After defeating the 450 false prophets of Baal, we saw in the first part of this study that Elisha ran away from the threats of the wicked Queen Jezebel.
He first ran to Beersheba, which was the southernmost city in Judah, about 60 miles southwest of Jezreel. Remember, immediately after his victory,
Elijah had run in front of Ahab's chariot all the way from Carmel to Jezreel, a distance of about 20 miles, in absolute victory. Now, however,
he was running away from Jezebel, running for his life.
And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself
went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said,
It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.
(1 Kings 19:3-4)
Elijah did not feel safe even in the southernmost city of Beersheba. He left his servant there, perhaps because he feared betrayal, because Ahab had
already had spies all over Israel looking for him. Elijah went alone a day's journey south into the desert. (A day's journey could be anywhere from 18
to 30 miles depending on circumstances, as opposed to a sabbath day’s journey, which could be no greater than 1 mile.)
Here in the desert Elijah gave in to
despair and asked the Lord to take his life. He had concluded that his work was fruitless, and his life was not worth living. Compare Elijah's request
for God to take his life to Jonah’s same request: Jonah asked in anger, whereas Elijah asked in despair. Both were wrong, and showed lack of faith in God.
(It is rather ironic that even after asking asking God to let him die, in the end this man did not die at all, but was taken up to heaven in
a chariot in a whirlwind of fire, and probably will not taste death until the future tribulation, when he will die as one of the two witnesses.)
After personally invoking such a tremendous display of God's power and might, Elijah suffered a crisis of faith, and gave in to despair. But even in the midst of Elijah's
crisis of faith, the Lord sent an angel to minister to him, miraculously providing bread and water. He had done the same thing for him at the brook of
Cherith, and the same for the children of Israel in the wilderness.
The angel of the Lord encouraged Elijah to eat and drink, saying that the journey
would be too much for him. God knew exactly what Elijah was planning to do: He knew he was going to run, and where he was planning to go,
and how long it would take him to get there. God knew it would take him 40 days and 40
nights to reach Horeb. However, God did not do anything to stop his flight, like He later stopped Jonah’s.
Horeb, which is Mount Sinai, was out in the desert about 250 miles south of Beersheba. It is called the mountain of God, the same mountain where
Moses had received the Commandments. It is significant that Elijah ran to this particular mountain, the place where the commandments had been
given, when he felt like the people were breaking the commandments and thus nullifying the covenant with Jehovah God. The forty days and nights is
also significant, as that is how long Moses stayed on that same mountain.
And he came there unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What do you here, Elijah?
(1 Kings 19:9)
The Lord spoke to Elijah, asking him what was he doing in Horeb. God had not sent him there.
This question was in meant to make Elijah stop and think about what he was doing, because this was not where he was supposed to be.
God asks us questions to get us to think about what we have done – He already knows the answers, they are only to make us
stop and think. Back in the garden of Eden, God had asked Adam and Eve “Where are you?” not because He did not know where
they were, but to
make them think about what they had done.You cannot run away from God, nor hide from Him: no matter where you go, He is there.
(Jonah was another one who learned this lesson the hard way!)
And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars,
and slain 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)
Elijah did not give a direct answer to the Lord’s question, but instead implied that the covenant between God and the
nation of Israel was now null and void, due to the actions of the unfaithful Israelites. He was wrong, however: when Jehovah God enters into a covenant,
He keeps His covenant, regardless of the actions of the people involved. God is always faithful, even when His people are not!
Whereas Moses had interceded with God for Israel when they sinned with the golden calf,
Elijah condemned the Israelites for breaking the covenant, while complaining about the seemingly fruitlessness of his own work.
Elijah was feeling
a little bit sorry for himself, thinking he was the only one remaining faithful.
It is human nature that we are never more likely to boast of our past works than when we are neglecting our present duty; and we are never more
likely to complain, criticize, condemn, and ultimately sink into despair, than when we are outside of the will of God.
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the
mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD
was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold,
there came a voice unto him, and said, What do you here, Elijah? (1 Kings 19:11-12-13)
God was not in the great and mighty wind that broke the mountains apart and shattered the rocks; He was not in the earthquake; He
was not in the fire; instead, God was in the still small voice. God was teaching Elijah a mighty lesson here: God power isn’t only in the big, powerful
things, but is in the little, often unnoticed things.
Like Elijah, we most often look for spectacular outward displays of His power, but God usually works in quieter ways. Those spectacular displays
are the exceptions, rather than the rule. The quiet and steady influence of the Holy Spirit
are both invisible and silent, yet still demonstrates God's power at work within His people.
That still small voice also indicated God’s compassion upon His people; that it was not yet time for God's judgment upon Israel, despite their
unfaithfulness. These elements (powerful wind, earthquake and fire) are used throughout the Bible to depict the magnitude and severity of God’s
Elijah covered his face after his encounter with God. Covering his face was a sign of reverential fear and awe of the Lord; remember, Moses had done the same thing when the Lord appeared to
him in the burning bush - he hid his face. God asked Elijah the same question again, giving him a chance to change his earlier answer. God was
repeating the point: “What are you doing here, Elijah? I did not send you here.”
And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant,
thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (1 Kings 19:14)
Elijah gave God the same answer as the first time: indicating that he still did not understand the significance of the Divine revelation
he had just witnessed. He was still trying to justify his actions in running away, and still calling for God's judgment upon the Israelites, because they
were killing all the prophets,
under the influence of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah thought he was the only one left to serve the Lord, but they were trying to kill him, too.
He was still feeling self-pity, and wanting God to avenge him and punish the Israelites for breaking His covenant with them.
In the final part of this lesson we will look at God's response to Elijah's complaints.