Call me crazy, but I love the Elijah
stories. Tomorrow in church we’ll be
talking about his colorful battle with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, but
for today I go to the next scene in the next chapter. The Queen of the Northern
Kingdom, Jezebel, didn’t much like the fact that Elijah had
slaughtered all the prophets of her favorite god, and you’ll have to admit it
wasn’t a particularly diplomatic move.
So now the Queen has it out for Elijah and wants to kill him, and he
bolts out into the desert wilderness.
Elijah is coming off a great victory. In the “My god can beat the pants off of your
god” battle, it’s Yahweh-1, Baal-0. You
wouldn’t have known it during the contest where Elijah is full of bravado, but
the ensuing days show that although the victory was huge and the power of
Yahweh was validated, Elijah is depressed.
We find him in chapter 19 sitting under a broom tree in the desert
basically saying, “That’s it, God. I’m
done. I’m of no use to anyone, just kill me now so we can all move on.”
Boy, have I been there! There are times, whether in ministry or in
other forms of work, when we manage to accomplish a major feat but start to
feel like we’re in it alone. One
challenge might have been met with great success, but the challenges don’t stop
coming, and sometimes the successes bring as much difficulty as the initial
challenge. And we run to our desert and
say, “That’s it. I’m done. I can’t keep running this race by myself.” That’s where Elijah is in chapter 19, and in that fit of depression, God steps in with an
angel…twice. The angel doesn’t say much…just
brings some food and water and tells him to eat.
Elijah does eat and then travels for 40 days
and nights. I can’t say whether it was
really 40 days and nights, but when that number appears in Scripture, it’s a
symbol of a long, difficult time. Coming
out of depression is not easy…it starts with self care and then there is a long,
hard journey out. Elijah’s journey
brings him to Mt. Horeb, otherwise known as Mt. Sinai,
where Moses first saw the burning bush and where the Israelites received the
Ten Commandments. And here, God shows
up. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” As if God didn’t know. Elijah pours out his complaint. God’s response is a reminder of God’s
power. God “passes by” Elijah’s cave and
Elijah experiences rock-shattering wind, earthquake, and fire. And then silence. Elijah comes out of his cave and God asks
again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
But Elijah missed the point of God’s power
display and simply re-iterates his complaint.
God responds simply with his next tasks…”Go anoint a couple of new kings
and your successor. Oh, and by the way,
you are not the only one. There are
still 7,000 who are true to me.” Seven
is also a symbolic number in the Bible…it is the number of completion and
In all of it, God is trying to remind Elijah
that it is not Elijah’s work, but God’s…a theme that recurs again and again in
Scripture. Work with and for God is
never work that is done alone, and we very rarely get to see the whole picture
as God sees it. We see only the portion
that is given to us at a particular point in time. Elijah fears the wrath of Jezebel, but God’s
wind, earthquake, and fire are a hearty reminder that Jezebel is a puny force
compared to the One who has Elijah’s back.
This story helps me remember that even God’s
greatest prophets had their bad days, but it also helps me to see that God
neither condemns nor coddles in that time.
God doesn’t blast Elijah for being overwhelmed by the work, but neither
does God sit down and join the pity party.
God provides nourishment and strength and then is at the ready both with
the next task and a reminder that we are not alone, despite our limited vision
at the time. There are times when I need
Thank you, God, for helping
me see beyond myself when I am overwhelmed. Amen.