“And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “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 19:21)
Read: 1 Kings 18
Outside of Elijah being taken up into heaven by a flaming whirlwind of chariots and his raising of the widow’s son from the dead, Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel is probably the prophet’s most famous exploit. It’s also probably one of the most funny and triumphant passages, at least in the Old Testament.
At the beginning of chapter eighteen, Elijah is finally called by God to return to Israel. The three years of drought are almost up, and now it is time to confront the people with what is really a rhetorical question with an obvious answer.
Elijah meets Obadiah, who, though he works directly under the wicked King Ahab, has been utterly faithful to the Lord (vv. 3-4). Elijah tells him to go get Ahab. As Ahab is within earshot of Elijah, he calls him the “troubler of Israel.” In Ahab’s mind, Elijah and his God are the cause of Israel’s problems. They’re the ones who called the drought, they’re the reason why he can’t even find grass for his horses, and they’re why the people of Israel are starving to death.
But Ahab is blind to the fact that he is the true troubler of Israel. Ahab is the one who has chased after false gods and led the people into idol worship, as Elijah reminds him. He is the real cause of Israel’s difficulties. Actually, it is Yahweh, and his messenger Elijah, who are calling the people to wake up, repent, and to turn from the destruction that will come to them if they continue following false gods. In order to demonstrate this point and to finally prove that Baal is nothing and that Yahweh is the true God and the only One worthy of worship, Elijah lays down a challenge to Ahab. Ahab is to gather all of his false prophets, all of his false priests, and all the people of Israel—the people who are currently on Ahab and Baal’s side. They are to gather on Mount Carmel where both sides will sacrifice an offering and pray to their respective gods. The one who divinely takes the offering is the true God.
Ahab agrees, calls all the people to Mount Carmel, and as they get there, Elijah turns to the people and says to them,
“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
The answer is obvious. Not only do they have general revelation that makes Yahweh’s existence clear to them; not only do they have the Scriptures that reveal Yahweh’s character and commands to them; not only do they have their history with Yahweh; but they also have God’s own prophet before them and the drought they are experiencing that testifies to the validity of his message. Elijah has passed the prophet test that Moses gave the people in Deuteronomy 18:22 with flying colors. Elijah is a true prophet, and it was by the word of Yahweh alone that the rains have stopped and not returned. It’s beyond obvious who God is, and yet the people don’t say a word. In their hearts, reflected in their silence, they’ve already chosen Baal. But in his mercy, God is about to show them the folly of their choice.
The challenge is simple: The first god to accept the offering by fire is the true God. To begin the contest, Elijah gives his opponents every advantage they can muster according to human reason. First, they have the numbers. Human reason would think that the more people praying for something, the more likely it is that the god to whom you are praying will respond. Second, they get the first choice of the offering. Again, human reason would say that the better offering is the one most likely to please the god to whom the offering is made, and thus more likely the one to be answered. Third, he gives them time. They rant and rave and pray diligently for hours, giving their god ample time to respond just in case he was away on a business trip. And then fourth, and most importantly, Elijah lets them go first. Under the stipulations of the challenge, if Baal answers their prayers, then Elijah wouldn’t even get a turn to go. But Baal doesn’t answer.
And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.1 Kings 18:29
Then it’s Elijah’s turn. He rebuilds an altar and then he stacks the deck even further against himself. He has the people drench the altar with water. “Get another bucket and hit it again!” His mockery of the prophets and his show right here aren’t representative of a pride in himself. Elijah isn’t banking on his ability to pray really well. Elijah just knows the Lord. He knows who God is and he is confident in him (Gal 6:14). And as soon as Elijah finishes his single prayer, fire comes down from heaven and consumes not only the offering, but the altar, the dust, and the water as well.
“If the LORD is God, follow him.” And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”1 Kings 18:39
It was undeniable. It was beyond obvious. And the same choice is leveled toward you today. “If the LORD is God, follow him.” Read his word, read his revelation, learn about him, learn about Christ, and you will see that the choice is obvious. He is God and he calls you to follow him in everything that you do, think, and say. Who are you following?
Discuss and Pray Together: Discuss how you can grow in following God. Does your life reflect that Christ is Lord, or are there areas where your life doesn’t reflect that truth? Finish by praying for one another’s growth in Christ.