In I Kings 17-18, we find the record of Elijah at his prophetic high point. We watch him call for famine on the land of Israel because of sin in the ruling leadership. We see him having miraculous provision from God's hand through ravens and then a widow. In chapter 18, we find Elijah confronting not only wicked King Ahab, but also the 450 prophets of the false god baal. The fire of God falls on his rebuilt altar in response to Elijah's prayer and a national revival is sparked. Truly, we could make camp at any of these prophetic places and pull great spiritual principles from each step on the path. What intrigued me is what happened next--in I Kings 19.
Elijah gets a message from the corrupt Queen Jezebel that she will surely kill him. So what does the powerful man of God, whose prayers have moved the very hand of the Almighty God, do when faced with such a threat? He does what most of us would have done...he runs. Let us glean some spiritual principles from this part of Elijah's narrative.
Elijah comes out of a spiritual victory the likes of which few of us have actually known. He takes off his prophetic persona. When the message from Jezebel reaches him, he is not Elijah the prophet, he is only Elijah the man. He has indeed done a mighty work but knows he was just the instrument, not the power itself. He is tired and has won for himself powerful enemies. Elijah looks a lot like us--overwhelmed and a little depressed. Anytime we come through spiritual battles and especially great victories, we must be alert. This tends to be a place of weariness and often the place of great attack. If we will be used by God, we can be sure we will attract the unwanted attention of the devil. It is a time we need to carefully rest in God and seek Him in prayer.
In verse 3, we are told that when Elijah received Jezebel's message, he was afraid, arose, and ran. Looking from the outside of the story, we want to say, "Elijah, Man of God, don't you remember how God answered your prayers on Mount Carmel?" But we don't find any evidence that Elijah even prayed at this juncture. He was afraid, he arose, he ran. That is what the scripture records. Anytime we let fear drive us, we will make the same kind of choice. Many times in the Word, Old and New Testament, God's chosen people are told, "Do not fear". Fear strips away reason and faith. It causes us to run from the devil's threats instead of standing firm in the knowledge that we are endowed with the mighty Holy Ghost's power. Fear causes us to REACT to our circumstance instead of ACTING on the basis of God's promises.
When reading on through verse 4, we find that when Elijah came to Beersheba, he left his servant and continued a day's journey into the wilderness. When we are in this place of spiritual tiredness and depression, we tend to isolate ourselves from the people who could strengthen us. It is a lonely place. We make the enemy's attack much easier by getting far away from the care of our loved ones and church family. Anyone who has ever seen a nature show knows that the lion always chooses the little gazelle who has strayed from the herd to be his prey.
Sitting in the wilderness under the juniper tree, Elijah lifts up a heart's cry that most of us are far too familiar with, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life."
It is the cry of one who is weary and overwhelmed. Life is just too hard to deal with at this place. God doesn't respond to Elijah by chastising him for his lack of faith when facing Jezebel. He doesn't berate him for being eager to end his labors--even those done for God Himself. He doesn't gripe at Elijah for separating himself for everyone who might have encouraged him. God tenderly and loving sends an angel to feed Elijah. That food gave Elijah the strength for the difficult journey ahead. God responds to us in the same way. We cry in our weariness, ready to give up and He feeds us. No chastisement comes, and He doesn't get angry at us. He just gives us strength for our journey. Sometimes the strength comes through a timely message in church, but often is found in prayer and praise offered as a sacrifice. Somehow the Holy Spirit fills us and keeps us going.
Finally, Elijah ends his dubious journey in a cave. In verse 9 we find God begins speaking to Elijah, "What are you doing here Elijah?" Elijah responds with a despondent complaint,
"I have been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword; And I, I only, am left."
You can easily see what Elijah has been thinking about and dwelling on during his forty day journey. Jezebel's threats have filled the prophet's thoughts and blotted out the memory of God's miraculous power displayed at Carmel. Whatever we focus our attention on will take over our entire mind and influence our decisions. That is why we are instructed in Philippians chapter 4 to think on what things are lovely, good, full of virtue, and worthy of praise. John also tells us to cast our cares upon Him ( the Lord) for He cares for us. If we will turn our gaze to God and His goodness, we will see He is so much bigger than our problems.
God agains responds with the gentle love of a Father. He instructs the whining prophet, "Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord." Elijah has poured out all the bitterness in his heart and God merely extends the invitation,"Come to Me." How often when we pour out our complaint before God, has He gently urged us to lay down our strife and simply come to Him? We bring our problems to the Father's throne and tell Him how bad things really are. We go to the throneroom then spend our prayer time fellowshipping with our problems. If only we would stop to consider how big and good our God is and how much He truly loves us, we would realize that there is no threat--spoken or looming--that is too big or scary for God. He is never surprised by the things we face and He is always in control. We would do well to heed the invitation offered to Elijah, " Come out (of our cave of worry and depression) and stand on the mount (to the higher places for which we were created ) before the Lord (gazing at His beauty and strength)."
Outside the cave, there were all kinds of activity going on--wind, earthquake, and fire. God had shown Himself in all these things for Israel. By an east wind, He blew on the Red Sea and parted it, allowing Israel to escape Pharoah's army. When God came to Sinai to give Moses the law, the mountain trembled at His Presence. God had led the Israelites in the wilderness by a pillar of fire. He had even answered Elijah's prayers a few weeks before by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice and the altar, and to turn the people's hearts back to Him. Surely God could deliver Elijah by any of these ways. However, God wasn't in any of this busy activity. Often we look for God to move and deliver us the way He has done for someone else. We love the fire of the Holy Spirit. We tremble at His Presence. We rejoice to feel His wind on our faces. However, we must be content to let our God answer us in the way He chooses, knowing that His ways are better than our own.
Then a still small voice came to the prophet again, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
That's where the story takes a turn for the weird. Can you believe it? Didn't God hear Elijah's big explanation in the cave? Hadn't He been paying attention? Surely Elijah shook his head in unbelief as he ploddingly poured out his complaint again. But I think that is where Elijah missed the point of the question. God didn't say "Why are you here Elijah?" Instead, He asked something infinitely more important.
"What are you doing here?" Without censure, God invited Elijah to reevaluate the place he was in. You see, Jezebel did not drive Elijah to a cave..he did that himself. The truth is that God had everything under control in that situation. The opposition of a pagan enemy did not have the capacity to destroy God's kingship or to harm God's man. Jezebel's threats were as insignificant to God as the hum of a mosquito is to us at a picnic...no real threat at all. When God asks,"What are you doing here?", I believe He was really asking "What are you accomplishing here in this place you are in? What are you focusing on? What are you giving your attention to and what has your mind?"
In our weariness, I hear God whispering "What are you doing here,child?" We have spent more than enough time and energy on the "why" of our situations. We have looked at our circumstances and what brought us to these caves of weariness and despair. If we allow them to do so, the "why" of our cave experiences will overshadow all our lives and cause us to be ineffective for the sake of God's kingdom. They will shut us down at our cave's door. It is time to move past these things, past our limitations and fears, to ask "What are we going to do here?" God is inviting us to the table to reexamine our attitudes and goals. He already knows our "whys". Let us stop exercising our problem in God's Presence. Even better let us begin to look at God and ask Him, "What do you want to do here?" The possibilities are beyond comprehension.
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