Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 44. Elijah Flees From Jezebel

Prophets And Kings
Day 44
Elijah Flees From Jezebel

After facing down four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah, Elijah found strength in the Lord to run all the way back to Jezreel ahead of King Ahabs chariot. Today King Ahabs wife Jezebel passes a death sentence on Elijah.

1 KINGS 19:1-9
"Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword." (1 Kings 19:1) Upon his return to Jezreel, Ahab tells his wife everything that has happened this long and amazing day. He tells her that Elijah let the prophets of Baal choose a bull and build an altar, an altar over which they wept and pleaded the entire day with no answer from their god. Then, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah set up an altar to the Lord and the Lord answered in a mighty way, sending fire down from heaven to consume the offering and everything around it. If the disgrace of Jezebel's god wasn't enough, Ahab informs her that Elijah had the prophets of Baal killed, just as she formerly had the prophets of the Lord killed. Then, just as Elijah foretold three years earlier, he spoke the word that it would rain on the land, the rain that is even now falling as Ahab speaks with his wife. 

Nothing about the miraculous events of this day has changed Ahab's heart enough to turn back to the Lord and stand up for the prophet of God. He dares not lay a hand on Elijah himself but he dares not stop his raging formidable wife from doing so. "So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, 'May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.'" (1 Kings 19:2) Jezebel threatens to make Elijah as dead as the prophets of Baal. 

Some scholars are puzzled that Jezebel warned Elijah, giving him enough time to flee. It could be that her true intention was to send him into permanent exile, not to kill him. After such a day as this, when the people fell on their faces and cried out, "The Lord---He is God!", she might have been afraid the people wouldn't stand for it if she arrested and executed the prophet. Or it could be she was so arrogant that she thought giving Elijah a head start wouldn't matter because she thought no one would escape her hand. Either way, Elijah is alarmed at the news and reacts instinctively by putting himself out of her reach. "Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness." (1 Kings 19:3-4a) It was best to separate from his servant. When the people last saw Elijah on Mount Carmel the servant was with him, so Jezebel's guards will probably be looking for two men traveling together. Elijah was probably also concerned for his servant's life and thought it best to leave him behind.

"He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, Lord,' he said. 'Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.' Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep." (1 Kings 19:4b-5a) Elijah didn't want to die at the hands of Jezebel but he would like the Lord to take him on home. I can sympathize with that, for Jezebel's methods of execution were likely to have been cruel and prolonged in revenge for the slain prophets of Baal. None of us wants to die a painful or lingering death, but if we have to die, we would rather the Lord call us gently home, preferably in our sleep. Elijah curls up and sleeps because he's exhausted to the point of collapse by all he's been through this day. He hopes to wake up in heaven.

I've heard Elijah criticized for running from Jezebel and for not trusting the Lord to protect him at Jezreel, but I'm not so sure we should find fault with his actions. I think Elijah needed to get away and be alone with the Lord, just as he was once alone with the Lord by the brook. He's physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually drained. When we come to the end of our strength and don't know what else to do, where better to find refreshment than sitting at the feet of the Lord? The world and its hectic ways won't revive us. Working on past the point of being effective won't revive us. Remaining on the battle line while we are essentially dead on our feet won't revive us. It's quiet time spent with our Lord that restores our souls, when we let Him minister to us, when we let Him make us lie down in green pastures and when we let Him lead us beside the still waters. 

Elijah was the only prophet left who was publicly making a stand for God and now he feels defeated. After witnessing the fire falling from heaven, King Ahab didn't repent and turn back to the Lord. He didn't defy his idolatrous wife and cast Baal worship from the nation. The people aren't revering Elijah as a great prophet but will soon to go back to their wicked ways. He probably feels like it's all been for nothing. But I know of no greater example of faith than to stand for what is right when the whole world seems to be running after what is wrong. Elijah is being a city on a hill. He's being a light in a dark world. He's in a position to encourage and strengthen others who have not forsaken the Lord in their hearts. One man who is sold out for the Lord, passionate in the faith, can inspire an entire nation to faith and can lead a major revival. But right now Elijah feels like he's no better than those before him who tried to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord. He feels like a failure and like his ministry is at an end. Believing there's nothing left to do, he curls up to sleep and hopes when he wakes again it will be in the presence of the Lord in heaven instead of under the broom bush in the desert.

The Lord has no rebuke for Elijah but instead ministers to him. "All at once an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.' He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again." (1 Kings 19:5b-6) How many times, spiritually speaking, has God provided for us in the desert? How many times has He prepared a table before us in the presence of our enemy? Did He rebuke us for our weakness? Was He angry because we were about to faint in the faith? No, our merciful and loving Father supplied our needs, knowing how frail we are, knowing that in moments of despair what helps most is having our Daddy's arms around us. In our exhaustion the Lord does for us what He does for Elijah. He tells us to rest while He watches over us. He reaffirms His love and His covenant with us.

"The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.'" (1 Kings 19:7) How long we remain under the broom bush with God depends on how difficult the journey is before us. The Lord will soon send Elijah on his next mission but He knows that what the prophet needs most right now is rest and nourishment. This reminds me of Jesus when He worried about the people who had listened to Him preach for three days straight. He couldn't send them home without feeding them first because He said, "I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." (Matthew 15:32) The Lord Jesus, living in a physical body, knew the toll hunger takes on us. He had previously fasted forty days and nights in the wilderness. While fasting, the devil tried to tempt Him into turning stones to bread, and I believe that's because Jesus was so ravenously hungry that He would have liked to turn the stones to bread. The Creator of our bodies knows He must first see to our physical needs before asking us to perform great things in His name.

"So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night." (1 Kings 19:8-9) Horeb is also known as Mount Sanai where the Lord hid Moses in a cleft of the rock so He could pass by. Some Hebrew scholars believe the cave mentioned in today's passage is that same cleft from which Moses got a glimpse of the Lord. If so, this is the place where Moses needed an awesome refreshing of the Lord and wasn't afraid to ask for it by saying boldly, "Now show me Your glory." (Exodus 33:18) Elijah will find his refreshment here too.

I have compassion on the prophet Elijah because he and I have something in common: we are the type to fall apart after the crisis. Elijah made it through three years of drought with his faith intact. He multiplied the flour and the oil at the widow's house. He implored the Lord to raise the widow's son to life again. He victoriously faced down hundreds of pagan prophets on Mount Carmel, after which on his spiritual high he outran Ahab's chariot back to Jezreel. But once the crisis died down and the exhaustion overtook him, he fell apart. The Lord has made each of us unique. Some of us break down during a crisis and some of us break down after a crisis is over, when we least expect it. We are wise to recognize which type we are so we can prepare ourselves for spiritual attack from our enemy. Some of us need an extra helping of grace during the trouble and some of us need it afterwards. We can be certain our enemy, who prowls the earth like a lion, knows which type we are. In my case, because he knows it will take months or a year or more for the enormity of my calamity to really hit me, he waits for the right time to strike. For those more likely to falter in the midst of the calamity, he knows exactly how to pour out the temptation of doubt at the weakest moment when the crisis reaches it's zenith. This is why we must all, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Mark 14:38) 

Elijah's spirit had been willing all along, but once the showdown on the mountain was over, in his exhaustion his flesh became weak. He was weary enough to die and actually wished he would die. But our compassionate Father in heaven looked down in mercy and pity on Elijah and enfolded him in His arms, strengthening him first physically because that was the more urgent need. Then, his body refreshed, Elijah can receive spiritual strengthening as well.

Lord, help us to watch and pray so we don't enter into temptation. Teach is to be aware of when our weakest moments are likely to hit us so we can stand strong against the enemy. Revive us, Lord, physically and mentally and spiritually and emotionally so we do not faint in times of trouble. Make us fit for Your service. Show us Your glory. We ask this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who knows just how tired a human body can get and Who sympathizes with our weaknesses. Amen!

Below is our worship song for today.

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