Elijah’s Flight

For all intents and purposes, Elijah should have been greatly pleased. After all, the Israelites had just recognized that YHWH– and YHWH alone– was their true God, after He gave Elijah the victory over the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:18-40). Furthermore, on account of his own prayer, God returned the rains to the drought-stricken land (1 Kings 18:41-46). It had been some time since a prophet of God had been so successful before the people.

Yet Elijah was running for his life; Queen Jezebel was none too pleased with the death of her prophets and the humiliation of Baal, and she sought Elijah’s life (1 Kings 19:1-3). Elijah was a pragmatic man, fully aware of the vicissitudes of power and the people: they may have believed YHWH was their only God yesterday, but tomorrow they will not cry out to save Elijah from Jezebel’s hands. Elijah, therefore, flees to the south, and petitions to die…yet the Lord has much in store for him (1 Kings 19:4-7).

Sustained by angels, Elijah reaches Mount Horeb, where about seven hundred years previous God had given the Israelites the Law and made His covenant with them (1 Kings 19:8; cf. Exodus 19). He lodges there forty days and nights, and then the word of the LORD tells him to come to the outside of the cave in which he stayed. Elijah is confronted first by a strong wind, and then an earthquake, and then a fire, yet Elijah knew that the Lord was not present in these. The small voice– indeed, the thin silence– that followed, however, represented the presence of the Lord (1 Kings 19:9-11).

When asked about why he has come to Horeb, Elijah states:

“I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14).

The response of the LORD is concise and to the point:

“Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, thou shalt anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet will I leave me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:15-18).

Elijah then goes and anoints Elisha son of Shaphat as the LORD directed (1 Kings 19:19-21).

Such, then, is the narrative of Elijah’s flight. There is much we can learn from his example.

  1. Even after success, there is no guarantee of contentment. Elijah, assisted by the hand of God, made powerful demonstrations to show the people the error of their ways. Even after YHWH was proven over Baal, and the prophets of Baal were dead, and the rains returned, however, the edict of Jezebel was worrisome enough to Elijah that he felt compelled to flee to the south.Such things also remind us of the fate of our Lord Jesus, who, after being praised by the multitude at His arrival in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9-11), would be condemned to die by crucifixion by the same crowd– at the prompting of the religious authorities of the day– less than a week later (Matthew 27:23).If such things happened to our Lord Himself and the great prophet Elijah, we certainly should not be surprised if it happens to us. We can demonstrate powerfully Christ in our lives, being obedient to Him as we ought, striving for the furtherance of the Gospel, even to the point of success, only to suddenly find ourselves under great persecution. In these situations we must trust God who is faithful (1 Peter 2:18-25).
  2. The LORD was in the still, thin silence. When the word of the LORD came to Elijah, exhorting him to stand at the entrance of the cave, Elijah was confronted with wind, earthquake, and fire. In the end, however, the presence of the LORD was only present in the still, thin silence.Even after the death of Jesus, wicked and adulterous generations seek signs (Matthew 12:39). People search and search, striving to find some physical evidence that will lead them to believe. Not a few people are waiting for some form of “road to Damascus” experience, where God will literally knock them over so that they can believe. Yet what do we have here? God is not in the tempests, but is present in the silence. It is within the creation that we can see the work of God; it is within the omnipresent yet inescapable truths of life that we see our need for God.Furthermore, we see that God’s presence is a sign of peace. God was not in the tragic, life-threatening and earth-shattering forces presented to Elijah. God was in the thin silence that came afterward. We can only have peace in God and Christ Jesus (Romans 5:1). Satan may tempt us sore, yet we must strive for that thin, silent peace from our glorious God.
  3. Elijah’s despair led him into depression and into feeling isolated. For some reason– be it the general hostility he faced, the current situation with Jezebel, other factors, or a combination of the above– Elijah despaired into a state of depression, feeling as if he were the only one left striving to obey the LORD.This feeling is easy to understand, and it should give us pause, seeing one as mighty as Elijah feeling in such a way. The constant battle against sin, both without and within the church, many times will lead a Christian to believe that he or she is the only one who is standing up for God. God’s responses, however, are very instructive.
  4. God put Elijah to work. When Elijah confessed his feelings to God, He put Elijah to work, instructing him to return and to anoint three persons– Elisha, Hazael, and Jehu– three men who would, by various means, lead to a significant downturn in Baal worship in times to come. Interestingly enough, Elijah ends up only anointing Elisha, while the latter anoints both Hazael and Jehu (2 Kings 8:7-15, 2 Kings 9:1-10). The main emphasis here is that God gets Elijah to get back to work to redirect his energy, shifting away from negativity by showing him His plan for the future, and how both he and Elisha fit into that plan.While we ourselves may at times despair about our condition, feeling as if we are striving for a losing cause, we can see from the example here given to us that we need to get to work (2 Peter 1:5-8)! When we set ourselves working for the cause of Christ, we give our minds no opportunity to dwell on that which may depress or turn us away from our goal. We should also heed Philippians 4:8 in this regard:

    Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

    When we make the decision to focus on what is good, and not what is evil, we will find ourselves to be better Christians and better servants in the Lord’s vineyard.

  5. God had reserved for Himself 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed their knee to Baal. God’s final statement to Elijah was sufficient to point out Elijah’s great error: believing that he alone strove to serve God. While we may understand his feelings– after all, he seems only to face persecution and suffering– even Elijah does not know everything that is going on, nor does he know what everyone else is doing. God alone knows such things. While Elijah ran from persecution, there were 7,000 in Israel who stayed and did not fall into the idolatry of Baal worship.Paul uses this very example of Elijah in Romans 11:2-5:

    God did not cast off his people which he foreknew. Or know ye not what the scripture saith of Elijah? how he pleadeth with God against Israel:
    “Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.”
    But what saith the answer of God unto him?
    “I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
    Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

    While it may sometimes seem like we are alone in our striving for the right, let us take comfort– and gain strength for the fight– to remember that there remains a remnant according to the grace of God. There are many faithful Christians throughout the world– we do not have to be alone.

While Elijah’s flight in many ways exposes his human shortcomings, we see in him a good servant of God– he had his moment of weakness, and yet he picked himself up, returned to Israel, and continued doing the work of God until he was taken up into the heavens. Let us learn from the example of Elijah, and continue on in the good fight.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written,
“For thy sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

ELDV

Leave a Reply