And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. Ami the people answered him not a word.
Ah, thou troubler of Israel!
Such was Ahab’s greeting when, after three years and six months, he met Elijah, the lonely representative of Jehovah in the midst of apostate Israel.
Diligently, persistently the king had searched for the prophet of the Lord that had power to shut the heavens and to open them again. No nation or kingdom there was whither he had not sent to inquire after him. “And when they said, He is not here; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation”, that they had not found him!
And now the prophet took the initiative!
He showed himself to Ahab!
A long time he had sojourned with the widow of Zarephath, content to wait for the Word of the Lord, and blessing with his presence the home of the Zidonian woman and her son. But finally, in the third year of his stay in the very stronghold of Baal, the Word of the Lord for which the prophet had patiently waited had come unto him, and commanded him to depart and to show himself to Ahab.
God would give rain again upon the thirsty land!
Not, indeed, as if the judgment of the drought and the resulting famine had produced the effect of a true repentance and return unto the Lord, either on the part of the wicked king, or on the part of the people. The very first words that leave the king’s lips when he met the prophet of the Lord reveal but too clearly that there was no thought of self-abasement in his heart, that, in fact, he was filled with bitterness and dominated by a spirit of rebellion. And as to the people, still they were halting between two opinions, being compelled to acknowledge the power of Jehovah, but nevertheless inclined to follow after Baal. Yet, God’s time had arrived. The judgment had served His purpose. And woe unto those that are not led to repentance by the revelation of His divine glory!
And Elijah had obeyed the Word of the Lord, eager, no doubt, to resume the battle for the name of Jehovah.
And first, as he traversed the land of his fathers, he had met Obediah, one of the remnant according to the election of grace in Israel, a representative of the seven thousand that had not bowed the knee before Baal governor, Indeed, of the house of Ahab, but fearing the Lord greatly; timid, perhaps, yet faithful, and deeply concerned about the cause of God’s covenant, for he had protected a hundred prophets against the furious wrath and hatred of the wicked queen, and hid them by fifty in a cove, at the same time finding means in that period of scarcity to keep them alive! Between himself and his governor king Ahab had divided the land in search for possible provender for their beasts. And on his way Obediah met and immediately recognized the prophet that “standeth before God.”
Struck with terror had he been at the command of Elijah: “Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here!”
Would such a message not mean its bearer’s death? Had not the king in his anger searched for the prophet everywhere? And would not, after Obediah had delivered the message to the king, the Spirit of the Lord carry the prophet once more to a safe hiding place? And would not the king in his fury slay the governor for having sent for him on a fool’s errand? But had he, Obediah, not deserved a better lot? Did not the prophet know, than, that he had saved the lives of one hundred of the word’s prophets, and fed them with bread and water?
Yet, the prophet had insisted, and he had sworn by the living Lord of hosts that he would show himself that day to the king. And Ahab’s governor had obeyed.
And so they met: Elijah that standeth before God, and the apostate ruler in Israel! And lo, the king speaks first: “Thou here, thou troubler of Israel?
It must needs be thus, when the vain peace and prosperity of the wicked is disturbed and condemned by the representative of Jehovah’s cause in the world, and hardening rather than repentance is the result. For, indeed, Elijah had troubled Israel when in the Wilds of Gilead he had cried to Jehovah his God to shut the heavens, and to withhold the rain from blessing the thirsty land. Yet, his troubling had been but the act of the surgeon that firmly plants his knife in the festering wound to heal it. The deeper, the real cause of all the trouble in Israel were Ahab and his father’s house, in that they had forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and followed after Baal!
Thus; the prophet replies.
And in the consciousness of his authority and power, he now orders the king of Israel to gather all the people of Israel, and all the prophets and priests of Baal on mount Carmel.
There the battle is to be fought!
There it is to be marvelously revealed that Jehovah is God alone!
The mighty Lord of hosts!
Follow ye whoever is God!
If it be Baal that is God, follow him!
But if it be Jehovah, then forsake Baal, and follow Him!
Thus rings out the challenge from the heights of Carmel to all the people that congregated on the mountain slope at the call of this strange prophet, lone, yet mighty champion of the cause of God’s covenant in the midst of general apostasy.
He does not attempt to arouse them into a mighty revival.
He has nothing to offer.
He does not sweetly try to persuade them to turn back to Jehovah by holding before them the prospect of rain, as, he might have done.
He does not beg them to return.
He draws the lines. Sharply, distinctly, with a clear decision he brings to them the challenge: Choose now! It is either-or. Do not hesitate to serve and follow with all your heart whomever you profess to be God. But by all means let it be just one, not two, decide once for all who is God, and having decided they must not hesitate to follow Him and Him only, with all their heart and mind and soul and strength!
A fair enough proposition!
It implies that someone is God! The question at Carmel is not whether there is a God at all. The possibility that the position of the fool, who says within his heart that there is no God, may, perhaps, also be correct, does not enter into the challenge. The prophet is not dealing here with atheistic philosophers, but with covenant people, that have become unfaithful, that have departed from the ways of Jehovah, and apostatized from the living God, but who strangely hesitate to be consistent, and to accept the full consequences of their apostasy. No, the question is not whether there be a God at all. It concerns rather His identity: Who shall He be, Jehovah or Baal?
It must be either-or!
But the proposition implies more.
It presupposes as self-evident, that whoever is God must be followed! You cannot simply ignore God! He is not a fellow creature, an object of your curiosity, or of your scientific investigation, or philosophic contemplation, which you may discuss in your university halls, or in your night clubs; whose identity you may, perhaps, establish, and having established it ignore Him for the rest. God is the Lord! He is your Sovereign, your Creator, your sole Possessor, unto Whom all things, for Whose sake you exist. If this be not so, He is not God! Hence, it must be self-evident that here you deal with a question of life and death. It is of profound practical interest. It concerns your very existence! A God must be followed. You must hear His Word and hide it in your heart. You must acknowledge Him as God, serve Him, obey Him, glorify Him. You must enshrine Him with fear in your deepest soul, and put all your confidence in Him, expect all good things from Him only!
If He be God follow Him!
The challenge is very definite. It proceeds from the assumption, as being equally self-evident, that whoever is really God, must be followed wholly and exclusively. There can be no compromise between Jehovah and Baal. It cannot be “Both-And.” It must be “Either-Or.” If Jehovah be God, then the possibility that Baal also is God is excluded. If Baal be God, then Jehovah cannot be. For whoever is God, He is God! And God is One. There is none beside Him. He is surely the Incomparable! None can be likened to Him, if He is really God! And, therefore, He must be followed wholly or not at all! He is surely a jealous God, whoever He is! He will have the love of all your heart, or nothing at all. He will not divide His glory between Himself and another. He will have your entire devotion, your whole heart and Make up your mind, and act accordingly! They must mind and soul and strength, or He will surely condemn you as godless, and strike you down in His wrath! He will have all your confidence, or curse you! You must expect all good from Him, or you must expect damnation!
Who is GOD!
Not an academic problem is to be solved at Carmel, but a question of life and death is to be answered!
Who is GOD!
Jehovah or Baal? Which shall it be?
Neither were unknown to the people. They are not unknown today.
Jehovah is the God of Israel. He is the God of revelation. He had manifested Himself to them in word and deed. He had redeemed them, delivered them from bondage, shown them His salvation. He had spoken to them through the prophets, and revealed Himself in the shadows. He is our God, Who revealed Himself in Christ, His cross, His resurrection, His exaltation, as the God of our salvation. He is the God that calleth the things that are not as if they were, and that quickeneth the dead!
And Baal is the god of the nations, of the world. He is the god, not of revelation, for he is not the living God, but of man’s own invention. He is like unto them that make him. . . . .
If they follow Jehovah, they must keep His covenant, love Him, with all their heart, forsake the world, walk in a new and holy life, hope for His salvation!
If they follow Baal, they walk after the imagination of their own heart, love the lie, commit iniquity, pursue after the things of the flesh!
If they follow Jehovah they must forsake Baal; if they follow Baal, they must abjure Jehovah!
If they follow Baal, they must incur the fierce wrath of the living God!
If they follow Jehovah, they must expect the fury of Baal’s power in the world!
If Jehovah is God, follow Him!
If Baal is God, follow him!
Be no longer double hearted, two-faced, unstable in all your ways!
How long halt ye between two opinions?
Indeed such was the condition of the people gathered there on the slopes of mount Carmel. Such is the state of many would-be Christians throughout the ages. Such must be the state of mind of those that try to decide the question as to who is God from the utility standpoint.
Between two opinions they halted.
The opinions were: Jehovah is God—Baal is God! Not, indeed, as if both are actually opinions, mere considerations of the mind, inventions of human imagination. Baal is God—this, indeed, is mere opinion, a thought that arises from the wicked heart of man, who always stands in enmity over against the living God, and prefers to invent his own idol. But Jehovah is God,—this is the everlasting truth, having its source in the mind of the living God Himself, and revealed to His people through His Spirit and Word. But they, the apostate people, treated both as if they were mere opinions: the one was the opinion of their fathers, and of their prophets; the other was the opinion of the Phoenicians
And between these they halted in their actual life!
They attempted to maintain both. They did not openly deny that Jehovah is God; but they professed that Baal is God also. They tried to serve Jehovah, and they would also follow after Baal. And the result was that they presented a most miserable spectacle, more miserable, in fact, than the heathen round about them,. They halted between two opinions! Though, of course, in reality they served Baal, yet they did not quite give him the full confidence of their heart. They were like all those, that profess Christ, but never can make up their mind, whether they will serve God or Mammon!
Unstable in all their ways!
Halting between two opinions!
And the cause of this double heartedness must not be sought in their ignorance, as if they actually did not know that Jehovah is God, and that Baal is a mere invention of the wicked human heart. This is never the case. They had the knowledge of Jehovah, and Baal was, on the very face of him, a lie, a wicked invention.
The cause was their sinful heart!
Pride, covetousness, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life,—these could be satisfied in the service of Baal; never in the service of Jehovah! All the great nations of the world round about them claimed that Baal is God: why not adopt this opinion? They were ashamed of their narrow minded position! Besides, Baal had become the State religion, the “Beast”. To confess that Jehovah alone is God, and to follow after Him, to reject Baal, and condemn his worship, meant that one could not be Caesar’s friend. The prophets were persecuted to the death! It was safer to compromise, and to acknowledge that Baal is also God!
Yet, on the other hand, they were afraid of Jehovah, of His power and just judgment. They desired to remain the objects of His favor. Double hearted men like to go to heaven, while they love the world.
And so they halted between two opinions!
And when the bold challenge of Elijah rang over the hills, the people answered him not a word!
Choose ye this day! It is either-or!