Elijah Pt. 5: What are you doing here?

By Ben Triestman

After accomplishing a major goal or milestone, its not unusual to look around only to find that not much has changed.

After all that work, you finally have that diploma—and the student loans that come with it—but you find that life doesn’t get any easier after graduation. You got that promotion or a better job; but somehow the pressures, deadlines and problems with your boss have followed you to your new office. And after the honeymoon is over, don’t be shocked to discover that your new husband has the same flaws and irritating quirks that your fiancé did! 

Things may be different, but not much has changed. 

This is where we catch up with Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Ahab and Jezebel have been busy killing off the prophets of the Lord. The people of Israel are wavering between a diluted-form of Yahweh worship and the worship of Baal the (not real) weather god. Because of Israel’s wickedness, Yaweh, the real God of the weather (and everything else) has allowed a period of drought and famine to overtake the land. Needless to say, things aren’t going well.

But all of that is about to change.

Elijah assembles the people on Mt. Carmel for a contest of “Who’s the Real God?” The rules are simple: set up two altars; one for Baal, one for Yahweh. The prophets will pray and the God who answers by fire will be declared the winner. Despite having the home field and a 450-to-1 prophet advantage, Baal loses badly. 

Elijah prayed. Yahweh answered with fire. Elijah prayed again. This time, the Lord sent rain.

And now, things will be different. The prophets of Baal have been publicly defeated, the drought is over and the people have declared, “the LORD, He is God!” (v. 18). With that, Elijah dashes into the capital city expecting a fresh start and a spiritual revival. Now things will be different. Surely, he’ll get a formal apology from Ahab and Jezebel, and maybe even an invitation to dinner. It’s been a hard three years, but this moment will make it all worthwhile.

But instead we read this in 1 Kings 19:1-2

Things may be different, but not much has changed. Jezebel hasn’t changed. She still wants Elijah dead. After all they’ve witnessed, the people haven’t changed. They’re just glad that it’s raining again. 

And Elijah is devastated. He had been looking forward to this moment for years. But despite his victory he appears to have failed. 

In 1 Kings 19:3-4. Elijah is afraid and runs for his life. But what is he afraid of? Certainly not dying! He prays for death in v. 4. I believe he’s not afraid of losing his life, he’s afraid of Jezebel taking his life. If Jezebel succeeds in taking his life, it could appear that Jezebel is greater than Yaweh. People will talk. “Sure, He can send down fire from Heaven but He can’t even protect His own prophet from the power and fury of mighty Queen Jezebel.” Maybe it was that thought that Elijah found terrifying.

Either way, Elijah runs south. 

He leaves Ahab and Jezebel’s jurisdiction for the safety of Judah...and then keeps running south. When Elijah arrives in Beer-Sheba he leaves his servant behind. “Elijah The Prophet Ministries” has closed their doors and laid off the employees.

Elijah continues to go south, literally and figuratively. He ends up alone in the wilderness, praying for death. (Notice: Elijah doesn’t presume to have the right to take his own life. Suicide is not an option. As a servant of the Lord, Elijah’s Master gets the final say as to when his life is over.)

Read 1 Kings 19:5-8

It turns out Elijah was not alone after all. He’s awoken by a “messenger”. The Hebrew word translated in verses 7 and 9 as “angel” is the same word for “messenger.” It’s the identical Hebrew word found is verse 2 to describe Jezebel’s servant. It’s interesting, Elijah’s problems began with the visit from a messenger. The Lord’s solution to the problem begins with a visit from a “messenger.” 

But this is not an ordinary messenger, this is the angel of the Lord. Notice how the angel of the Lord ministers to Elijah in his depressed state. He doesn’t have Elijah lay on a couch and talk about his dysfunctional childhood. He doesn’t condemn Elijah for his “sin” of depression. He doesn’t even tell Elijah to “cheer up” while quoting Romans 8:28. 

Instead, the Lord begins by ministering to Elijah’s physical needs. He allows him to rest. He provides him with food and drink. He touches. So as to not miss the point that we are physical beings, with physical needs—God does it all twice. Maybe the next time you’re in a period of discouragement, try getting away for some rest. Enjoy some good food and drink. And don’t neglect the need for touch; the need to connect with God and others.

Perhaps one of the overlooked blessings of our weekly gatherings is the opportunity for connection with other Christians. We can listen to the sermon at home (assuming someone remembers to record it!). We can sing along to our favorite worship songs in the car (Wilderness Experience by the Cedar Routes is available now). But where else can we go to connect with—to encourage and be encouraged by—the people of God. Don’t neglect the importance of our Sunday morning gatherings. 

After his encounter with the angel of the Lord, Elijah heads to Mt Horeb, aka Mt Sinai. The is the same mountain where God had given Moses the commandments centuries earlier. The is the same place where Moses was surrounded by fire and earthquakes before encountering the presence God.

See 1 Kings 19:9-12

“What are you doing here?” God asks. Why are you in this wilderness? Why are you in this dark place? What are you doing here? God doesn’t ask the question for his benefit. God is not saying, “Why, Elijah! What are you doing here?” What a pleasant surprise!”

No, the Lord’s question is a call for Elijah to examine himself. No doubt, a good question to ponder the next time we find ourselves spending a dark night in the cave of depression. 

Some are inclined to read Elijah’s response as nothing more than pouting because his over-inflated ego had been offended. “I did all this great stuff, and nobody appreciates me, and I’m the only good person left!” No. I don’t think that’s the case. If Elijah was sulking merely out of pride, wouldn’t the Lord have addressed his sin of pride?

Instead, look at what the Lord does say and do. After the display of God’s power and holiness through the wind, earthquake and fire; and the gentle grace of the quiet whisper, here’s what the Lord tells Elijah: 

1 Kings 19:15-18

Its as if God is saying, “Elijah, you still have some work to do.” Elijah lost hope when he presumed to know God’s plan. He couldn’t see the big picture and ultimately, he lost sight of the mission. He thought that after Mt. Carmel, his job was done. Mission accomplished. But when things didn’t look much different, he was devastated.

The next time you’re in a period of discouragement, consider, could it be that you’ve lost sight of the mission? Like Elijah, we can’t always see the big picture of what God is doing in the world around us. God was about to do some incredible things, like use Hazael (a pagan king) and Jehu (a king who walked after the sins of Jeroboam) to accomplish his purposes. Elijah didn’t see any of that coming! And he didn’t need to. He just needed to be faithful to the mission to which he was called, and trust that God would handle the rest.

So, what’s your mission? What’s the work that God is calling you to do today? This week?  Lets get back to work and trust that God will fulfill his purposes and promises in His time. 

Final thought: how is it that Elijah survived the display of God’s might on Mt Sinai?  Elijah wasn’t swept away by the wind, swallowed up by the earthquake or burned up in the fire.  How is it that Moses wasn’t obliterated on that same mountain when God passed by him in Exodus 33? The answer is the same for both men. 

How were they spared from this manifestation of the wrath, holiness and judgement of God? They were saved because they were safe in the rock. The rock took the beating, so Elijah could safely enter into the presence and grace of God.  The rock took the punishment so Moses could live. They had to be in the rock.

Romans 8:1 tells us there no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Praise God for Christ Jesus, our Rock who took on the wrath of God on the cross in our place so that we are free to enjoy the grace and presence of God.