Before the Fire Falls
“Elijah went before the people and said, How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” —1 Kings 18:21, NIV.
God’s prophet, Elijah, is addressing Israel from the top of Mount Carmel. It’s a classic western showdown, except that the question isn’t who has the fastest gun, but who follows the real God. King Ahab and his nasty wife, Jezebel, have sent their best and brightest to prove that Baal deserves to be the god of choice in Israel. Four hundred prophets facing one man.
Elijah is not daunted. Before he begins his demonstration he presents this challenge to Israel. The Scripture records that after he said these words—which, it seems, were not rhetorical—the people were silent. Classic fence-sitters.
Say it, people. Commit to something!
After the mountaintop battle was over, and the four hundred prophets of Baal lay bleeding and exhausted beside their stone cold altar, and Elijah stood triumphant before an altar ablaze with fire in spite of having been soaked with water, the people made their choice.
It’s easy after the demonstration. Deciding then doesn’t take a whole lot of faith. When Elijah made this statement before the showdown, he was hoping for someone to step out and declare themselves a God-follower without the “proof.”
For faith to be true, it has to be exercised without the evidence. The Book of Hebrews speaks very clearly to the issue: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” says the writer in Hebrews 11:1 (NIV). A little later he declares: “…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV).
After the demonstration of God’s sovereignty on Mount Carmel, the people enthusiastically responded, (1 Kings 18:39) but Elijah wasn’t fooled. Just a little later we find him sitting under a tree wishing he were dead because he felt that he was the only one left who was a God-follower. He was wrong—there were others. He was right—the majority of Israel wasn’t numbered among those who were God-followers in spite of their declaration on the mountain (1 Kings 19:18).
Saying that we believe doesn’t make it so. The proof of faith, of being a God-follower, comes before the evidence is presented. Faith is also demonstrated through our actions. After the showdown on Carmel, Ahab and Jezebel pursued Elijah with renewed vigor. God’s prophet felt compelled to escape into the desert. Funny how none of those people who declared themselves God-followers on that mountain seem to have stepped up to protect him, or to provide for him. Nor did he seek shelter from any of them.
I guess they didn’t believe quite as strongly as their actions on the mountain implied.
We often ask God to “prove” himself to us. Sometimes he does. But we need to be careful to measure the quality of our faith, not by what he has already done, but by what he hasn’t done yet.