Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He telleth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names.”
Psalm 147: 3, 4
“With His healing hand on a broken heart,
And the other on a star,
Our wonderful God views the miles apart,
And they seem not very far.
Oh, it makes us cry – then laugh – then sing,
Tho’ ‘tis all beyond our ken;
He bindeth up wounds on that poor crushed thing,
And He made it whole again.”
Mamie Payne Ferguson
Today’s Study Text:
“Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you halt and limp between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him! But if Baal, then follow him. And the people did not answer him a word.”
1 Kings 18: 21
“How Long Will You Halt?”
Hebrew Definition of “Halt”: To skip over. By implication, to hesitate. To become lame. To pass over.
Webster’s Dictionary Definition: Stoppage of movement. To be defective or proceed poorly. To move or act in uncertainty or indecisively. To limp or hobble. To waver.
“This world and that to come are two enemies. We cannot therefore be friends to both; but we must resolve which we would forsake and which we would enjoy.”
Clement of Alexandra
Have I ever “halted” between two opinions?
What was it that made me hesitate?
Have I ever found there to be consequences for “halting” choices?
“There is a time when we must firmly choose the course we will follow, or the relentless drift of events will make the decision.”
Herbert V. Prochnow
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”
Deuteronomy 30: 19
It was quite a group on Carmel’s crest. Ahab the king. Elijah the prophet. Jezebel’s minions of Baal. And a multitude of people -- God’s chosen children who had wandered far away from the path He had laid out for them.
As many Biblical scholars note, the Scriptures do not make it clear how the idea for the showdown with the prophets of Baal came to Elijah. However, I don’t believe it is far-fetched to believe that God advised His servant on the where and how of this battle. And so, atop Carmel, Elijah, the Bible tells us, “came unto” or as the Hebrew translates, he “came near to present or adduce an argument,” to the people of Israel. However, there is one other phrase in the Hebrew which conveys the spirit of this moment and it is “draw nigh.” In James 4: 8, the apostle pens this promise, “Come close (draw nigh) to God and He will come close to you. Recognize that you are sinners, get your soiled hands clean; realize you have been disloyal, wavering individuals with divided interests, and purify your hearts of your spiritual adultery.”
The words of James beautifully reflect the attitude we find Elijah exhibiting toward the wayward Israelites. As this weary and worn warrior came near to the people who had “divided interests,” he asked this pointed question, “How long will you halt between two opinions?” Let’s just remind ourselves that in the Hebrew, the word halt reflects wavering, indecisive and uncertain behavior. It’s as if you can’t make up your mind. One day it’s one way -- the next it is another. Back and forth. Here and there. Flip and flop. And if we know some of the qualities of our heavenly Father, then we know He doesn’t like a “halting” opinion. The Apostle John, in the book of Revelation, had this message for the church at Laodicea, the last of the seven churches: “I know your record of works and what you are doing; you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3: 15, 16, Amplified Bible). In other words, God’s distinct message to the individuals in the church at Laodicea was: “I would rather have an ice cold drink or a very hot drink. This lukewarm stuff you are serving up is nasty. It tastes awful.” This was exactly the situation the children of Israel faced in their relationship with God during the reign of one king after another in Israel and Judah as well. If you read through the ledger of the recorded deeds of these kings, when there was a good king, most of the people seemed to follow along and mimic the ways of their leader. However, we often find that the people still kept their personal idols here and there. I wonder if it was because they knew that as time passed, and some idolatrous king took over the throne, that the pendulum would swing back the other way and the worship of a false god would be back in vogue again. If God wanted to make any point clear to His children, not only at the top of Carmel, but down through the ages, to the very end of time as recorded in Revelation, it was that indecisive, halting opinions, which change as the wind blows were not only unacceptable, they were downrightly distasteful in God’s sight.
As Elijah drew near to the people of Israel, I wonder what thoughts he may have had about their “halting” behavior. After witnessing the undivided commitment Elijah had demonstrated up to this point, I’m certain his heart ached, just as God’s does, when we limp along, vacillating between our love for God and things eternal versus our love of idols and the things of this earth. It may well have been that the people of Israel were a little afraid of Elijah. Especially as he “drew near” to them. I think if I had been among the crowd, I would have wondered what would happen, wouldn’t you?
As we read our study text, the Bible tells us that Elijah asked a simple yet direct question, “How long will you limp or halt between two opinions?” But he didn’t stop there. Elijah made it very clear who and what the wavering was between. “Do you want to claim your allegiance to Baal or to God?” This wasn’t a test with multiple choice answers. There was not an option to check, “None of the above.” This was a clear choice. And as Elisabeth Elliot writes, “The power to exercise the will has been delegated to us and God will not usurp it.” God wasn’t going to force His children to choose Him. This was to be their own decision -- one way or another.
This is where we find something remarkable happening. I almost missed this phrase completely. But as I reread 1 Kings 18: 21, the final sentence of the text hit me between the eyes. Here is what the Bible records: “And the people did not answer him (Elijah) a word.”
I had to reflect on these words for several days. Silence. No answer at all. Then several things came to my mind. First of all, I tried to put myself among the mass of people on Mount Carmel. I think my first emotion might have been fear. I might have wondered if God would strike me down for my disobedience. But upon reflection, I think that maybe the silent response could be likened to the day my grandma had made fresh chocolate chip cookies and they were in her old-fashioned “Dutch girl” cookie jar. My hand was going down into the jar when grandma came around the corner. I was caught in the act. And grandma asked this question, “What are you doing?” As I recalled that day, it was my response that I remember. I was silent. Why? I was caught disobeying her request not to get in the cookie jar. I had absolutely no excuse for my disobedience. I couldn’t even think up any reason. I believe this may be the reason for Israel’s silence. God had called them out for behavior they knew they could not defend. On this day, a choice had to be made. Limping along, leaning one-way and then another just couldn’t cut it anymore. So Elijah called out, “Choose either God or Baal. You can’t have it both ways any longer.”
The great American poet, James Lowell, penned the words to a well-known poem, which became a hymn. In this poem, Lowell laid out the call that comes to each of us in our own lives, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” It is a clarion call for an undivided heart that doesn’t halt between two masters.
“Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ‘Twixt
that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble
When we share her wretched rust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ‘tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man (woman) chooses,
While the coward stands aside,
‘Till the multitude make virtue of the
faith they had denied.
Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ‘tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.”
James Russell Lowell
What a call to each of us today. The choice is ours -- serve God or serve Baal.
“Choose to love - rather than hate.
Choose to smile – rather than frown.
Choose to build – rather than destroy.
Choose to persevere – rather than quit.
Choose to praise – rather than gossip.
Choose to heal - rather than wound.
Choose to give – rather than grasp.
Choose to act – rather than delay.
Choose to forgive – rather than curse.
Choose to pray – rather than despair.”
“Save me, O Lord, from the snares of a double mind; deliver me from all cowardly neutralities. Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments, and to trust for my defense in Thine mighty arm alone.”
Richard Hurrell Froude
So often I don’t knowHow to act,
What to say,
Who to listen to,
Which to choose,
Where to go or
How long to wait.
Give me wisdom so I can act
And not be paralyzed
So that I can move out in confidence
In a confusing world
Knowing that You are by my side
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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