James warns us in Scripture: “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. He that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” Despite this warning, there are many in the church who are, to use the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:14, “tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men.” Many are not grounded in the Word of God and are therefore spiritually unstable. To them, it does not really matter where one attends church. It does not matter what a person’s view of God or Jesus Christ is as long as he or she says they believe in them. The church that is less restrictive in what it teaches and allows people to do what they want is considered to be more desirable. Many are spiritually unstable. What is puzzling is that this is looked upon as good.
The nation of Israel had become unstable in this way too, so much so that she had turned to the worship of pagan gods alongside of Jehovah. This nation had the Word of Jehovah contained in the books of the law. They knew they were called to worship Jehovah alone, but it was not really what they desired. They also had a king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel, who worshiped the heathen god of the Zidonians—Baal. This was indeed the popular religion of the day. So, the choice was easy—serve both gods, Jehovah and Baal. This way one could be assured that the favor of both gods would be upon them. This careless, spiritually unstable way of thinking led to the great event that we consider in our broadcast today. This event is recorded in I Kings 18. This chapter relates the ‘showdown’ between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Again, the chapter is too long to read in our broadcast, so if you have a Bible handy you may want to follow along. I Kings 18.
Wicked king Ahab had married a heathen wife, Jezebel. She was from Zidon, and she carried with her into Israel her heathen religion. Since Ahab was of weak character, he followed the lead of his whorish wife. The two of them together instituted the worship of Baal as the official religion of Israel. In doing so they popularized Baal worship. If anyone wanted to be someone in the courts of the king he had to worship Baal. As a result, there were very few in Israel that did not bow the knee to Baal. We learn later there were only about 7,000—a small number in comparison to the millions who did not really care whom they worshiped, Baal or Jehovah. But Jehovah did not leave Himself without witness. He sent a prophet by the name of Elijah to testify of Him.
Elijah had appeared in the courts of Ahab about 3 1/2 years earlier to declare that there was not going to be any rain until he, the prophet of Jehovah, declared it. So for three and half years it had not rained. The land was parched and dry. The famine had claimed the lives of most of the livestock, and many were starving. The famine was severe in the land. Now, Elijah suddenly appeared before Ahab and challenged the wicked king and the priests of Baal to a showdown on Mt. Carmel.
I. Israel’s Sin
By official decree, Ahab sent unto all the people of Israel a call to gather at the top of Mt. Carmel. He was as anxious to prove that Baal was god as was Elijah to prove that Jehovah was God. Carmel was a mountain located in the northern region of the inheritance of Manasseh bordering the inheritance of Asher. It was not far inland from the Mediterranean Sea and stood about 1,800 feet above sea level. After Israel was gathered together in this mountain, Elijah points out the sin of Israel for all the people to hear. He asked the question of all Israel in verse 21: “how long halt ye between two opinions?” Literally, he asks, “how long limp ye between two opinions.” What is meant by halt or limp is “flip-flop.” The term “halt” refers to a man who has wrenched his leg and therefore limps on it. Such a person puts his weight on the injured leg only to find that it does not hold him well enough. So he flops quickly over to the other leg for support. He tries again to rest on the sore leg but quickly shifts to the other leg. As a result, he wavers back and forth, not daring to trust his weight on one leg.
This is what Israel was doing. She was shifting back and forth, wavering, flip-flopping between two opinions. Two opinions refers to two opposite, two radically opposing ideas. A divided mind and soul. Why are you, Israel, jumping back and forth between two contradicting opinions? What were those contradicting opinions? Elijah explains in the rest of the verse: whether Baal is God who must be served or Jehovah is God who must be served. This was Israel’s sin. She was not serving one God! She had adopted the heathen conception that there was more than one God—that it was legitimate to serve several different gods. But God’s law to Israel had already for many years framed the nation of Israel’s outlook on service of God. The Lord our God is one Lord, and thou shalt serve Him alone! Thou shalt have no other gods before thee!
That is what had set Israel apart from all the other nations around them—this nation was monotheist, they served one God. This made sense to them too: only one Being can be supreme. There cannot be two supreme Beings we call God. There is only one God and there is no other God beside Him. That is what makes Him God, after all. So, by asking the pointed question of our text, Elijah confronted the people of Israel with the very question they must have settled in their minds. Is Jehovah God, or is Baal God? If Jehovah is God, then serve Him. If Baal is God, then serve him. But quit limping between two opinions!!
You see, Baal was worshiped as a god of fertility. He was a nature god—a god that was supposedly in control of the seasons and the harvests and so on. Baal, it was thought, controlled the fruitful crops as well as the abundance of flocks and herds. As god, he was directly involved in the fertility of both plant and animal—including the fertility of women. When Elijah appeared therefore in Ahab’s court to tell him there would be no rain, this was a direct assault on the god that Ahab and Jezebel worshiped. If Baal was god, then the word that Elijah, Jehovah’s prophet, spoke would mean nothing. Baal would send rain and sunshine and fruitful years despite what this man had said. And the priests of Baal would be able to offer such great sacrifices to Baal that this god would be benevolent toward those who served him. But now it had not rained for 3 1/2 years. No matter what the priests of Baal had done to bring such rain, it had not rained. Ahab and the people of Israel knew why too. The words of Elijah some 3 1/2 years earlier still rang out clearly in people’s memories: Jehovah’s prophet said it would not rain! Could Baal now send rain despite what Jehovah had spoken by his prophet? That was the test that was soon to be made!
Jehovah we know well. He is the God of His chosen people Israel. He is the God who by His power created all things and by the same Word of His power sustains and directs all things. This mighty God had delivered Israel from the cruel bondage of Egypt and had given them the land of Canaan. He had sent plagues on Egypt that had destroyed this kingdom. He had driven out before Israel the mighty nations of Canaan. This Jehovah was the faithful God who kept covenant with His people—true Israel—the God who loved His people and vowed never to forsake them. But Jehovah was also the God that the ten tribes of Israel had turned away from to serve Baal. Well, they had not really turned away from the worship of Jehovah entirely. It is not as if they had forsaken Jehovah—or so they thought of themselves. They had merely, in order to be sure, shared their worship with Baal too. After all, it was the popular thing to do. What could it hurt. Play it safe! Worship both!
Yet, this was not really the case, as the people thought it was. When one worshiped another god beside the sovereign Jehovah, then he in reality was not serving Jehovah anymore! God is a jealous God who will not have His church or people serve any other. If they do, then they no longer truly serve Him. Either Jehovah is fully God and there is no other God, or Jehovah is not God! Either we believe that He alone made all things and governs all things—including nature—or we do not believe in Him as God. We must believe in Jehovah God who alone creates, the God who alone sustains all things, and the God who alone saves. If we give that credit to any other than Jehovah, we are not serving Him aright. But we in fact deny Him. Elijah was about to prove this at Mt. Carmel. This is why he boldly declared, quit vacillating between two opinions! Quit being so wishy-washy! Quit halting or limping between Jehovah and Baal. Serve one or the other!
Neither is this sin so far from many today. I know, there are some in the Christian churches of today who will maintain that the heathen worship of other gods is perfectly legitimate. I am not really referring, however, to these. You see, there are in this world many Baals that we can serve. The Baal of entertainment that defies God. The Baal of riches. The Baal of making a name for oneself in this world or in the church. There is the Baal of self—a god that is so easily served since the fall. Man wants to determine for himself what is right and wrong. He would rather serve self than God—or self alongside of God.
Today too, thousands under the name of Christian claim to worship Jehovah, when in reality they worship a god who is the product of their sinful imagination. This is true because they have not spent time learning what the Scriptures say about God and about His Son Jesus Christ. They do not learn of God’s perfections: His sovereignty, His immutability, His righteousness, and His grace. They do not spend time considering the works of God recorded for us in the Scriptures so that they begin to understand that Jehovah is God: He who has in His sovereign power created all things and now directs every detail of this world to the accomplishment of His all wise and all good purpose. They vacillate between the claim that “Salvation is of the Lord,” and their insistence that salvation depends on the free will of man. In connection with this, they fail to learn and to know of the sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, through whom Jehovah has effected so great a salvation.
Instead, they make an idol in their minds. They make Jehovah a God who is changeable and dependent on the whims of man. Creation did not come about by God’s command but evolved. Jehovah does not know who is going to be saved, that is up to man. God follows man, and man does the deciding. Man changes God by means of prayer or the decisions that he makes in his life. This god that men in the church create for themselves may not go under the name of Baal—but he is no different than Baal. The warning of the Word of God today is just as solemn as it was in Elijah’s day: why halt ye between two opinions! Either serve the Jehovah of Scripture or serve the idol you have made to replace Jehovah. Only one is God! Quit limping, quit wavering, quit flip-flopping back and forth as to whom you are going to serve! If you are going to serve Baal, serve him. But if you are going to serve the Jehovah of the Scriptures, serve Him. Serve the one God that is truly the God of heaven and earth! Who is that God? We will soon find out.
II. Jehovah’s Power
The challenge was on. Let the priests of Baal take one bullock, one young calf, and cut it in seven pieces. These pieces they are to lay on the wood of the offering prepared as a sacrifice to Baal. But they may not put fire to the wood. Baal had to do that. If Baal was truly God, then Baal would light the fire and consume their sacrifice. Elijah would then take his bullock and do the same, cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood of his altar. He too was not allowed to lay fire to the wood. If Jehovah was truly God, as Elijah contended, Jehovah would start the fire for his sacrifice. The people of Israel were delighted with this suggestion. After all, this would prove conclusively who was the true God, Jehovah or Baal. We read in verse 24, “And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.” The priests of Baal had little choice but to go along with this arrangement since it pleased the people.
The priests of Baal, some 450 of them, took their bullock first and dressed it and laid it upon the wood. We learn in verse 26 that from morning until noon they loudly cried to Baal with these words: “O Baal, hear us!” They even leaped upon the altar they had made. We are told that they heard no voice, neither did any answer them! Now, from noon until the time of the evening sacrifice the priests of Baal worked themselves into a frenzy! They cut themselves with knives and lancets as was their custom. They did this until, we are told, the blood gushed out! But the conclusion was plain to see: though all day they cried to their god, Baal failed to send fire from heaven. Why? Because Baal is no God. His graven image had eyes but could see not, ears but could not hear, hands that handled not. All they that made him are like unto him. They are fools in their unbelief! They are darkened in sin and unable to know the one true God of heaven and earth. The priests of Baal failed. Baal failed. Because Baal did not exist!!
Now it was Elijah’s turn. He repaired the altar of Jehovah that had been broken down for years now. He took twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. With these stones, we are told in verse 32, he built an altar in the name of Jehovah. But there were some added features to this altar. He had a large trench dug around the altar. He then dressed his bullock and spread the pieces upon the altar. The second feature to his offering, however, was the addition of water. He commanded that four barrels of water be poured on the sacrifice and the wood of the altar. This was done. Then Elijah commanded that this be done a second time and a third time so that in the end there were twelve barrels of water poured on the altar. Certainly, if Jehovah were to send only a mere spark or even a fairly hot flame it would not ignite this wet sacrifice! So much water had been poured on it that the trench was even filled with water! Then, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah turned his eyes to heaven and prayed these words of verses 36, 37: “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel…. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God.”
What was God’s response to this prayer? Immediately, without a moment’s hesitation, fire fell from heaven and consumed the bullock. But it also consumed the wet wood, the stones and the dirt around the altar including the water that had saturated the ground around it! It was gone. It all disappeared in a moment!
Hear the shout of the people in verse 39: “Jehovah, he is the God! Jehovah, he is the God!” Notice, they did not just say that Jehovah was a god, but that Jehovah was the God! The one and only God! What had just happened proved that God alone is supreme in might. Jehovah alone is sovereign and almighty! He controls all of nature. He sends the rain and withholds it. He is the God of fertility, the God who holds the seasons in His hand. He is the God of salvation to whom belongs the power to give life and to take it again! Jehovah alone is God!
What does this prove to you and me today? The God of the Scriptures who is majestic in all might and power, who is sovereign, eternal, righteous, and holy, He is God! Our God is in the heavens and does whatever pleases Him! He is not fickle as some make Him out to be! He is the almighty Ruler of heaven and earth who holds our lives and our salvation in His hand! We believe what Elijah then taught Israel about Jehovah. He is God who governs all things to accomplish His will. That is God’s Word to us.
III. Believing Response
Neither ought the response that comes from our lips be forced as it was from the children of Israel. Surely, they responded with the shout that Jehovah was the God, but what else could they say? Jehovah had proved Himself. But though the shout went forth from the lips of the people of Israel, this great victory on Mt. Carmel did not change the hearts of the people of Israel, though it is true that some were brought to repentance. Israel continued in its worship of Baal. Just as many in the church world today continue in their worship of a god that is not the sovereign God of the Scriptures! The confession made as a result of Jehovah’s great show of strength was really a forced confession.
What will ours be? Our response that Jehovah is God comes from believing hearts. Let us turn from our service to the gods of this world. Look upon the God who powerfully saves us in the blood of Jesus Christ. Serve Him and Him alone.