“There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:9
He was hiding. He was giving up. He was feeling sorry for himself.
From the heights to the depths! Sometimes, that’s how our lives go.
Just a short time earlier, Elijah was riding the crest of success. He had challenged the priests of Baal and overcome them. The people had shouted, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!” Elijah was a hero. It was an exhilarating feeling. But it didn’t last.
Those emotional highs never do. Not this side of heaven.
When King Ahab told his wife what had happened at Mount Carmel, when he reported the slaughter of the priests of Baal, Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah with the threat, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like one of them.”
Elijah panicked. He ran south to Judah, out of her grasp—and he gave up. He wanted to die. “I have had enough, Lord, take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
Despite his best efforts, despite some signs of success, it was now clear that he never would gain total victory over his enemies. When he overcame one threat, another took its place. Life seemed to be telling him: “You cannot win.”
At times, we may know how he felt. Sometimes, we also ask, “What’s the use?” Sometimes, just like Elijah, we may want to give up on trying to soldier on.
We, too, may feel down in the dumps.
Those who have fought battles and lost friends in distant lands without seeing total victory might sometimes feel that way.
So might the family struggling to get ahead on bills, only to be hit by another one, and still another.
People who have been fighting against a disease may feel this way. So may those who are trying to adjust to the new normal after a crippling wound—be it with the loss of the use of a limb or the invasion of PTSD.
It makes us wonder, who could blame Elijah for feeling down in the dumps?
The answer is: God.
When the Lord asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” he replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
His mission was obviously hopeless, wasn’t it? In the end, he was a failure, wasn’t he?
No. The final victory did not depend upon him, but upon the Lord, his God. Elijah needed to learn what that meant. So, the Lord showed him.
The Lord told him, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” A powerful wind that shattered rocks came by. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. Then came an earthquake followed by a fierce fire. But the Lord was not in them, either. Then came a gentle whisper.
The Lord was in the whisper.
Sometimes the Almighty works, not with explosive drama, but with quiet gentleness.
Elijah’s tour of duty wasn’t over. He received new orders: “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.”
Elijah had done his part of God’s plan. These people would now continue it.
All was not lost. The Lord revealed: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
The lesson has been taught: Don’t let feelings rule your life! Don’t judge only by what you can see! The Lord, he is God. Let him be the judge of your life. He is, in fact, Lord of life and death.
When the Lord knew that Elijah’s mission on earth was finally over, he sent a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire inside a tornado to carry him to the home he had longed for when he was down in the dumps.
We remember the words of the hymn:
“If you but trust in God to guide you and place your confidence in him,
He’ll give you strength and stand beside you when days are dreary, dark and dim.
For those who trust his changeless love build on the rock that does not move.” Amen.
(Christian Worship 444:1)
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
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