Limping to Mt. Carmel
I can’t stand watching videos of myself fighting bulls for one simple reason: I hate what I look like when I run. This insecurity comes from years ago. Every year at North Fairview we would have a field day where every student competed in skill challenges and foot races. My parents still have the video of me finishing nearly 25 yards behind all other competitors during a 75-yard dash. I broke my leg when I was 5. I still contend that I was pushed down the stairs on the deck, but the story is as muddied now as the Zapruder film (perhaps there was a second pusher). The broken leg caused me to run with a limp while I was growing up. To this day, I am one of the slowest people you will ever meet. In middle school, at my first track meet, I finished dead last in the 800, nearly 200 meters behind the last person, who was a girl. My only medal in high school track was from a 6th place finish (out of 6) where I was beat by not one but two girls in the two-mile. I go from zero to 60…never. It shows on video when I fight bulls. My gait is just awkward. In life I struggle with the same problem.
Like it or not we are all chasing something. Everyday we run and strain after something or someone. Usually it is a half hearted pursuit and usually its at a labored pace. For many non-monogamous chasers we limp along until something else catches our eye and we take off in pursuit of that flavor of the week. I use the word limp for two reasons: 1) it is the most accurate word for our pursuit. The chase has lasted so long that weariness has overcome us. We limp because we know we must keep moving but not enough strength to do so. 2) That is the word that Elijah put to it.
In 1 Kings 18.21, Elijah tells the gathered people of Israel “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but Baal is God, follow him.” The word ‘waver’ [hb. pasha] is also used in 2 Samuel 4.4, when the nurse carrying Mephibosheth dropped him as she was fleeing. He was crippled [pasha] in the fall. The people that Elijah addressed struggled mentally in the same way Mephiboshet struggled physically. In Mephibosheth’s case his legs were wobbly, but the minds of Elijah’s audience wobbled. Mephibosheth’s legs were unsure, the Israelites loyalties were unsure.
When Elijah calls the people on their lack of commitment, they had nothing to say. (1 Kings 18.21)
Elijah’s audience struggled, limped, wavered between service of Baal and service of Yahweh which makes the setting so perfect. Mt. Carmel was on the Eastern border of Israel, situated between Israel and Phoenicia. Phoenicia (the city of Sidon) was the home of Jezebel, the wife of the King, who instituted Baal worship as the State religion of Israel. Baal was the storm God of the Canaanites, the one responsible for bringing rain. In the midst of a three year drought (17.1; 18.1) this battle between Yahweh and Baal seems appropriate.
Both sides (450 prophets of Baal and Elijah) get a bull. Both get wood to sacrifice on. And both get to call on their God. The one that answers by fire, he is God. (1 Kings 18.24)
The people like this idea better than Elijah pointing out their lack of devotion. “What you say is good.” (1 Kings 18.24)
The prophets of Baal enter the ring first. They called his name from morning until noon with no response and no answer, despite their dancing. They danced [pasha] in the same way the people’s minds wavered [pasha]. Elijah mocks the silence, suggesting that Baal is meditating, preoccupied, or out to lunch. Some versions translate sig [“too busy” in the NIV] as Baal having gone to the bathroom. Elijah is letting them have it, so the prophets up their game by slashing themselves and shouting. From noon to evening their blood and cries flowed from their bodies, imploring their god to answer. Again with no response and no answer.
Elijah calls the people to himself. First, he repairs the altar that had fallen into disrepair, we assume from lack of use. Second, he prepares the sacrifice, the bull and the wood. Everyone is tracking with him thus far. The prophets of Baal did similar things hours ago. His next step must have baffled the people. “Soak the offering” was Elijah’s command. Three times he has them pour water on the sacrifice (18.33-35). They are still in the middle of the drought. The people are mumbling “We cant water our lawns and Elijah is three times soaking the offering. Water waster.” They probably didn’t mumble that but still.
Then he prayed. “Answer me of Lord, answer me, so that these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (18.36-37)
God is in the business of drawing us to himself. He is constantly in pursuit of us. He has watch his people, over the last 150 years fall apart, worship false gods, be taken in by idols, and become spiritually bankrupt. He has seen his Kings and Queens turn the people towards false gods. The people, His people, are now so confused, they are immobile, crippled, and maimed.
God answers in front of the people. “Then 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.” (18.36)
The people responded in worship. The cried out: “Yahweh—he is God! Yahweh—he is God” They went from speechless (18.21) to agreeable (18.24) to praising (18.39). The people went from wavering to worshipful because of the faithfulness of Elijah and the activity of God.
Have you ever limped through life? Ever been wavering between the world and God? The people of Israel followed their leaders in their sinful ways. They followed other gods in their service. They were unfaithful to their God. They had forgotten who they were.
The world tells me that fame and buckles should be chased…so I limp that direction. I want a house, a three-horse slant, and a truck to pull it…so I hobble that way. The world tells that money will bring me more satisfaction than anything else…so I stagger after it. I am amongst the audience that Elijah is confronting. I stand there speechless (18.21) waiting for this contest to play out.
I know who the winner will be, but I waver still. I often find myself stumbling towards the wrong things sometimes. It usually takes a reminder, a person of faith, an action of God, a word from the Word, or a worldly lie revealed that brings me to 18.39 worship. Do you limp along, chasing the wrong god’s or do you find yourself overtaken in 18.39 worship? Chasing the Lord in word, in action, and in life at an all out run?