Human Silence: Israel and the Silence of Unbelief
June 4th, 2018 | 1 Kings 18: 20-39
In Walker Percy’s novel The Second Coming, a depressed character named Will Barrett decides to put God’s existence to the test. Is He really there or not? Will enters a cave and resolves not to come out unless God gives him a sign. If not, he will die. Rather humorously, during this experiment Will gets a toothache, can’t stand the pain, and escapes from the cave. Was that God’s answer?
In today’s reading, the Israelites also put God to the test. Their silence during the confrontation on Mount Carmel was the silence of doubt or unbelief. When Elijah asked the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the L is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him,” this was their chance to declare their faith in their covenant-keeping God. Elijah was in fact sarcastically urging them to do so, because the Hebrew verb translated as “waver” can also mean “hesitate” or “limp” or even “dance” (v. 26). The idea is that the people were hobbling between two irreconcilable beliefs. No matter how fancy their dancing, they could not choose both God and an idol.
Nonetheless, the Israelites said nothing (v. 21). They refused to choose, though they agreed to the challenge (v. 24). They stood by silently during the hours of frenzied pagan rituals carried out by the priests of Baal. Baal, of course, kept silent as well. Even as he taunted the idol’s priests, Elijah’s heart must have been breaking over his people’s continued silence. As he rebuilt the altar and prayed, they still had nothing to say (v. 37).
Only after the fire of the Lord conclusively ended the challenge did the Israelites finally make their choice: “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (v. 39).
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The prayers of the priests of Baal were frantic and long-winded; Elijah’s was simple and heartfelt. Jesus instructed us, “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:7–8).
Today in the Word’s Devotion is a production of Moody Global Ministries
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