1 Kings 18:21 – Leaping and Limping

If someone is leaping, can he also be limping at the same time?  That’s a strange question, isn’t it? Apparently according to the writer of 1 Kings, that’s a distinct possibility.

In the days of the prophet Elijah, the wicked King Ahab ruled over Israel – the Northern Kingdom.  He was so evil and far from God that the text declares in 1 Kings 16:31 about Ahab:

And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.

In other words, the sins of Jeroboam were bad enough.  His idolatry had caused the people of Israel to sin, and God didn’t take kindly to that.  With Ahab, he compounded the sin by marrying Jezebel, who was a pagan princess and high priestess of the gods Baal and Asherah.  Her influence was strong on Ahab to the extent that 1 Kings 16:32-33 tells us:

He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.

That was a final straw for God.  The people had crossed a line with Him.  Just like a disobedient child that needs to be punished, Yahweh had to show Israel the error of their ways.  In this instance, He brought a three-year drought that resulted in a severe famine.

Apparently during the time of Elijah’s ministry, he had been a severe thorn in Ahab’s side.  This drought caused the king to seek Elijah to kill him.  God brought the drought and Ahab’s hatred of Elijah to a head when he instructed the prophet to present himself to Ahab.  That provided the opportunity for one of the most – if not the most – dramatic showdowns in the Bible.  This was the spiritual equivalent of Gary Cooper in the movie High Noon facing the bad guys on Main Street in a major gunfight in sight of the whole town while they stood back and watched.

Elijah declared to Ahab that it was because of him that God brought trouble on Israel; Elijah was just the messenger.  At God’s instigation, Ahab gathered all the 850 pagan prophets of Baal and Asherah together on Mount Carmel.  Elijah then asked this question of the people of Israel in 1 Kings 18:21 who were there as bystanders watching this showdown:

“How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.

The Hebrew word translated as “limping” in the ESV is Strong’s #6452: pacach.  It has the primary definition of “to pass or spring over.”  It’s the same word that is used in Exodus for how the Lord passed over the houses of the Israelites who had applied the blood.  Other translations of this word for this verse use “waver” (NIV) or “falter” (NKJ) or “struggle” (NAS).  It is used in 2 Samuel 4:4 to describe Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, who fell and became lame (pacach). We see the same word used again several verses later in 1 Kings 18:26 (ESV) as the false prophets attempt to get Baal to answer and bring down fire:

… And they limped around the altar that they had made.

Again, other translations tell us they “danced” (NIV) or “leaped” (KJV).

It’s obviously a word with a wide range of meaning. It seems to me that the text is implying that the people were engaging in an action that was simultaneously exuberant, perhaps from a natural human perspective, but spiritually it describes their vacillation between two opposing ideals with ultimately a poor end, which is exactly what 1 Kings 18:21 says.  The word conveys the image of someone who goes from one extreme to another, dancing and leaping, and ends up the worse for it, i.e. lame and useless.

In the New Testament James 1:8 describes a double-minded man as one who doubts and is tossed about like on a wave of the sea.  James 3:10 also describes the impossibility of the same mouth simultaneously speaking both blessings and curses.  The extremes caused by doubt and a lack of firm faith cause someone to be worthless in his faith.  It’s the picture of sitting on a fence and not being able to choose which side to get off on.

As blood-bought believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).  Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:13 that having done everything, to stand firm.  We are not to waver in our faith.  Such belief is no belief – no true faith – at all.

Each one of us must make the determination that truly Christ is Lord.  He is not only our Savior, but the One who we must serve in our entirety.  When we walk in any other way, it is a poor substitute for what God desires and requires for us.

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