Called out of Chaos
Sometimes God takes us to a quiet place because the chaos around us drowns out his voice. Such was the case with Elijah the prophet, whom God called to counteract a spiritual crisis.
The crisis involves King Ahab, who inherited the throne in Israel from his father Omri in the ninth century BC. 1 Kings 17:29-34 gives a brief introductory summation of Ahab’s twenty-two-year reign. He led his people into whole new levels of spiritual corruption.
For our purposes, two features stand out. First, he entered into a political alliance with King Ethbaal of Sidonia and took Ethbaal’s daughter Jezebel as his wife. Second, he replaced the worship of God with ashera worship as the official religion. The asherim were fertility idols.
Elijah thunders onto the scene to engage in a head-to-head confrontation with Ahab. Three events mark Elijah’s opening act.
First, he calls for a drought in Israel in retaliation to their rejection of their God. (This is in line with what Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 28:15-24.) The drought lasts for three and a half years. Next, he faces down 450 prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel and has all of them executed. Finally, with Baal’s prophets gone, he calls for an end the drought. These events take place in 1 Kings 17-18.
Elijah’s Worst Fears
With an entrance this dramatic, the man appears to be unstoppable. But Queen Jezebel sends a message that paralyzes him. Here is the message and Elijah’s reaction to it.
Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
--1 Kings 19:2-3
More than once I have heard people ask why Elijah caves so quickly before Jezebel. The simple answer is that she is cunning. No one opposes her and lives.
Secondarily, I believe that Elijah thought that his victory would be more decisive than what he has witnessed. When Jezebel continues to resist, Elijah loses his moral balance.
From Beersheba, he goes a day’s journey into the wilderness and sits under a broom tree. There he prays, “It is enough, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).
The Power of Fear
One of the worst possible distractions is fear. The best of us fall prey to it at one time or another. Fear drives reason from our thinking and causes us to limit our imagination to the worst-case scenario. It forces us to try to deal with the immediate situation rather than focus on long-term solutions.
In Elijah’s case, it drove him to suicidal thoughts.
The Place where the LORD Speaks
So what can we do about it?
For Elijah, the answer begins in the practical world. He needs rest and food, which God provides for him. Once these physical needs are met, God takes him on a journey deeper into the wilderness—all the way to Horeb, the mount of God (1 Kings 19:5-8). This is the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. It is a holy place in Jewish culture.
When Elijah reaches the mountain, he finds a cave, where the LORD appears to him. The LORD’s question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9), launches Elijah into his complaint.
He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only am left, and they seek my life to take it.”
--1 Kings 19:10
The symbolism in this passage is significant. Elijah stands on the very mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The LORD’s prophet, drives his stake into the mountain where the LORD told the first generation of free Israelites, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).
Elijah’s issue involves fairness. He is jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. He is one of the few in Israel who love the LORD and keep his commandments, and yet he flees for his life. Meanwhile, those who worship idols walk around without a care. Where is the LORD who visited the iniquity of the fathers? Where is Elijah’s vindication?
In reply, the LORD tells Elijah to go out and stand in the mouth of the cave. There the LORD unleashes pyrotechnics similar to what Moses must have seen in Exodus 19:14-20.
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 the sound of a low whisper.
--1 Kings 19:11-12
God’s show on the Mount Horeb resembles Elijah’s show on Mount Carmel in Israel. Great effects, but little lasting results. Elijah must become quiet, because the quietness causes him to listen.
When the silence comes, the LORD returns with the same question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13).
Elijah’s answer is the same as his first complaint, word for word. “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts…” (1 Kings 19:14).
Now, however, the LORD answers. Elijah is to anoint a new king over Syria, a new king over Israel, and a new prophet to succeed Elijah in the person of Elisha (1 Kings 19:15-16). The two new kings will execute justice in the land, while Elisha will continue to preserve the LORD’s word in the land.
God’s call to Elijah is a call to return to action. He will need to do more than to win a single battle to end the war.
The LORD continues his work, but Elijah could not see it until he learned to listen.