1 Kings 19:9b:  “And the word of the Lord came to him:  ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”


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 perfect wholeness.


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 that.


Thank you, God, for helping me see beyond myself when I am overwhelmed.  Amen.




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