Have you experienced seasons when you had to make a choice between the things of God and the things of the world? I have. The prophet Elijah confronted the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who had set one foot in each domain.
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 nature of challenge would have cut deep into my heart. Though not Baal per say, there are other forms of idol worship in the world that tempt and surround us.
Here, Elijah was challenging the people 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 that they needed to live a good life. But the temptations and pleasures of Baal worship, strongly encouraged and supported by their leaders, Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, provided a desirable alternative to obeying God. But one cannot do two opposing things at the same time.
Does this sound familiar?
God had had enough of this disrespect and unfaithfulness, and, unwilling to let the people He loved be surrendered to dark forces, led Elijah to set up a challenge between Himself and Baal. Behind the scenes, this was also a challenge between the kingdoms of 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 get ready to bring the three-and-a-half-year drought to a dramatic end, God had Elijah present a challenge to the 450 prophets of Baal – they were to prepare a bull offering on Mount Carmel, and call down fire from heaven to light it. Satan had previously demonstrated himself perfectly capable of doing this, as he had done it before to the faithful Job. Reading from the book of 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 upon Job’s family, including even sending fire from heaven onto Job’s flocks and field workers. As often happens, Satan even arranged it so that God would get 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 of Satan’s power behind them, 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 just as with the confident dark powers behind the gods of Pharaoh’s Egypt who came up against the God of Moses, they would be deeply mistaken.
At the end of the day, the power of God is always far, far 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 our world. This is part of God’s good plan for the final redemption and restoration of His physical and spiritual creation on the earth, a return to the innocence and goodness of Eden.
Meanwhile, on Mount Carmel in northwest Israel, the challenge between the Lord and Baal was on. The prophets of Baal prepared their bull offering and cried aloud to their god all day long, leaping and even cutting themselves, beseeching Baal to send fire down from heaven upon their sacrifice. But the Spirit of God restrained the powers of evil, preventing them from speaking or acting, and by the time of the Lord’s evening sacrifice, no fire from heaven had fallen, and no sign of Baal’s presence had been given.
Throughout the day, Elijah mocked the false prophets and their god. When his time came, Elijah then had twelve large pots of water poured upon his prepared 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 a season when we were living far away from the Lord, though He was never far from us. Some of us did not know Him to begin with, but others of us did, and were lured away by the temptations of other gods or idols, such as the pursuit of success, materialism, pleasure, alcohol or drugs, or anything that places a wall between us and the God who loves us.
God will allow us in our free will to wander as far from Him as we choose, but He will also permit us to suffer the consequences of our actions. When we begin to feel the heat and pain from unwise, selfish choices and begin to have some willingness to return to Him, He will make a way for us to do so. But at any time, the choice will be entirely ours: “How long will I falter between two opinions?”
Lord, thank You for never abandoning us, even in the times we may have abandoned You. Thank you for providing the opportunities and willingness for us to turn to, or back to, You. Whenever we take a step of faith towards You, you always pour out a large blessing of favor upon us. We praise You and thank You, and seek to walk closer with You in fellowship today. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.