1 Kings 18:21
And Elijah came to all the people, and said, How long halt you between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) How long halt ye between two opinions?—In this exclamation is expressed the very motto of Elijah’s life. It is that of righteous impatience of the “halting” (i.e., limping to and fro) “between two opinions—at all times more dangerous, because more easy, than open apostasy—which was evidently characteristic of Ahab, and probably of the mass of the people. It might have suited well the accommodating genius of such polytheism as had been brought into Israel since the days of Solomon himself, but was utterly incompatible with the sole absolute claim of the worship of Jehovah. Perhaps Jezebel would have scorned it equally for Baal. Compare the indignant expostulation of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:31; Ezekiel 20:39). The question, once clearly understood, is always unanswerable, and is listened to here in awestruck silence.

1 Kings 18:21. How long halt ye between two opinions? — Hebrew, סעפים, segnipim, thoughts or considerations. Why do ye walk so lamely and unevenly, being so unsteady in your opinions and practices, as doubtful which to choose, Jehovah or Baal; sometimes serving one, and sometimes the other, and sometimes joining both together? Not only some Israelites worshipped God, and others Baal; but the same Israelites sometimes worshipped one, and sometimes the other. They worshipped God, perhaps, that they might please the prophets; and Baal to please Jezebel, and obtain favour at court. Now Elijah shows them the absurdity of this; he doth not insist on their relation to Jehovah, Is he not yours, and the God of your fathers; but Baal the god of the Zidonians, and will a nation change their God? Jeremiah 2:11. No; he waves the prescription, and enters upon the merits of the cause: there can be but one God, but one infinite, and but one supreme: there needs but one God, one omnipotent, one all-sufficient: what occasion of addition to that which is perfect? Now, if upon trial, it appear that Baal is that one, infinite, omnipotent being; that one supreme Lord, and all-sufficient Benefactor; you ought to renounce Jehovah, and cleave to Baal only: but if Jehovah be that one God, Baal is a cheat, and you must have no more to do with him. Apply this to the service of God, and the service of sin; the dominion of Christ, and the dominion of our lusts: these are the two thoughts or considerations, which it is dangerous halting between. Those do so that are unresolved under their convictions; unstable and unsteady in their purposes; promise fair, but do not perform; begin well, but do not hold on; that are inconsistent with themselves, indifferent and lukewarm in that which is good. Their heart is divided, (Hosea 10:2,) whereas God will have all or none. Now we are fairly put to our choice, whom we will serve, Joshua 24:15. If we can find one that has more right to us, or will be a better master to us than God, we may take him at our peril. God demands no more from us, than he can make out a title to. The people answered him not a word — Being convinced of the reasonableness of his proposal. They could say nothing to justify themselves, and they would say nothing to condemn themselves; but, as persons confounded, were entirely silent.18:21-40 Many of the people wavered in their judgment, and varied in their practice. Elijah called upon them to determine whether Jehovah or Baal was the self-existent, supreme God, the Creator, Governor, and Judge of the world, and to follow him alone. It is dangerous to halt between the service of God and the service of sin, the dominion of Christ and the dominion of our lusts. If Jesus be the only Saviour, let us cleave to him alone for every thing; if the Bible be the world of God, let us reverence and receive the whole of it, and submit our understanding to the Divine teaching it contains. Elijah proposed to bring the matter to a trial. Baal had all the outward advantages, but the event encourages all God's witnesses and advocates never to fear the face of man. The God that answers by fire, let him be God: the atonement was to be made by sacrifice, before the judgment could be removed in mercy. The God therefore that has power to pardon sin, and to signify it by consuming the sin-offering, must needs be the God that can relieve from the calamity. God never required his worshippers to honour him in the manner of the worshippers of Baal; but the service of the devil, though sometimes it pleases and pampers the body, yet, in other things, really is cruel to it, as in envy and drunkenness. God requires that we mortify our lusts and corruptions; but bodily penances and severities are no pleasure to him. Who has required these things at your hands? A few words uttered in assured faith, and with fervent affection for the glory of God, and love to the souls of men, or thirstings after the Lord's image and his favour, form the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous man, which availeth much. Elijah sought not his own glory, but that of God, for the good of the people. The people are all agreed, convinced, and satisfied; Jehovah, he is the God. Some, we hope, had their hearts turned, but most of them were convinced only, not converted. Blessed are they that have not seen what these saw, yet have believed, and have been wrought upon by it, more than they that saw it.The people were mute. They could not but feel the logical force of Elijah's argument; but they were not prepared at once to act upon it. They wished to unite the worship of Yahweh with that of Baal - to avoid breaking with the past and completely rejecting the old national worship, yet at the same time to have the enjoyment of the new rites, which were certainly sensuous, and probably impure. 21-40. Elijah said unto all the people, How long halt ye?—They had long been attempting to conjoin the service of God with that of Baal. It was an impracticable union and the people were so struck with a sense of their own folly, or dread of the king's displeasure, that they "answered not a word." Elijah proposed to decide for them the controversy between God and Baal by an appeal, not to the authority of the law, for that would have no weight, but by a visible token from Heaven. As fire was the element over which Baal was supposed to preside, Elijah proposed that two bullocks should be slain and placed on separate altars of wood, the one for Baal, and the other for God. On whichever the fire should descend to consume it, the event should determine the true God, whom it was their duty to serve. The proposal, appearing every way reasonable, was received by the people with unanimous approval. The priests of Baal commenced the ceremony by calling on their god. In vain did they continue invoking their senseless deity from morning till noon, and from noon till evening, uttering the most piercing cries, using the most frantic gesticulations, and mingling their blood with the sacrifice. No response was heard. No fire descended. Elijah exposed their folly and imposture with the severest irony and, as the day was far advanced, commenced his operations. Inviting the people to approach and see the entire proceeding, he first repaired an old altar of God, which Jezebel had demolished. Then, having arranged the cut pieces of the bullock, he caused four barrels or jars of water to be dashed all over the altar and round in the trench. Once, twice, a third time this precaution was taken, and then, when he had offered an earnest prayer, the miraculous fire descended (Le 9:24; Jud 6:21; 13:20; 1Ch 21:26; 2Ch 7:1), and consumed not only the sacrifice, but the very stones of the altar. The impression on the minds of the people was that of admiration mingled with awe; and with one voice they acknowledged the supremacy of Jehovah as the true God. Taking advantage of their excited feelings, Elijah called on them to seize the priestly impostors, and by their blood fill the channel of the river (Kishon), which, in consequence of their idolatries, the drought had dried up—a direction, which, severe and relentless as it seems, it was his duty as God's minister to give (De 15:5; 18:20). The natural features of the mount exactly correspond with the details of this narrative. The conspicuous summit, 1635 feet above the sea, on which the altars were placed, presents an esplanade spacious enough for the king and the priests of Baal to stand on the one side, and Elijah on the other. It is a rocky soil, on which there is abundance of loose stones, to furnish the twelve stones of which the altar was built—a bed of thick earth, in which a trench could be dug; and yet the earth not so loose that the water poured into it would be absorbed; two hundred fifty feet beneath the altar plateau, there is a perennial fountain, which, being close to the altar of the Lord, might not have been accessible to the people; and whence, therefore, even in that season of severe drought, Elijah could procure those copious supplies of water which he poured over the altar. The distance between this spring and the site of the altar is so short, as to make it perfectly possible to go thrice thither and back again, whereas it would have been impossible once in an afternoon to fetch water from the sea [Van De Velde]. The summit is one thousand feet above the Kishon, which nowhere runs from the sea so close to the base of the mount as just beneath El-Mohhraka; so that the priests of Baal could, in a few minutes, be taken down to the brook (torrent), and slain there. How long halt ye between two opinions? why do you not make straight paths with your feet? as the phrase is, Hebrews 12:13; why do you walk so lamely and unevenly, being so unsteady in your opinions and practices, and doubting whether it is better to worship God or Baal?

If the Lord be God; whom you pretend to worship in the calves, 2 Kings 10:16,31: compare Exodus 32:4.

Follow him; worship him, and him only, and that in such place and manner as he hath commanded you, and not by the calves.

But if Baal; if Baal can prove himself to be the true God.

The people answered him not a word, being convinced of the reasonableness of his proposition; taught by experience that Jehovah had sent this judgment, and that Baal could not remove it, which had staggered them in their opinion about Baal; yet not daring to disown Baal, for fear of the displeasure of the king, then present. And Elijah came unto all the people,.... Assembled at Mount Carmel:

and said, how long halt ye between two opinions? sometimes inclining to the one, and sometimes to the other: as a lame man in walking, his body moves sometimes to one side, and sometimes to another; or "leap ye upon two branches" (r), like a bird that leaps or hops from one branch to another, and never settles long; or rather it denotes the confusion of their thoughts, being like branches of trees twisted and implicated; thus upbraiding them with their inconstancy and fickleness; what their two opinions were, may be learnt from the next clause:

if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him; for there is but one God, one infinite, immense, and incomprehensible being; one that is omnipotent, all sufficient, good, and perfect; there cannot be more, and therefore but one to be followed, served, and worshipped:

and the people answered him not a word: through conviction and confusion, his reasoning being unanswerable; or not knowing which to choose at present; or fearing they should be drawn into a snare, should they name any; either incur the displeasure of the king, who was for Baal, or of the prophet, who was for the Lord, at whose word rain was withheld, and might be given, which they were desirous of.

(r) "transilietis super duos ramoe, Malvenda; vos transilientes super ambos ramos", Piscator.

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long {g} halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

(g) Be consistent in religion and do not be indifferent, whether you follow God or Baal, or whether you serve God wholly or in part, Zep 1:5.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
21. And Elijah came] R.V. adds near. The word is the same which is twice so rendered in 1 Kings 18:30. It indicates an approach for the purpose of conference and support.

How long halt ye between two opinions] The verb is an expressive word, and is used below for the irregular, stumbling sort of dance about the altar of Baal (1 Kings 18:26). It indicates a lame uncertain gait. Hence it suits very well the conduct of Israel, now drawn toward Jehovah, but not earnest there, and then attracted to Baal, but not altogether satisfied with that worship. The LXX. renders ἕως πότε ὑμεῖς χωλανεῖτε ἐπʼ ἀμφοτέραις ταῖς ἰγνύαις; How long go ye lame on both knees? But there is no ground for the last word of that translation, and it loses the sense. It was a lame going, now in one direction, now in another, that Elijah was reproaching.Verse 21. - And Elijah came unto all the people [He is concerned not so much with the king as the people of the Lord. His object was not "to prove that Ahab and not he had troubled Israel," but to prove that Jehovah and not Baal was God. There is abundant room on the plateau, or "wide upland sweep" (Stanley), above referred to, to accommodate a large concourse of people], and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? [This is a faithful and felicitous rendering. But it must be remembered that "halt" is used in the sense of "limp." Vulg. Usquequo claudicatis in duas partes. The same word is used in ver. 26 of the swaying, tottering dance of the Baal prophets.] If the Lord be God [Heb. if Jehovah the God], follow him [Heb. go (i.e., walk straight) after him]: but if Baal, then follow him And the people answered him not a word. [Not only were they awed by the presence of the king and the priests of Baal on the one side, and of Elijah on the other, but they were "convicted by their own consciences," and so were speechless (Matthew 22:12).] But when Elijah assured him with an oath (צבאות יהוה, see at 1 Samuel 1:3) that he would show himself to Ahab that day, Obadiah went to announce it to the king; whereupon Ahab went to meet the prophet, and sought to overawe him with the imperious words, "Art thou here, thou troubler of Israel." (עכר, see at Genesis 34:30). But Elijah threw back this charge: "It is not I who have brought Israel into trouble, but thou and thy family, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and thou goest after Baalim." He then called upon the king to gather together all Israel to him upon Carmel, together with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who ate of Jezebel's table, i.e., who were maintained by the queen.

Carmel, a mountain ridge "with many peaks, intersected by hundreds of larger and smaller ravines," which stands out as a promontory running in a north-westerly direction into the Mediterranean (see at Joshua 19:26), and some of the loftiest peaks of which rise to the height of 1800 feet above the level of the sea, when seen from the northern or outer side shows only "bald, monotonous rocky ridges, scantily covered with short and thorny bushes;" but in the interior it still preserves its ancient glory, which has procured for it the name of "fruit-field," the valleys being covered with the most beautiful flowers of every description, and the heights adorned with myrtles, laurels, oaks, and firs (cf. V. de Velde, R. i. p. 292ff.). At the north-western extremity of the mountain there is a celebrated Carmelite monastery, dedicated to Elijah, whom tradition represents as having lived in a grotto under the monastery; but we are certainly not to look there for the scene of the contest with the priests of Baal described in the verses which follow. The scene of Elijah's sacrifice is rather to be sought for on one of the south-eastern heights of Carmel; and Van de Velde (i. p. 320ff.) has pointed it out with great probability in the ruins of el Mohraka, i.e., "the burned place," "a rocky level space of no great circumference, and covered with old gnarled trees with a dense entangled undergrowth of bushes." For "one can scarcely imagine a spot better adapted for the thousands of Israel to have stood drawn up on than the gentle slopes. The rock shoots up in an almost perpendicular wall of more than 200 feet in height on the side of the vale of Esdraelon. On this side, therefore, there was no room for the gazing multitude; but, on the other hand, this wall made it visible over the whole plain, and from all the surrounding heights, so that even those left behind, who had not ascended Carmel, would still have been able to witness at no great distance the fire from heaven that descended upon the altar." - "There is not a more conspicuous spot on all Carmel than the abrupt rocky height of el Mohraka, shooting up so suddenly on the east." Moreover, the soil was thoroughly adapted for the erection of the altar described in 1 Kings 18:31, 1 Kings 18:32 : "it shows a rocky surface, with a sufficiency of large fragments of rock lying all around, and, besides, well fitted for the rapid digging of a trench." There is also water in the neighbourhood, as is assumed in 1 Kings 18:34. "Nowhere does the Kishon run so close to Mount Carmel as just beneath el Mohraka," which is "1635 feet above the sea, and perhaps 1000 feet above the Kishon. This height can be gone up and down in the short time allowed by the Scripture (1 Kings 18:40-44)." But it was possible to find water even nearer than this, to pour upon the burnt-offering in the manner described in 1 Kings 18:34, 1 Kings 18:35. Close by the steep rocky wall of the height, just where you can descend to the Kishon through a steep ravine, you find, "250 feet it might be beneath the altar plateau, a vaulted and very abundant fountain built in the form of a tank, with a few steps leading down into it, just as one finds elsewhere in the old wells or springs of the Jewish times." - "From such a fountain alone could Elijah have procured so much water at that time. And as for the distance between this spring and the supposed site of the altar, it was every way possible for men to go thrice thither and back again to obtain the necessary supply." Lastly, el Mohraka is so situated, that the circumstances mentioned in 1 Kings 18:42-44 also perfectly coincide (Van de Velde, pp. 322-325).

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