ELIJAH 4 – ELIJAH FLEES FROM JEZEBEL

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SET READINGS (Proper 7)

  • 1 Kings 19:1-15a
  • Luke 8:26-39
  • Galatians 3:23-29
  • Psalm 42, 43

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NEED A LITTLE EXTRA TLC?

If you’re feeling under the weather, having a difficult time, need some cheering up, what would make you feel better?

  • Breakfast in bed in the morning?
  • Afternoon tea with a friend?
  • An evening at the pub with your mates?
  • Unexpected kindness from a stranger?
  • A quiet walk in your favourite bit of countryside?
  • Watching your favourite film?
  • A night out at the theatre?

Have you experienced a special touch from God, a special reminder of his presence, when you really needed to know God was still there?

  • What happened?
  • How did it change things for you?

Even great heroes of the Bible like Elijah reached the point where he needed some special TLC from a loving and caring God.

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ELIJAH FLEES FROM JEZEBEL (1 Kings 19:1-16)

So we’re back with Elijah immediately after the confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Ahab is there to witness the dramatic events. Jezebel’s prophets are powerless to summon their gods, and Elijah’s God sends down fire to consume his offering. Yahweh gains an emphatic victory

So Ahab returns to Jezreel and reports back to Jezebel. When Jezebel hears what has happens, and that the prophets of Baal have been slain, she is livid with anger, and she immediately sends a message to Elijah:

“May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Elijah, having up to this point shown tremendous courage and faith in his stand against Jezebel and her prophets, runs for his life. He journeys the Beersheba in the far south of Israel, and then, leaving his servant behind, travel a further day’s journey into the desert, where he sits down under the shade of a broom tree and wishes he was dead!

In today’s world, we would probably reckon that Elijah was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Even though he was on the winning side, the confrontation on Mount Carmel would have drained his strength, physically, mentally and spiritually. He has had as much as he can take, and Jezebel’s dire warning is the last straw.

But we have a God who sympathises with our weaknesses, and understands our human condition. God sends an angel to minister to him, ensures that he gets rest and sleep, and wakes him up with “a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water”. A very basic breakfast, rather than a banquet. But it does remind me of fresh toast, spiked on the end of a toasting fork and toasted over an open fire. It was enough to provide Elijah with the extra strength and nourishment he needed to continue his journey. So…

“strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.”

Horeb is the same place that we normally refer to as Mount Sinai – the place where God appeared to Moses and the people in a cloud of smoke, earthquake and fire when he gave the Ten Commandments and the Laws of the covenant to Moses and Aaron. But why did Elisha come here to Mount Sinai?

That’s the question that God himself poses to Elijah:

 “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah doesn’t really answer the question. But his reply does give us an insight into his state of mind.

“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

Having just won a great victory over the prophets of Baal, Elijah’s response is surprisingly defeatist.

He sees himself as being very much alone and outnumbered. The whole of Israel, he claims, have rejected God’s covenant and gone over to Baal (even though all those who were present on Mount Carmel acknowledged God’s sovereignty: “They fell face down on the ground and cried out, The LORD– he is God! Yes, the LORD is God!” (1 Kings 18:39)

Now, says Elijah, having killed all the prophets of God, I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

“They” who are trying to kill him are (or rather is) specifically Jezebel. But God has hidden and protected Elijah from Jezebel before. What is different now?

The difference is just in Elijah’s own attitude and the way he is looking at the situation from his own point of view, rather than seeking God’s perspective. Rather like Peter, who began to walk across the water to Jesus, until he took his eyes off Jesus, looked at the wind and the waves around him, and began to sink. God needs to widen his perspective and renew his vision.

So we come to the dramatic scene in which God appears to Elijah in the mighty wind, the earthquake and the fire. All reminders of the power and holiness of God displayed in former times on Mount Sinai. But this time God is not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire.

Then Elijah hears the still, small voice, and God asks him once again:

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah’s response doesn’t change, suggesting that he isn’t really listening to what God is trying to say. He should be analyzing what has just happened, understanding the meaning of God’s demonstration of his presence. How should we understand it?

Here’s how I interpret what God is saying to Elijah:

“Look Elijah, I know you came here to find my power and majesty. You seem to think I’ve abandoned Israel, that I’ve handed things over to Jezebel and her prophets of Baal. But that’s not the case. I’m still there. I still have the ability to keep you safe, to turn aside Jezebel’s plans. You didn’t need to come all the way to Mount Sinai to find me.  You don’t need to rely on miracles and demonstrations of power to overcome the power of darkness. Just listen for my still small voice. I’m always there beside you. Just trust me.”

God shows Elijah that his narrow self-centred view of the situation is actually wrong. He tells Elijah (v.18) “Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal!”  Elijah is by no means alone, although he has (until now) been the person that God chose, for good reason, to stand up to Ahab and Jezebel and the false prophets.

Not only does God have the situation under control right now, but he also has everything lined up for the future. God tells Elijah:

“Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat … to replace you as my prophet.”

Indirectly, God is also showing Elijah that he intends to deal with Ahab and to replace Ahab’s dynasty, just as he did when he rejected Saul and anointed David in his place. That change of dynastic rule didn’t happen immediately (neither did it happen for many years in David’s case) but God’s purposes are always fulfilled in his due time.

In saying this, God is also pronouncing Elijah’s retirement – an honourable one it should be said. Elijah has fulfilled the role that God has given him. God recognizes that he has come to the end of his endurance. But his life will end (to mis-quote T.S.Eliot) not with a whimper, but a bang!… a sure sign of God’s acceptance and recognition of his faithful and sacrificial service.

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DISCUSSION …

In Psalm 43 the Psalmist says to God:

Why have you tossed me aside?
Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?
Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me.
Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live.

  • What kind of circumstances have cause you to feel depressed, perhaps even abandoned by God?
  • Where did you go to find help?
  • What does the story of Elijah tell us about the way God treats us when we feel we’ve come to an end of ourselves?
  • How can we learn to change our perspective and see things from God’s viewpoint?

Isaiah 53:4 tells us (speaking of the promised Messiah) that, “he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows”.

  • How was this prophecy fulfilled?
  • What difference does it make to the way we deal with our own problems and weaknesses?

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MEDITATION …

Psalm 42 fits Elijah’s situation so precisely, we could perhaps imagine him reciting this Psalm from memory while he sits under the broom tree, feeling utterly depressed and hopeless.

Try to imagine yourself in Elijah’s position and share his feelings.

Focus on the Psalmist determination to recognise God’s blessings in his life, even in the midst of difficult times: “… each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.”.

Psalm 42:1

For the choir director: A psalm of the descendants of Korah.

As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?

Day and night I have only tears for food,
while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again– my Savior and my God!
Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you–
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar.

I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.
“O God my rock,” I cry, “Why have you forgotten me?

Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?”
Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again– my Savior and my God!