1 Kings 19:9-21
Yesterday we looked at Elijah’s moment of failure and his quick descent into depression and hopelessness. We also saw how the Lord responded, with gentleness and compassion. In today’s reading we move into phase two of getting Elijah out of his “funk.”
By the way, Mount Horeb “the mountain of God” had a long and meaningful history—there are very good reasons why it has this name in vs. 8. This was the mountain where Moses met God at the burning bush and received his official calling as God’s prophet and law-giver. When the people of Israel came to Moses complaining about the lack of water, this was where the Lord told him to strike the rock for water to come out. And this was the launching point for the Israelites to enter the Promised Land, the setting for most of the book of Deuteronomy. It was to this location where Elijah was naturally drawn (possibly by the Holy Spirit) to take a short rest and be renewed for the work ahead.
In today’s passage, however, the tone seemed to change a bit. When Elijah was in the beginning of his despair--physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted--there were no words of rebuke. But now, the Lord was gently poking his servant back into action. Notice his question in vs. 9. It’s not as if the Omniscient One didn't know what the prophet was doing. The point behind the question is that the Elijah was not where he was supposed to be. He’s been here for forty days, so it’s way past time to get back to work.
Isn’t that a marvelous picture of our Lord’s wisdom? As we discussed yesterday, he always knows exactly what we need when we need it. A few days ago, the man of God needed some rest, food, seclusion, and some time to refocus on his purpose. Now what he needed was a swift kick in the pants, so to speak.
Instead of answering the question or the mild rebuke behind it, Elijah indulged in a pity-party. I'd submit, quite frankly, that this is the essence of most peoples’ depression. To be fair, however, this is an easy trap in which to fall. If you’ve been serving the Lord faithfully, you can easily feel like you’re all alone and fighting a losing battle. I know that a lot of Christians feel this way about modern-day America.
He was called to go out to meet the Lord, and he saw several physical manifestations which he thought might be an appearance. Apparently he was expecting some awe-inspiring theophany, but the God of Israel appeared to him in an unexpected way, as he often does.
What was the Lord’s response to Elijah’s cry of self-pitying despair? He gave three distinct answers to depression. First, he gave the prophet some jobs to do. Not make-work, but real service in the Kingdom is often the best cure for melancholy. Second, he gave him an apprentice and a companion. Perhaps this was why Elijah had given into fear and despair so quickly—there’s no record of him having any type of companionship before now. This would also encourage him in knowing that his ministry wouldn't end with him, but would carry on in the person of his new servant/friend. Over the following years, Elisha would undoubtedly be a great source of encouragement when he was tempted to go AWOL like this again, and if Elijah ever was even tempted to abandon his post again, we never read about it.
Finally, he gave him hope for the present as well as the future. He thought he was one man alone against an unstoppable tide of idolatry, paganism, and wholesale abandonment of the Lord, but he was wrong. Even in that time of general disobedience, God still had people he'd reserved for himself. He hadn’t given up on Israel yet, and neither should Elijah.
I won’t waste your time in rehashing all the lessons we can learn from this story. Hopefully you can pick some things out to apply to your life right now. I know I have.
Father God, your servant John Wesley once said that despair is a sin. It shows that I really don’t trust you. Please help me as only you can.
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