Sitting on the Fence about God
Choose Your Side
Compromising with the World
There is an old phrase that appears to have originated with our first president, George Washington. The term "sitting on the fence" is an expression used to speak of anyone who is indecisive about something. Apparently during the Revolutionary War Washington was in contact with a New Jersey Jurist by the name of Judge Imlay who wasn't sure if he would back the revolutionists or those who wanted to remain loyal to England.
One day General Washington saw one of Imlay's slaves and decided to ask him which way the judge was leaning. His answer so amused the general that he repeated it over and over. The slave said: "Until my master knows who is the strongest group, he's staying on the fence!" And the rest is history!.
Today we have a lot of Christian "fence sitters." They don't seem to know which way they are leaning. Are they following the Lord or following the world? God is asking each of us to choose who will be the Lord of our life. The choice is ours. However, if we truly know the God of the Bible, and his power, the choice should be obvious.
Throughout history, God's people have been confronted with this choice. Scripture has many examples. However, one of the most prominent ones in the Old Testament is found in the book of I Kings where Elijah the prophet confronts the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.
I. The Background and Setting
Elijah, whose name means "Yahweh is my God" was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab who was the evil King in the 9th Century B.C. Ahab was married to an equally evil Queen, Jezebel, whom Ahab's father Omri had arranged to be married to his son for a political alliance with another country.
Jezebel was the priestess of the Canaanite god Baal and the daughter of the King of Sidon in Phoenicia. She was so evil that she systematically tried to kill all of the prophets of Yahweh. It was so bad, that a God-fearing servant of King Ahab named Obadiah hid a hundred of God's prophets in two separate caves in order to save them from her wrath (I Kings 18:4).
King Ahab has the unenviable distinction of being the most evil monarch to reign in the Northern Kingdom. Under his watch, a temple was built to Baal and there was a pole set up to the goddess Asherah. It is said in I Kings 16:33 that:
“Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him”
So the prophet Elijah had his work cut out for him.
We know little of Elijah's background except that he was a Tishbite who was raised up by the Lord because of Ahab and Jezebel and their challenge to the true God of Israel. When he first appears in I Kings 17:1 he announces a drought in the land because of the evil that abounded in Israel. He seems to come out of nowhere right in the middle of Ahab's sorry reign and speaks to him. This is what Scripture tells us:
"Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word." (17:1).
Of course, what Elijah predicted came true and for three and a half years, there was no rain in the land (James 5:17; Luke 4:25; I Kings 18:1). God kept Elijah alive through the drought, first by being fed by ravens at the brook Cherith (I Kings 17:3-7) and later by staying with a poor widow and her son, and helping them to survive as well by miraculously providing oil and flower until the drought had ended. (17:8-16). And during this time Elijah demonstrated his God-given power one other way by raising that same widow's son back from the dead (17:17-24).
Then after the 3 1/2 years came the confrontation that was bound to happen. God commanded Elijah to go challenge Ahab and his pagan prophets of Baal.
II. The Confrontation
So Elijah talked with Obadiah, Ahab's servant, and had him let Ahab know that he wanted to meet and to talk with him (I Kings 18:1-16). Here is what God's Word says happened upon their meeting:
"When he saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?" "I have not made trouble for Israel," Elijah replied. "But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the LORD's commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." (17-19).
So Ahab did as Elijah had said and the people of Israel and all the prophets of Baal and Asherah met. And the contest was about to begin to see who was the true God of Israel.
1. Elijah's Proposal of a Contest
Elijah then addressed the gathered crowd and said:
"How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." (21).
Like many Christians today, the people of Israel had not totally rejected the Lord. They simply wanted to combine worship of Him with that of Baal. Instead of worshiping Yahweh fully, they wanted to have one foot in the world at the same time. They desired to "sit on the fence."
Sadly, the fence-sitting crowd didn't reply to him so Elijah proposed a contest that they build two altars and that Baals' prophets would offer an ox to their god, and Elijah would do the same to Yahweh. However, neither would light a fire under the altars. And the one who answers by fire would be the true God. That the people of Israel thought was a good idea (18:22-24). Since Baal was supposed to be the god who controlled the thunder, lightning and storms, it should have been no problem for him; or so they thought.
2. The Contest Begins: Baals' Prophets
Elijah allows the prophets of Baal to go first. They prepared the ox and the altar and began to call on the name of their god from morning until noon but, predictably, there was no answer as they leaped about the altar (22-26).
Around noon Elijah begins to mock them. He said:
"Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened!"
So the prophets cried out and started cutting themselves with swords and lances. In the ancient world, self-laceration was done in many religions to arouse the pity of a certain god and to get the gods' response. However, once again, from Baal there was nothing. (27-28).
Baals' prophets raved until the time of the evening offering. But the Bible says:
"But there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention." (29).
This threefold 'no' was Scripture's way of emphasizing the complete lack of response, showing Baals' impotence and, therefore, his non-existence.
3. God Ends the Contest
Then it was Yahweh's and Elijah's turn! So Elijah started by repairing the altar of the Lord that had been allowed to go into disrepair. After setting it up, complete with 12 stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel, he built a trench around the altar. He then arranged the wood and the ox and laid the ox on the wood. After that, to make it very difficult for anyone but the Lord to do, he had people fill four pitchers with water and pour them on the altar. Then he had them do it a second and a third time until the altar was drenched and the trench surrounding the altar was completely full (30-35).
Finally, Elijah offered a prayer to Yahweh saying:
"O, Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord are God and that You have turned their heart back again." (36-37).
With that, the fire of the Lord fell and completely consumed the offering, including the wood, the stones, the dust and, to top it all off, it licked up all the water in the trench as well (38).
Then the people, having seen all this, fell on their faces and cried:
"The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!" (39).
Next, Elijah ordered that all the prophets of Baal be seized. And he took them to the Kishon brook and slew them all. (40). It was only after this that Elijah said to Ahab:
"Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower." (41).
And, shortly after that, the drought ended.
III. Which Character are You?
Throughout history, the characters have changed but the categories of people haven't. There are those in this world, like Ahab and Jezebel, that hate God and all that He stands for. They want to destroy what the Lord is doing in this age.
And there are also, those like Elijah who hold fast to God and make sure that His name is glorified. They stand up against evil and those who would oppose God's rule in the universe.
However, sadly, there seem to be more people who simply sit on the fence and don't make a stand one way or another. They attempt to keep one foot in the world and one foot in heaven. These people tend to be like the lukewarm church group whom Christ said he'd spew out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).
We all need to answer the question every day: "Which character am I?" We'd like to think that true Christians will not fall into the category of opposing what is of God. However, the world needs fewer fence sitters and more people like Elijah who care more about what God thinks of them and less of what others think. The truth is that if God isn't pleased, then it doesn't much matter who else is pleased with us. He is the final judge and we will one day answer to Him.
C.S. Lewis once said about the choices we make in life:
"When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over. God is going to invade, all right; but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else comes crashing in? This time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. That will not be the time for choosing; It will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment is our chance to choose the right side."
It is my prayer that everyone who reads this will not wait until it is too late to choose the right side. Let us all bow down today, and say: "The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!" For that is a decision we will never regret!
© 2019 Jeff Shirley