“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!” (1 Kings 18:21)
Those are the words of Elijah setting up the great confrontation on Mt. Carmel. The people of Israel had fallen into false worship. They never completely neglected Yahweh God, but they did allow all other gods to compete for their loyalties. They would worship the Lord God and________ (Baal, Ashteroth, Molech,…or any number of other false gods. Elijah, however, says it’s time to make a decision. Only one god can be supreme; only one god can reign on the throne. The true god should be embraced; the false god abandoned.
As the story unfolds, Elijah sets up a competition between himself, and the prophets of Baal. They would each build an altar and prepare a sacrifice to their god. They would then cry out to god, asking the one they worshiped to send down fire from heaven and light the sacrifice. The god who sent fire from heaven was the true God.
The prophets of Baal spent the entire day crying out, but never saw even the hint of fire. Elijah even begins taunting them, encouraging them to cry out louder and cut themselves with stones, but still no answer. When it was Elijah’s turn, he first drenched the altar with large jars of water multiple times, making the sacrifice almost impossible to light; yet when he first cries out to God asking for God to respond, God sends so much fire from heaven that everything about the sacrifice and altar are burned to a crisp. Truly Yahweh God is the real God.
While Israel should have known who to worship, and which god alone was to receive reverence, they often failed. Not just during the times of the kings, but through their entire history. It’s a story that goes all the way back to Sinai. Israel was rescued from slavery in Egypt because of the mighty hand of God. In response, God called Israel into covenant faithfulness. God asked them to accept the terms of the covenant. These weren’t just rules to be followed, they were a way of life. They enabled Israel to live into freedom. Not just some sort of natural, innate freedom. Instead they had been freed from; freed from slavery and oppression. The Law was therefore their response of gratitude (all that the Lord has said we will do), and the foundation of the Law was the first command, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
Israel’s allegiance was to be given to Yahweh God, and Yahweh alone. Nothing else compared, because nothing else was worthy or equal. God was to reign supreme, and every other aspect of life was to bow in reverence to Yahweh.
The same is true for us today, our lives should be completely devoted to Yahweh. Yet at times it’s a struggle. It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we have no god problem. We are faithful members of a local church congregation. We read our bibles, and even read religious blogs. We serve. We give. We are devoted.
The danger, however, is divided loyalty. Like ancient Israel, our struggle is often not total abandonment of God. We would never completely give up on God. However, if we are honest (if I am honest) there are times when our loyalty is divided. There are times when we go through the motions of religion, and the Lord God has to compete for the right to sit on the throne. We don’t abandon God, we just allow other gods to remain alongside Yahweh. Work becomes important. Money becomes important. Family becomes important. Our good deeds are important. Honor or fame is important. And these other loyalties have a way of controlling us, conforming us into their image, not the other way around.
Following God is a lifestyle. It’s an all or nothing proposition. One cannot claim to follow God, and life never change. One can’t claim to follow God, and then make decisions based on what’s best for my wallet, or comfort zone, or my child’s sports travel team. One can’t claim to follow God, and then just show up on Sunday morning but never let faith affect your life during the week.
For the Lord is a jealous God. God demands allegiance. Divided loyalties will not last. One cannot serve two masters.
Perhaps it’s time for all of us to choose? Perhaps this needs to be our Mt. Carmel moment? Perhaps it’s time to spend some time contemplating what is competing for the top spot in our lives?