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July 8, 2012

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.”  1 Kings 19:2

We have been following the story of Elijah and today we come to an experience that will be familiar to many of you.

Elijah has been on an extraordinary journey that has lasted over three and a half years. This journey has led him to confront a king in his palace, and it has led him to leave his homeland and live in another culture.

He has seen God at work in remarkable ways. Prayers have been answered for a widow’s son, for the provision of daily needs, and most of all, for the blessing of God in the return of the rain.

At the end of chapter 18, Elijah pulls up his robes and runs with joy and thanksgiving in the downpour of God’s blessing. Then he goes to Jezreel to catch up with Ahab whose heart seems softened towards him.

The moment has arrived

This looks like the moment Elijah has worked and prayed for. His whole life has been driven by this passion for national revival. He has extended himself, spent himself for this, and now surely the moment has come…

The people have confessed that “The Lord is God”
The prophets of Baal are dead in the Kishon Valley
The long, dry years of God’s judgment are over, and

showers of mercy are falling on him as he runs
A new day is beginning for the people of God, or so it seems…

Then we read: “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how the 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 as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow’” (19:1-2).

“Then [Elijah] was afraid” (19:3). Some writers make a big deal about how surprising it is that Elijah, the great hero of the faith, who calls down fire on Mount Carmel, and now he’s running in fear from one woman.

I don’t find this surprising at all. Jezebel was a powerful and vicious enemy. She made a credible threat—to take Elijah’s life within 24 hours.

It is not surprising to me that he ran.

What happens next is not surprising to me either: “He went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And He asked that he might die, saying ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers’” (19:4).

A great darkness came over Elijah’s soul. He felt, as the apostle Paul once put it, utterly, unbearably crushed. The Bible speaks to every circumstance of life. Whatever you experience, you will find someone in the Bible who has been through something like it before you.

Profile of an Honorably-Wounded Believer

“I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.”  1 Kings 19:10

Elijah’s sense of failure reflects the size of his vision and the strength of his passion. He had poured his whole life into an adventure of faith and obedience.

Elijah saw the rampant idolatry throughout the nation, and he longed with all his heart to see a turning of the tide—the name of God honored, the people of God transformed, and when it didn’t happen, he fell apart. Now he finds himself in deep darkness.

Elijah was broken because he was a man who cared. He was honorably wounded. But the wounds are real, even when they are honorable.

  1. He is EXHAUSTED

“It is enough.”  1 Kings 19:4

Elijah says to God, “I’ve had all I can take of this. You have given me this work, and I’ve given it my best shot, but I can’t do this anymore.”

  1. He is WITHDRAWN

He goes to Beersheba and leaves his servant there (19:3). Everyone who has known this darkness of soul understands this. When you feel low and depleted, you don’t want other people around.

  1. He is RESTLESS

Even when he withdraws, Elijah can’t settle. There is a restlessness about him. He goes into the wilderness and wanders about until eventually he falls down exhausted (19:4).

  1. He feels DEFEATED

Take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.1 Kings 19:4

Elijah says to God, “I have given everything to this task! What has come of all this effort? What have I accomplished? I set out to do something great for God, but it hasn’t happened. What’s the use? There really is no point in me continuing what I have been doing.”

  1. He is DISAPPOINTED

Satan has special snares for the most deeply committed believers—the mother who prays and teaches and guards her family, the father who serves, the leader who makes great sacrifices, the student who takes a stand, the missionary who launches out.

If you love Christ and are passionate about the Gospel, Satan has a snare designed especially for you—disappointment that God did not do more through your ministry.

Nobody could have given more to the service of God than Elijah. But as he moves into his later years, we do not find him giving thanks for the faithfulness of God. We do not find him rejoicing in the blessing of God.

Elijah was disappointed that God had not done more.

Behind the disappointment

“I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.” 1 Kings 19:10

He wanted to see thousands turning to God in repentance and faith, and homes and families transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. He wanted to see the name of God honored in the nation.

When Elijah called the nation to repentance, God sent fire from heaven, and at the end of this spectacular event, the people said, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!” But then they went home and little changed.

Matthew Henry writes…

“People were convinced, but not converted.” [1]

Ahab was there at Mount Carmel too, and he saw the Lord’s fire. He drove home in his chariot through the rain that came in answer to Elijah’s prayer.

Perhaps now Ahab would be converted. Perhaps that miracle would happen to Jezebel. If she became a believer, that would be a game changer. But when Ahab returns to his palace, nothing has changed.

This disappointment hits close to home: You pour yourself into raising a family, but your children seem unresponsive. They don’t change. In time your son or daughter chooses a path you would never have imagined.

You find yourself stuck in a position where your work is no longer fulfilling or appreciated. Yet God has given you these responsibilities. You find yourself saying, “It is enough! Lord, why don’t you just take me home? At least my family would have the insurance money.”

The finger of blame points in different directions. First at God: Why did you allow this? Then at yourself: What a miserable failure I am. Elijah did both, and neither was helpful. It is enough!—that’s blaming God. Elijah was complaining to Him, “You’ve put too much on me.” I am no better than my fathers—that’s Elijah blaming himself.

There never was a deal, quid pro quo, that if you get it right, God will fulfill your dream for your life, your family or your ministry. God has not tied Himself to a mechanical system of cause and effect. He has called you to a life of discipleship, and His providence makes life unpredictable, so that we have to walk by faith and not by sight.

We have hopes, dreams and expectations that are not realized in this life, and we join Elijah in his cave: “I didn’t think it would be like this!” Elijah experienced big disappointments because he was a man with big dreams. When he says “I am no better than my fathers” (19:4) that tells you he wanted to accomplish more for God than others had done…

“God, do something in this nation that is greater than our fathers have seen. Your people have been limping along for years: Do a new work! Pour out your Spirit! Revive us again!”

God does not rebuke him for this. Leaders who are worth their salt have big dreams for the best reason: A passion for the glory of God, and a desire to see His people transformed.

Elijah’s dream was a good dream, but when it doesn’t happen, he collapses in a heap. We see him in his mature years, disappointed, discouraged, frustrated, and exhausted.

I look at that and say: That could be me! That could be you! So, what can we learn here that will help us when we are honorably wounded? What can we learn for helping others?

God’s Care for His Honorably-Wounded Servant

  1. A fresh gift of strength

We live in a world of business and ministry where sometimes it seems that the work matters and the people who do the work don’t. But God cares about His servant as much as He cares about His work.

God never leaves His wounded: Elijah is spent, and His best years are behind him, but he matters to God. God’s wise and tender care for his honorably-wounded servant begins with food, rest and sleep (19:5-8).

An angel of the Lord makes him a hot breakfast: A cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. Elijah eats and drinks, and then he rests some more. God knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. He deals with his wounded children gently.

A wise friend said to me years ago: “Never make a major life decision when you know you are run down, suffering from fatigue or exhaustion.”

That’s a wise principle. Major decisions should never be guided by mood, especially when your mind is jaded and your energy is depleted.

God gives Elijah forty days in which he rests and travels (19:8), and during this time, the food sustains him. God has work for Elijah to do.

Soon, God will meet with him in a fresh and wonderful way. But God does not speak until Elijah is able to hear.

  1. A fresh encounter with God

After 40 days, Elijah arrives at Horeb, the mount of God (19:8). Horeb is another name for Sinai, the mountain where God met with Moses and gave the Ten Commandments.

This was the place where Moses had said to God, “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18), and God hid him in the rock as His glory passed by. Centuries later, Elijah heads to the same place. I wonder if he went there because he was looking for a fresh encounter with God.

Elijah found a cave to stay in, and the word of the Lord came to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (19:9). That is a powerful question. Elijah is a prophet and his work is to speak the Word of God, but here he is in a cave. There are no people there. He has withdrawn. So, God says to him, “What are you doing here?”

“Are you in the place where you can be most useful? What are you doing here, Elijah? Is this really the time for you to step back, when there is so much to be done? You have moved away from the needs and opportunities that were around you. You have withdrawn into a private life. What are you doing here?” I don’t think Elijah knew.

Elijah doesn’t answer the question. He says that he has been “jealous for God.” He complains about what he has been up against and how difficult it all has been: “The people don’t have faith, they live ungodly lives, and they have no time for God. They’re unresponsive to His word.” Then he says, “I, even I only, am left.”

God doesn’t argue with Him. He simply draws near: “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord” (19:11). Then we are told that “the Lord passed by,” just as He had with Moses. God knows when you need a fresh touch from Him in your life.

But what we are to notice is how God draws near to Elijah in this fresh encounter. We’re told that “A great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord” (19:11). Imagine this great wind, whipping through the hills like a tornado.

Elijah pulls back into the cave as rocks begin to fall from above him. The wind almost sucks him out as it passes, and a huge blast knocks him back. Then we read: “But God was not in the wind.” The wind did nothing to bring Elijah nearer to God.

Then Elijah hears a rumble. Tremors run through the ground. Elijah looks out of the cave and he can see the earth moving in the valley below. But the earthquake did nothing to bring Elijah nearer to God. Elijah must have wondered what would happen next…

He looks out of his cave, and a ball of fire is moving across the mountain.

Elijah retreats into his cave again. He hears the crackle and feels the heat as the fireball passes the mouth of the cave. But Elijah did not encounter God in the fire. The fire did nothing to bring Elijah nearer to God.

Do you see the significance of this? Elijah had called down fire from heaven, and the people saw a demonstration of divine power, but they were not changed by it. Now Elijah has the same experience, with the same result!

Then after the fire, Elijah hears the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave (19:12-13), and Elijah hears the voice of God!

The point here is very simple: Elijah had counted on God working through the fire—shaking the earth with sovereign power. God can do that, but it is not His normal way of working.

The normal means of God’s work is that He speaks in “a low whisper” (19:12), not through attention-grabbing headlines. Through the quiet work of the Holy Spirit, He awakens people to their need of Christ and draws them to faith in Him. Hearts are changed, not by extraordinary displays of His power, but by His love and mercy poured out in Jesus Christ.

One of my heroes is a pastor by the name of Thomas Boston, who began preaching in his early 20s. Boston writes in his memoirs that when he first began to preach the Word, his preaching could set fire to the devil’s nest!

One Sunday a godly pastor who was listening to him said, “If you were to preach Christ, you would find it very pleasant.” This had a profound effect on Boston’s preaching. The thunders and penalties of the law are not nearly as powerful in overcoming sin as the love and promise of the cross.

  1. A fresh ministry purpose

Elijah’s sense of purpose had the best motive: He was jealous for the glory of God. But I wonder what you think about the goal that slips out when he says, “I am no better than my fathers.”

If your goal is to be better than your father, or to accomplish more than your mother, or your brother or sister or friend or colleague, you have chosen the wrong goal. Being better than someone who came before you is not the goal, even if it is couched in terms of doing more for God.

Elijah seems to have been driven by the sense that his life could only have meaning and value if he accomplished more than others. I have to do more than those who went before me. If I don’t, then there really isn’t any point.

Maybe you recognize that impulse in your own life.

God gives Elijah a fresh ministry purpose. Elijah, here is the work I have for you to do: “Anoint [Elisha] to be prophet in your place” (19:16). Your work is not to change the nation, Elijah. It never was. But you can find one man, and you can equip him, mentor him, and encourage him. God gives his wounded servant a refined purpose for this new season in his life.

Here’s the great irony: Elijah wanted to be accomplish more than his fathers. God said, “Go and appoint someone who will accomplish more than you. Elijah, pour your remaining years into calling and equipping and encouraging others who will do more for my glory than you did.”

The words God spoke in a gentle whisper could not have been easy for Elijah to hear. It must have seemed to him that his best days were behind him, and in a sense, they were.

But something lay ahead of Elijah that was greater than all the blessings given to Elisha or to any of the other prophets: The same man who was disappointed that God had not done more, was raptured into heaven, and he saw the unveiled glory of Jesus Christ.

Elijah wanted to do more for God than others had done, but God did more for Elijah than He had done for others. Elisha accomplished more for God than Elijah did, but Elijah is given the higher honor. Don’t judge the value of your service for God by the visible results. Man looks at the outward appearance; God looks at the heart.

We will take up the story next time, but here’s what I want to leave with you today: God cares for his wounded servants. He never leaves his wounded on the field of battle. In God’s time, He will give you a fresh gift of strength, and a fresh ministry purpose. In Jesus Christ he speaks to you today, not in a thundering rebuke but in a gentle whisper.

 

[1] Matthew Henry,“Commentary on the Whole Bible,” p. 329, Hendrickson, 2008

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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