One of the more exciting stories in the Old Testament is found in 1 Kings 18. It’s a story of a bold prophet standing against a vile king, a hateful queen and 450 false prophets. It occurs following a very long drought – no rain that dried up and crippled the nation. The prophet of God was the easy one to blame – “he did this to us.” So Elijah is prompted by God to seek out the evil King and the people – he’s going to confront those who wanted him dead. They weren’t just apathetic to Elijah, they hated him.
The king receives word that Elijah is coming and so he summons all the people. The King is ready for a public trial and execution. As the crowd grumbles, the prophet turns the tables on everyone, “how long will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” The people are mad at Elijah, and Elijah reminds them that their current situation is of their own doing – they’ve chosen another provider, a different sustainer and giver of life.
The next line grips me. After this statement of challenge, scripture shares these words “but the people were completely silent.” Elijah then jumps into action and issues a real-life throw down to the people and the prophets of Baal. Make an altar, offer a sacrifice, and which ever God is real will consume the sacrifice. All agree, and for hours the prophets of Baal dance and cut themselves and make all kinds of noise with no return – no action on Baal’s part.
Elijah mocks the prophets lack of success and quiets the crowd. He sets up the altar, he prepares the sacrifice and then just to be very clear, he drenches every bit with gallons and gallons of water. Then Elijah simply prays “you are God, would you prove it to these people – let them see your power that they may see you and once again know you.” Simple words of longing – not to win, but to bring the people to repentance and to restoration.
The sacrifice, the altar, even the dirt were consumed. The people responded and their hearts were turned back to the LORD. God won and the people hadn’t sought God, they just responded to seeing God’s glory. The prophets were dealt with. Ahab retreated and his wife threw a hissy-fit and Elijah…he went into hiding (but that’s another story).
As I re-read this story this morning, I was struck by that small line at the end of verse 21 – “but the people were completely silent.” I’m a big believer in taking time each day to be silent. In a world full of noise, we all need silence. Sadly, so many times the noise is hard to turn off – both externally and internally. It’s one thing to turn off the radio or even get away from AC/Heater fans or other noises – it’s another thing all together to let the demands and voices that are rattling inside our minds and hearts fade away.
Some of us reject silence because we’re so accustomed to noise that silence is unnerving. Some of us can’t handle the silence because there, in the quiet, we have to face things we would rather ignore. And yet, our souls need silence…we need quiet…we need a pause.
But silence can also be a very damning thing for the child of God. The hebrews gathered to confront the man who had brought such calamity on Israel. But Elijah came to confront the people with their wayward devotion -their divided hearts – their choosing of another to be their God. And the people were silent.
The phrase makes me shutter. How often do I let noises and distractions and even the longing to serve God become an idol – another deity that I choose to set up in front of the One who wants me to be found in His love and grace? Sadly, I know my answer. I don’t want to be silent in this way. I don’t want to rely on some big event to draw me to the arms of love. I want to be so aware of His glory that I walk around as that drenched sacrifice given consumed by the fire of his Holiness and grace.