There is no doubt that Elijah was a great man of God, an outstanding prophet.
He was so in God’s heart that God himself appeared to Elijah (First Kings 19:9b), and at the end of his life, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, on a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire (Second Kings 2:11). In the New Testament, Elijah appeared with Moses to meet with Jesus at his transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). Even although the disciples of Jesus had never met Elijah, they could recognise him.
But when we read Scripture about Elijah, we find, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, that Elijah was really just like one of us in many regards.
In First King’s 18:19 we read of the confrontation on Mount Carmel as Elijah challenged the enemy saying “now send and gather to me all Israel to Mount Carmel, and four hundred and fifty of the prophets of Baal, and four hundred of the prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” This was to be a showdown of “Biblical” proportions, as to whose God was greater. ”And Elijah came to all the people and said, How long are you limping over two opinions? If Jehovah is God, follow Him. But if Baal is God, then follow him. And the people did not answer him a word” (v21). When all the people we gathered “Elijah said to the people, I, I alone, remain a prophet of Jehovah. But Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. And let them give us two bulls, and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it on wood. But place no fire. And I will dress the other bull and lay it on wood, and place no fire. And you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of Jehovah. And it shall be, the god that answers by fire, He is God. And all the people answered and said, The word is good” (v22-24). And so it came to pass, but no matter what the prophets of Baal did, the offering was not consumed by fire. “And it happened at noon Elijah mocked them and said, Cry with a great voice, for he is a god. Either he is meditating, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey; perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened! And they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves with knives and spears until the blood gushed out on them, as is their way. And it happened when midday was past, and when they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor anyone who paid attention” (v27-29). But try as they might, the prophets of Baal could not bring fire to consume the offering.
Then Elijah called on his helpers to douse with water his offering and the wood on which it lay. They doused the alter three times as Elijah’s command, such that the water filled the trench around it. Then as Elijah prayed “the fire of Jehovah fell and burned up the burnt sacrifice and the wood, and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw, they fell on their faces. And they said, Jehovah, He is the God! Jehovah, He is the God! “ (v38-39). Then Elijah said to them, “take the prophets of Baal. Do not let one of them escape. And they took them. And Elijah brought them down to the torrent Kishon and killed them there” (v40).
Elijah then got onto his knees and prayed and prayed and soon the drought which has been over the land for three years was broken. As the rains began, the Spirit of the Lord came on Elijah and he ran supernaturally fast a distance of six miles to give King Ahab a last chance to turn from his sin before joining Jezebel in Jezreel.
Here we are, with Elijah having just having beaten 450 Baal prophets and priests in a show-down before all the people, having prayed and broken a drought and having run six miles at record speed, despite his age, to beat all those even on horseback. But suddenly, this was all of no avail to him. These victories, these supernatural miracles, signs and wonders meant nothing when in v19:2 we read that Elijah received a message from his nemesis Jezebel saying “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” What happened next is worthy of study and understanding.
As soon as Elijah received the message (v3-4) “he rose and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba of Judah, and left his servant there. And he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he begged for his life, that he might die. And he said, It is enough. O Jehovah, take away my life. For I am no better than my fathers.”
That single message, that single threat from Jezebel totally and completely “unhinged” Elijah and he plunged from elation (if that describes his condition) to abject numbing fear and terror. What had happened? One day he was on top of the world, having defeated and killed 450 Baal prophets and priests, broken a drought and having run six miles at record speed. His thoughts reveal all:
1 I am worthless :- “For I am no better than my fathers (v4).”
2 I am hopeless :- “He rose and went (ran) for his life (v3).”
3 I am isolated :- “I am the only prophet left alive (v10).”
4 I am in danger of my life :- “They are trying to kill me! (v10)”
5 I am unable to cope :- “I have had enough (v4).”
6 I am in fear :- “He begged for his life (v4).”
7 I want to die :- “Take my life (v4).”
What could possibly have caused this turnaround in his demeanour? I suggest it was simply that his “will” was depleted.
We use a number of phrases to describe the will, one of which is “will power.” Will power can be a formidable property initially, but is has a short sustaining capacity. A will can be “broken”. A will can be “given up”. A will can be “lost”. Our will is great for the short term is decision making and getting things started – but it wears out quickly and is not great for sustaining situations in the medium and long term. To do that, we need other resources, visions, dreams, ideals, commitment, love, all of which can help us sustain for the long haul grind, after the initial will power is depleted. As will power can be depleted, it can also be restored, but this takes time. We use phrases such as ‘she regained the will to live…’ or ‘a new-found will which enabled her to……” to describe this. But when a will is lost or completely exhausted, it takes a lot of work to restore it.
First Kings 18:15 demonstrates the power of Elijah’s will as he says “I serve the LORD All-Powerful. As surely as he lives, I promise that I will stand before the king today.” Here he is making decisions, he is committing himself, he is using his will power and all this in ongoing life endangering situations, one after the other. Secondly, other than his servant, (who only appears in on the scene after the Baal prophets had been vanquished), Elijah had been alone, has been in hiding, and has been under constant persecution and fear of his life for years.
When the message from Jezebel arrived and Elijah sank into fear and depression, God did not immediately intervene. Instead He let the natural God-given human healing process start, before initiating divine healing. As we saw in vv19:3-4, Elijah arose and ran to Beer-sheba and after leaving his servant there, went one day’s journey into the desert and far beyond the territory of Ahab, before coming to a rest under a broom tree, his sole protection from the blazing heat of the sun. All in all, a fairly typical human male response to an overwhelming situation fear and dread beyond his control. Only then, did he feel secure and collected enough to sit quietly and call upon the Lord his God. Again a typical human male response: first we allow ones natural instincts to take control, before asking God for help.
God was also showing Elijah that when he was bold and strong, it was when he was in the Lord and in the power of His might. By himself and of himself, he was, as Elijah rightly said, no better than his fathers. God knows what He designs us for; we do not. What services, what trials we will undertake, we cannot know, but He will ensure we are furnished with grace sufficient for the tasks we are to undertake for Him.
Once Elijah has gathered his thoughts, calmed down and turned at last to God, God responded immediately by sending him an angel to care for him and provide him with food and drink which “he ate and drank and then went back to sleep (19:6).” Later, theAngel awoke him and told him to eat again and prepare for a long trip, “So Elijah got up. He ate and drank and felt strong. Then Elijah walked for 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God” (19:8). God is a great healer, so after food and drink He caused Elijah to sleep so He could begin to fully restore his spirit and his will and excise the life killing thoughts. On Mount Horeb, God gave Elijah an epiphany, a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, as “the LORD said to Elijah, “Go, stand in front of me on the mountain. I, the LORD, will pass by you (19:11).” God revealed Himself to Elijah. Talk about a confidence booster!
God then restored hope in Elijah to new levels and depths as He said to Elijah in vv15-18 “Go back. Take the road that leads to the desert around Damascus. Go into Damascus and anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Then anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel. Next, anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah. He will be the prophet who takes your place. Jehu will kill anyone who escapes Hazael’s sword, and Elisha will kill anyone who escapes from Jehu’s sword. I still have 7000 people in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed that idol.“ Here God filled Elijah’s future with hope as He promised to be there with him. Next God told Elijah that we would no longer be working alone, but other would share the work; Elijah was no more isolated. Finally, God was confirming that He still has a plan for Elijah and that a mission for God was still before him. God met all the concerns of Elijah, one after another.
By comparison to the words and promises of God, the taunting message from Jezebel was now meaningless, long distant and of no importance or consequence. For years, Elijah had thought his problem was Jezebel, but as God ministered to him, he came to realise that the problem actually resided only in his own head and his own wrong thoughts. When compared with the reality of a revealed God, we can see that our real enemy, our real challenges in this life, are what we think and what we imagine in our minds.
If God could change Elijah, he can certainly change us too! We are a reflection of how and what we think. True changes must begin in our minds and in our thoughts, as we prepare to live these changes out in actions.
Amen and Amen.
Dear Heavenly Father,
As You changed the mind of Elijah in the desert and on Mount Horeb, I now invite You into the deserts and Mount Horebs of my mind and of my life. I willingly lay them before You here and now. I pray that You will renew in me a new focus on You, and help me overcome all my unbelief. Help me Lord, as You helped Elijah, to recognise that it is all about You and not about me. Help me to understand and remember that without You, I am no greater than my ancestors, but with You, I can fulfil my destiny. Please reveal Yourself to me Lord, and change and turn around my life, as You changed and turned around his.
In the mighty name of Jesus I pray, Amen and Amen.