It is one of the most dramatic reversals of fortune in all of Bible history.
The fearless prophet in camel’s hair, who but a scant forty days earlier had faced down an apostate king and his horde of pagan accomplices, at whose petition the fire of the Lord had fallen from heaven, evoking from sin-shackled hearts the solemn pledge of reconsecration.
Now that selfsame prophet, his camel’s hair sweat-stained and travel-worn, cringes with fright in a rocky desert cave. No longer heaven’s fearless voice, but now a fear-convulsed refugee shivering at every crackle of the parched landscape about him, fearing perhaps that Jezebel’s guards might be closing in for the kill.
“What Doest Thou Here?”
We know the story.
God inquires of His wayward messenger, “’What doest thou here, Elijah?’ I sent you to the brook Cherith and afterward to the widow of Sarepta. I commissioned you to return to Israel and to stand before the idolatrous priests on Carmel, and I girded you with strength to guide the chariot of the king to the gate of Jezreel. But who sent you on this hasty flight into the wilderness? What errand have you here?” .
We can read the prophet’s answer in First Kings, chapter 19, verse 10:
And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left: and they seek my life, to take it away.
Then, of course, we have the brief drama of wind, earthquake, and fire, followed by the still small Voice. But what I wish to focus on in the reflections that follow is the reply God gives to His despairing servant, to the claim that he is the only faithful one left in Israel. We know it well.
Yet I have left Me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him (verse 18).
The Silent Seven Thousand
We are not told what went through Elijah’s mind when he heard these words. But I think we can guess. “Where were they?” he undoubtedly asked himself, “forty days ago, when I called for the covenant people to take their stand, either for God or for Baal? Where were they when I asked the solemn question:
How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow Him, but if Baal, then follow him (I Kings 18:21).
Why, the discouraged prophet must have thought, were those seven thousand every bit as silent in response to this appeal as the idol worshipers all around them?
It is in the context of describing this silence that Ellen White makes that signature statement of hers regarding neutrality in a spiritual crisis:
If God abhors one sin above another, of which His people are guilty, it is doing nothing in case of an emergency. Indifference and neutrality in a religious crisis is regarding of God as a grievous crime, and equal to the very worst type of hostility against God .
It helps to keep in mind the depth of apostasy to which Israel had sunk during this period. Orgiastic fertility rites, human sacrifices—which the worship of Baal called for in times of crisis —the wholesale slaughter of God’s prophets , probably the kind of injustice to which Naboth the Jezreelite was later subjected (I Kings 21:8-14), all had served to fill the nation’s cup of iniquity.
Yet none of these horrific acts are identified by the modern prophet as equaling “the very worst type of hostility against God” / Rather, the neutral silence of the multitude there on the slopes of Carmel, of which the otherwise faithful seven thousand were as guilty as their idolatrous neighbors, is identified as this most grievous of spiritual offenses.
Have you ever wondered why God didn’t send Elijah to one of those seven thousand for protection, instead of to s lonely wilderness creek and a pagan widow in a foreign land? Could it be that they were too cowardly to offer shelter to God’s prophet?
Seven thousand! Revolutions have begun with far fewer, at many times in world history. Why, we are constrained to ask, didn’t these seven thousand initiate one?
The Lure of Secret Faithfulness
During the time when opposition to the Vietnam War was growing, certain members of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration voiced private unease with the policy of intervention and its impact on the country, but nevertheless refused to go public with their concerns. Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, who would go on to publicly challenge Johnson for the presidential nomination in 1968, referred to these private protesters as the “Nicodemus Society”—obviously referring to the latter’s night visit to Jesus .
The story of Nicodemus, of course, ended well . But thoughtful reflection still constrains us to ask whether his course was the best, even though his efforts thwarted for a time the schemes of the Sanhedrin against Christ . The persistently vexing question posed by such circumstances is whether anonymity or a low profile on the part of prospective reformers is motivated more by a selfish guarding of one’s reputation or a wisely strategic pursuit of reformatory goals.
The true Christian, to be sure, must ever refrain from the assessment of others’ motives. After all, God alone can read the heart (I Kings 8:39). But this fact doesn’t relieve us of the duty of searching our own hearts and asking why so many of us hold our peace in moments of spiritual crisis in the faith community.
Long have the vocal faithful in the church been troubled by persons of like mind who hold positions of influence—some who serve on governing bodies in congregations or institutions—who choose silence at pivotal moments in discussions of sensitive issues merely because they don’t want to be “labeled.” (I’ve never quite understood this excuse, since speaking out on a controversial matter in almost any situation is likely to resulting in labeling by those with contrary opinions—of which there will always be some.) In our own time, anonymity in online discussions has become especially popular, due to fears on the part of certain ones that reputations, possible job promotions, even one’s employment, might hang in the balance if the identity of a spiritual truth-teller becomes known.
For myself, I tend to believe openness about godly convictions—on a church or institutional board, in a nominating committee, in perhaps some other governing circumstance in the denomination, or on some online forum—assists the development of grace and civility in a manner not learned either by keeping quiet or hiding behind a pseudonym. And the impact exerted by a calm, well-reasoned, deliberate defense of Bible truth will extend far and wide, even among persons whose minds appear to be made up. (Somehow I have the feeling Stephen couldn’t have imagined, while the rocks were flying, that the prosecutor holding the coats of his murderers would end up writing half the New Testament!)
The Footmen and the Horses
Arguments in favor of discretion and silence in controversial circumstances may hold greater and lesser degrees of validity in certain minds, but what comes to my own mind more often than not is the ancient, inspired wisdom of the prophet Jeremiah, in a verse I was taught to memorize as a child:
If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? (Jer. 12:5).
I can’t help thinking of this verse when I hear people defending anonymity or silence in situations of conflict in the church of today. What will these quiet, nameless persons do when confronted with the crisis of the last days? Is such a course on their part, when faced with potential consequences of a comparatively benign nature, truly preparing them to “stand for the right though the heavens fall”  when confronted with the prospect of “derision, insult, threatened imprisonment, and death” ?
Jesus’ counsel about being “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16) comes across less as a ruse for self-protection than as a strategy for reaching hearts. The Sacred Record offers little consolation to those who evade unpopular spiritual duty for reasons of temporal benefit.
Conclusion: Life and Lip United
That sternest of indictments delivered by the inspired pen against “neutrality in a religious crisis”  echoes across the centuries, especially as it includes those to whom God would later positively refer in an effort to revive the flagging courage of His once-fearless messenger (I Kings 19:18). One can only imagine the possible impact on apostate Israel had those silent seven thousand found their voice when addressed by Elijah on the slopes of Carmel (I Kings 18:21). If a mere ten righteous people could have saved wicked Sodom from destruction (Gen. 18:32), how far might the visible, audible witness of seven thousand righteous Israelites gone toward sparing the chosen nation from its eventual fate?
In our culture of “getting along by going along,” of success being defined by attempting to please as many and offend as few as possible, even the most consecrated can be tempted by the lure of sealed lips in the worst of crises. But the faithful of history’s last generation of believers “will not hold their peace when wrong is done, neither will they cover evil with a cloak of false charity” . Unlike the secret witness of those silent seven thousand, the final generation of the godly and victorious will manifest their Lord’s “character of love,” demonstrated through a long-awaited matching of the proverbial two ls—life and lip—“in words of truth and deeds of holiness” .
1. Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 168.
2. ----Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 281; see also Prophets and Kings, p. 148.
3. Will Durant, Caesar and Christ (New York: MJF Books, 1944), p. 42.
4. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 126.
5. ----Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 281.
6. Jules Witcover, The Year the Dream Died: Revisiting 1968 in America (New York: Warner Books, 1997), p. 36.
7. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 176-177; Acts of the Apostles, pp. 103-105.
8. ----The Desire of Ages, p. 176; Acts of the Apostles, p. 104.
9. ----Education, p. 57.
10. ----Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 136.
11. Ibid, vol. 3, p. 281.
12. ----Prophets and Kings, p. 675.
13. ----Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 415-416.
Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and does script writing for various evangelistic ministries within the denomination. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan