Elijah’s job was difficult. He was a prophet of The Lord to Israel, a nation who had gone astray under Jeroboam and kept getting worse under each successive king. But he did it and he did it faithfully. He had just proved the futility of following Baal to all of Israel, killed the idol’s 450 prophets and ended a three year drought. I imagine he was on a spiritual high, feeling good, living in power and with authority of The Lord. As often happens when we are having a “mountain top” experience, the enemy attacked. Ahab told Jezebel everything that had transpired between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Jezebel didn’t take the news well. She was a vicious woman who had completely supported the 450 prophets. It was because of her that the religion prospered in The Northern Kingdom. (1 Kings 18:19).
In verse 2 Jezebel made an oath to Elijah which she delivered by messenger. She said, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Verses 3-4 read,
“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
He was frightened. He knew who Jezebel was and what she was capable of. His fear drove him into the wilderness. His despair led him to lay down, give up and die. His fear and his despair vanquished his faith. But God was not finished with Elijah yet. God remained faithful. Verses 5-8 say,
“And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.”
He walked in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. Israel had wandered in the wilderness forty years while The Lord taught them who they were as His people. Later, Jesus would go to the wilderness and fast for forty days before beginning His ministry. Elijah was fasting during this forty day journey but he was miraculously kept strong, the Lord’s provision had been all he needed during the trek. But Elijah was running away from his problems. He might have changed his mind about wanting to die, but he was finished dealing with people. He ran from his problems and straight to God, even if he didn’t realize it. He arrived to Horeb, where Moses had received the Law from The Lord. He found a cave and made himself at home. The Lord asked him “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah, the great prophet of The Lord answered like a whiny little boy. Verse 10 reads,
“He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
A month and half before, Elijah had been on a spiritual high but now he thought everything he had done for God had been for nothing. God said, “Go outside before The Lord.” Just like a dad saying, “Elijah, come here.” I think Elijah was ready for his punishment. I imagine him taking a deep breath and like a little boy submitting to whatever punishment his Father had for him, ready to go outside, trembling wondering what would happen. Verses 11-13 read,
“And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke 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 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper, 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Imagine that roaring wind, like a tornado breaking rocks into pieces. But God wasn’t in that unforgiving destructive wind. Then an earthquake. It must have been terrifying to be in the cave opening with the earth shaking under him. But The Lord wasn’t in the devastating earthquake. And then came a fire. And God wasn’t in that dreadful fire either. He did not yell at Elijah, He did not spank, beat, or even chastise him. God came in a low whisper, a quiet voice. I hear it as a gentle soft voice, a loving Father to his scared son, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” I wonder if Elijah cried. I wonder if his relief that God loved him too much to punish him with harsh cruelty made him cry. But he stilled whined his answer to The Lord. Verses 14-18 read,
“He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15 And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
God said, I’m not finished with you yet, I still have work for you. He didn’t say, “Don’t worry about Jezebel.” He simply instructed him about all the things He wanted the prophet to do for him still. If The Lord tells you to do a job for Him, it is a pretty sure thing, He will let you live to do the job, provide the way and give you what you need to do it. Furthermore, The Lord told Elijah not to worry about whether the evil people would be punished, they would be. Hazael was going to slaughter Israel. (2 Kings 9:7-15). But He also encouraged him by letting him know that not everyone in Israel was an idol worshipper, 7,000 people would remain loyal to The Lord, and it was likely that Elijah’s ministry was the reason.
Elijah was expecting at least a reprimand, but The Lord, although He is a God of Justice who punishes the wicked is a God of Love who builds up His children and has great purposes for us. He disciplines us with love. He doesn’t send fire and brimstone down on His sons and daughters. Proverbs 3:12 reads,
“for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.”
And Romans 8:1-4 says,
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Believer, God does discipline us, but discipline and punishment are not the same thing. Jesus took our punishment. We do not have to face God with fear as if He’s holding a belt and ready to beat us. We don’t have to walk in fear that He will strike us with lightening. He is our Awesome and Fearsome God of angel armies, He is Almighty. We need to remember He is Holy All-powerful God. But He forgave us. He is not holding punishment over our heads anymore. He delights in us. Believer, He delights in you!