Elijah restored

Christian life is a roller coaster.  There are great times when we see miracles and life is good, then we fall into a pit of despair and cannot see a way out, and then we meet God again, and we are restored and revitalised.

After a mountain top experience there is often a shadowy trip through the valley.

Think the story of Elijah, the prophet

In 1 Kings 18:20-40.  There is a confrontation between Elijah (God’s man of the moment) and 400 priests of the god Baal, in which God dramatically shows who is boss, and all the prophets of Baal are killed.

Elijah was on a high. He had just scored the win of his life. He had (with God’s help) defeated an army of false prophets and put the one true God back in the number one seat.

Yet in the blink of an eye, Elijah, so brave in front of hundreds of his enemies, takes to his heels and runs from a woman whose prophets he had just destroyed.[1]

Let’s read 1 Kings 19

1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 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.” 3 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.

4 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.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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. 9 At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 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.”

11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” …13 When Elijah heard [the sound of sheer silence], 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?” 14 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.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu … as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha … as prophet in your place.

The prophet Elijah had reached the pinnacle of his life when he defeated the prophets of Baal.

But then all it took to pop Elijah’s bubble of joy was one event – a threat by Jezebel – and it plunged him into fear.

Just like a powerful win on the league field one week can be followed by a disastrous loss (think of my Warriors team), so it can be in the life of a Christian. Up one moment, down the next.

From the heights of seeing the destruction of the prophets of Baal, he sunk to the depths of despair.

He felt worthless – He called out “I am no better than my ancestors.

He felt hopeless – he ran for his life

He felt isolated – I am the only one left

He felt unable to cope – I have had enough

He wanted to die – Take my life, Lord.”

First, he ran away about 30 miles and then he continued for 40 days and 40 nights (about 400 miles) to Mount Horeb.

 

Then God spoke to him, “Why are you here? What are you running away from?”

 

Why did he feel so down?  God had fed him and looked after him under the broom tree. An angel of the Lord appeared to him and gave him instructions on what to do next. Yet he was so far down, all he could say was: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

 

He was like a petulant child who storms out of the house and claims he is never coming back – ever!  He said he wanted to die, but he went to a comfortable place under the shade of a broom tree (not wanting to die in the blazing sands of the desert).

 

Do any of his symptoms reverberate in our lives? A desperate feeling of wanting to end it all, a tendency to lay the blame on others (Everyone is against me), seeking escape through sleep, loss of appetite and a desire to go back into the past (where is my dummy to suck on). A persecution feeling (I am the only one left)

 

It sounds like depression to me.

 

But even in the pits of despair, God is there. Elijah was not so far down that God could not heal him.

 

God took the initiative to seek Elijah out.

 

Psalm 139:7 -12

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

 

God had already had Elijah take a nap and eat a warm meal. In this case we are not sure who provided it but back in chapter 17 it had been provided by the most unlikely of sources – a bird. But not just any old bird, these were ravens – scavengers and eaters of dead things, and an unclean animal according to their dietary laws. God uses the extraordinary to achieve his purpose.

 

He had already sent an angel to speak to Elijah

 

But Elijah was still in a hard place. He was like a stuck record, repeating his tale of woe again and again.

 

And now God gave Elijah an epiphany in the same manner of the angel Gabriel appearing the Mary the future mother of Jesus.

 

God spoke to Elijah directly, and said the Lord is about to pass by. 

 

God knew that Elijah needed something to pull him out of his depression. So, he appeared to Elijah but Elijah would not look at him because he knew to see God was to die (so much for his death wish), so he hid his face.

 

Even after this the stuck record continued.

 

Yet God poured hope into Elijah. He promised that he (God) would accompany him. He gave him directions – go back the way you came

 

He revealed the truth that Elijah was not isolated. He said- 1 Kings 19:18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him."

 

God corrected Elijah’s “Messiah complex” by reminding him of two very important facts of which he had lost sight: “It is not all up to you—I have a very thorough and effective plan for Israel” and “You are not alone—I have many others who love and serve me.”  Since this is the case, God is saying: “Now go back and play the role I’ve designed for you, trusting me to fulfil my plan in my own way and time.”  And Elijah listened and recovered and did just that.

 

He gave meaning to Elijah’s life because God had a further mission for him – go and anoint 2 kings and your successor.

 

The ramifications of Elijah doing what God told him was immense. In the future God will work through Hazael, Jehu and Elisha to defeat Baalism in Israel, and the knowledge of God will continue to spread through the 7000 who remain faithful to him.  [2]

 

God had not finished with Elijah and he loved Elijah back into service.

 

Elijah thought his problem was Jezebel, but there will always be Jezebels in our lives. The real challenge is always between our ears.  The way we live will inevitably be a reflection of the way we think.[3]

He thought that he had left God and that God had left him.

But God promises: I will never leave you nor forsake you.

 

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—    they comfort me

 

If anyone tells you that the Christian life is all mountain top experiences, they lie.  We will go through times when we feel worthless and insignificant and directionless, but God is always with us and he will, like he did the Elijah, lift us up and dust us off and send us again out into the world.

Isaiah 40:2-3

He lifted me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; He set my feet upon a rock and made my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

Was Elijah judged by God for this incident?  Was he wiped off God’s Christmas card list for his depression?  Nothing that happened in Chapter 19 that we have just read took away God’s blessing and providence toward Elijah.  And it is the same with us, depression does not forfeit our call or our beloved-ness (is that a word?) by God.

God is in the business of healing and restoring and encouraging.

Ezekiel 34:16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak

Jeremiah 30:17 For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds,' says the LORD

We have been talking about spiritual growth this year and sometimes that growth may be like the rising graph of a bullish stock market; at other times it may seem that our growth plateaus; and at other times it may seem that the graph mirrors the 1987 stock market crash.  But in all that, God is with us, God is for us, and if we keep our eyes on him, the downward or plateau trends will become upward trends again.

Isaiah 40:31 those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

The story of Elijah reminds me that the heroes of the Bible were real people like us and not perfect heroes on a pedestal. The story reminds us that depression does not preclude us. The story reminds us that God loves us and will go out of his way to encourage and commission us.

 

 



[1] Ian McCleary “Bible Corner: studies in Elijah” series in Daystar magazine 2004

[2] https://www.xenos.org/teachings/?teaching=1219

[3] John Ortberg The Me I want to be 90