The story of Elijah in today’s lesson from 1 Kings 19 follows on the heels of one of my favorite OT stories. The background story to this is fascinating. Before he was crashed under the broom tree, Elijah had a big run-in with the priests of Baal. The worship of the false god Baal was popular in the area where the Hebrews had settled. This worship had gained considerable strength by the time Elijah came on the scene. King Ahab of Israel was unable to control his wife, the wicked queen Jezebel, and both were pushing the spread of Baal worship. Jezebel was out to destroy all who worshipped God and to make Baal worship the only religion.
Elijah had been told by God to go to Ahab and tell him that the three-year drought was over. God would send rain. Then Elijah told Ahab that the controversy over whose god was real would be settled on Mt. Carmel. Which deity, the God of Abraham, or Baal, was the real, true god.
On Mt. Carmel, with all the priests of Baal present, and only Elijah representing God, Elijah had both sides prepare a place for a burnt offering. Both were to gather wood for a fire, slaughter a bull, and call upon their deity to send the fire to consume the offering. Those priests of Baal call upon Baal from dawn until 3 in the afternoon to come and answer their calls for help. They even cut themselves with swords and lances until they bled profusely to try to convince Baal, but to no avail.
Then it was Elijah’s turn. He proved to be quite a showman! I guess you can when you know you’re in the right! We could even call Elijah a “hotdog.” Elijah made an altar with stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel, got the wood ready, put the slaughtered bull on the wood, and then added insult to injury. He had his helpers pour many gallons of water on the wood—so much that they had to dig a trench to keep it on the wood. The wood was saturated with the water. We all know how well wet wood burns! Then Elijah stood back, said his prayer asking God to come and set fire to the water-logged wood. Not only did fire come, but it consumed the bull, the wood, the stones from the altar, the water, and left nothing but dust!
Elijah, victorious over the priests of Baal, then had them all rounded up and killed. Elijah was probably a little excited about all this, because it’s written that he sent King Ahab back to the palace in Jezreel in his chariot to tell Jezebel. And, Elijah ran the whole 17 miles in from of Ahab’s chariot, beating him to the city gates!
As you could imagine, Jezebel did not take the news well. She sent word that she would hunt Elijah down and make his life like the lives of the priests of Baal he had killed. Elijah became a wanted man.
One would have thought that with his past victory still fresh in his mind, he would have stayed to see what Jezebel thought she could do to him! But Jezebel was wicked. She must have gotten to Elijah. When he heard the news, he turned and ran like a dog with his tail between his legs. He finally crashed under the broom tree and asked God to let him die.
Jezebel had gotten inside his head. He went from a time of extreme jubilation and excitement, to utter despair. He went from a time when he experienced the power and presence of God in a very direct way, to feeling alone and abandoned by God. That Jezebel must have been a pretty scary person to have had the ability to bring down Elijah so quickly.
My guess is that it wasn’t Jezebel as much as it was Elijah himself. He suddenly realized that he was alone. There was this powerful, evil woman whose husband was king, who had just put out a hit on him. Elijah had no army. He had a few faithful followers who could do nothing to stop Jezebel. Feelings of despair and fear flooded his mind. He could think of nothing other than high-tailing it for the hills where he could hide out in the safety of the desert wilderness.
Maybe Elijah just needed some time alone to get himself together and refresh his spirit. How many times do we need some time just to think or process following an intense event that has encompassed our lives? I know I need that. How many of us have faced a drop in our enthusiasm coming off an exciting time or even a stressful time and then going right back into the regular routine of life?
Young persons returning from Bible Camp and the spiritual highs have to learn that not every day will be that way. After a vacation it can be difficult to jump right back into work again. After having a baby, losing a loved one, following a hospitalization or surgery, or a traumatic experience we can struggle jumping back into a routine.
There are times when we feel very close to God, times of spiritual highs—maybe a Communion service, a Sunday worship in God’s Acres, a Bible study—when we would want that exhilarating feeling to continue. But those days are few and far between, and outweighed by the ordinary times of life.
Depression hit Elijah as he lay under that broom tree. He ha acted alone for the most part, as he called on God to put the priests and followers of Baal in their place. Now Elijah was alone again feeling the burden of thinking that the success or failure of God’s message depends on him alone. When one feels alone, the weight and burdens of the tasks at hand become infinitely greater.
When we feel alone our burdens and tasks take on more stress and feel much bigger. With the Covid-19 problems we have had, and the continuing mutations, we may be isolating more which, in turn, makes us feel more alone and vulnerable. The unrest in our cities that we watch on TV also has this effect. Health problems, financial stress, peer pressure, the drought, all can get us feeling overwhelmed.
The story of Elijah ends with God coming to him in a still, small voice. Elijah had managed to make it to Mt. Horeb where God came to him with a comforting message and a plan to start building up the faithful followers into a united group again. God helped Elijah through his time of despair and isolation because Elijah listened for God to speak to him.
God spoke to Elijah in the still, small voice. In our times of stress, distress, or in just the busyness of life, it is important for us to listen for that voice as well. God has shown us countless times His love and mercy. He has given us a Savior, His Son, who bore the pain of the cross, shedding his innocent life for ours.
We might not always find things going our way. Pressures and problems may cloud our view of the future. But through it all, God is with us. Through the ups and downs the joy and tragedy, the One who knows us better than we know ourselves is with us. God isn’t watching our lives from afar, but is intimately connected with us each and every moment of our lives.
He will provide the strength we need to face all situations. He will pick us up and set us on our feet each time we stumble and fall. Renew yourself in his infinite love and listen for his still, small voice in the midst of a busy life or what might be a tempest raging around you.