“How long will you straddle the issue? If the LORD is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.”

The headline gives us the first words of Elijah in today’s famous Old Testament reading in the prophet’s showdown with the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs 18:20-39).  Elijah, declaring himself the last prophet of Yahweh, challenges 450 prophets of Baal to a final test to determine, finally, who is the one true God.  He proposes that both he and the prophets each sacrifice a bull, but they are to call on their respective deities to consume it with fire.  The Baal worshipers spend hours gesticulating, calling out, and slashing themselves but “no one was listening.” (v. 29)  In one of my favorite lines, and one of the funniest in the Hebrew Scriptures, Elijah taunts them to spur them on: “Call louder, for he is a god and may be meditating, or may have retired, or may be on a journey.  Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”  (v. 27)  Finally, probably exhausted from their efforts, the prophets yield to Elijah.  He prepares the bull by putting it in a trench and having it soaked with water time and time again.  Calling out to the one true God, fire consumes not only the bull, but the wood, stones, dust, and water around the altar as well.  All concede, proclaiming, “The LORD is God! The LORD is God!” (v. 39)

Elijah’s opening question is the question for us today: “How long will you straddle the issue?”  Do we follow the one true God or a false god or gods?  Recall the first commandment: “You shall not have other gods beside me” (Ex 20:3).  Jesus emphasizes this point and ups the ante, taking His cue from Deuteronomy (6:5): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30; cf., Mt 22:37).

The time has come to get off the fence.  Even though modern culture militates heavily against us, and even though family and friends who profess the Faith often concede to these immoral times, we must remain strong in our convictions.  Elijah was one against a multitude, but his faith in the Almighty won the day and converted a nation.  This should be a great encouragement to us.  Jesus Himself said, “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt. 17:20).  Do we completely trust Jesus?

Concession to sin is not an option for us.  And even though we can feel powerless and overwhelmed by the iniquity of these times and persecuted for standing with God, we can remain confident as long as we are on the Lord’s side.

The one verse that is skipped between today’s reading and tomorrow is this:

Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape!” They seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and there he slaughtered them. (v. 40)

Worse than physical death, this is the eternal fate of those who know better but do not repent of their evil ways.  Let us not be in that number with the goats, but be among the sheep (see Mt 25:31-46), not counting the cost here on earth, but always anticipating our heavenly reward for remaining faithful until the end.

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