A Reflection on 1 Kings 19:1-9 for Sunday, July 26, 2020 at Mosaic Baptist Church.
Photo: Nico (Unsplash.com)
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
1 Kings 19:1-9 (NRSVA)
Our passage begins with a report on Elijah’s showdown with Israel’s homegrown prophets of Baal. King Ahab seems to have given a fair report – though he has highlighted the slaughter in the Wadi Kishinev. Queen Jezebel is bent on revenge. Her threat is delivered: ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’
It is a strange threat that seems not to have listened carefully to Ahab’s account. It was Ahab who – at Elijah’s request – gathered Baal’s prophets. Heavenly fire persuaded the embarrassingly silent people of Israel To follow YHWH. Now this same YHWH has broken the drought. On top of all this Elijah – empowered by the Spirit – has outrun the king’s chariot in order to reach Jezreel before the storm Took over.
Yet Jezebel swears her threat ‘by the gods’.
It is madness: YHWH has demonstrated an overwhelmingly power, won over the people, and bought healing to the land. Elijah – perhaps unwisely – has eliminated the false prophets in front of the King.
And yet, Jezebel is bent on taking out YHWH’s mouthpiece. A more rational response is exemplified by the people who acknowledge YHWH as the only God. Power, however, is rarely rational.
And neither is fear.
Yet fear is the descriptor offered here of the prophet Elijah. Elijah is afraid. Elijah fled. Jezebel’s threat made him run – from Mount Carmel, to Beer-sheba in Israel’s sister nation, Judah. From there he abandoned his servant and walked into the wilderness.
Jezebel is not the only irrational one in this story. Elijah has no company. He takes no food or water. Add it all up and it comes as no surprise that Elijah’s prayer is for his life to end.
I find myself intrigued by Elijah’s humble assessment of himself: ‘…I am no better than my ancestors.’ Fear is everywhere in this story – in Ahab’s support of the Baal worshippers, in Jezebel‘s threat, in the silent, undecided people, in the prophets of Baal and their self-mutilation, in Elijah’s ruthless execution of the prophets of Baal. Perhaps Elijah sees something of himself in all these people. The great prophet is not so different after all.
He too has moments of fear.
And moments of faithlessness. Elijah’s willingness to sleep beneath the broom tree is surely a sign of final resignation. To sleep in the wilderness is death.
Yet this is a story of the grace of God. Twice he is ‘touched’ by an angel. He eats and rests and eats again. In between these two meals we realise that YHWH has more for Elijah. The angel is clear, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
There is more for Elijah to accomplish. He has further to go and deeper realities to encounter. Even when Elijah hit rock-bottom YHWH was there asking for – and offering – more.
These two meals and this time of rest will energise Elijah to undertake what is surely a supernatural journey to ‘Horeb the mount of God.’ This mountain has a past. Here Moses encountered a burning bush. Later he received the 10 Commandments in the same place. Elijah’s wandering ancestors have been here before.
Is this a place where Elijah can further recognise the parallels between himself and his forebears?
As Elijah settles into the cave and rests we are left expectantly wondering why YHWH has led the broken Elijah to this particular place.
Have you ever known victory only to then encounter fear and defeat?
How closely do you relate to Elijah’s physical need for food, water, and sleep? How closely do you relate to his need for a Spirit-guided new direction?
In what way does this story about Elijah point to parallels between Elijah’s highs and lows and the highs and lows of his people, Israel? How important is it for Israel as they read through this account to see these parallels?
How important is it for us to see parallels between Elijah’s faith and faithlessness and ours?