Sunday, November 30, 2008

Elijah’s difficulty in the aftermath of the deity duel

I was reading in 1 Kings today about Elijah and the deity duel he had on the top of Mount Carmel with the priests of Baal. After fire came down from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice and not the Baal-ish sacrifice, all the people admitted that the God of Israel was God. And Elijah then slew 400 of the priests of Baal (probably for their blasphemy and leading people astray).

You’d think the battle would be over and all would be well, right? Well, in the next chapter (19), Queen Jezebel hears that Elijah has killed the priests of Baal and she swears that she will have Elijah killed by the end of the next day. (Let us not forget that this is the same queen who killed the real prophets—see 1 Kings 18:4).

How hard this must have been for Elijah! After all the faith and diligence he showed and his zealousness for the Lord, he had to run for his life!

So he leaves and we read this verse:
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 19:4)
He must have felt that his fortitude wasn’t measuring up to the strength of the ancients as recorded in the scripture. (Maybe he was thinking of Moses, who went back to Pharaoh at least 10 times.) He must have blamed himself for feeling spiritually exhausted and powerless to make any difference with his preaching and prophesying. He must have wondered why it was so hard to stand up for what was right against the idolatrous society around him. He must have felt that he had done enough and he couldn’t do anything more. He must have felt that if he lived any longer he might shrink from further battles out of fear and that it would be better for his soul to be taken immediately in order to escape that temptation to give in. So he prayed to die now.

So what does the Lord do for him? He sends an angel.
5 And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.
6 And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.
7 And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.
8 And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.
9 ¶ And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?
10 And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
11 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 rent the mountains, and brake 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:
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
14 And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
15 And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria:
16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.
17 And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.
18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. (1 Kings 19:5-18)
I do not know the meaning of all things, and I have to say that I am somewhat puzzled by the way that the Lord strengthened Elijah here. First I see that the angel brought Elijah food to eat. Twice. (Perhaps Elijah’s mood was affected by his hunger?)

Then Elijah goes to Mount Horeb and lives in a cave there. It is significant that Mount Horeb is essentially where Moses and the children of Israel stayed for so long. Elijah fled to this place to try to draw strength from what he knew of the sacred events that occured there. (It would be like our prophet going to the sacred grove.)

Then the Lord does some kind of power display with an earthquake and then a fire and then speaks with a still small voice that Elijah responds to. It could be that the Lord was trying to demonstrate that it wasn’t the big showy miracles that were going to convince people to repent and change, but instead the still small voice.

Then the Lord asks Elijah what he’s doing there and Elijah repeats that he’s in hiding because he was zealous for the Lord and the people want to kill him. I find it interesting that the Lord responds by giving Elijah an assignment. Maybe the Lord felt that fretting in inactivity was not good for Elijah. And I love that the Lord assured Elijah (almost as an afterthought) that there were still a certain number of people who hadn’t given into to idolatry. It’s always nice to know you aren’t alone on an issue.

And it seems that the Lord heard Elijah’s request to be taken from the earth, because part of his assignment was to go and anoint Elisha to take his place.

I think this story gave me a lot of encouragement because I’ve faced some opposition lately and I’ve felt like the only one taking a firm stand. It’s nice to know that some of the greatest prophets struggled with feelings of loneliness and inadequacy occasionally.