Our study of Elijah’s life follows that faithful servant of the LORD after enjoying one of the greatest victories of his lifetime…the slaughter of the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:40). God had answered the prayers of Elijah, and elevated not only Himself, but also His prophet in the eyes of the people.
Yet, the life of Elijah is an illustration of what becomes of a believer when he takes his focus off the LORD, and forgets His past blessings and provisions. Today’s Scripture reading reminds us that even the most dedicated servants of God can fall victim to discouragement and depression. The focus of this devotion is 1 Kings 19.
1 Kings 19 – From the Pinnacle of Victory to a Plight of Despair
King Ahab had retreated to his palace in Jezreel (18:45), and there he “told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets [of Baal] with the sword” (19:1). Furious at the news of what had become of her servants of Baal, the queen sent a messenger to Elijah and threatened slay him the next day (19:2).
How did Elijah respond? “He arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah [fleeing beyond the borders of Israel], and left his servant there” (19:3). Knowing Jezebel was seeking to kill him, Elijah might have dismissed his servant, fearing he would soon be slain. Elijah continued his journey another day into the wilderness, “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” (19:4).
How could a prophet of the LORD experience such a great victory in 1 Kings 18, yet find himself as an exile in 1 Kings 19? (19:4-14)
I see several factors contributing to Elijah’s flight and depression. His contest with Ahab and the prophets of Baal had taken its toll and left him physically exhausted (19:3-7). Physically worn, he had made decisions with a skewed, inaccurate, wrong focus. Jezebel’s threats had registered deep, causing Elijah to lack trust, and take his eyes off the LORD.
Notice also that Elijah exaggerated his circumstances, and protested, “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” (19:10). In that statement, and a repetition of the same in verse 14, Elijah embraced a negative, critical spirit, and an unbiblical view of God (19:10, 14).
How did the LORD respond to Elijah’s protests and depression? (19:5-8)
There are several things God employed to get Elijah out of his “spiritual funk.” He allowed the prophet to rest, for he laid down “and slept under a juniper tree” (19:5). The LORD then sent an angel, who provided the prophet with nourishment, “a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water. And [Elijah] did eat and drink, and laid him down again” (19:6). The angel came to Elijah a second time, and counseled the prophet, “Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee” (19:7). The prophet learned he was to make his journey to “Horeb the mount of God” (19:8), for there he had a divine appointment and mission.
Sheltering in a cave at Horeb, “the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?” (19:9)
Elijah answered the LORD, but his protests revealed where he was spiritually and emotionally. The prophet 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” (19:10), and repeated the same in verse 14 after Elijah had witnessed a violent storm, an earthquake, and fire (19:11-12). Finally, the LORD spoke to his prophet in “a still small voice,” and asked, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” (19:13).
Elijah’s Threefold Mission (19:15-21)
The LORD commanded Elijah to begin his journey to Israel, and along the way he was to anoint three men who, in the sovereignty of God, were destined to take the place of other men. In Syria, Elijah was to “anoint Hazael to be king over Syria,” and thereby taking the throne from Benhadad, king of Syria (19:15). The prophet was also directed to anoint Jehu to suceed Ahab as king of Israel (19:16a). Lastly, he was to anoint “Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah” who would take Elijah’s place as a prophet in Israel (19:16).
In answer to Elijah’s exaggeration that he alone was a faithful prophet in Israel, God revealed, “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” (19:18).
Closing thoughts – Elijah obeyed the LORD, and in his journey came to Elisha, the young man whom God had chosen to become prophet in Israel (19:19). Knowing the call of the LORD upon His life would require him to never return to his former life, Elisha slew the oxen with which he had been plowing, and “then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him” (19:21).
In the words of an old Gospel song, for those who serve the LORD, there is “No Turning Back, No Turning Back.”
Copyright © 2021 – Travis D. Smith