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…
It must have been by special Divine direction that Elijah was moved thus to put the relative claims of God and of Baal to a public test. The command to gather the priests and people together on Carmel was one that Ahab, defiant as he was, dared not resist. We may suppose these words to have been uttered just before the crisis of the tragedy, when the people were waiting in breathless silence and suspense upon the issue. Nothing is more impressive than a pause like this before some expected catastrophe. The prophet improves it by making one brief pointed appeal to the judgment and conscience of the people. "How long?" etc. His voice of stern, yet sorrowful, rebuke must have struck deep into many hearts; but "they answered him not a word." "Halting between two opinions" was probably a true description of the mental condition of the great mass of the people. Some, no doubt, were blind devotees of the reigning idolatry; others consented to its rites, and practised them through fear of the penalty of resistance, or in hope of some form of secular reward. But the greater part of them were just in this state of moral hesitancy, leaning sometimes to one side and sometimes to the other, swayed by the influences that happened to be strongest upon them at the time. It was the fatal defect of their national character, the sad heritage of earlier days - the "forty years" provocation in the wilderness." What have we here but a true picture of religious indecision? Learn from the prophet's remonstrance -
I. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERY MAN AS REGARDS HIS OWN RELIGIOUS OPINIONS. That the people are rebuked for "halting between two" implies their power and obligation to decide. "Opinions," mental judgments, convictions (marg. "thoughts"), these are the root from which the fruits of all religious feeling and action grow. Here lies the secret guiding and formative power of a man's life. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." It is thought that inspires affection, moulds character, guides the will, determines conduct, rules the man. We cannot well exaggerate the importance of the relation thought bears to the highest interests of our being. But how are these "thoughts" of ours determined? Every man's religious ideas and beliefs, say some, are determined for him by a thousand influences over which he has no control - by early education, by the books that fall in his way, by human associations, native temperament, conformation of brain, etc. There is a measure of truth in this that we dare not ignore. These things have a great deal to do with the matter, and the fact should modify our judgment of the mental position of others in relation to religious truth, and teach us to watch carefully the bearing on ourselves of such influences. Many of us owe our Christian beliefs far more than we imagine to the force of favouring circumstances. We may well thank God that it is so; for as we mourn to think how many things there are that tend to distort the truth and hide it from man's eyes, so we rejoice that there should be so many channels through which the Light of Life may find its way into the soul. But however this may be, God holds every one of us under obligation to think for himself, judge for himself, believe for himself; to use with uprightness of spirit all the means within his reach for the formation of right opinions, to welcome and follow the light that shines from heaven upon his way.
II. THE DUTY OF A PRACTICAL CARRYING OUT OF ONE'S OWN HONEST CONVICTIONS. "If the Lord be God, follow him." The startling "sign" that was about to be given them was intended to decide this grave alternative. "The God that answereth by fire, let him be God." It was great condescension in Jehovah to suffer His claims to be thus put in seeming competition with those of Baal. But the prophet would have the decision of the people to spring from real conviction, and that conviction to be based on sufficient proof. And then let it be a practical decision - final, conclusive, manifest. Let there be an end to all this miserable vacillation, this shameful subserviency to the leading of Ahab and Jezebel and the Baal priesthood, this dark dishonour done to the God of Israel by the multiplication all over the land of heathen groves and altars. All true religious thoughts and opinions have reference to a true life. They are hollow and worthless unless consummated in tiffs. "Faith without works is dead being alone" (James 2:17). A heavy condemnation rests on those who "profess that they know God, but in works deny him" (Titus 1:16). It is a fatal inconsistency to believe in a God and yet not "follow Him." Have you true religious ideas and convictions? Translate your thinking into life.
III. THE URGENCY OF THE NEED FOR THIS PRACTICAL DECISION. "How long?" etc. We may suppose that the prophet was not only impressed with the tardiness of that generation in declaring once for all for the service of Jehovah, but with the memory of the weary provocation of the past, When will Israel be true and steadfast in her allegiance to her God and King? It is in every respect unreasonable, unmanly, and infinitely perilous to allow the question of your religious position to remain unsettled. - W.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long 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.