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I Kings 19: The Lord is Our Shepherd

We've settled in to the wicked kings that ruled over Israel once it split from Judah. We are currently during the reign of the infamous King Ahab. Elijah and Ahab have gone head to head as Elijah shamed and then had slain the 450 prophets of Baal who professionally served Ahab and Jezebel's court.

God has proven himself as real and Baal has been proven as silent and unresponsive.

Ahab is racing back to Jezreel to meet up with his wicked wife, Jezebel; but God blesses Elijah with the strength to overtake Ahab on foot and get to Jezreel first. This is where the story picks up in Chapter 19.

Elijah on the Run

Ahab told Jezebel everything that happened, and specifically that Elijah had the 450 prophets slain by the sword.

Jezebel sent word to Elijah and swore by her gods that she would do the same thing to him in the next 24 hours.

So Elijah became afraid and fled. (v. 3)

I'm sure we'll learn more; but that's quite the turn of events. Last time Elijah went into hiding it was because he was told to by God. This doesn't read that way. And he wasn't afraid to go against 450 prophets before all Israel. Seems like he was in danger the whole time.

I think we'll find out that he was tired. But I wonder if Jezebel had some sort wicked way of messing with men's minds. He spent at least a day with Ahab and didn't even flinch. But one word from Jezebel and he bolts.

At the end of the day it just shows what we've seen with many great men of the Lord. They are still just men, this side of eternity. These are super hero novels. They are the biblical accounts of our past and who we are.

Back to the story in verse 3. When he ran, he went north to Judah and left his unnamed servant in Beersheba.

In verse 4 we see him head into the wilderness , sit down under a juniper tree and pray to die. He claims that he is not better than his fathers.

Then he fell asleep.

I know innumerable commentaries have been written on this, but the man was exhausted. It's a good lesson in ministry that just because it is for God doesn't mean that it won't take a toll on your life. That it won't cost you something. Everything he did before Ahab and the seven miracles in a row. Those were all God, and yet, it still took a toll.

What an important lesson to remember. But equally important is the next part. He provides what we needs and is the God of rest and healing. He sends. He equips. He restores.

In the second half of verse 5, after he sleeps, an angel awakes him, telling him to rise and eat. He found bread cake and water. He ate and went back to sleep. The angel came a second time and told him to arise and eat because the "journey is too great for you."

God Meets Elijah at Horeb (Sinai)

Then, with only the strength from that food, he walked 40 days and night to Horeb, the mountain of God. (v. 8) (This is Mt Sinai, from Moses fame.)

He holed up in a cave and God came to him and asked what he was doing there. In response, Elijah doesn't exactly answer Him, but recounts the situation.

Then God tells Elijah to go stand on the mountain. And it says that the Lord was passing by. Verse 11 describes a wind tearing apart rocks and an earthquake; but the Lord was not in either of these phenomenon. In verse 12 there is a fire, but the Lord is not in that either.

Then a sound of gentle blowing. This gentle blowing got Elijah's attention and he went to the mouth of the cave, head wrapped in a mantle.

And again, a voice asked, "What are you doing here Elijah?"

Elijah gives the same rambling response. An explanation of the situation and not a full answer. It's word-for-word the same response. It makes me think he was muttering this to himself for 40 days on the journey to convince himself he had done the right thing.

In response, God just hands out his assignment for Alijah and it is a doozy!!!

  • First to Damascus to anoint a new king Hazael over Aram (Syria).
  • Then anoint Jehu the new king over Israel.
  • And then anoint Elisha as his own successor.

Wow. This is not retreat to Club Med to heal; but onward in battle to defeat Baal. God even states that some will escape the new plan; but they will eventually be put to death. Then God promises to leave a remnant in Israel (7,000) who have been faithful. So there were fellow believers all along.

Introducing Elisha

Elijah departed and found Elisha.

"Elisha" means "God is salvation." And, as is true with many people God addresses in the Bible, Elisha was at work. The first part of verse 19 is a very detailed snapshot. It says he was plowing with 12 pairs of oxen (12 tribes?) and Elisha was with the twelfth. I don't know all the cultural meaning there; but I think it is significant that Elisha was in the back eating the dirt of 22 other oxen to get the job done.

The second part of verse 19 is a very brief encounter in which Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha and now they are bonded. Quite abrupt and a bit shocking; but I'm sure God had prepared them both.

Be listening so that you can be obedient.

It reads as if after Elijah throws the mantle over Elisha he just walks away and assumes Elisha will join him. Or he's just relieved to have the mantle on to someone else? But Elisha wants to close things at home. He slaughters some oxen, sacrifices them, feeds his family, and says goodbye.

Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.

I Kings 19:21b

It's interesting to me that God had more work for Elijah; but yet he let Elijah run. He questioned Elijah and seemed to gently rebuke him; but also coach him. And then gave him a partner to share the coming assignment. God is such a good parent, coach, friend, and Lord. He is so so good to us.

It seems like Elijah did everything asked of him on his own, and then he needed to not be alone anymore.

It's been a busy few months around here and by the time vacation started I was frazzled and felt like my body was starting to fray at the edges. And then vacation's been pretty busy as well. But I have had time to recover a bit and instead of feeling refreshed; I've been brittle. Easily offended and hurt. And grumpy.

Finally, a couple of night ago, I was awake and had that half-conscious stream-of-consciousness thing flowing through my mind and I was startled to end up with the word "despair" in my heart. I don't feel despairing? But at the same time it felt accurate.

I turn 50 this year. Which is shocking. And at the same time, my injury and my bad health choices make me feel even older. Plus this year, between the pandemic and the election has caused our country to begin looking unrecognizable to me. And then plenty of good stuff that adds up to being very busy. None of these topics are new and I have been claiming that I didn't care about any of it. But I think it was more accurate to say I didn't have time to contemplate any of it so it just sat in the back of my brain until I could relax a little bit. Once I had time I was less happy; but it was work that needed to be done.

I didn't fight any prophets or heads of state or anything more than to live the beautiful little life that God gave me...and I'm still exhausted. I cannot imagine what Elijah was going through.

I do know this, after my intermittent engagement with the psalms. Despair is normal. And not fatal. If. If you lean in to the Lord and take your strength from Him. And then, the JOY comes in the morning.

Wiersbe Commentary, Chapter 19

Wiersbe makes a frequent point that often times after a victory comes a trial. This section is definitely a strong example of that.

Elijah perceived his trial with the prophets as a failure. I guess, when I think about it, he outran Ahab back to Jezreel. He must have expected to find the royal couple repentant and everything put right with God. But he found a vengeful villain with a death threat. Wiersbe confirms a similar conclusion.

Wiersbe theorizes that the angel that ministered to Elijah in the wilderness was Jesus. There's a lot of symbolism there that makes sense- bringing the bread of life and living water for his fasting journey of 40 days and nights... However, I have been taught that there are angels, small "a" and Angel, capital "A". The initial cap Angel is Jesus. and this was the lower cap "a" angel.

I like the idea of it being Jesus, though. He meets us in our despair with what we need for the next leg of our journey.

Wiersbe has a couple of different theories about the wind, earthquake, fire section of the passage. I think I sort of skipped over it as I was focused on the part that I thought was more important- God's still quiet voice. That's the part I already knew and had been the point of previous sermons... However, that's obviously a mistake. Don't look for old messages. Ask what God has for today.

It was still God who sent the first three displays. Or at a minimum, He allowed the enemy to try and fool Elijah with false messages. Either way, it showed Elijah that God has control over the most fundamental building blocks of man, the environment around them. Which Elijah should have remembered from his own experience with God's fire and storms.

Instead, Elijah feared a woman.

Again, Elijah had shown great loyalty and obedience. I'm not Alijah-bashing. Just making the point that once we take our eyes off of the Lord, the world is a scary place. But if you truly fear the Lord; there is nothing on earth you will fear. He is sovereign. Over everything. Everything.

And that same power is within us for His good works.

Wow. Grab hold of that thought and do not ever let it go.

And He often sends that power out through a still, small voice. A gentle blowing. I need to remember that. I don't need to stampy-foot around, I can let God speak through me, in love, and mountains will move.

Elijah's assignment was to anoint a king of a gentile nation, a king of a rebellious Hebrew nation, and a helpmate and successor for Elijah, himself.

So What?

I think I did the "So whats?" as I wrote.

But it's worth repeating. We will all have dark nights of our soul. I even had a minor one this week in the middle of the night. The root of these will range in the severity and cause. But they are rooted in self, as was the case for Elijah.

Weep, rage, cry, pout, mourn...rest, eat, walk, and listen for God. And then get back to your post. God has work for you to do.

Amen.

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