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