The book of Kings is a compelling case FOR the true God in an age of many gods and multiple spiritualities.
It was a history book written to and for the people of God when they were in Exile in Babylon recording the events that had led to the Exile: the decline of the Kings of Israel into idolatry and godlessness.
The section that we’re looking at is concerned with the reign of Ahab, who married the princess of Sidon, Jezebel, who introduced foreign gods into Israel. Elijah the prophet of God turns up to demonstrate that these gods that promise so much, that we give up the worship or our lives and money and time and energy and hopes, that wound us when they fail us .. These gods - for them the baals, for us the gods of success, power, money, beauty - they are not gods at all. Only the LORD is God.
The book of Kings warns us and calls us to turn our hearts away from useless, life draining idols back to the singular worship of the living God.
So who is the true God? What is he like compared with all the idols?
In this chapter we see the way that God deals with Elijah in his despondency and depression. Elijah feels that God has failed him; that he doesn’t know who God is anymore. But God comes again and he treats and corrects Elijah’s depression and in so doing He reveals his Glory.
- Elijah’s depression and despondency
it’s a rapid decline/fall.
Elijah has just experienced the power of God in the great victory at Carmel (1 Kings 18). The prophets of baal had called on their god to bring fire on the sacrifice and nothing happened. Elijah had prayed for fire and fire had come. God had proved his reality and the people, 18v39, fall on their faces and confess that “the LORD is God.” The prophets of Baal are slain as traitors to the nation. It’s something akin to a REVIVAL. Then Elijah prays for rain: the lifting of God’s curse on the land, further evidence of his reality. It hasn’t rained for three years… and the rain comes!
And Elijah tucks his cloak into his belt and he outruns Ahab’s chariot back to the capital Jezreel. Elijah, a wanted man, an enemy of the state runs to the capital because he expects total victory. Ahab and Jezebel will either repent and come back to the true God, or the people will overthrow them. The gates of Jezreel will swing open to a new dawn. A new age of the Kingdon of God. The worship of Baal eradicated. That’s the completion of the plan. That’s what Elijah expects.
But he has made a serious miscalculation: Jezebel. If it had been Ahab alone it might have happened. Ahab is a weak man; a go with the flow sort of man. But only one person wears the trousers in this royal household. Only one person controls the war chariots…. and that’s Jezebel. Imagine the scene. Ahab arrives back at the palace soaked to the skin by rain. Jezebel dances down the steps. Surely Baal - storm god, god of the rains - has won! But no, Baal hasn’t sent this rain. Baal is defeated and his prophets slain. We’ve lost, Jezebel. Pahhhh! Jezebel doesn’t lose. She’d got the king, she’d introduced idol worship. She still had her 400 prophets of Asherah. Where are the prophets of the LORD? She’s slaughtered them. And she gives her word to Elijah, “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.”
The plan has failed. Nothing has changed. Jezebel has not changed.. there’s no uprising.
The shock of this failure, the crushing disappointment for Elijah… is like the straw the breaks the camels back. Suddenly this man of faith is knocked off his spiritual moorings. He who had the courage to face Ahab and the prophets of Baal is suddenly overwhelmed with fear. He who knows and listens for and acts upon the word of God ..listens to and acts upon the voice of Jezebel. And he runs.
Disappointment has led to instability which leads to fear which leads to flight…which leads to anger and bitterness.
He goes to Beersheba. Dan to Beersheba denotes the furthest most points of the promised land. (From lands end to John O Groats.) This was the land of blessing. Stay in the land said God and you will be blessed. And Elijah who knows the word of God. Leaves the land!
He sends his servant back. Elijah had a servant not because he was rich but because he was a prophet. This is his PA. He’s firing his staff. ‘I’m out of the ministry.’ he’s saying
And he goes on into the wilderness and he falls down and he prays that he might die. ‘I have had enough Lord.’ ‘This is too much for me.’ Anger.. bitterness.. disobedience..despair.
An angel comes and tends him - we’ll think about this in a moment - and he has the energy to journey to Horeb where Elijah makes his threefold complaint.
Where were you God?
I have no friends.
I don’t know who you are anymore God!
Those 3 things:
I’ve been very zealous for the LORD -i fulfilled my part of the plan, where were you God?
I am all alone - I don’t have a friend in the world
And I don’t know who you are anymore God! That statement is implicit in his journey to Horeb, the mountain of God, 40 days and 40 nights a mountain better known as Sinai. Where he went into literally ‘THE cave,’ or better translated ‘THE cleft in the rock.’ THE very place that Moses came to in Exodus 34 when he said to God.. ‘I need to know who you are!’ and God put him in the cleft in the rock and passed by
Where were you God?
I have no friends
I don’t know who God is anymore.
I can’t tell you the number of times i’ve heard these statements from disappointed, despondent believers. I’ve thought and said them myself..
But secondly.. what then is beneath/the cause of Elijah’s deep despairing depression and oppression? What might be beneath ours? God begins to treat the causes, he becomes doctorand pastor to Elijah, so we’ll see what are the causes of Elijah’s depression. Which will be instructve for us about ourselves and also about God himself.
the first thing that God does is he sends an angel.
and what does that angel do? does he say, ‘fear not’? No; does he say ‘i bring you good tidings?’ no; does he say ‘repent!”? no; does he say ‘do you wanna talk about it?”? NO!
what does God do first? He cooks!
He touches elijah. He reflects back - ‘you’re tired’
What are you doing here Elijah? God’s questions are not to give him information. As if God doesn’t know. God’s questions are to give you information. Elijah rants. God listens
here are some of the natural causes of Elijah’s depression:
physical exhaustion: he’s been on the run for three years. he’s spent himself in the great high of Carmel. he’s been like a tightly pulled spring that has just stretched and stretched until it snaps. He’s exhausted. Burned out. And before he needs a lecture or advice or even prayer .. he needs a rest and good food and a walk on the beach.
there are psychological causes: why are you here Elijah. Elijah speaks and God listens. Someties you just need to be listened to; to listen to yourself.
there are relational causes: I’m the only one left! God sends an angel because Elijah needs a gentle cheerful friend. Have you ever heard of a melancholy angel? Elijah’s companions had all been melancholics hadn’t they? the ravens at the Kerith ravine, the widow, obadiah, his servant who had to be sent back again and again to look for the rain. Melancholics tend to flock together - we understand each other. But if you are someone of a melancholic disposition you need a couple of gentle cheerful friends.
Look at the way God attends to the whole person. Before he speaks about spiritual issues or sin or prayer. God wisely addresses the physical, psycholgical, relational. What a God our Creator is.
See depression and despondency in the believer - we need to make some distinctions - can have natural and spiritual causes.. and can also have sinful or holy causes.
To be depressed as a christian is not wrong. it doesn’t imply a lack of faith in fact it may be an evidence of faith.
Take Jesus for example - there were moments in his life when he was deeply depressed. teh most obvious being in the garden of gethsemane when the language that is used is that of deep darkness overwhelming, life threatening sorrow as Jesus contemplated the horror of the cross. The depths of human sin that he was about to carry for us. Sin is serious and awful poisoning our lives and our world and to mourn over our own sin and a world outside of Christ is indeed a holy melancholy. the christian life is a war it is not happy happy happy. It’s sometimes about profound sorrow co-existing with profound hope.
Elijah’s melancholy …was a mixture
God addressed first the natural, understandable causes which were basically neutral, maybe godly.. now God comes to the spiritual causes and exposes Elijah’s sin
The passing by of God in mount Sinai is bookended by Elijah’s complaint. I was zealous.. the plan worked - where were you God. I’m all alone. I don’t know who you are. Bookended by the complaint .. so the passing is the answer to the complaint
God tells Elijah, v11 to come out and stand on the mountain before the LORD. But we know from v13 that Elijah didn’t or couldn’t come beyond the mouth of the cave. he stays insie the ROCK. And it’s just as well that he does because …
a hurricane comes down .. like the one we have seen wreaking destruction on that poor island of haiti this week. a wind that breaks pieces off that rock in which Elijah hides. And after the wind an earthquake - shaking the earth ..splitting the rock in which elijah hides. And after the earthquake a fire - rolling, billowing, consuming flames, lighting up the cave with intense heat scorching the rock in which elijah hides.
The statements that God was not in the earthquake wind and fire does not mean that he was not behind them. They weren’t just a just chance occurences. Neither does it mean that God is never in these things. At the burning bush God appeared as fire. At Sinai an earthquake signalled is presence and at pentecost he showed up in the wind. These are all ways that God appears and reveals his glory. And in this instance they teach us that before such a powerful, glorious, HOLY and PURE God, sinful human beings cannot stand. we would be broken to pieces, split apart, consumed.
And yet God was not in these things, we are told, presumably because he was in the still small voice that followed. That brought Elijah out from the cleft in the rock to stand before the living God.
What is happening here? What is God teaching here?
He’s teaching Elijah.. He’s teaching us … the gospel.
What is the gospel:
You are more sinful than you ever dared believe ..but
You are more loved than you ever dared hope
See, what is the cleft in the rock? or rather who is the rock?
Hundreds of years later 3 of Jesus closest disciples followed Jesus up a mountain and there they saw him transfigured, they saw his divine glory and they saw Jesus in conversation with 2 figures.. one was Moses .. the other Elijah .. and they spoke to Jesus, On the mountain about HIS death.
You and I are more sinful than we ever dared believe. Because of our sins we cannot stand before the earthquake, wind and fire of God’s holiness. And so God hides us in the cleft of the rock. On his cross, in his death, Jesus shields us. He our rock, reaps the wind and is broken for us, He, our rock is shaken and split apart for us. He our rock, is scorched and consumed in the flames. So that we might get the still small voice of grace.
You are more sinful than you ever dared believe and more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever dared hope.
But what finally does this have to do with Elijah’s despondency? What has this got to do with our disappointent with God?
Remember Elijah’s complaint?
I have been very zealous
Now i’m the only one left
Here’s Elijah’s problem. I wonder if it’s mine or yours?
he’s forgotten the gospel. He’s shrunk Sin and Grace
Regarding himself - He’s far too optimistic -
Regarding God - He’s far too pessimistic -
Elijah thinks way to highly of himself. I have been very zealous. My plan worked. Where were you God?
Elijah thinks to way too lowly of God - i’m the only one left - the plan is gone. You don’t love me God. You don’t care. You didn’t keep your side of the plan God. You didn’t give me what I deserve.
But God, the god of earthquake wind and fire says, Elijah - don’t put me in a box. Why are you here Elijah? Why do you think so highly of yourself that you know all? Why do you think so lowly of me that as soon as your plan doesn’t work - i have failed??
I’ve not let you down Elijah. Your plan let you down and you’ve wrongly identified me with your plan.
I do have a plan Elijah v15. The next stage will involve Hazael and Jehu and Elisha and you Elijah if you’ll get over thinking you’re the only one left. I do have a plan Elijah - it’s just it’s not your plan.
We are too often like babies who scream at their parents when they are taken for innoculations, you know, those injections to protect them from disease. Hey!!!!! This is not the plan! The plan is I cry and you hug me or feed me or change my nappy. how dare you do this!! How dare you hurt me!!! You don’t love me! Waaaaah! Like babies with their parents, so we are with God. We can never see or comprehend the full, detailed, good plans of God for his world, for our lives. they will always be beyond us a mystery to us.
We should be very skeptical of our own plans for what God should do in our lives. Because we, sinful as we are, will almost certainly be making God a god of our making, forging God as just another idol who will let us down and wound us when the plans fail. No Let God tell us who he is. Let God be God. And be thankful for God’s supreme wisdom and his undoubtable love. he loves us, he is with us, he’s in charge, he never takes his eyes off us.
What a perspective to lift us from despondency.
Sorry Lord for how stupid i can be. Stop me blaming you. Give it up. Thank you for your love.