The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 is one of my favorites in the whole Bible. It has action, drama, high stakes, and even comedy. Following Solomon’s foolish decisions to marry hundreds of pagan wives and follow their gods, the nation of Israel has been divided in two. The Kingdom of Judah belongs to the descendants of David, while the kingdom of Israel has no consistent lineage. Israel falls quickly into apostasy. Each king is worse than the one who preceded him, leading the people deeper into worship of the gods of the nations, namely Baal. Ahab is the worst king thus far. It is during his reign that God sends one of Israel’s greatest prophets to speak. Confronting Ahab during a long drought, part of God’s punishment on the nation, Elijah calls the king to gather Israel, the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah together at Mount Carmel.
It is going to be a showdown. Which god will answer with fire? That is the most memorable part of the story, but I want to focus on what Elijah said to the people before all the action kicks off. Elijah says,”How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.” (1 Kings 18:21). You can picture the people of Israel hobbling as though on crutches between two ways of worship, two gods, never settling. Just choose, says Elijah, enough vacillating! It has the echo of Joshua’s call hundreds of years prior, “Choose this day whom you will serve,” (Josh. 24:14-15). Elijah isn’t putting the LORD and Baal on equal footing, as though they are two legitimate choices. One is truly God; one doesn’t exist. He calls them to follow the true God. But just choose already!
Not everything in life is this black and white, either/or, yes or no. Sometimes there are gray areas. There is nuance, unique circumstances, perspective, opinion. As much as life would be simpler if everything could be put into two categories– good guys or bad guys, right or wrong, in or out– it doesn’t work that way most of the time.
However, sometimes it does. This is one of those situations.
Scripture demonstrates that the most important questions of all often are exclusive, either/or, black and white matters. Concerning the relationship between God and people, there aren’t any gray areas. You are either born again unto eternal life or the wrath of God remains on you (John 3:1-17, 36). You are a sheep or a goat. No middle ground.
Elijah lays it out before the people: either the LORD is the true God, or he isn’t. If he is, he alone is to be worshipped and none other (the first commandment). But if Baal is the one true god, then worship him. This back and forth nonsense has to stop. A prophetic interruption like this is a mercy from God, a wakeup call to those who ‘limp between two different opinions.’
Israel got into trouble by trying to have a foot in both worlds. Syncretism was their downfall, wherein they blended pagan gods and worship with worship of the LORD. They didn’t want to wholesale abandon the LORD. They enjoyed the identity, the title of ‘God’s chosen people,’ the temple, the feasts, the history. Yet they also enjoyed the gods of the nations, whose rituals often appealed to the flesh. This arrangement could never last, and unless the True God intervened it would inevitably end in apostasy from the LORD.
In our age as well, there is the pull towards other gods, other idols. In such situations, we can convince ourselves that we are not abandoning God. But God will hold his people to the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). When our hearts begin to long for other gods and idols, whatever form they take, we are in danger of falling into the same trap with the same result. We need to make sure that God, and God alone, has our hearts. Each day is a day to choose to follow God. Choose this day whom you will serve.