Bible studies in the life of Elijah
The downward slide - from faith to fear to depression
by F Gordon
In the last message we saw Elijah's great victory on Mount Carmel and how
he took on the false prophets of Baal. This time however we have quite a
change in that Elijah's' massive victory turns to massive defeat. I am glad
the Bible is the way it is because it always portrays the lives of the
saints, warts and all. Elijah had had such an incredible victory on Mount
Carmel only to be defeated by fear, anxiousness and panic. We'll look at
this in this study through the first three verses of 1 Kings chapter.19.
The story is told to Jezebel. Do you think she is going to be happy?
1 Kings 19:1 Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and how he had
killed all the prophets with the sword.
Last time we got up to the place where he defeated the false priests and
God actually came through for Elijah and presented Himself to the people as
their true God. It wasn't Baal any longer... it was Jehovah. He was the One
who was in charge of the weather and He brought down fire. Then the rain
came and Elijah ran before Ahab's chariot back to the entrance of Jezreel
which was 20 miles away. Elijah stopped there, but Ahab went in to see
Jezebel. Now I don't know whether Elijah had expected Ahab to be different
because he had just witnessed that Baal was not the true god, or if he
thought Ahab would work on his behalf with Jezebel and tell her that
because of what had happened on Mount Carmel things had to change in the
land. However, Ahab's heart remained unchanged. Jezebel had stayed at home
and had not seen the showdown at Mount Carmel so she would have been
wondering what had happened. She would have seen the rain and probably
thought that as Baal was the god of thunder, he had done this. Then Ahab
came in and told her all that Elijah had done; how he had executed the
prophets after the great challenge on Mount Carmel and their sacrifice to
Baal in the afternoon. How they had cut themselves and blood flowed, but
still nothing happened....there was only silence. But Elijah prayed one
simple prayer and the fire fell. So Jezebel would have been incredibly
incensed by this, especially with the prophets being slain.
She took it well... Not. Time to run?
1 Kings 19:2-3 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the
gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one
of them by tomorrow about this time." (3) And he was afraid and arose and
ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left
his servant there.
In verse 2, she sent a messenger to Elijah saying 'So may the gods do to me
and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by
tomorrow about this time.' She was not going to lie down and do nothing and
I think that Elijah possibly underestimated her. This woman was like a
caged tiger... she came out fighting and sent a message and a threat. She
really had it within her power to take his life there and then but she
didn't actually do that. Instead, she gave him one days' notice of her
intention to take his life. Now, I don't know about you but if you were
going to take someone's life you probably wouldn't give them a day's notice
so that they had the chance to escape. So what was her intent? I believe it
was to instil fear into the heart of Elijah and it worked. When you get to
verse 3 you really get to the crux of it all. We read 'when he saw that he
arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba which belongs to Judah and
left his servant there.' And when he saw that...what was the 'That' which he
saw, do you think? I believe that Elijah in his heart believed that things
were going to be different back at the palace, but when he saw Jezebels
response he knew that they were not. Her response was totally negative. In
Elijah's mind the battle was already over. God had presented Himself to the
people, and they were no longer divided between two opinions. Their hearts
were coming back to Him. The false priests had been executed. God had shown
up but there was this one woman who actually refused to submit which caused
him to go from victory to defeat in one moment. Everything is about what we
see and how we respond to it that matters. This is how it is for us, for we
are no different from Elijah. James says that Elijah was a man just like we
are and he had the same strengths and weaknesses. We are all the same. One
day we can be on the mountaintop and then running for our life the next,
and it can happen so quickly! Elijah was not ready for the things which he
saw in Jezebels message, and this is what caused him to be so afraid. A
good example of this from the Bible is Peter. He had enough faith to
actually get out of the boat and walk on the water. It is amazing that he
was able to look at Christ and say 'Can I come to You?' and he actually got
out of the boat, put his feet on the water and walked. But what does the
Bible say then happened? 'When he saw the wind, when he saw the waves, when
he saw circumstances then instantly his gaze was taken off Christ and he
began to sink'. This is what happened to Elijah. On Mount Carmel his gaze
was upon God who brought the victory. But here in this instance his simple
faith and trust in Jehovah seem to have gone out of the window. All he can
see is a woman's threat and her intentions. The things which he thought had
been changed had not. So he changes. I thought of the twelve spies Moses
sent into the Promised Land also. Two returned and said that they knew that
God was able to bring them into the land of Canaan, but ten of them, what
did they see? They saw the fortified cities, and the giants...the sons of
Anak. Here you have a negative response which dominated their thinking, so
they were unable to move forward. Elijah was not able to look beyond
Jezebels threats so we see that he arose and ran for his life. He bolted.
He was dominated by panic and fear and he ran away as far as he could.
These things are opposite to faith and when negative thoughts dominate us
we are controlled by them. Has anyone ever had to run for their life? Has
anyone ever been threatened by circumstances?
Running in fear...
I remember a time when I was 12 years old and I played soccer for the area
I lived in. On one occasion we had to play an away game in another town and
were billeted out with strangers. On the first day I was there my billet
took me for a walk into the school grounds and I got into a fight with
another boy. He rushed home to get his older brothers who were aged about
17 and 19. My friend said 'You'd better run!' So I ran as fast as I could
with these two guys chasing after me and I can still remember how the
adrenalin kicked in. They were only about 200 hundred meters behind me. I
ran down a street and into a shop jumped right over the counter and lay on
the floor. The shop keeper took one look at my face and said Ooh! When the
boys arrived at the shop they asked if the shopkeeper had seen a young kid.
The shopkeeper told them 'Yep - he went that way.' After they had gone I
came out of the shop and went in the opposite direction - not knowing where
I where I was or how to get back to the place I was billeted at. However my
friend had rushed back and told his parents who came looking for me in
their car. I had been wandering the streets for about half an hour when
they found me...very scary!
So back to Elijah for he is filled with panic and fear and he is running.
He is running for his life. He actually ran about 80 miles. It doesn't say
how long it took him but that is about the distance from Jezreel to
Beersheba in Judah. Fear is an interesting thing. Here are a couple of
quotes that I read:
Fear is the little dark room where negatives are developed.
That is so true for us as well as Elijah. There are lots of things that we
are afraid of. Everyone is afraid of different things. There are lots and
lots of little things that we shouldn't be afraid of but actually are. Fear
is that little dark room where all you see is the negatives which seem
unfortunately to dominate us.
The other quote is:
To him who is dominated by fear everything rustles.
This is so true because when you are afraid, when you are bowing out of
circumstances, everything seems to be heightened and to be a problem. It is
in our DNA to respond to fear in this way. In the first instance when Adam
and Eve fell, what was their initial response? They fled from God because
they were afraid. He called to them 'Where are you?' and they replied 'We
are afraid because we are naked.' Fear is all part of being fallen and
sinful. If our worries, insecurities and anxieties are allowed to dominate
us they will cause us to fall.
What are you focused on?
Just like Elijah you can be on the mountaintop one day and defeated the
next. Peter had enough boldness to cut off a guy's ear when he tried to
arrest Jesus, only to be absolutely scared very soon after by a little girl
saying 'Aren't you one of His disciples?'
Do you remember the story of Robinson Crusoe? It's a good story, but he is
a rat bag. He gets shipwrecked and a Bible is washed up as part of the
wreckage. He reads it and then has a relationship with the Lord on the
island... a really good steady relationship with the Lord. However, one day
he sees a footprint in the sand, just one footprint, and he knows that he
is not alone. He returns to his camp and boards it all up, and then when he
has finished the barricading he can no longer sleep because he is worried
about cannibalism. It goes back to what he is looking at! He saw one
footprint and it changed everything for him. He failed to trust in God
because he was worried or fearful that he wasn't alone.
I read that 40% of fear is apparently about things that never happen. 30%
of our fears are in the past so shouldn't even really be considered. 12%
are actually other peoples' business and 10% is about sickness. This leaves
8% of things that are likely to happen. So fear is an interesting thing. I
asked a friend of mine who had been in active service for the army about
fear, because we all suffer from fears. I was thinking about the military
and I asked if they did anything there to help people with the fears they
experience. His reply was
'No they don't, but what they do is make you practise and practise
those things over and over so that when the event occurs it is just
second nature to you.' 'By repetition you gradually learn not to be
afraid, then, when a situation arises your brain just kicks in and is
not dominated by fear.'
Then he said a very interesting thing to me. He said
'Actually fear is not a negative thing but positive as it can heighten
your senses and awareness of the things that you need at the moment.'
That is a really good point, because if fear is allowed to dominate our
thinking it will control the way we act and so becomes a real problem.
Fear leading to depression
So should Christians get depressed? The answer is no, they shouldn't, but
yes they do! We have everything available to us in Christ but when we are
not acting in faith and are dominated by fear and insecurities, it can lead
to depression and you see here that Elijah, is in that state.
The bible doesn't really talk about him being physically worn out as well,
but he probably was. He had had a confrontation with the prophets on Mount
Carmel and then he runs 20 miles, gets a message from Jezebel and runs
another 80 miles. So you have got to wonder because physically we need to
take care of our bodies as they have a part to play in our whole make up.
So I think that Elijah is possibly worn out and worn down and everything
has reached a crisis point for him. He is consumed by his own failure and
really quite depressed too so he says 'Beam me up, I want out of here, I
have had enough, I can't take any more.'
When you look at the Bible are there any other saints who have voiced the
same thing? Is he alone in this? No, Jeremiah felt the same way and cursed
the day that he was born and said 'why wasn't I killed at birth?' He was
hated by everyone except God. You could say that Jeremiah was very
depressed at times but he was faithful to God. Moses was another in Numbers
11:10-15. He is burdened with the complaints of the people and he said to
God 'I just can't carry on, kill me now because the burden is too great for
me.' The other person I thought of was Jonah. I think we need to have a
look at him as his reaction is very similar.
Another depressed little prophet... an example from the life of Jonah
Jonah 4:1-9 'But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.' (2)
He prayed to the LORD and said, "Please Lord, was not this what I said
while I was still in my own country?' Therefore in order to forestall
this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and
compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, and
one who relents concerning calamity. (3) "Therefore now, O LORD, please
take my life from me, for death is better to me than life." (4) The
LORD said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?" (5) Then Jonah went
out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for
himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would
happen in the city. (6) So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew
up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his
discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. (7) But God
appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant
and it withered. (8) When the sun came up God appointed a scorching
east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head so that he became
faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, Death is better to
me than life. (9) Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to
be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be
angry, even to death."
You can see from these verse that Jonah is really bitter... he is angry and
really slacked off with God and he says 'Look, I just want out, I have had
enough, I don't want any more.' But God is really gracious in His dealings
with him, and He deals with Elijah in the same way.
Was Elijah a little over-inflated in his opinion of himself?
1 Kings 19:4 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."
I think one of the biggest problems for Elijah comes at the end of verse 4
where he says 'It is enough now Lord, take my life for I am no better than
my fathers.' Whoever said he was? I think it is possible that Elijah may
have got himself a little bit puffed up on Mount Carmel and is possibly a
little over inflated. All the way through these chapters you read that
Elijah considers himself to be the only true prophet that God has. He keeps
saying that he is the only one that God has left, but as we shall see he
wasn't. I think possibly Elijah sees himself as somewhat indispensable to
God but as one great saint on his death bed said, 'Few men are important,
none are necessary.'
That is very true; no-one is indispensable to God. And Elijah is saying
here 'Look, I am no better than my fathers.' Did he consider himself to be
better? Part of his depression comes from the fact that he is consumed by
his own failure and that Jezebel had really threatened him and she hadn't
changed. He failed really in the things that he was strong in. When you
look at Moses, he was the meekest man on the earth and yet he spoke some
harsh and bitter words. Sometimes your strength is actually where you will
fail. Abraham was a man of massive faith, yet his faith failed him many
times, when he was down in Egypt and places like that. Same with Elijah, he
was a courageous man, there is none more courageous than he was to take on
a whole nation and the false prophets, yet he fled from the voice of one
So when I look at this passage I see that his defeat stemmed from how he
perceived what he saw. He was looking only at what Jezebel had written and
not at The Lord the God of Israel. This then led to him being depressed.
But God is incredibly gracious to him as He is to all of us, and as we will
see next time God doesn't say 'you are out of here.' He changes Elijah's
office but He is really gracious and provides what he needs, for his
journey in God is not over. Failure has come into his walk with God but he
is restored and is still His servant. However, things have changed and he
is not reinstated to the position that he once had. That is an interesting
point because as a child of God we are always forgiven but may not be
reinstated with that calling that God has got for you. He will use someone
else and as we follow the story on He actually uses Elisha to take Elijah's
place. But God is still incredibly gracious. He provides for Elijah what he
needs, but, as we shall see next time, He is after honesty from His
servants. When you look at Elijah's responses you see that he still doesn't
understand what God is after!