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 as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow. Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. – 1 Kings 19:2-3
Monday, February 2, 2015
Here is how the King James and some other versions translate verse 3: “And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life ….” Elijah became fearful because he saw Jezebel’s threat. Elijah became fearful because he stopped looking at the Lord and turned his attention to human thinking. Certainly, it was proper for him to take Jezebel seriously. She was, after all, quite evil, fully capable of murder (1 Kings 21:1-19) and other vile crimes. There is no question that, given the opportunity, she would have had Elijah slain.
The prophet had, we recall, experienced a great victory over apostasy in his challenge to the prophets of the false god Baal up on Mount Carmel. The drought that had devastated Israel for three and a half years had been broken through Elijah’s intercession, for ... [t]he effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. He was, or should have been, flying high, at the top of his game.
I hear there was a football game yesterday. It didn’t involve the Chiefs, Cowboys or Cardinals (I only root, apparently, for teams that start with ‘C’), so I don’t know who won. But I do know that the losing team is talking about next year, saying they will be back while lamenting lost chances and missed opportunities. What they won’t do (since it wasn’t the Raiders) is attack the winning team in the parking lot with saps and brass knuckles.
This is the difference between football and the devil. The devil does not let you savor your victory. He does not take time outs. He pays no attention to the calendar or the clock and he does not recognize when the game is over. Often we are most vulnerable to attacks of various kinds, to threats as well as seductions, when we have met and overcome a challenge in life. I mean, we've beaten back the Orcs. We're supposed to be able to cruise for a while. That’s the way it works in the commercials and the movies. Miller Time! Happily Ever After!
Elijah could call down fire from heaven as he had done up on Carmel. He had been fearless and invincible in confronting wickedness. He thought, no doubt, that great revival would follow his victory over the idolaters. He might have expected Jezebel and Ahab to be cowed, even repentant, for he had demonstrated to all of Israel the fallaciousness of Jezebel’s god. It may have been that, given the nation’s renewed devotion to the LORD, Jezebel threatened because she did not dare to actually attack the man of God at that time. We don’t know. Elijah didn’t know.
He knew she hated him. He knew that allowing her to kill him would dishearten the people. He suddenly felt like a failure. The only thing he knew for certain is that he had to get away, but he could not get away from himself. There was no place to hide from his depression and frustration or from the voices in his head. Maybe God's plan was for Jezebel to try and kill Elijah, for them to have a showdown at high noon, and for Elijah to take the witch out with a bolt of lightning. Whatever it was Elijah couldn't do it because he was too scared and too tired and too hopeless, so he ran.
Of course this is more than history, but we’re apt to forget that the prophets and leaders depicted in the Bible were not superheroes. James says, Elijah was a man with a nature like ours … (James 5:17). Like us, he was imperfect and sometimes he messed up. I think it would not be unreasonable in this instance to conclude that Elijah failed.
So, God said, Hey, man, after all you’ve seen Me do, you give up? Well, guess what, buddy, I am done with you.
Wait, that’s not quite how it went, is it? No, God was merciful to Elijah, understanding that he had been pushed to his limits by the stress and strain of the confrontation on the mountain. He sent an angel to the prophet to give him sleep and food. He met Elijah at Sinai and gave him a new mission. In the end, He took Elijah up to heaven without allowing him to go the way of the grave.
Beware but also be encouraged: For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Psalms 103:14).