1 Kings 18:17-24 - Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals. Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel. 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. Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” So all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.”
In this heated political season we have seen and heard a seemingly endless stream of accusations, exaggerations and disinformation. Many people seem to be swayed by colorful advertising, and others appear to base their opinions on popularity polls or talk show chatter. If you’re feeling frustrated, it may be helpful to look at the example of Elijah. He challenged the apathetic attitude of the people of Israel, and he courageously spoke up for the truth of the one true God to both the political and the “religious” leaders of his day.
In 1 Kings 16:30 we read that King Ahab, who ruled the northern kingdom of Israel, was more wicked than any king who came before him. Under the evil influence of Ahab and his idolatrous queen Jezebel, many of the people of Israel had chosen to adopt a sinful, pagan lifestyle. Others were on the fence, waffling as to what they believed and how they should live. God was angry with their bad choices, and the prophet Elijah had announced that the Lord would withhold rain from the land as a punishment (1 Kings 16:33 and 17:1).
Worship of the foreign god, Baal, and the female deity, Asherah, continued in many forms during the drought. The plural “Baals” is used in verse 18 because there were many local varieties of the Baal god. At this time, 450 false prophets of Baal and 400 false prophets of Asherah were living at government expense in Israel - “eating at Jezebel’s table.”
When we pick up this part of the story, the drought and resulting famine were in the third year. Elijah had been keeping a low profile, living quietly in Zarephath, obedient to God’s command (17:9-10). Finally the Lord told him to return and meet King Ahab (18:1).
1. Believers will be blamed for many of our culture’s problems.
Elijah was blamed for the nation’s problems during the drought. In fact, Ahab’s first words to him after his three-year absence were: “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” In reality, Ahab and the people of Israel had caused the famine. They had turned from the Lord to idolatry and immorality.They were the problem - but Ahab shifted the blame to Elijah.
Courageous believers who stand up for godly values are often called “trouble-makers,” and they may even be accused of limiting “social progress” and “freedom.” You can surely think of many recent examples. Even though our society will wrongly blame Christians for a variety of problems, we must still choose to stand firmly on the standards of God’s Word.
In John 15:18-19, Jesus warned His disciples that the world will hate those who do not belong to it. And in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord taught that those who endure persecution from the world will be blessed and rewarded (Matthew 5:11-12). It’s great to know that there is a reward for making the courageous choice to hang in there, but you can be sure that the world will continue to blame believers for many of our culture’s problems.
2. The unbeliever should be challenged with the truth.
When we take a biblical (but perhaps culturally unpopular) stance, we will encounter opposition. This doesn’t mean we should back down or compromise on what we know is right and true – in fact, just the opposite! But all too often we allow unbelievers and “blame-shifters” to get away without being challenged with the truth. Elijah is a good model for us in this way.
Elijah corrected King Ahab. Elijah didn’t let Ahab get away with shifting the blame for the drought. When King Ahab asked, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” Elijah told him with the truth: “I have not made trouble for Israel, but you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals.”
Elijah challenged the unbelieving people. The people of Israel were sitting on the fence. Elijah challenged them: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him - but if Baal, then follow him.”
Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the false prophets to come up with clear and convincing evidence for their false gods: “…you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. “The god who answers by fire - he is God.”
Sometimes we present the evidence for God and the truth of the gospel, but we don’t specifically ask for a response. Elijah presented the unbelievers with the truth and challenged them to make a choice. In John 3:18 our Lord gave the unbeliever an unavoidable choice: “Whoever believes in [the only Son of God] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
The Lord expects us to do more than just tell the unbeliever “God loves you.” We should clearly present the truth and encourage the unbeliever to make a choice. Proclaiming the gospel includes presenting the truth and challenging a decision.
3. Truth is not decided by numbers!
The false prophets of Baal certainly had the advantage. There were 450 of them, compared to one Elijah - and it’s possible that the 400 prophets of Asherah were there as well. The wavering people were probably impressed by the huge crowd of confident false prophets.
Unfortunately, a lot of people today try to determine truth by numbers. As Christians, we may become discouraged when we feel we’re in the minority. But truth is not decided by numbers! For example, many people think that the theory of evolution must be true because many scientists believe in evolution – but truth is not decided by numbers. Truth is decided by the Word of God!
How long will you hesitate between two opinions?
Many of the people who gathered at Mount Camel were on the fence. They certainly weren’t following the Lord and His Word, but they weren’t all-out Baal worshipers, either. Most likely they were drifting along, reluctant to go against popular opinion, enjoying a sinful lifestyle. So when Elijah challenged the people to make a decision, they were silent. They were hesitating between two opinions.
Many Christians today are in exactly the same place as the people of Elijah’s day. They’d like to follow the Lord, and they like the idea of receiving a reward in heaven, but they want earthly rewards, too: success – money – social acceptance – popularity… the “good life.” Or maybe they simply find it easy to go along with the tide of popular culture and opinion.
In Galatians 6:8, the apostle Paul reminded believers that we reap what we sow in our lives, and he emphasized the crucial importance of our life choices: “The one who sows to his sinful nature will reap destruction. The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” 1 John 1:6-7 repeats that same theme.
How long will God’s people hesitate between two opinions? In Revelation 3:16, the Lord warned us that He does not tolerate lukewarm, complacent and self-satisfied believers. His warning should challenge us to frequently evaluate our own attitudes and actions, and deal with any areas in our lives where we may be hesitating between two opinions.
Joshua said to the people of his day, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15). How long will you hesitate between two opinions?