By William Sexton.
If the phrase "a prophet of God" is spoken, the Bible student would likely think of Elijah. He was a powerful prophet in the Old Testament; when Jesus was transfigured before certain of the apostles (Mt. 17:1-5). He appeared with Elijah to represent the prophets Jesus referred to his acts (Lk. 4:24-26); James mentioned him as evidence of the powerful effect of a righteous man's prayer (Jas. 5:16-18); Paul pointed to him as one being mistaken about his lonely state because many faithful peoples were serving God (Rom. 11:2-5).
Elijah was a great prophet, who achieved much, giving evidence that he was serving God and that God is powerful (1 Kings 18:21-46). He spoke out against evil, opposed the prophets of Baal, as a spokesman for God. Yet, Elijah was a human, with the weaknesses which characterize mankind. He was, like most of us are at some time, tempted to drop out and give up (1 Kings 19:1-21).
The character of this man and the occasion in his life (just after achieving a great victory) make us unprepared for what he does in this respect! Yet, I suspect that here is just one case of the many in the word of God which point each of us to self-examination, to discover our humanness, We sometimes miscalculate reality! If Elijah, a prophet of God could and did so misperceive things, then certainly we ought to recognize that we, too, may do the same and be in need of assistance!
He manifested his courage and determination in (1) announcing to wicked Ahab that there was going to be neither "dew nor rain" (1 Kings 17: 1) due to the evil behaviour of the king, (2) challenging the people to make a choice to decide whether the Jehovah is God or Baal and to follow the real one (1 Kings 18:21ff). He had manifested his kindness and relationship to God in dealing with the widow and her child (1 Kings 17:17-24).
Depression after Having Gained A Decisive Victory
Elijah called the people together and asked for the prophets of Baal to call on their god to manifest himself to show that he was alive, able, and willing to respond to their needs. this allowed all to witness the complete failure of Baal. After the failure of Baal and his prophets, Elijah called on the Lord God and He responded, burning the sacrifice and drying up the water. This was a powerful demonstration of God's power and Elijah's relationship to Him. It would seem reasonable to expect all observers and knowledgeable people to recognize the power manifested and submit to it. One would expect Elijah to be elated, walking on cloud nine!
Yet when his work was conveyed to the king's wicked wife, Jezebel, she promised to continue her opposition and resistance to him (1 Kings 19:2-3). With his experience and recent victory over Baal's four hundred prophets, we would expect him to face up to the threat, pointing to the fact that God had manifested Himself in such a powerful way that it would be foolish and fatal to oppose Him in the manner she was threatening. However, we are surprised again! He runs for his life!
His Action of Requesting to Die
It is hard to understand that this character at this time would run away from such a one as Jezebel and sit down under a tree requesting "for himself that he might die. . . " (19:4). Even with such behaviour, the Lord did not let him have his request. He sent an angel who "touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat." He was strengthened and travelled for forty days and nights to Horeb, the mount of God (19:8).
Yet, Elijah was not ready and prepared to face reality. Rather, he went into a cave. The Lord, as He had done before, challenged him as to what he was doing there. The answer was not really a response: "I have been jealous for the Lord of Host: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and 1, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away" (19:10, 14).
Truly, Elijah had been jealous for the Lord and such was both good and correct. It was sad that the people of Israel had forsaken the covenant, thrown down the altars built to God and slain the prophets. However, the question addressed to Elijah was: "What doeth thou here?" Why are you here and what are you doing here? Now, not yesterday or days gone by, is the period of time in question.
This is a rather common problem or response, I'm afraid, for any or all of us! We become obsessed with a response that is not really pertinent. When asked a question, we repeat that response!
Lessons to Be Learned From Elijah's Action
I believe that we all can learn some valuable lessons from this account of his behaviour on this occasion; perhaps that is the reason that it is recorded and preserved for us.
1. Like Elijah, all of us fail at times to live up to what we should do based on our knowledge and experience. Quite often, the unreasoned behaviour occurs shortly after a victory! Man is more vulnerable right after a battle, even one which he has won! He is exhausted, with his guard down!
Many people have dropped out after great achievements! We expect an inexperienced person to become discouraged and give up and/or in; but the man who has been on the firing line and gained many battles of significance, too, can be overcome!
Each of us need to be challenged: "What doeth thou here?" We need to be challenged, repeatedly till we get off that obsession! We need, to have the significance of that challenge to penetrate our conscience!
2. Christians, like Elijah, need to see that there is and will remain temptations, but there is no justification for dropping out, till God calls us home!
We need, therefore, to allow the double challenge to sink in: Just what are we doing where we are? It does not matter how much we have done; rather, it's what are we doing now? There is never a time when we can stop and rely on the past record - till our time alloted here expires, and God is the judge and determiner of that.
3. Like Elijah, we need to climb a mountain, get a different view!
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord, And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountain, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice .... And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on the way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou cometh, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: and Jehu the son of Nimshi shall thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-me-holah shall thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. 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 (19:11-12, 15-18).
It is evidence that Elijah has miscalculated: he was not the only one left faithfully serving God! Seven thousand others were alive and serving. We, too, when we get so discouraged, thinking that we are the only one left, need to look again! Somewhere, out of our sight, there are others!
At times we need to climb a mountain and get a view from a different prospective! Hear the Lord say, "Go!" Get back into the stream of activity! Go about doing your job, and see that you can still do something for the Lord's cause! We can assist others. We can still tell the story of Jesus (Mt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16).
Every person who has served God, will at times feel as Elijah, feel like dropping out! I'm no better than the others who have gone before me, they suffered and died, I might as well die now! But the Lord is the, only one who can decide that accurately. So, let us keep on being faithful as long as we are allowed to live and serve. Let us ask ourselves: are we doing what we can now according to His word and directions?