When Elijah Ran for His Life

When Elijah Ran for His Life

First Kings 19 has always puzzled me. It would be hard to imagine a greater victory over false religion than what Elijah accomplished in the previous chapter. The saturated altar being completely consumed by fire and the execution of 450 prophets of Baal brought the people to their knees shouting, “The Lord, He is God!” It was a great moment in the prophet’s fight against idolatry in the land of Israel, yet it was not to last. Once Jezebel received word of the event she issued a death warrant for Elijah and so “he arose and ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:3). What a dramatic turn of events. How could Elijah be on the top of the mountain one day and in the bottom of a valley the next? What can we learn from it?

What was it that troubled the prophet? Was he simply afraid to die? Was he prideful? Did he lack courage? Is this a picture of the Lord helping His servant through a great pity party, or is it something else? Note that Elijah said twice, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts…” (1 Kings 19:10, 14). His life was dedicated entirely to God’s cause. He was concerned about God’s altars, God’s prophets, and God’s covenant, but the people were not. They forsook His covenant, tore down His altars, and murdered His prophets. No doubt he was upset, but it seems he was more concerned about God’s cause than his own. Perhaps it is the case, then, that this context is not so much a picture of a depressed and despondent man so void of hope that he asks for death, as it is a one of a man who feels defeated because he sees his work as a lost cause. He must have felt great joy at what was seemingly a national repentance (2 Kings 18:39) which may have effected even wicked Ahab (2 Kings 18:41-46), only to see it shattered by Jezebel. Perhaps he believed that he had done all he could do. If one wicked woman could overrule the king and upend the cause of righteousness in the land, then the prophet’s work was finished, and if his life were to end then it would end on his terms, not hers. Thus he set his sights on Horeb and determined to run to His God. Whatever the case, Elijah was a broken man.

Note carefully how God responds. First, He provides for Elijah’s physical needs. Upon hearing Jezebel’s decree, the prophet made his way from Jezreel, approximately 100 miles south to Beersheba, with sights on Horeb, approximately 200 miles further south. A 300 mile journey was no small undertaking and Elijah would need food and drink to sustain him along the way. Thus, the Lord provided–“Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you” (2 Kings 19:7). Second, the Lord provides reassurance–He provides for his emotional and spiritual needs. Elijah was discouraged. He believed that his task was impossible. If Jezebel could prevail after Carmel, then there was nothing more to be done. Perhaps Israel would never repent of their wickedness and the cause of God prevail. But that was not true and his thinking needed to be adjusted. Thus, God reassured Elijah by reminding him that He cared. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 9, 13) may be more of an invitation than a reproof– a compassionate God giving His weary servant an opportunity to “cast all his cares upon Him” (1 Pet. 5:7). He reassured him of His presence. First Kings 19:11-12 is first, and foremost, a reminder to Elijah that he was not alone–the Lord was with him. He reassured him of His plan. That “the Lord was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice” was Jehovah’s way of saying that His victory would not come through vivid displays of power like what He produced on Carmel but it would still come. God’s Word–God’s Will–still reigns supreme and God would still judge Ahab, Jezebel, and Israel (cf. 1 Kings 19:15-17). He reassured him of His people. “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal…” (1 Kings 19:18). Elijah needed a reminder that there were others like him in Israel. Remember Obadiah (1 Kings 18:4)? Even in a land overrun by wickedness, God’s faithful few remain.

It should not be difficult for us to place ourselves in Elijah’s shoes. The work of the Lord is work, indeed, and there are times when feelings of mental and physical exhaustion and exasperation set in. Discouragement is not a matter of “if” but “when,” and we should not be ashamed when it comes. But let it be for the right reasons and let it be resolved in the right way. Like Elijah, we sometimes wonder if God’s work is a lost cause. We ask ourselves, “Why won’t they listen?” “What more could I possibly say or do?”. In such times we must remember that we serve a compassionate and present God. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is the refrain of Hebrews 13:5. No one and “no thing” can separate us from the love of God but we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:31-39). We must also remember that God’s Word is still powerful, His cause greater than our own, and the victory will be won because it has already been won. Elijah thought all was lost! He was the last of a dying breed! No real change could ever be made in Israel! But that was just not true. God’s Will always prevails and God’s people will always be present.

Whenever you are discouraged in the service of God, remember Elijah. Remember the Lord your God and run to Him that you may find comfort, compassion, consolation, and a reminder of what’s true.