After the apparent success of chapter 18 of 1st Kings on Mt Carmel, we find Elijah succumb to discouragement in chapter 19. It begins by the death threat pronounced against him by queen Jezebel, and we read: “And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (vs 3-4). Discouragement in ministry is one of the Devil’s favorite tools; I once heard an anecdote about this:
The Devil was having a garage sale, and on display were all his usual vices, lust, envy, pride, anger, greed etc. but at the back, all covered over was something that couldn’t quite be seen. An enquirer asked him what it was. “Oh that’s not for sale the Devil replied”. Now even more curious, the enquirer pressed him further as to what it was. Again the Devil replied that it was not for sale, drawing the enquirer’s attention to the vices on display in front of him. “All these other things are up for sale” the Devil said, “but I need to keep that one”. “But what is it” the enquirer asked, thinking to himself “what could be so important?”. The Devil conceded and removed the cover from his prized possession, “this one is ‘discouragement’ – my favourite tool” the Devil replied. “You can have any of the others, but I cannot let go of my most effective tool!”
Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon specifically about this subject, said:
“Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy… Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth?”
It was no doubt because wicked Jezebel seemed unshaken, after all that had been accomplished on Carmel, that Elijah had come to this place. After the euphoria of seeing the nation turn back to God, Elijah would have expected to see sweeping reforms, and even the removal of Jezebel.
Oswald Chambers comments: “Elijah did an actually cowardly thing, yet he was not a coward. He ran away because he was absolutely baffled, he could not understand what God was doing. We cannot judge men by what they actually do, because the reasons of two men who do the same thing may be entirely different. Another man might have run away because he was a craven coward. Elijah fled because it seemed as if he had been let down by God in everything in which he had stood for Him”.
God, however, had not given up on Elijah, and takes him to Horeb, the ‘mountain of God’ in Arabia, where Moses had received the Law, and where Israel had camped for two years after leaving Egypt. Here God asks Elijah a question: “What are you doing here Elijah?” (v9).
When God asks a question, it is not because He needs your help with something He doesn’t know! If God asks a question it is because he wants to get us to think!
For Elijah everything was then literally shaken, as God sends a strong wind that shook the mountain, followed by an earthquake, followed in turn by a consuming fire. God will do the same in our lives to, and as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, God will shake the things that can be shaken so that what cannot be shaken will remain (Heb 12:26-27), and we are told that our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). Finally, when all the self confidence and pretence is stripped away, Elijah ears a still small voice, and now that He has got Elijah’s attention, He asks the question again: “What are you doing here Elijah?” ‘What led you to this place?’
Why ask the same question twice? To get Elijah to think.
Firstly and hint of self-reliance had to be stripped away, but then God wanted Elijah to think through the situation.
What was he doing there? He was there because he had fled from Jezebel.
Why did he flee? Because Jezebel wanted to kill him.
Why did she want to kill him? Because he had killed the prophets of Baal and humiliated the king of Israel.
Why had Elijah done that? ? Because the nation and king had rejected the word of the Lord and gone after false gods.
How had Elijah done that? By praying for the rain to cease for three and a half years.
Why did he do something that audacious? Because it was decreed in God’s Word – the Law.
Suddenly Elijah is brought face to face with the burning zeal that had led him to boldly confront Ahab in the first place, His love for God’s word.
At the start Elijah had trusted God, regardless of the outcome. At the start he had not been focussed on external success, but on his own obedience to God’s call! The outcome is in God’s hands, obedience is our part.
Have you lost your way, being confused by the circumstances? Have things not worked out as you expected at the start? God wants to remind you to not forget how zealous you were for Him at the start (see Rev 2:4-5). Do you remember when you first became a Christians? Do you recall the passion and excitement, the burning desire to tell others? Do you remember the joy you found when you used to pick up your Bible and hear God’s still small voice?
Like Elijah we to often end up becoming ‘results oriented’, and forget that we are simply called to obey, walk by faith, and leave the rest to God.
Today as you read this, are you going to finish what you’ve started? Are you going to leave off building your tower and others mock? (Luke 14:28-29). Are you wallowing in self-sympathy like Elijah? Remember that Jesus was despised and rejected of men, yet in obedience to His Father gave it all. Jesus did not quit or give up, but went to the cross for you (Heb 12:3).
You may not understand what God is doing right now, and just like Elijah it may seem like you are all alone, but God’s arm is never shortened (Isaiah 59:1).
(Read God’s full response to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:15-18.)
“Then came the command—“Go, return. . . .” God sent Elijah right back, after giving him an extraordinary heartening, to do what He had told him. The haphazard may tumble about as it likes now; Elijah has learned that God’s order comes that way” – Oswald Chambers.