“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9, 13 – Part 1)

INTRODUCTION. These next few posts explore the vital importance of Mission for sustaining us and helping us maintain our zeal for life. In this Bible story, Elijah runs from Jezebel (1 Kings 19) and runs to Horeb, the mountain of God to meet with the LORD and find out His purpose for the rest of his life.

ELIJAH’S PREVIOUS MISSION

As 1 Kings 19 opens, Elijah has experienced a great victory. The LORD had given him a mission and had appointed him as the prophet to speak to King Ahab about the wickedness of Israel. But now the mission regarding the drought was over. Fire had come down from heaven and had consumed the soaking wet sacrifice. The people had declared, “The LORD, He is God!” and the prophets of Baal had been slain at the Kishon. Then a cloud as small as a man’s hand (1 Kings 18:44) had grown into an entire sky black with clouds and wind, and a heavy shower had ended three and a half years of drought. The LORD has accomplished a great work through His prophet and Elijah stood briefly on a spiritual mountaintop.

Now things have changed dramatically. Jezebel has issued her threats (19:2) and our hero “was afraid and arose and ran for his life” (19:3). He heads south as fast as he can, eventually sitting down alone under a juniper tree. Then the Scripture says:

and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” – 1 Kings 19:4

Elijah is exhausted, so he slept. Twice the angel of the LORD (the pre-incarnate Christ) wakes him and gives him bread and water, so that he can go “in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God” (19:8).

THOUGHTS ON THE PASSAGE SO FAR (1 KINGS 19:1-8)

LOSS OF MISSION. In my opinion, Elijah did not run away because he was afraid of Jezebel, at least not primarily. Oh, yes, she was an evil woman and she intended harm to Elijah, but Jezebel’s threat was not the primary reason Elijah was afraid. If the prophet were merely afraid of Jezebel, he would have stopped running long before he reached “Horeb, the mountain of God.” No, Elijah was not fleeing FROM Jezebel, but he was fleeing TO God.

Why was Elijah afraid and fleeing to God? Elijah was seeking the face of the LORD to know if his life’s work was done. Elijah was afraid because he feared that his purpose in life was finished. And if the LORD was done with him, as he feared was the case, then it was time for him to die.

He was thinking, “LORD, was that it? Was that my only work for You? Have I accomplished all the work You have given me to do? Because if my work is done, then my life is done. I would rather die than languish.” So his fear was related to his loss of mission or loss of purpose. “If I have no more purpose, then I need no more life. LORD, give me a new mission or take my life and take me home.”

For at least three and a half years, Elijah had experienced the joy of being on a mission for the LORD and with the LORD. Every day when he arose from sleep, he was engaged, even consumed by the work the LORD had given him. He was God’s chosen prophet to declare to Ahab and Jezebel their wickedness, to call them to repentance, and to warn them of the coming judgment. Every moment was meaningful. The mission was accomplished on Carmel as the LORD glorified Himself, and then came the letdown. “What is my mission now?” When Jezebel threatened Elijah with death, he thought it might be God’s signal that his life’swork was done.

Was God done with Elijah? Were his fears well-founded?

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD. We see the LORD’s compassion on his frightened prophet as he sleeps under the juniper tree. The angel of the LORD Himself comes to Elijah twice, feeding him a bread cake from heaven (John 6:35, 50) and giving him some of the living water (John 4:14). Notice also that the angel of the LORD tells Elijah that there is still a journey for him to complete (“the journey is too great for you” – 19:7),  thus giving him a strong hint that there is yet work for him to do.

FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS. This phrase is significant because it indicates that Elijah was going to Horeb, the mountain of God, to seek the LORD with extended fasting.

I have usually read this expression in this passage as meaning how long Elijah traveled, but he did not need forty days and forty nights to travel from Beersheba to Horeb, a distance of less than two hundred miles.

Rather, when the expression “forty days and forty nights” appears in the Scripture, (with the exception of Genesis 7:4, 12), it describes times when Bible heroes spent a long time in fasting and prayer. (Moses in Exodus 24:28; 34:28 when he was on Sinai (Horeb) with the LORD receiving the Law. Jesus in Matthew 4:2 during His temptation in the wilderness.) Thus the expression here in 1 Kings 19:8 is describing Elijah coming to Horeb to seek the LORD with extraordinary fasting.

ELIJAH AND THE LORD AT HOREB

When Elijah arrived at his destination, he found “a cave and lodged there” (19:9). The word of the LORD came to him,

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why did the LORD ask this question of Elijah? First, although the LORD perfectly knows all things, He wanted Elijah to verbalize the reason he had come to Horeb. It was like the perfect physician asking the patient the reason for his visit. Or like Jesus asking blind Bartimaeus. “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) Or again, like Jesus asking the man at the pool of Bethesda if he wanted to get well (John 5:6). The LORD’s question forced Elijah to think about the answer. “Yeah, why am I here?”

ZEALOUS FOR THE LORD

Elijah answers, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts” (19:10). As I consider this reply, I hear Elijah telling the LORD that he has been zealous and he is still zealous, but he needs to know if the LORD still has work for him to do. “LORD, I am zealous and I am willing, but I need to hear from You if my work is done. O, LORD, do You have another assignment for me?”

NEXT POST. In my next post, I will continue to explore this story of Elijah at Horeb and will see how the LORD faithfully sends the prophet out for another mission. We will also learn how Elijah’s search for a mission has applications for us, especially during times of transition in our lives. Stay tuned.

SDG                 rmb                 5/10/2022                   #527

A question of purpose (1 Kings 19)

INTRODUCTION

In the opening scene in the movie “Apocalypse Now,” the camera descends through the blades of a slowly turning ceiling fan to settle on a solitary American soldier, sitting on a sweat-soaked mattress in a cheap hotel in Vietnam. The heat and humidity are palpable, but so is the boredom that is projected by the motionless soldier. It is hard to tell which is the more oppressive. Then comes the voice-over: “Saigon. Waiting for a mission.”

As I reflect on my own journey in life, I believe most of my time before I met Jesus Christ was spent waiting for a mission. No, of course, I did not think of my life that way, but in retrospect it seems that I was figuratively “waiting for the phone to ring.” As Pink Floyd says in their haunting song, “Time,” I was, “waiting for someone or something to show me the way.” In the end, my “something” was rock climbing. Maybe it wasn’t significant or impressive, but it was something, and something is better than nothing, and so I gave myself to rock climbing for fifteen years. That was my purpose. Then I met Jesus and trusted in Jesus and my question of purpose was forever answered. Christ became my purpose, and He defines my mission.

I think that purpose is a huge issue for everyone, but it is especially important for men. Men are more driven than women. Men are goal seekers. It was 600 men who rode into the valley of death in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” And purpose is big for men. In sports, athletes have been known to say, “Play me or trade me, but don’t sit me on the bench.” In life, I think the saying for men goes, “Give me a mission or I wither and die.”

ELIJAH IS LOOKING FOR A PURPOSE

In 1 Kings 18, we read of the contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Before their contest, Elijah confronts the people of Israel with a challenging question: “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him (1 Kings 18:21).” In the end, Elijah calls on the LORD to send fire from heaven to burn up the evening sacrifice, then he kills all the false prophets of Baal. It was probably Elijah’s greatest moment.

But then a short while later, our bold and brave hero is running into the wilderness from Jezebel like a scared rabbit. Gone are the challenging questions and the bold calls to the LORD to send fire from heaven, and all we read is that Elijah, “was afraid and arose and ran for his life (1 Kings 19:3).”

What has happened to the fearless prophet?

While some commentators think Elijah is depressed, I had another thought as I looked at this scene through the lens of purpose. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah bursts onto the scene from out of nowhere and immediately announces that there will be a long drought in Israel (17:1). Then for the next three and a half years, Elijah is the prophet in Israel, and his life is all about purpose. He is as powerful as Ahab, the king of Israel, and even confronts Ahab about his wickedness and godlessness. Elijah has been a man on a mission with a God-given purpose for three and a half years.

But now, that has all changed. The drought is over, there has been a bit of a revival among the people as they have moved back toward the LORD, and the prophets of Baal have been slain. The mission has been accomplished, so it is possible that Elijah is wondering if his purpose is done. He may be wondering, “LORD, are You done with me?” Then comes the threat from Jezebel, and Elijah thinks, “Surely this is a signal from the LORD that my work is done. Well, if my work here is done, then, LORD, take me home.”

“IS MY WORK DONE?”

This idea of purpose makes sense as we examine the events that take place in this chapter. Notice that twice the angel of the LORD brings food to Elijah, and the second time He says, “Arise, eat, for the journey is too great for you (19:7).” But if Elijah’s purpose is over, why would the angel of the LORD give him food for the journey? Hmm. And what is this journey He mentions? It seems that Elijah needs energy because there is a journey for him to complete.

Elijah’s travels bring him to Horeb, the mountain of God. Then the word of the LORD comes to him, and the LORD said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah (19:9)?” Now, this is fascinating! This is a question about Elijah’s purpose. “Why have you come here, Elijah?” But Elijah uses the question to express his discouragement. Here is a paraphrase of 19:10: “I have accomplished the mission You gave me and now I have no purpose. Take me home!

The LORD then displays His power three times, in a wind so strong it breaks the rocks apart, then in an earthquake, and then in a firestorm. Then the LORD spoke to Elijah again and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah (19:13)?” Elijah answers the LORD exactly the same way, but this time he is asking the LORD for a mission. “LORD, I am still willing to work toward another mission. Have You still got a purpose for me?”

The LORD then gives Elijah a purpose and a mission that will last him the rest of his days on earth. Armed with the power of a new purpose, Elijah goes out with vigor.

NEED PURPOSE, NO PURPOSE, PURPOSE, AND MY PURPOSE

There are definite lessons to learn from this narrative about purpose in life.

First, we are purpose-seeking creatures because we are purpose-needing creatures. We have been created by God for purpose, and we are adrift until we have a compelling mission that gives us a sense of God-given purpose. So, I would say that every person yearns for a sense of purpose.

Second, until a person comes to Christ for salvation, it is impossible to have a God-given purpose and, therefore, all choices of purpose are arbitrary. It is like my choice of having rock climbing for my purpose. A person may make a “better choice” than rock climbing for their purpose, but it is, nevertheless, an arbitrary choice that will soon lose its satisfaction and its ability to compel me to action. Without Christ, there is no God-given purpose.

Third, all believers in Christ receive a sense of purpose and mission at salvation. That is because all followers of Jesus have been called to a mission (Matthew 28:19-20) and have received a God-given purpose (Acts 1:8). As a person grows as a Christian, that person gradually releases their grip on worldly purposes and joyfully accepts their mission and purpose in Christ. All believers have received a God-given mission and purpose.

Ah, but fourth, there is available to all believers but received by relatively few a purpose that could be described as “my unique purpose.” This is that purpose that fulfills the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). This purpose conveys to the possessor the feeling that, “This is the reason I was born!” This is a life purpose, one that you can continue to do and hope to do till the day you die. This is that purpose that Paul received from the Lord Jesus, and the purpose that Paul pursued until he died. (Give me a life of purpose like Paul’s! Give me a purpose worth dying for!) For George Whitefield, this was that purpose that compelled him to preach the word of God till his life’s candle burned out. For Moses, it was leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. When you possess your unique life purpose, you cannot imagine doing anything else. It is your “terminal” purpose.

Let’s all seek the Lord for our own unique “terminal” purpose!

SDG                 rmb                 4/30/2021