“Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 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 like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.”(I Kings 19:1-3)
I do not know what frightened Elijah. Of course, if someone threatens to kill you I suppose that would put a fright in you. But surely Elijah knew if God had given him power and authority to call down fire to burn up Elijah’s sopping wet offering, God would protect his life? And in the part that was not part of the lectionary, where Elijah out raced a chariot and team of horses – if God empowered Elijah to do that, would God stretch out the Holy Hand to save his life?
But how often, beloved reader, have we seen/witnessed the mighty hand of God, and yet had lack of faith that God would reach out to us? It is an old story, lack of faith in God. And we should not really be surprised that a man of God such as Elijah succumbed to human fear. Let us read on.
“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”(Verse 4)
Despair, self-doubt; it had happened to those who had gone before Elijah. It was happening to him. And it happens to us.
“Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.” (Verses 5 – 9a)
At least Elijah was journeying in the correct direction. And maybe he was spent, worn through with all that he had done. After all, he was a man, a human – a man of God, but a human nonetheless. Prone to weakness and doubt. As we all are.
“Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (9b)
Forgive me for breaking again, beloved reader, but it is an old opening that many therapists use – “What brings you here, to me, needing help?” That the Divine also employs that technique should be no surprise.
“He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He [meaning the Presence of God] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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 sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; “ (Verses 10 – 15a)
You are probably wondering, beloved reader as I wondered too, what is going on here? Elijah was witness and conduit of great might and power. He possessed for a short time the might of God and assurance that comes from being used by God. But when it was over, he was still the same. Still human and still subject to being threatened and killed. “All if have done” he said, “all I have been and how I have been used mightily by God, and still nothing has changed in me or in the world around me. What is the use?” he said. But God is not just about the “big” things; God is not just in and of/about the big things. God dwells within us and if we but look for God within ourselves, we will have all we need.
Now, that does not mean we are, on our own, as mighty as God. Quite the opposite in fact. Once God is in us, and we reside in God – nothing can shake or change that. Ours is not to see the big picture or understand what God plans to do; God knows that at times we feel small and afraid. But if we trust in God, and trust that God is within us, that will be enough. Selah!