1 Kings 19 – God Encourages Discouraged Elijah
A. Elijah flees to the wilderness.
1. (1-3) Jezebel’s threat.
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
a. Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done: The report came as a great shock to this champion of Baal and Astarte worship in Israel. She thought so much of these priests that she supported them from the royal treasury – and now they were dead at the hand of Elijah.
b. So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time: Jezebel heard about all that Elijah had done, encompassing the great confrontation at Mount Carmel. Yet her response was not to say, “The silence of Baal and the fire from Yahweh proves that I am wrong and Yahweh is God.” Instead, she responded with a vow to kill within 24 hours the man who exposed the lie of Baal worship and displayed the glory of Yahweh.
i. “He probably thought that the miracle at Carmel would have been the means of effecting the conversion of the whole court and of the country, but, finding himself mistaken, he is greatly discouraged.” (Clarke)
c. When he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba: We cannot say for certain if this was led of God or not. It is clear that God wanted to protect Elijah, but we cannot say if God wanted to protect him at Jezreel or protect him by getting him out of Jezreel. Nevertheless, Elijah went about 80 miles south to Beersheba.
i. “Probably Elijah had played into Jezebel’s hand. Had she really wanted Elijah dead, she surely would have seized him without warning and slain him. What she desired was that Elijah and his God be discredited before the new converts what had aided Elijah by executing the prophets of Baal.” (Patterson and Austel)
ii. “Elijah failed in the very point at which he was strongest, and that is where most men fail. In Scripture, it is the wisest man who proves himself to be the greatest fool; just as the meekest man, Moses, spoke hasty and bitter words. Abraham failed in his faith, and Job in his patience; so, he who was the most courageous of all men, fled from an angry woman.” (Spurgeon)
2. (4) Elijah’s depression.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”
a. He himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness: Beyond the distant city of Beersheba, Elijah secluded himself even more.
b. And he prayed that he might die: This mighty man of prayer – mighty enough to make the rain and the dew stop for three and a half years, and then mighty enough to make it start again at his prayer – now he prayed that he might die.
i. Thankfully, this was a prayer not answered for Elijah. In fact, Elijah was one of the few men in the Bible to never die! We can imagine that as he was caught up into heaven, he smiled and thought of this prayer – and the blessed no that answered his prayer. To receive a no answer from God can be better than receiving a yes answer.
c. It is enough: We sense that Elijah meant, “I can’t do this anymore, Lord.” The work was stressful, exhausting, and seemed to accomplish nothing. The great work on Mount Carmel did not result in a lasting national revival or return to the Lord.
i. Perhaps Elijah had especially hoped that the events on Mount Carmel would turn around Ahab and Jezebel and the leadership of Israel in general. If so, Elijah forgot that people reject God despite the evidence, not because of the evidence.
ii. “Elijah said, ‘It is enough,’ yet it was not enough even for his own enjoyment, for the Lord had more blessings in store for him . . . It was so with Elijah, for he was to have that wonderful revelation of God on Mount Horeb. He had more to enjoy, and the later life of Elijah appears to have been one of calm communion with his God; he seems never to have had another fainting fit, but to the end his sun shone brightly without a cloud. So it was not enough; how could he know that it was? It is God alone who knows when we have done enough, and enjoyed enough; but we do not know.” (Spurgeon)
d. Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers! When Elijah examined the apparent failure of his work, he instinctively set the blame on his own unworthiness. It was because he was a sinner as the rest of his ancestors that the work seemed to fail.
B. God’s ministry to the despairing Elijah.
1. (5-8) God ministers to the physical needs of Elijah.
Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
a. As he lay and slept under a broom tree: This was the mercy of God extended to Elijah. Physically speaking, he needed rest and replenishment. God gave him rest under a broom tree, and provided miraculous food for the replenishment.
i. God first ministered to Elijah’s physical needs. This is not always His order, but physical needs are important. Sometimes the most spiritual thing a person can do is get enough rest and replenishment.
ii. “And how many are there at this day that sit under Elias’s juniper, willing and wishing to lay down that heavy burden imposed upon them by the Almighty!” (Trapp)
b. So he ate and drank, and lay down again: Elijah received this rest and replenishment repeatedly from the Lord. One quick nap and one quick meal wasn’t enough.
i. “Before entering into that communion with him which was for the correction of his false attitude of fear, He commanded him to eat, thus ministering to his physical weakness.” (Morgan)
ii. “The spirit needs to be fed, and the body needs feeding also. Do not forget these matters; it may seem to some people that I ought not to mention such small things as food and rest, but these may be the very first elements in really helping a poor depressed servant of God.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “It was very gracious for God to deal this with his servant. We might have expected rebuke or remonstrance, chiding or chastisement; but we would hardly have expected such loving, gentle treatment as this.” (Meyer)
c. Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you: God set Elijah on a 200 mile, 40 day trip to Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. This shows that God did not demand an immediate recovery from Elijah. He allowed the prophet time to recover from his spiritual depression.
i. “Elijah’s forty-day journey is not without significance. Indeed, a straight trip from Beesheba would require little more than a quarter of that time. Therefore the period is designedly symbolic. As the children of Israel had a notable spiritual failure and so were to wander forty years in the wilderness, so a defeated Elijah was to spend forty days in the desert.” (Patterson and Austel)
2. (9-10) God allows Elijah to vent his frustrations.
And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
a. He went into a cave: Literally, the Hebrew is definite describing the cave. “The cave may well have been the specific ‘clift of the rock’ where God appeared to Moses (av, Exodus 33:22) rather than the ‘cave-region’ generally.” (Wiseman)
i. “Perhaps no spot on earth is more associated with the manifested presence of God than that sacred mount.” (Meyer)
b. What are you doing here, Elijah? God knew the answer to this question, but it was good for Elijah to speak to the Lord freely and to unburden his heart.
i. “God has ways of teaching all of us in our bones and in our flesh, but he specially knows how to do this with those upon whom he puts any honor in his service. You must not marvel, if God should be pleased to bless you to the conversion of souls, that he should also make you sometimes smart.” (Spurgeon)
c. I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts: Elijah protested to God, “I have faithfully served You and now look at the danger I am in.” To Elijah – and many servants of God since – it seemed unfair that a faithful servant of God should be made to suffer.
d. I alone am left: This was not accurate, but if reflected how Elijah felt. Even back at the confrontation at Mount Carmel Elijah said I alone am left a prophet of the Lord (1 Kings 18:22). Discouraging times make God’s servants feel more isolated and alone than they are.
e. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life: Strangely, the reasons Elijah provided were actually important reasons for him to remain alive. If he really was the last prophet or believer alive, should not he seek to live as long as possible? If the enemies of God like Jezebel wanted him dead, should he not seek to defeat her wicked will? Elijah here powerfully showed the unreasonable nature of unbelief and fear.
3. (11-12) God reveals Himself to Elijah.
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces 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; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
a. Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord: God knew what the depressed and discouraged Elijah needed. He needed a personal encounter with God. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with Elijah’s theology, but at the time there was something lacking in his experience.
b. Behold, the Lord passed by: God brought His presence before Elijah, but first to show where He was not. The Lord was not in the wind, He was not in the earthquake, He was not in the fire. Like many others, Elijah probably only looked for God in dramatic manifestations. Certainly, God sometimes appears in such ways but He often appears in less dramatic surroundings.
i. “This same lesson has to be learned over and over by us all: let us repeat it, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’ It is to be lamented that the most of professors obstinately cling to the fatal error of looking for displays of power of one kind or another. I hear that a certain church is seeking for a very clever man: she thinks that God is in the wind . . . That still small voice will be hushed and silent, while the boastings of your wisdom resound like a howling wind or a thunder unaccompanied by rain.” (Spurgeon)
c. After the fire a still small voice: This final phenomenon was a marked contrast to the previous manifestations. God actually met Elijah in the quiet whisper of a voice instead of the earth-shaking phenomenon that had gone before.
i. Wiseman called the still small voice a gentle whisper.
ii. “And now the thunder ceased, and the lightning was gone, and the earth was still, and the wind was hushed, and there was a dead calm, and out of the midst of the still air there came what the Hebrew calls ‘a voice of gentle silence,’ as if silence had become audible. There is nothing more terrible than an awful stillness after a dread uproar.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Elijah perhaps thought that the dramatic display of power at Mount Carmel would turn the nation around. Or perhaps he thought that the radical display of God’s judgment against the priests of Baal following the vindication at Mount Carmel would change the hearts of the nation. Neither of these worked. This example is important for Christian ministers today, especially preachers. It shows that displays of power and preaching God’s anger don’t necessarily change hearts. Instead, the still small voice of God speaking to the human heart is actually more powerful than outward displays of power or displays of God’s judgment.
iv. “Because the success of Carmel melted like the morning mist, he thought that his career had been a failure all along, and that he had brought no one to reverence Jehovah; but he was reading with the eyes of unbelief, and his imagination was leading him rather than the facts of the case. Here are seven thousand people scattered up and down the country to whom God has blessed Elijah’s testimony. If he had not blessed his big things as he had desired, yet his little things had prospered greatly. It was Elijah’s daily conduct rather than his miracles which had impressed these seven thousand and led them to hold fast their integrity.” (Spurgeon)
4. (13-15) After this ministry, God gives Elijah work to do.
So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Then the Lord said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria.
a. He wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave: Immediately, Elijah sensed that God was present in the still small voice in a way that He was not in the previous, more dramatic phenomenon. Because he sensed the special presence of God, Elijah immediately humbled himself when he wrapped his face in his mantle.
i. “Through horror and dread of God’s presence, being sensible that he was neither worthy nor able to endure the sight of God with open face.” (Poole)
ii. “He first wrapped his mantle about his face — he became subdued and awe-stricken — full of reverence. Oh! it is a great thing when a sinner is willing to wrap his face when he is confounded, and say, ‘I cannot defend my course; I am guilty.’ We know that if at our judgment-seat a man pleads guilty, he is punished; but at the judgment-seat of the gospel whoever pleads guilty is forgiven. Wrap your face.” (Spurgeon)
b. What are you doing here, Elijah? God asked Elijah the same question – and received the same response – as in 1 Kings 19:9-10. There was something helpful for Elijah in this question and answer process.
c. Go, return on your way . . . anoint Hazael as king over Syria: God gave Elijah something to do. He needed a task to focus on so he could avoid excessive introspection. He needed to stop looking at himself and his own (admittedly difficult) circumstances. He needed to get on with what God wanted him to do.
i. “Then the Lord did what perhaps was best of all for Elijah, he gave him some more work to do. He sent him off about his Master’s business again; and I warrant you that, when Elijah went back over that road, it was with a very different step from that which brought him down to Beersheba. He had come along terrified and distressed; but now he goes back with the majesty that belongs to the Tishbite, he is afraid of no Jezebel now.” (Spurgeon)
5. (16-18) Further assurance to Elijah.
“Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
a. You shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel: God had more work for Elijah to do. He would also demonstrate God’s choice of Jehu to be the king to succeed the corrupt Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
b. Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place: God gave something else to the discouraged and depressed prophet, beyond work to do. He also gave him a friend and a successor.
i. Elijah needed a friend; the core of his complaint before God was that he was alone. God let him know that there was a man ready to learn from the great prophet and be his disciple and companion.
ii. Elijah also needed hope, and since Elisha would be raised up as a successor to Elijah’s prophetic office, Elijah then knew that his work would continue even after his death.
c. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill: This was another source of encouragement to Elijah. With this promise he knew that ultimately justice would be done, and God would not allow the institutionalized persecution and promotion of idolatry to go unpunished.
d. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal: This was a final encouragement to Elijah. He repeatedly bemoaned that he was alone among the true followers of God (1 Kings 18:22, 19:10, and 19:14). This both assured Elijah that he was not alone and that his work as a prophet had indeed been fruitful.
i. This showed Elijah that his quiet ministry over the years actually bore more fruit than the spectacular ministry at Mount Carmel. “Yet, all the while that vile idolatry was spreading in Israel, the worship of the true God was being retained by seven thousand faithful souls, though Elijah did not know that there was even one beside himself. How were they won to Jehovah? Certainly not by Elijah’s impressive demonstration on the top of Carmel, for they were loyal to the Lord before that . . . The still small voice had been doing for Israel what Elijah could not do.” (Spurgeon)
6. (19-21) The call of Elisha.
So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
a. He departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat: Elijah did what the still small voice of God told him to do. He happened to do it in reverse order than God described to him in the previous passage. Perhaps Elijah believed that he first needed a friend and apprentice.
b. Who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him: Elijah found Elisha and commissioned him to ministry when Elisha was at work.
c. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him: The mantle was the symbol of Elijah’s prophetic authority. This was a dramatic symbol that said, “I call upon you to join in my work as a prophet.”
i. “The mantle, or pallium, was the peculiar garb of the prophet, as we may learn from Zechariah 13:4; and this was probably made of skin dressed with the hair on. See also 2 Kings 1:8.” (Clarke)
d. What have I done to you? This question “Could mean, ‘Go back, but remember what I have done to you.’ It might be a rebuke at any delay in following.” (Wiseman)
i. “Elijah’s reply indicates that he himself had not called Elisha; it was God’s call. Whether Elisha would follow that call was his own decision.” (Patterson and Austel)
e. Took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate: This demonstrated Elisha’s complete commitment to following Elijah. He destroyed the tools of his trade in a going away party for his family and friends.
i. “Elisha must have had a considerable estate, when he kept twelve yoke of oxen to till the ground. If, therefore, he obeyed the prophetic call, he did it to considerable secular loss.” (Clarke)
ii. “Hereby he showed how willingly and joyfully he forsook all his friends, that he might serve God in that high and honourable employment.” (Poole)
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