The eighteenth chapter of 1 Kings concludes with an enormous victory to the glory of God. God has revealed himself as the true and living God. The people of Israel are confessing, “The Lord, he is God!” The 450 prophets of Baal have been seized and slaughtered, according to the command of the Lord. Now the drought is over. A great rain has poured down on the land of Israel. But the restoration of the nation is very short lived and the joy of victory ends quickly. Jezebel sends a message to Elijah: “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Elijah just became number one of the most wanted list in Israel. Jezebel tells him that he does not have another 24 hours to live and she has the power to do it. Verse 3 records the scene. Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. He travels all the way to Beersheba, one of the southernmost cities in Judah. Then he travels another day’s journey into the wilderness. We have seen the great faith of Elijah throughout this study. He trusted God to feed him by ravens. When the brook runs dry, Elijah trusted God to provide for him through a widow who is about to die. He trusted God to answer by fire on Mount Carmel.
However, we see the spiritual dullness of the human heart, not of Elijah, but of Ahab and Jezebel. Rather than seeing the power of God revealed by fire consuming the altar, Ahab tells Jezebel that Elijah killed the prophets of Baal. Rather than seeing the miracle, rather than seeing the true and living God, he simply sees that God has taken away his fun. This is not what Ahab wanted and Jezebel is going to rectify the situation by killing Elijah. Once in the wilderness, Elijah asks God to take his life because he is not better than his fathers. I want us to consider that this is not a prophet wallowing in self-pity. We are not reading about a prophet like Jonah who is running away from the Lord. Rather, he is admitting defeat. I have been unable to turn the hearts of the people and leaders like those before me. Elijah’s time has come. Lord, rather than letting Jezebel get her hands on me, please take my life instead. We are reading a broken prophet who has “hit bottom,” as we would say. The revival for the Lord has failed. Wickedness still reigns. Elijah’s life is in jeopardy. If Elijah returns to the nation, he is dead.
Dealing With Defeat
I want us to see the graciousness of God in dealing with Elijah. As Elijah is going into the wilderness, God does not strike him dead. He does not unleash wrath on Elijah. Notice the prescription for Elijah after hitting bottom and seeing no hearts turn to the Lord. First, notice God affords Elijah the opportunity to regroup. Notice that Elijah goes to sleep for awhile. An angel wakes him up and tells him to eat. There God provides baked bread and a jar of water. These are not things found in the wilderness. God is being compassionate and gracious toward Elijah. Then the angel tells Elijah to eat again for the long journey ahead of him. It is time to go to the mountain of the Lord. When dealing with spiritual defeat and spiritual letdown, take a breath, regroup, and turn to the Lord.
Once Elijah reaches a cave in Mount Sinai, the Lord comes to him and asks him what he is doing there. Clearly, God cannot be asking why Elijah is in the cave at Sinai because the angel told him to go to Sinai. This is not a question of physical location, but a question of spiritual location. Elijah’s response helps us understand where Elijah is at. “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword!” I’m zealous for the Lord, but no one else around here is! And they are going to kill me because of my zeal for you! We are reading the spiritual frustration of Elijah. No one is giving their lives to the Lord. They are all following after idols. No one is making sacrifices to serve the Lord. No one is loving the Lord with all their hearts. They are breaking the covenant and killing the people who are trying to obey your word.
God tells Elijah to go outside the cave. God then unleashes a display of his power. Notice the words, “The Lord passed by.” A great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces as the Lord passed by. Then an earthquake occurred. Then a fire breaks out. But then there is a soft, calm voice. It seems that God reveals himself to Elijah as the God of power and comfort. You are not alone, Elijah. God is with you. With this, God asks Elijah again, “What are you doing here?” Again, God is asking about Elijah’s spiritual perspective. Are you ready, Elijah? Interestingly, Elijah is not ready yet. He gives the exact same answer that he gave earlier. No one cares about you. I’m the only one trying around here.
God in his great compassion continues to encourage his prophet. He tells Elijah to carry out God’s plan. In fact, if you notice the answer God gives, God is agreeing with the sad, wicked situation in Israel. He is going to have Elijah anoint some people so that judgment will come against Israel. Notice in verse 17 the decree of judgment against Israel. Verse 18 furthers that image. God does not say that there are 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Rather, God is going to leave a remnant and that remnant consists of the 7000 who have not bowed their knees to Baal. God is not done with these people. God is going to act for his own glory and his own purposes. God has a plan and Elijah is responsible for carrying out the plan and not giving up. We need this reminder to not give up even when our great expectations are shattered and we do not see God working.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9 ESV)
As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV)
We need perseverance in our work. Just because we cannot see the plan of God does not mean that God is not working in this place or have a plan for this community. God knows what is happening. God has not left us. Even when things are not going according to plan, God is able to overcome anything and accomplish his plans. It is our job to continue to do the work.
Further, God recognizes that we need help. We are not called to do the work all by ourselves. Moses needed help and God gave him elders to help him lead and judge the people. Elijah needs help and God is appointing Elisha to work with him and be his eventual successor. We must work together. We can easily become discouraged in our spiritual walk, either as individuals or as a group. We need to lift one another up and carry the load so that the work does not fall on one individual. We need to think about how we can be an Obadiah (like we saw in last week’s lesson) and take advantage of opportunities to do the work.
Finally, we continue to recharge our spiritual battery by knowing that there are many others who are serving the Lord. We are not alone in our struggle for the Lord. It is so easy to feel like we are alone. But we need to know that there are many servants of God who we do not know and do not see who are giving everything they have in serving the Lord. We are not alone.
God asks us the same question today. What are you doing here? Where are you spiritually? Have we gone off into the wilderness out of spiritual discouragement? Though we do not always see God at work, he has not left us alone. Listen to the encouragement from the writer of Hebrews:
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3 ESV)
Look to what Jesus endured and do not give up in your work. See the persistent endurance of Jesus as the model and encouragement for us to not give up or check out. We are called to be zealous for the Lord and give him our heart every day with great resolve and endurance. Further, let us not be discouraged by the faithlessness of others. It is going to happen. As sad and depressing it is, there will always be people who will choose not to have a passion for Jesus. Finally, we should be fearful that we may be such a stumbling block and cause of discouragement by our lack of passion and devotion. Our fellowship is supposed to be encouraging. But it can quickly because discouraging when people show a lack of interest, attention, devotion, and zeal for the teaching of God’s word. We must not grow weary. We must continue to press forward because God is with us.