satan went wild. He brought many cruel and hateful tragedies on Job’s family, including sending fire from heaven on Job’s flocks and field workers. Satan even arranged it so that God got all the blame for it.
16 While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you!” Job 1:16 NKJV
With this assurance, the 450 prophets of Baal accepted the challenge, naturally assuming that their dark powers would easily win this showdown against Elijah and his God. But like the confident dark powers behind the gods of Pharaoh’s Egypt that came up against the God of Moses, they would be wrong.
At the end of the day, the power of God is always stronger than the powers of darkness. This theme is seen over and over again throughout the Bible. Yet, the battle between evil and good will continue to rage until the return of Jesus Christ as King over the earth, when all the dark powers will finally be removed from the scene. This is all part of God’s good plan, the final redemption and restoration of His physical and spiritual creation on the earth.
Meanwhile, on Mount Carmel in northwest Israel, the challenge was on. The prophets of Baal prepared their bull offering and cried aloud to their god all day, leaping, and cutting themselves, beseeching Baal to send fire down from heaven upon their sacrifice. But the Spirit of God had restrained the powers of evil, preventing them from speaking or acting, and by the time of God’s evening sacrifice, no fire had fallen or sign been given.
Throughout the day, Elijah mocked them and their god. When his time came, he had twelve large pots of water poured upon his sacrifice, perhaps representing the twelve tribes of Israel.
The, Elijah prayed once more:
36 And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 Now 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 18:36-39 NKJV
Throughout our lives, many of us have experienced times when we were living far away from the Lord (though He was never far from us). Some of us never knew Him to begin with, but others of us did and were lured away by the temptations of other gods or idols – the pursuit of success, materialism, pleasure and/or mind-altering beverages and substances.
God allows us free rein to wander as far from Him as we choose, but He will also allow us to suffer consequences from our actions. After we begin to feel some pain from our choices and show some desire to return to Him, He will make a way for us to do so. Then the choice will be ours: “How long will I falter between two opinions?”
Lord, thank You for never abandoning us even when we have abandoned You. Thank you for providing opportunities for those moments of willingness to turn back to You, or to seek You for the first time. When we take a small step of faith towards You, you take a large step of blessing and favor for us. Amen