One of the great challenges in all of Scripture has got to be Elijah’s challenge to Israel when they gathered at Mt. Carmel. Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21a).
I’ve often thought about the phrase, “all the people.” Though Keil and Delitzsch have proposed a location on the Mt. Carmel promontory that would be visible to a multitude (K&D, Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 3), it is hard for me to imagine that literally every man, woman, and child of Israel abandoned their homes, fields, shops, and pastures or that so many assembled people could have seen and heard all that took place. My thought is that a very large crowd was present and that, at the very least, it would have included all the royal court, its armies, as well as all the leadership throughout the kingdom of Israel. Whether this was literally all the people or a representative multitude of leaders and influential people, it is nonetheless a crowded scene.
I think of how courageous anyone would have been to answer Elijah’s challenge. With the pagan priests who ate at Jezebel’s table present, with the armies under Ahab’s command present, with the watchful and suspicious eyes of court officials and with every economic advantage these people might have had being threatened if they spoke up, it is easy to understand their silence. Life itself hung in the balance. Obadiah had a great position of influence and power in Ahab’s court, and yet he feared greatly for his life. Already he was under suspicion because it was known that he had hidden 100 prophets of the Lord in caves (18:12-14). What might Ahab do if any of these people stood in public and pledged themselves to Jehovah?
And so, one of the greatest challenges in Scripture was met in this way: But the people did not answer him a word (1 Kings 18:21b). How discouraging and disappointing that must have been to the prophet of God!
Silence is one of the ways we express fear, but it is also one of the ways we express disdain. While some in the crowd might have chosen silence out of fear, many more would have chosen silence out of disdain for God and the man of God.
Communication is essential to any successful effort. Can you imagine a company that is wildly profitable, yet its board members won’t talk to each other nor does management speak to the ones who do the work? Could any organization including the local church grow if leadership chose to be silent? Can the people of God, be it Elijah’s generation or ours, have a relationship with God while never speaking to Him?
I think the mettle of Elijah was tested sorely on that day! Their silence, regardless of motive, was a repudiation of God and of the prophet of God. Though the outcome of the contest was never in question and Jehovah won the day, you find Elijah on the run and deeply depressed 24 hours later. I can’t help but think that the silence of the multitudes still stung. As Jezebel threatens his life and Elijah flees in fear, I can’t help but think he chose the inhospitable desert because he couldn’t feel safe hiding among the people.
Why do we prefer silence to joyful affirmation? How often has a good work died or failed to launch because silence is no encouragement to anyone? Two Christian women answered the challenge of last Sunday’s lesson to be workers. Please encourage them and keep them in prayer. We need more like them.