Tuesday, May 10, 2005

No half measures: Elijah on Mount Carmel

Last night in my Bible reading, I was going through the story of Elijah. This is a particular favourite of mine, probably because of the oratorio by Mendelssohn, also called Elijah. The oratorio takes us through the Biblical text of 1 Kings 17-19, with some gems of choruses. It is a marvellous piece of work, and very inspiring.

But anyway, enough about the music - back to the Bible! The title of this posting is what I want to think about for a moment. Sometimes we can give half measures, or we strive for moderation. You know, we want to be involved in church, certainly to go along, but never get too involved - what would our non-Christian friends think of us? We don't want to appear fanatical, or obsessive about the church thing.

Or maybe we can be torn between two competing things, both vying for our attention and devotion. There's a fear among young people that if they become a Christian, then they'll have to give up on the 'good times', that somehow they'll lose out by committing to one thing.

And yet, this is such a common theme through the Bible. In the Old Testament, the people wavered between the LORD God, and whichever other gods were worshipped by the people around them. Sometimes, they even thought they were worshipping God, when in fact it was an idol (see Exodus 32:1-6, where the people asked Aaron to make them a god, because Moses was gone so long up the mountain, meeting with God. He made them a golden calf, saying that it was this calf that had brought them out of Egypt!).

And so, into the kingdom of Israel, Elijah bursts on the scene. Having spoken the word of God, commanding there to be no rain for three years, he certainly had the attention of all the people. He was accused of being a troublemaker in Israel by Ahab the King, but Elijah told Ahab that it was him who was the troublemaker by tolerating and worshipping the false god, Baal.

Elijah summoned the people together on Mount Carmel, where there would be a competition of sorts between Baal and his prophets, and God and Elijah. The challenge was straight and to the point: '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).

Stop your moderation, and be whole-hearted in your devotion. Pick one, and go with it the whole way. Stop riding two horses! This is also what Jesus was meaning when he confronted the church at Laodicea, in his letter to that church in Revelation 3: 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth' (Revelation 3:15,16).

So what happened on Mount Carmel? The prophets of Baal set up their sacrifice, and called on Baal to answer with fire, and prove himself as the true god. And so they danced, sang, shouted from early morning til noon. And? Nothing. No answer. So Elijah taunted them, urging them to call louder, and even cut themselves, as they did in their sacrifices.

From noon til the time of the evening sacrifice, they danced, sang, shouted, cut themselves. And? Nothing. No answer.

Elijah then set about restoring the altar to God, and prepared the sacrifice. Just to prove there were no tricks, he got water poured on the sacrifice several times. Then he humbly called on the Lord. And? 'The fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench' (1 Kings 18:38).

Suddenly, there was no moderation in the people! They had seen with their own eyes which one was the true God - the one who had answered with fire! 'When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD - he is God! The LORD - he is God!" ' (1 Kings 18:39).

Oh that we would heed the words of the Jubilate (Psalm 100): 'Be ye sure that the LORD, he is God' and stick with him! So if you're caught between two devotions at the moment, my prayer is that you will come to see that the LORD, he is God, and that anything else won't satisfy, and that anything else is idolatry and sin.

So, Lord, in my life, be number one, and grant, by your Spirit, that I would worship and serve you all the days of my life.

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