Bible studies in the life of Elijah
Blindness, self focus and the replacing of Elijah
By Fraser Gordon
The last time we looked at Elijah, we saw how he had come off the mountain top experience of defeating all the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and was now running in fear from the threats of Jezebel. If you remember, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Elijah and empowered him to run ahead of the chariot to the entrance of Jezreel, where he stopped and waited while Ahab went in to talk to his wife, Jezebel. She herself did not come out, but sent a message to him that she was going to take his life. Elijah's response was to run as far away from her as he could. So he went from faith in God, who revealed Himself as to who He really is, to a panic attack. We saw that he ran into the wilderness, sat under a tree and in fear and unbelief actually asked God to take his life. In the New Testament James talks about Elijah being a man just like we are and says that at times he had faith but there were also times of failure too. We are the same as he was; there are times when our faith in God rises and everything is fine, but then we have times of defeat. Hopefully not times of depression where we come to the point when we want our lives to end. However, Christians do get depressed as we have mentioned. Let’s continue the story and see whether Elijah is able to learn that which God desires him to see.
When we have fallen... amazing grace.
1 Kings 19:4-7 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; 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." (5) He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, "Arise, eat." (6) Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. (7) The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, "Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you."
In this passage you have such a beautiful picture of the Grace of God despite our failings and weaknesses. Elijah had actually turned his back on God's call for him, had run away from what God had called him to do, yet God had not forsaken from him. His grace is still operating and providing him with all that he needs. The Lord God knew that physically Elijah was not able to undertake such a long journey, so He sent an angel to prepare food and water for him so that he would be strengthened to get to Mt Horeb. We have the same picture in the New Testament when the disciples were asked to wait for Christ and Peter got sick of waiting and said “I am going fishing”. He was going back to what he had done previously before following Jesus, and the other disciples agreed and decided to come too. The Bible says that they got into their boats and toiled all night and caught absolutely nothing. In the morning they saw someone on the beach who said to them “Have you caught anything?” They replied “No, not a thing!” He said to them “Cast your net on the other side of the boat!” When they did they caught 153 fish, and realised that it was the Lord who had not only provided them with the fish, but was actually preparing breakfast for them as well. So here you have the same picture of grace, despite the fact that they were fishing when they should have been waiting! In spite of our failings and weaknesses God is always gracious to us, and I am really grateful that He is. I remember the old saint that said “But what if we turn our back on God’s light?” to which the other saint replied “Well, God will shine on your back!” This is exactly what happened to Elijah! He is dominated by fear and unbelief and running from what God has called him to do, yet you see God being really gracious towards him. God didn't say to him “You are going to reap what you sow, if you walk into the wilderness you are going to starve.” No, God provided for Elijah’s needs even though he is going in the opposite direction to where he should be. Horeb, where he was headed is a long way from Israel – about 120 miles away in the Arabian dessert.
1 Kings 19:8 So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Why do you think he was going there? I am still thinking about this myself. What do we know about Horeb? We know that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are in the same place and that Mount Horeb was a lower peak of Mount Sinai. It's the place where Moses met God in the burning bush. It's the place where the law was given to Moses for the people and it is also the place where Israel failed with the golden calf. However, Elijah is going there for some reason which we do not know. God hasn’t called him to go there, but he is on this long journey which lasts forty days and forty nights. The number 40 in the bible is always consistent with testing and trial.
The searching question... God looks for honesty!
1 Kings 19:9 Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
Now God asks Elijah a question. Previously it was always God who was directing him and taking the responsibility for where he should go and what he should do. He had never been asked a question such as this before. When he was called to speak to Ahab, God spoke to him. When he waited at the brook Cherith the Word of the Lord came to him and told him to go to the widow at Zaraphath. God made continual provision for him there and Elijah waited until the word of the Lord came again to him telling him to go back and speak to Ahab once more. Now God has to ask him “What are you doing here?” He had left his post and was now hiding in a cave far away from everything! What God was asking him was “WHY have you left your post?” God had revealed Himself to the nation and the nation was returning to Him. They had seen that Jehovah was the true God and Baal was false. The 400 prophets had been killed and Elijah was at the entrance to Jezreel. If he had only remained still and waited for God’s next instruction things would have been very different, but instead he panicked. So when God asked him “What are you doing here?” He just wanted an honest answer from Elijah. Quite often when we are dominated by our self- nature and our fears and insecurities, we are not really honest with ourselves or God.
Elijah remains blinded by self
1 Kings 19:10 He said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."
Elijah’s answer to God is to speak well of himself and badly of everyone else. This is what the self-nature is like; it always elevates itself and puts others down. If you are ever in a troublesome situation you always see yourself in the right and someone else is always in the wrong. So what God is asking Elijah to do is to face the situation honestly as to why he had run away from his post. At this point Elijah just can't see it. He says “I am very zealous for the Lord God of hosts.” He speaks well of himself. He says “Look, I am 100% sold out for God, so much so that I am zealous for you.” Then he speaks horrendously about the nation of Israel, saying “They have forsaken your covenant, they have torn down your altars and killed your prophets and I am the only one that you have got left.” Had he answered honestly I think things may have been different for Elijah, but he remained blind to his condition and didn’t see what God was trying to show him. He didn’t see that the weaknesses and fears that Israel had were the very things that he was now experiencing. His faith in Jehovah had been replaced by fear and he was not following God at this point. He is living in unbelief and he blames Israel for those very same things. But he himself claims that he is completely sold out and zealous for God. We are all like this at times.
God’s lesson to be still and listen!
1 Kings 19:11-12 So He said, "Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. (12) After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.
When the Lord spoke to him again He did not reply to what Elijah had said, but told Him to go and stand upon the Mount and that He would pass by before him. He said to Elijah “I want you to go and stand outside and I will pass by and I am going to show you what I am like.” Then great and exciting things began to happen; there was a great strong wind which broke the mountains and an earthquake followed by a fire but God was not in any of them. God has revealed Himself through such things in times past in scripture, but here it says that He was not in these things. We need to be very careful that we do not always look for big events to find God. Remember God is trying to teach Elijah that even though the fire fell at Mount Carmel as a big outward demonstration of His power, yet it was not enough to actually turn the nation’s heart and He wasn't in it. But what you have here is a still small voice, something really insignificant. God is trying to teach Elijah that He isn't always in the big outward things but He is in small insignificant things as well, and that is where His voice is actually heard. If you think back over your life, the times that God has actually spoken to you isn't in the big outward manifestations, it is actually in the quiet, simple small things that you hear the Lord speak.
Psalm 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God.” Most of the time, when there is a lot of ‘hustle and bustle’ going on in our lives we don't actually hear what God is saying. We have to be quiet and listen for His voice because mostly this is where we hear Him. Here He is saying to Elijah that this is the way that I actually work among the nations.
The question again... Has Elijah learnt the lesson?
1 Kings 19:13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
We also see in this passage that none of the outward manifestations could draw Elijah out of his cave. The only thing that could bring him out was the still small voice. When Elijah heard it, he knew that it was God’s voice. The outward manifestations of God; the fire, the wind and the earthquake – did not speak to Elijah but the still small voice did. When he heard it, he recognised that it was God’s voice and in reverence he wrapped his head. When you think about it, the only thing that can speak to our hearts and bring us out of the caves we are hiding in is the still, small voice of God; it’s the only thing that really brings us life. Many people are hiding in caves. They have fled from the will of God for different reasons. Sometimes out of fear. Sometimes out of situations that haven't gone the way they thought they should. Sometimes discouragement is a factor. There are all sorts of things that can cause people to hide from God. We can be dominated by fears and insecurities, and really need to hear that still small voice! When Elijah heard it he was able to leave the cave and come out to hear what God wanted to say to him.
God spoke to him a second time in exactly the same way as He did before, He asked “What are you doing here?” How did Elijah respond? In exactly the same way as he had before! God is still trying to get an honest answer from him, but Elijah is so occupied with himself and his failings that he just can't see what God is trying to show him. He repeats exactly what he has already said to God; ending up with the fact that he thinks that he alone is left and they are seeking His life. So he didn't actually learn the lesson that God was teaching him; that He uses the little things to work out His purposes, and His still, small voice to reach men’s hearts. However, when we get to verse 15, the Lord speaks again and says to Elijah “Go, return.” I think that would have been quite a shock to Elijah. God did not want him to stay in the cave and He never wants any of us to either. If you have failed miserably, it is always –‘Go, return.’ You return, back to where you left off. Yes, you have failed, but you are never to stay in the place of defeat. It is always go, return!
A replacement for Elijah?
1 Kings 19:15-16 The LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; (16) and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.
So now God has new instructions for Elijah, some of which he would have agreed with and one which would have been hard for him. He was to go to Damascus and anoint Hazael to be king over Syria, and Jehu to be king over Israel…all good so far; however Gods’ next instruction concerned him personally. He was to anoint Elisha as prophet in place of HIM!! You can imagine that Elijah would have been quite shocked at this, because even though God's grace extends towards us and we will always be forgiven, service is quite different. Service can be removed because of failures. If you look at scripture, God dealt with Adam in this way, when he failed in his responsibility to tend the Garden of Eden, he wasn't allowed anywhere near it. Moses was called to speak to the rock and to uplift Jehovah before the eyes of the people but he got really angry with them and struck the rock with his staff. Because of that failure God said “You are not going to enter into the Promised Land.” ‘Your mantle is actually passing to another’. Saul is also an example of this. He tried to take upon himself the role of Priest and King. He didn’t wait for Samuel, (who was Gods’ priest) to offer sacrifices but offered them himself – which was not lawful, so God rejected him as King. God had also told him to destroy all the Amalekites in battle because they were evil, but he was not obedient and kept the best of the flocks and herds, and also Agag, their king. He was then rejected from his position which was given to another, who was David. So God has worked like this in the past. People are forgiven for what they have done, but service is another thing and if we fail in this then God will give the task to someone else. God is completely gracious and we are still loved as His child, but His calling for service can be passed on to another. Now Elijah is being told that the responsibility God had given to him is to be passed on to three people. God said “I am giving it to this one, and this one, and to one who is going to be prophet in your place.” That should have caused him to rethink!
From one prophet left to seven thousand?
1 Kings 19:17-18 "It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. (18) "Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him."
Elijah didn't consider that there was anyone else, not even Obadiah who he had met previously, and who was faithful to God. But God had 7,000 who were faithful to Him that Elijah didn't know anything about. You see when Elijah looked at the nation of Israel all he saw was the bad. He actually didn't see the good that was there. He never saw the 7,000 that God had; those faithful ones that were quietly maintaining their relationship with Him were completely unknown to Elijah. So the lesson of Horeb which we can take from this verse is that God's Spirit is always at work, but now He is to be known in the still small voice. It is in quietness, and not always in the big outward things. All of us want to see God work, but we need to be careful because God works in different ways. God still does signs and wonders, but you need to test all things. Yes, God can be at work, but it is an area where the enemy can also work. End time prophecy warns that there will be lying signs and wonders that will deceive many. Many people hunger after these not realising that they can become a deception to them, and that even the elect can be deceived. So you need to be really aware of these big outward things. Yes, they are good but God was showing Elijah “I actually work in the still, small, voice, that’s where My Sprit is really working. Here at Horeb, Elijah also had to learn that he was not indispensable. That he really wasn't the ‘be all and end all’, that he was just one of the persons God had at His command. Just one of the 7000 that Elijah didn't know anything about. Do you remember that John the Baptist said “I must decrease that He might increase”? You have the same thing with Elijah; he has to hand over his authority and mantel as a prophet to another. I think it is about a period of six years that it actually takes while he trains the one who God has appointed to take his place, but he faithfully anoints Elisha and begins the task.
That would have been a really humbling passage for Elijah in his life. He has to learn that he is not indispensable to God. Yes, God loves him. Yes, God has been very gracious to him in his weakness, but no man is indispensable to God. He always has others. And as I look at this I wonder if Elijah had been honest with God what God would have done. If he had said “Look I have failed miserably, I just panicked and I am full of fear and I thought You would have done things differently.” However, Elijah didn’t, so we do not know what God would have done. God asked him twice “What are you doing here, what are you doing here,” but he gave the same response each time. He couldn’t see what God wanted him to see and remained blinded by self. May we learn from this and be honest before God and continue to listen for His still small voice.