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Elijah

Spiritual Undulation

1 Kings 19

We come now to the great curiosity of Elijah’s life: his flight from Jezebel. Many have wondered how a man who saw fire fall from the heavens at his command – and had the courage to stand next to the altar as it did – could now run at such a threat. Perhaps it is as simple as C. S. Lewis makes it in his Screwtape Letters: it is the law of Undulation. After the bad times come the good; after the good times come the bad; we must be prepared to deal with both.

(1 Ki 19 NIV) Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. {2} So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them." {3} Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, {4} while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." {5} Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." {6} He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. {7} The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." {8} So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. {9} There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" {10} He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." {11} The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. {12} After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. {13} When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" {14} He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." {15} The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. {16} Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. {17} Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. {18} Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him." {19} So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. {20} Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. "Let me kiss my father and mother good-by," he said, "and then I will come with you." "Go back," Elijah replied. "What have I done to you?" {21} So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.

Elijah and Jezebel

The conflict between these two is dramatic, and raises interesting questions.

Why wasn’t Jezebel convinced?

It just might have occurred to Ahab to mention that fire fell from the sky. That, to most of us, would have been convincing. But we must remember that powerful events often fail to impress evil minds:

  • Great disasters are used of God to bring people back to him. But even then there are those who will not listen. We are in the midst of an epidemic of AIDS; the disease is spread entirely by sexual activity outside of Godly marriage. Do you hear anyone listening?
  • The same can be said of great religious fervor – though we do not see this in our time. In the age of great revivals, there are always some who are proud to be those who will not listen.
  • Perhaps such people – people of determined will, like Jezebel and like Elijah – can only be reached by the still small voice.
Why did she send a message – instead of an assassin?

OK, if you’re going to do the job, why do you send a Hallmark card first?

  • Some have suggested that she feared the people. If so, the assassin would have been her first thought – do it, do it quickly, and let people understand just who is ruler here.
  • Perhaps it was rage. Assassination is rather cold-blooded. Maybe she wanted to vent a little first.
  • Most likely, however, it is the desire to show who is in control – to call the shots, so to speak. That’s the central issue in this story: who’s in charge? God, or Jezebel?
Why did Elijah flee?

Now, this is a man who has just called down fire from heaven. Our first thought might be that he would just laugh at her. But he didn’t. Why?

  • First, despite recent events, he is aware that he is just a man, cognizant of his own weaknesses.
  • More importantly, there is a natural process in which “highs” are followed by “lows.” He’s had a tremendous high. Satan now moves in to attack during the following low.
The flight

In his run through the desert we can see two things which give us great hope in God:

  • First, God does not answer his prayer. We recall that he is the ultimate man of faith, the exemplar in the New Testament – and God says no. he will not take his life. When God says no, it usually means he has a better idea.
  • Next, we see that God’s supply will be made available for God’s purposes – even miraculously.

The Slough of Despond

We come now to the moments of self-pity, of despondency.

Elijah’s complaint

Elijah makes his complaint in three statements:

  • First, that he’s done a good job. He has, and God will reward that – but right now he’s trying to get God to admit that God is obligated. God isn’t.
  • Next, he says, the results have been zero. The logical conclusion is that I’ve been wasting my time.
  • And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re after my hide – the results are worse than zero.

Sounds pretty logical to us, doesn’t it? Have you heard it before?

God’s answer

It is worth noting that God – it seems to be a habit with him – does not answer Elijah’s complaints point by point. God, not Elijah, is setting the agenda in this meeting.

  • By the power displayed, he reminds Elijah that God is still God – and still sovereign. He will prevail.
  • He makes it clear that he still has things for Elijah to do. There is no point in complaining; you have work to do.
  • But – take heart, Christian – God controls the future. The battle you care so much about, and are so disheartened over, belongs to the Lord. It will go on after you leave, and it will go as God commands it.
How God deals with depression and failure

All of us will at one time or another face this. God deals with it in three ways:

  • By the show of his power – so that we might remember who is God.
  • By supplying our needs – so that we might remember that He cares for us.
  • By gentle rebuke – so that we might be corrected in love.

Lessons for the servant of God

I submit the following for the consideration of the servants of God:

God does not change

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever – and therefore we can count on Him.

  • He will continue to provide for us, physically and spiritually.
  • He will continue to love us and care for us, both in this life and in the one to come.
  • But – he will do it in his sovereign way; not necessarily the way we imagine is best.
God will change you – if you allow it
  • You must “come out of the cave.” If you hide in Elijah’s cave, God will challenge you to come out – but you must make the trip if he is to have his way with you.
  • When God speaks, it is personal. He called Elijah by name. He will call us by name. That means that he will speak to our personal actions and attitudes by his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit then will move in us to do his will.
God’s will must be done
  • Whether in the roar of power or the stillness of his voice, God’s will prevails.
  • Even those who are not believers – consider the list of those anointed by Elijah – will be used by God for his purposes.
  • At the end, God will raise up an Elisha to carry on the work. His work does not depend upon the lengths of our lives, nor our strength, nor our courage.

That last is good news to Elijah, for he is one who loves the work he has been given. If you truly love the work God has given you, then he will give you the joy of knowing that someone else will carry it on.

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