(4)Elijah and Jesus
I Kings 19:4-8
By Pastor Noel Ilagan
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Chances are everyone of us have had the blues; but not everyone has suffered from depression. We feel sad and lonely at times, but after a while it goes away and we are back to our usual self.
Depression is different. Medical specialists say the depressed person not only feels sad and lonely but feels worthless; he lacks physical energy, he loses hope, he loses interest in life itself.
Christians are not exempt from sadness, disappointment, the blues, even depression. The question is the blues and disappointments or depression affect our attitude: Do we spiral downward spiritually and forget about God?
The glory of the kingdom of Israel declined after King Solomon died. One reason was Solomon’s disobedience to God’s command not to marry women and have concubines from the surrounding countries of Moab, Ammon, Edom Sidon and Hittite – all pagan nations. These women worshipped other gods and turned Solomon and the people away from the Lord. Eventually the kingdom split into the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah.
One of the kings of the northern kingdom was Ahab. His wife was Jezebel. While Ahab was weak, Jezebel was a strong-willed, obstinate woman. She was
the dominant person in their husband-wife relationship. Jezebel was a fanatic follower of the false god Baal; she hated Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.
Led by Ahab and Jezebel the northern kingdom abandoned God and the kingdom spiraled downward into Baalism. So God sent Elijah to bring the people back to God. But the people persisted in their worship of Baal.
The conflict between Ahab and Jezebel on one hand and Elijah on the other hand collided head-on when Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal to meet him at Mt Carmel to determine who was the true god – Baal or Yahweh. The prophets of Baal offered their sacrifice on the altar the whole day, calling on Baal through chanting, shouting, even slashing themselves with knives but nothing happened.
Then Elijah offered his sacrifice on the altar and prayed to God to accept his sacrifice so the people will know that the Lord is God. And the Lord honored his prayer and sent fire from heaven to burn the offering. When the people saw it they exclaimed “The Lord — He is God!” Elijah then commanded the people to seize all the prophets of Baal and kill them.
Jezebel is furious when she learns what had happened. She sends a messenger to Elijah telling him she will ensure that he is killed. Elijah is scared for he knew that Jezebel does not make empty threats.
Elijah tries to escape and he runs for his life and arrives in Beersheba. Technically Beersheba was no longer under the political jurisdiction of Ahab and Jezebel since it was located in the southern kingdom of Judah. But Elijah knew that for Jezebel that technicality did not matter at all.
As Elijah sat under the desert bush he thought that all that he had worked for has led to nothing. He thought this was the end of his service to God, and he asks God to take his life. The feeling of victory and success he had at Mt. Carmel was gone, replaced by an extreme sense of futility and failure. Someone put it this way: Elijah had an “emotional crash after a spiritual high”.
Maybe some of us have gone through such a “emotional crash after a spiritual high”. We experience a great mountaintop experience, feel God is very close to us then something happens and we “crash”.
For Elijah it seems on the surface that it was merely a struggle between him and Jezebel but something more was at play here. Satan was there working using Jezebel as his instrument to eliminate Elijah the man of God – and stop God’s work. There was a spiritual battle going on here behind the scenes.
While I was living in the Philippines I witnessed a serious church conflict where a group of pastors and lay leaders filed a case in court challenging the legality and legitimacy of the election of the incumbent national board. It became a protracted court case between two (2) national boards each other, each claiming they were the legal leaders of the church – much like the time when there were three (3) popes in the Roman church each claiming to be the legitimate successor of Peter. For many years the court case embarrassed the church, drained the energy of the congregations, and weakened its witness and ministry; but it made the lawyers rich.
For sure whenever the leaders of the two factions would meet they would pray and hold Bible devotions. And yet neither group was willing to give in. There were several attempts by external church friends to mediate, but the court case went on.
It was only after the court gave instructions for the two groups to come together and hold a special election of officers under the supervision of the government, that the case finally ended. Today the church has reunited and the healing process continues.
It would be spiritually naïve for us to think that when conflicts such as that one arise or when we are going through difficult personal problems or crisis that that is all there is. We must remember that we are children of God and the devil always wants to draw us away from God. The devil wants our faith to falter, and he wants us to doubt whether God is still with us. I believe that in any challenge or crisis that we face there is a spiritual element that we have to be aware of.
St. Peter advises us in his letter, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians: “Put on the whole armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world…”.
Going back to Elijah, after running away he finally stops and rests under a desert tree. It is there that he talks to God and opens up his feelings and prays that he might die. Physically and emotionally tired he lays down and sleeps. Two times the Lord comes to his aid by sending a messenger who brings him food and water. He eats, drinks, gets up and resumes his journey towards Mt. Horeb also called Sinai — the mountain of God.
At Mt Sinai Elijah tells God that he was the only believer left in the whole land. But God tells him he had the wrong information. God tells him that there were 7,000 who refused to worship Baal and remained faithful to Yahweh. There was no solid basis for Elijah’s feeling of despondency and failure in his ministry
Sometimes we worry about something based on wrong information or wrong assumptions. A research has shown about the things people worry about. The study revealed only 85% of things people worry about happen; and of the remaining 15% that did happen the majority of them were handled adequately and effectively by the individuals concerned.
However perhaps the most important lesson we can get is the fact that God never abandons Elijah. God does not even “rebuke” him for his wanting to die. God was with him all the while and knew what was happening. God knew what Elijah needed – rest and food for his physical body and assurance and to get his facts straight — that there were others who remained faithful to Yahweh. Being thus strengthened and refreshed Elijah regains his sense of purpose and meaning for his life and work.
As Christians we are not immune from serious problems and crises. We may go through the blues and even depression. The devil will use that period to mislead and trick us and tempt us to forget who we are as children of God.
But Jesus is there with us. He knows what is going on for He Himself was “a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief”. Jesus will use messengers to minister to us – perhaps a good conversation with a friend, a special family event, a beautiful musical concert, even a good meal – to who He is around us looking after us. Unto Him be our thanksgiving and praise! Amen!