God speaks to Elijah
- Main Text: 1 Kings 19:1-18
- Accompanying text: John 12:27-28
“…the people in the Bible were not polite. Just the opposite at times. In the prophets, abuse, exaggeration, and even obscenity are perfectly acceptable modes of discourse. They use a lot of irony and sarcasm and even bawdy humour. In 1 Kings, for example, Elijah has an epic battle with the prophets of Baal. They spend hours chanting, dancing, even cutting themselves to invoke fire from their God. As their efforts prove fruitless, Elijah tells them to call louder. Maybe he’s ‘pre-occupied or he is busy, or he has gone on a journey; perhaps he is asleep and needs to be woken up!’ (I Kings 18:27). Many Jewish scholars believe that the phrase translated ‘gone on a journey’ actually means ‘on the toilet’…The prophets don’t moderate their language…” (1).
1 Kings 18 ends with another remarkable story. After the prophets of Baal had been slain without mercy, Elijah tells Ahab, king of Israel, to go quickly to party in Jezreel because, even though there is no sign of it, torrential rain is on its way — “in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel” (45-46 ESV UK). I wonder whether Elijah met Ahab as Ahab entered Jezreel, and Elijah taunted him, “See, I told you so. I said it would rain!” Thereafter “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword” (19:1), the outraged Jezebel determines to have Elijah slain in revenge for the slaughtered priests of Baal, and she sends a messenger to tell him so. “The spirit of the Israelite law was beyond the grasp of Jezebel the daughter of the king of Tyre, and she decided to instruct Ahab on how to ‘govern the kingdom of Israel’ (1 Kings 21:7)” (2).
Elijah flees to Beersheba in fear of his life. Beersheba was the southern limit of the two divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel, hence the phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” (Judges 20:1) was used to illustrate from the north to the south of the promised land. Elijah wants to get as far away as possible from Jezebel’s fury. So paranoid is Elijah that he goes into the desert, sits under a broom tree, and prays for God to take his life lest he fall into the clutches of Jezebel. Exhausted he falls asleep and is then woken up by angel with food and water. Elijah drifts off again and the angel of the I AM wakes him up again with food and drink before sending him on his way. Elijah then travels to Mount Horeb (Sinai), taking forty days and nights to do so (thus associating him with Moses?), where he spends the night in a cave.
It is in the cave that Elijah despairs once again. ‘What’s the point?’, he appears to think, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10). Three powerful events occur — a great and powerful type of tornado, an earthquake and a raging fire. What is Elijah to think? He has witnessed the power of God before: are they indicative of the presence of God? The well-known answer is that God was in the whisper that followed — the sound of a gentle breeze, God’s comforting presence in the calm. Elijah still has his concerns and fears, but he goes to the mouth of the cave, ready to resume God’s work. God gives him three anointing tasks to perform, including that of his successor, Elisha, and then God re-assures Elijah by asserting, “I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (19:18). Therefore, Elijah is not alone, he is not the only one left.
Thoughts re application today
After a few days of intense activity, it’s only human to feel a bit depleted. Even Jesus needed to rest far from the madding crowds that followed him. Sometimes pastors and ministers get the Monday blues when they feel a bit down and robbed of energy after the weekend’s work. Was Elijah exhausted after the encounter with the priests of Baal? Did he have an adrenalin low? Sometimes zealous courage can be followed by feelings of despondency. We don’t know all the details but, of course, Elijah had reason to fear. Would God rescue Elijah? Perhaps he expected a repeat of the miraculous fire from heaven that killed the Baal worshippers and that it would devour his pursuers. God, of course, often does the unexpected, and that’s what happens here. After all the bells and whistles of the tornado, the earthquake, and the fire, it’s just a still, small voice — without any drama at all.
Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This applies to all those caught up in the weariness of the world and to all of us involved in labouring for the Gospel’s sake. We can get exhausted and, in that state, let’s turn to Jesus. “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart…We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence…So we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1,8-9,14,16)”.
- 2 Corinthians 4
- Mark 4:35-41
Footnotes and references
- Nick Page, The Badly Behaved Bible: Thinking again about the story of Scripture, published by Hodder & Stroughton in the UK, 2019:122-123.
- Yohanan Aharoni, The Carta Bible Atlas, Fourth Edition, published by Carta books, Jerusalem, Israel in 2002:101.