At Mount Carmel, the Prophet Elijah asks King Ahab to summon all of Israel as well as the prophets of Baal. His goal is to prove to all the Glory of YHWH against the idol Baal. In a grand demonstration, Isaiah prompts the people of Israel to decide which one to follow. During this time in Israel, people are “lukewarm” in their faith. The Hebrew translation for verse 21 which says “hesitate between two opinions” implies the action of hopping or dancing. Elijah is asking, therefore, how long Israel will continue to dance between the worship of Baal and the worship of the True and Living God.
So, in this demonstration, the 450 prophets of Baal sacrifice a bull to their idol. They dance around it for hours, asking for their god to light fire to their offering. Their worship is sincere, and it is diligent. But because Baal does not exist, their worship is not heard. And so the prophets begin to shout more loudly, cutting themselves (as was their religious practice) to get the attention of their god. Baal was believed to be a god of the weather, who showed his power through lightning. The prophets truly believe that Baal is capable of answering them, and they go through self-sacrificing lengths to prove it. But alas, their prayers have fallen upon no ears that can hear them.
Elijah, on the other hand, restores by himself the damaged alter to YHWH upon Mt. Carmel. In the presence of Baal’s prophets, he prepares the bull sacrifice. As an additional proof of God’s power, he has Israel gather water and completely drenches the whole altar, not once, but three times. And then he publicly prays to YHWH. Immediately, YHWH responds with fire from Heaven that consumes the offering and the wood and the altar, as well as licks up all of the water. What a sight it must have been to see! Hours and hours of praying to Baal cannot compare to the simple sacrifice and prayer that Elijah offers to God. What is the difference? The difference is found in YHWH, the True God.
Today’s world emphasizes practicing whatever one believes. The popular train of thought goes like this: as long as you believe with all of your heart in something and are passionate in following after it, it doesn’t matter what you believe. Any belief paired with doing good for the sake of it is good enough. This is simply not true. As we see in the historical account of Elijah and the 450 Baal prophets, no religious length taken nor length of time in diligent prayer could do anything for the Baal worshippers because Baal simply did not exist. Only the worship that Elijah gave to YHWH, the True and Living God, proved to be time well-spent. With this in mind, Elijah’s statement to Israel can be asked of us today: “How long will you dance between two opinions? If YHWH is God, follow Him. But if Baal, follow him.”
Let us not dance in between ideals of Scripture and the idols of the world. Let our practice of faith fully reflect our decision to follow the True and Living God.