Back to Old School: Elijah – “Choices”
Marketing products totally online - Amazon USA offers over 488 million products on its website. Last year Amazon had 136 billion dollars of net sales. This equates to 100’s of items being sold every second of every day. Every day people choose items to buy from these 488 million products. You prefer a brick and mortar store? There are close to 40,000 items to choose from in one normal sized grocery store alone. We have choices!
What is a choice?
“To select freely and after consideration.” Or “to have a preference for.”
Choices are something each of us has in common. Every single day... every single moment we make choices. What to eat. What to wear. What to say. What to do. How to act. To be non-religious. To be religious. To be a Christ-follower. To be double-minded. To be single-minded.
Literally, you’ve made a thousand choices before you arrived here this morning! You had a choice whether or not to come to Legacy Church today. To argue with your spouse. To yell at your kids. To shower. To not shower. To eat breakfast. To not eat breakfast. To smile. To frown. To judge. To hate. To be indifferent (or at least act indifferent). I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Going back to the Old Testament we find an incredible story about choice.
This story is found in I Kings 18.
Let’s look at the three main characters of this story: Ahab (and wife Jezebel), Elijah and 850 prophets of the gods Baal & Asherah.
Ahab.. How can one describe such a character. Let’s ask Jeremiah and some of the other prophets who more than likely combined to write the history of the Kings describe him:
I Kings 21:25-26 - “25 (No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel. 26 His worst outrage was worshiping idols just as the Amorites had done—the people whom the Lord had driven out from the land ahead of the Israelites.)”
The two main idols who were the subject of Ahab and Jezebel’s worship? Baal & Asherah. What did these gods stand for? Baal was the god of supreme power – his name is derived from a word meaning “lord.” He had the power to create and grant fertility. Asherah was the goddess of fertility – worship of her stone figure, obviously made her follower party to all types of aberrant sexual practices for the sole purpose of supreme sexual satisfaction.
Elijah – A prophet of God – a “mouthpiece” of the One True God – capable of not only accessing God’s power in his own life, but asking God to perform acts on earth that could only be attributed to an all-powerful God.
Prophets of Baal & Asherah – They were the principal purveyors of these gods built of man-made materials for the purpose of worship and practicing a self-gratifying religious set of beliefs.
It is true that Ahab was the king of Israel – God’s chosen people, and… He did worship God, however, even though he did – he also worshiped other gods and promoted others to do the same. He didn’t choose.
Father of Modern Psychology, William James: "When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice."
I Kings18:16-24 - 16 So Obadiah (Ahab’s facility manager) went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet Elijah. 17 When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?” 18 “I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead.19 Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.” 20 So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. 21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent. 22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. 23 Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it.24 Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.
Someone once said: "The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created - created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating."
One may suppose the choice to support one or more gods or to try to worship both Jehovah God, the God of Israel and Baal and/or Asherah is one you can make on the spur of the moment, or when presented with various opportunities that might benefit from a multi-faceted view of whom to worship. However, Elijah has drawn a line in the sand – a line I believe beyond the shadow of a doubt is a line that today also determines our eternity. This is not a choice we make depending on what’s convenient or personally beneficial at the time, but rather one that is a result of a lengthy rumination period in our minds which eventually comes out as our own personal will. Our daily, ongoing behavior then is a result of days, weeks, months, years of this “formulation.”
Pastor Bill Hybels gives his perception of how this “rumination” occurs.
Every single day we make choices that show whether we are courageous or cowardly. We choose between the right thing and the convenient thing, sticking to a conviction or caving in for the sake of comfort, greed or approval. We choose either to take a carefully thought-out risk or to crawl into a shrinking shell of safety, security and inactivity. We choose either to believe in God and trust him, even when we do not always understand his ways, or to second-guess him and cower in the corners of doubt and fear.
Elijah was no stranger to his king’s and queen’s choices regarding the object (s) of their worship. Nor was he naïve of his people’s spiritual condition created by their followership of their rulers. Elijah was convinced that this confrontation on the mountain would once and for all re-establish the power of God and subsequently turn the Israelites back to the God of their heritage.
Billy Graham once said, "The strongest principle of life and blessings lies in our choice. Our life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously. If we can control the process of choosing, we can take control of all aspects of our life. We can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of our life. So start with what is right rather than what is acceptable.”
So… what happened with the confrontation between the 850 pagan prophets and Elijah?
Let’s check it out:
I Kings 18:25-39 - 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.” 26 So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made. 27 About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself.[a] Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” 28 So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. 29 They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response. 30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel,[b] 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons.[c] 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.[d] Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.” 34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench. 36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,[e] prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.” 38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
Concerned about popular opinion? Consider the spot Elijah found himself in. 850 prophets of the most popular objects of worship of nearly everyone present and one wild-haired, simply dressed, dusty, bedraggled pastor trying to uphold to the chosen Israelites, a simple message of a single, all-powerful, yet obviously un-popular, Deity. This Deity was the God who once inflicted plagues of epic proportions upon their forefather’s oppressors, a God who had parted the Red Sea and when listened to and obeyed had rendered powerful opponents completely powerless at their hands. This Deity who now shared a small place in the worship of His own people.
An Arab chief tells a story of a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door. As the moment for execution drew near, the spy was brought to the Persian general, who asked the question, "What will it be: the firing squad or the big, black door?" The spy hesitated for a long time. It was a difficult decision. He chose the firing squad. Moments later shots rang out confirming his execution. The general turned to his aide and said, "They always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet, we gave him a choice." The aide said, "What lies beyond the big door?" "Freedom," replied the general. "I’ve known only a few brave enough to take it."
King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and most of their loyal subjects had chosen to add the prophets of Baal and Asherah to their worship practices. It was a practice that literally tore their people apart, yet they continued in the practices, not knowing it was really the firing squad they were facing. They wanted results to their worship – the pleasures of sin the pagan gods encouraged. The intangibles of a life lived in the faith and worship of the One True God were not satisfying enough for them at the time. No matter what happened that day on the mountain, Elijah was brave enough to choose the big door… and opened it and found freedom.
Choose – what will your choice be? Will you choose the known pleasures the world offers – or will you choose the Big Door? The result of a worldly choice is the firing squad. The result of entering the door will be Life Eternal. Jesus Christ is the door. Come to God through Him today.
"If you don’t make a decision, then time will make it for you, and time will always side against you."
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