(Recommended Reading: 1 Kings 17, 18 & 19 – Quotes from New Living Translation)
There are so many stories in the Bible that show wonderful examples of great faith exhibited by God followers. The one that I find the most puzzling though is the story of Elijah the prophet. Miracles abound around him, yet his mountaintop faith falters.
Miracle #1: In 1 Kings 17:1b Elijah has a bold message to King Ahab – “…’As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives – the God I serve – there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!’” He has put this “event” squarely on his own shoulders, in time angering the king as things happen as Elijah foretold.
Miracle #2: At the direction of God, Elijah leaves and goes to a place where he has access to water and is miraculously fed bread and meat provided twice daily by ravens.
Miracle #3: When the water supply dried up because of the lack of rain he moved on, again at the word of the Lord, to Zarephath. He encounters a widow gathering wood so that she can return home to prepare a last meal for herself and her son, believing they will then die for lack of food. But Elijah directs her to go prepare the food as she planned and to bring the first of the bread to him. (That was pretty bold of him to request!) He assures her that the Lord will perform a miracle for her, giving her an endless supply of flour and oil, until it once again rains. (This indicates that the lack of sufficient food is due to the drought and that rain will once again allow them to provide food for themselves.) Things do happen as Elijah said it would. She was able to provide food for not only her family but for Elijah for a long period of time.
Miracle #4: During the time Elijah was with that same woman, her son became ill and died. Needless to say she was very distraught, as was Elijah. But he took action and called upon the Lord and the boy was raised from the dead and returned to his mother.
Miracle #5: It has been more than 3 years since Elijah called for the drought. God finally directs him to present himself to Ahab and tell him that He will then send rain. Elijah boldly goes to Ahab and tells him to call together all Israel to come to Mount Carmel. He also says the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah are to come. He then proposed a contest of sorts, between his God and their god. They are to prepare the offering of a bull on their altar and call on their god to answer by fire, and then he will do the same – with the true God answering. Everyone agreed. The false prophets prepared their offering on their altar and called upon Baal. Nothing. From morning until noon they cried out and danced around their altar. At noon Elijah began to taunt them, telling them they should shout louder – which they did, additionally they were cutting themselves enough to draw blood. This continued until evening. Still…..crickets.
Finally, Elijah called the people to himself. He gathered 12 stones and built an altar for the Lord. He arranged wood upon it, dug a trench around it and prepared his bull and laid it upon the altar. He then had them fill four large jars of water and pour it over everything on the altar – three times they did this. So much water that the wood was soaked and it ran down into the trench filling it. Elijah then simply stepped up and prayed, asking God to show Himself with fire. The fire came down and not only consumed the meat on the altar, but burned up the wet wood, the stones, and the soil, even evaporating the water in the trench. Needless to say, this made believers of the people and the false prophets were then seized and killed.
Miracle #6: After this miraculous display of God’s power, under a big, clear, beautiful, blue sky, Elijah told King Ahab to enjoy a feast because rain was on the way. As Elijah began to pray for the rain, he kept sending his servant to search the sky for clouds. The servant kept returning to report he saw nothing but blue sky; finally, after seven times the servant reports seeing one very small cloud. Elijah then had his servant go to King Ahab and warn him to hitch up his chariot and get off the mountain before the rain prevented his leaving. As the dark clouds and winds approached and heavy rains began to fall, King Ahab was headed home to Jezreel and his wife Jezebel.
Miracle #7: As King Ahab was charging home in his chariot, the power of God came over Elijah. He tucked his cloak into his belt and began running, passing Ahab in his chariot and ran ahead of him all the way back to Jezreel. King Ahab arrived safely home to his wife Jezebel and told her about all that had happened. She was a very evil woman that worshipped Baal and enticed Ahab to join her after they married. He even built a place for their worship of Baal and she had ordered all the prophets of God to be killed. Oh, so when she learned that Elijah had all her prophets killed, she was incensed. She sent a messenger to Elijah letting him know that she planned to see him dead for what he had done.
Now here we have this man so full of faith that he has experienced miracle after miracle in a 3½ year period of time – miracles that should have given him a lifetime of strength and undeniable faith. So how did he respond to this woman that threatened him? He ran….he hid….then he prayed to God to take his life! He had gone from mountaintop faith to the deepest valley of despair in just a flash. Why? It would be easy for us to judge him – these actions and reactions. But, maybe he was just physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. He was after all, just human.
I believe the demands on people, especially that are ministers of God, can suffer from this. To try to always be strong, always be God’s point man to the masses – thinking, saying and doing only what is right and good – must be draining. Not to mention the increased attacks from Satan that they endure. (You know, Satan does not have to be very concerned about the people he already has in his camp. It is the ones that are out on the front lines, full of faith, out preaching and teaching, living lives for God that he is going to focus on.) We must remember that the ministers of God are human – just like you and me. They are not perfect and in moments of weakness and exhaustion can be fallible. That is why it is important for us to keep them in our prayers. But, I digress from the story of Elijah.
As Elijah is hiding out from Jezebel, wanting only to die, God once again reaches out to him, again miraculously providing food and water. Elijah gets up and travels for forty days and nights until he comes to Mount Horeb, where he goes into a cave – I would assume to continue hiding. Then God asks Elijah what he is doing there. Oh my….Elijah has a major pity party. He does not focus on the good, the miracles or what he knows God can do, but on the negative things that have happened. The Lord instructs him to go out of the cave because He Himself is going to pass by. There was then earth shattering winds, then an earthquake, then fire. But the Lord was not in any of those things. Elijah, having apparently withdrawn back into the cave heard a whisper. He covered his face and went to the mouth of the cave where he again hears the Lord ask him what he is doing there; but, the pity party continued. So, God assured Elijah there were still thousands in Israel that had not worshipped the false idols of Ahab and Jezebel. He is then instructed to go on another mission where he is to anoint a new king over Israel and to anoint Elisha to be his protégé – a prophet to succeed him. So to his credit, Elijah did as he was told.
After studying these familiar stories again, I could not help but wonder about how often do we fall into the same trap as Elijah? We have a mountaintop experience with God; our faith explodes, only to fall into a valley of defeat. It does happen and will continue to happen. But we must stay strong, keep the faith and listen for that whisper of God to help us get back on track.
Let us pray daily for those whispers of God to direct our lives!
Written by Karran Martin – June 2, 2019