Today’s Scripture Lesson: 1 Kings 19
On the Run: Elijah, the Slayer of Baal’s Prophets?
We join the story of Elijah, God’s prophet, right after the incredible destruction of the Baal worshippers. After king Ahab told queen Jezebel that Elijah had killed all the prophets of Baal, Jezebel sent a messenger threatening Elijah’s life. Upon hearing the news, Elijah ran south out of Jezreel to Beersheba to escape Jezebel’s wrath.
He sat down under a juniper tree in the wilderness and asked God to take his life. Soon, an angel came to meet Elijah and fed him. Knowing that Elijah was about to take a long journey, the angel returned and fed him again. After eating, Elijah traveled south for 40 days and nights into the Sinai peninsula, to go to the mountain of God called Horeb or Mt. Sinai.
Upon reaching the mountain, God asked Elijah a question – “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
The prophet was quick to respond with words that point to his own personal efforts, revealing his un-applauded pride and fear. He tells God, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Upon hearing these words, God told Elijah, “Go…stand on the mountain before the Lord.” As Elijah reached a cave in the mountain, God sent a great wind, an earthquake, and fire. The Bible tells us that God wasn’t in the wind. He wasn’t in the earthquake. And, God wasn’t in the fire.
After the fury had settled, Elijah stepped out of the cave where he had taken shelter and God asked the same question; “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Receiving the same question, Elijah gave the same answer.
This time, God gave Elijah a similar but different instruction. God told His prophet, “Go back the same way you came,” telling him of three men who needed to be anointed: two kings and the prophet who would be Elijah’s successor. Then, God’s final words to His lonely prophet must have caused great reflection on the ensuing journey back: “I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Have You Ever Run from a Victory into Fear?
I’m encouraged by God’s patience in this story; and to a degree, I’m amused by His creativity in driving home His message. Elijah had just come off of one of the greatest exhibitions of God’s power we see in the Old Testament. Now, he finds himself running away and begging to die after being threatened by some earthly authority.
God doesn’t get upset; instead, He sends an angel to strengthen and comfort His servant. Knowing this wouldn’t be enough to convince Elijah to stop focusing on his fear, leave his self-pity, and get back to being about his Father’s business, God fills him with enough nutrition for a forty-day journey. Upon reaching his destination, God simply asks His child, “What are you doing here?”
Following a bit of instruction, the Almighty releases three powerful forces of nature and withdraws Himself during the display. No voice in the rushing wind? No vision of Him in the fire? His voice didn’t rumble from the depths of the earth? No. He defies all of Elijah’s expectations. He remains silent and invisible during the mighty demonstration for the man standing on the same mountain where God spoke through forces of nature to his servant and friend, Moses.
When God finally speaks again, He asks the same question He asked Elijah when the prophet had not yet climbed the mountain. “What are you doing here?” This question calls to mind a statement and a question Jesus made several times to His disciples: “O ye of little faith. Do you not know . . . ?”
In other words, Jesus was asking His disciples, as God was asking His prophet, “Where is your faith?”
In asking the question and in giving Elijah the charge to return and serve 7,000 people in Israel, God was saying to him, “I know you believe in My power, but you have a problem trusting My faithfulness.”
God was reminding Elijah that he doesn’t see what his Creator sees, nor does he know what his Creator knows. At the heart of this question, God was asking, “Where is your faith; is your faith in this mountain where I met Moses; is your faith in miraculous signs, or is your faith in Me? Isn’t My voice, My Word, enough?”
Where is Your Faith, Team?
Faith and belief are two parts of one whole. They aren’t separate. They aren’t equal. They are one.
Having said that, we tend to lean one way or the other because, while they are one, they have two different areas of focus. Belief focuses on power, signs, and miracles. Faith focuses on God’s sovereignty, authority, and faithfulness. Elijah wasn’t lacking in belief; it was his faith that came into question when he turned his focus toward Jezebel’s authority.
SO, WHAT’S THE PLAY CALL?
Elijah traveled 40 days seeking a sign that he would be OK. Jesus told the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 16:4, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign…”
I wonder if that caused any of them, or us, to reflect on what He told the crowd to do in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
As you seek His righteousness, consider your faith and your belief. Pray over the words of David from Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts.”