There he [Elijah] went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.’
1 Kings 19:9-10 (NIV)
Read: 1 Kings 19
Consider: Elijah had come from a great victory over the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18) and had been confronted by Jezebel’s threat to kill him. In 1 Kings 19:3 we are told: ‘Elijah was afraid and ran for his life’. This was a man who had seen an awesome demonstration of the power of God and the weakness of the god Baal. Within a very short time he had gone from the heights of victory to the depths of despair.
I like to think that 1 Kings 19 contains details about the human side of Elijah’s character. It would be very easy to put Elijah on a pedestal because of the great things he did as a prophet of the Lord, but this passage shows us he is just human after all.
Twice in 1 Kings 19 God asks Elijah, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ And twice he gives the same answer, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.’
This might seem a normal reaction to the danger posed by Jezebel’s threat to his life, but look at what precedes these encounters with God. Before his first encounter with God at Horeb he had been fed by an angel so as to strengthen him for the journey. In verse 8 we are told that he then travelled for forty days and nights before entering a cave at the mountain. At Horeb, God met with him twice and in both instances asked him the question that made Elijah look back negatively to what had happened to him previously. God’s response wasn’t to chide Elijah for his unbelief, but to give him a demonstration of his power that revealed who he was. While God is very powerful, he revealed himself in the gentle whisper (still small voice).
Both encounters with God reveal how God understands human nature. Despite this he doesn’t patronise Elijah, but asks him to go to the Desert of Damascus where he was to anoint Hazael and Jehu as kings, and also anoint Elisha to be his successor as prophet. What Elijah had to learn through his encounters with God was that his work for God didn’t end at the victory over the prophets of Baal. God had more for him to do and only God could provide him with the strength to fulfil his purposes.
Pray: Father, protect us from the negative feelings that can come so easily after a victory for you. Help us to feed on you to renew our strength, so that we can continue to do your will. Amen