As we continue our tour of Biblical characters who went through various struggles, we turn our attention to the prophet Elijah. His story can be found in 1 Kings 17-19 and 2 Kings 1-2.
His story starts out by telling King Ahab that there is going the be a severe drought and famine in the land. “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” Talk about an introduction. Hi King, my name is Elijah and I’m here to tell you that there is going to be a drought for a few years that won’t end unless I give the word. How are your grandkids doing?
Then God leads him out into hiding by the brook of Cherith. There God feeds him in the morning and the evening by sending Ravens with bread and meat in their beaks. First, eww. But, I guess if you’re starving. Second, just think the next time a bird steals your lunch, it might be going to a prophet in hiding. You never know.
Then, the brook dries up and he goes into town where he meets a widow who is literally about to use up the last bit of flour and oil she has to make some bread for she and her sons last meal. But God miraculously provides for them through the jars of flour and oil, promising that they will last until it rains again.
After all this, the son gets sick and dies. But Elijah takes the boy upstairs, uses a very different form of CPR than the ones we see on TV and cries out to God who brings the son back to life.
Some more time passes, technically ‘many days’, but in the third year of the drought God tells Elijah that he has to go back to Ahab and tell him that God is going to send rain on the earth. On the way he meets Obadiah who tells him that there is a bounty out for his life. When he meets Ahab, the king puts all the blame for the drought onto Elijah, not realizing the reason for the drought was because King Ahab and his Father had abandoned the commands of the Lord and followed the Baals.
This is where it gets interesting. Elijah lays down a ridiculous gauntlet. Gather all the prophets of Baal and all the prophets of Asherah and have them meet me at Mt. Carmel. 850 to 1, not very good odds.
It’s here that we see a very confident version of Elijah. While they’re calling on their little “g” gods to light up the barbecue, Elijah starts mocking them saying: You need to yell louder because maybe he’s using the bathroom or on a journey or asleep and you need to wake him up. The funny thing is, they listened and shouted louder, cutting themselves but no one answers.
Then it’s Elijah’s turn at bat. Again, Elijah is full of the confidence of God and after making an altar told whoever was standing there to get four jars of water and pour it on the wood. And then to do it again. I don’t know where they got the water from. They were on top of a mountain, so they may have had to take a hike, get the water and then do it again. Regardless, the wood is soaked, which is not the best way to start a fire.
Elijah prays, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” And fire comes down from heaven that doesn’t just light up the wet wood, but consumed the offering, the stones and the dust and consumed the water that was in the trench around the altar.
Elijah commands them to capture all the prophets of Baal, then tells the king that rain is coming. But it doesn’t. He looks again and still, nothing. After the 7th time looking for rain clouds, the servant comes back and says, there’s a little tiny cloud way out over the sea. And it did rain.
But, soon after that, Ahab tattles on Elijah to Jezebel who issues an execution order for Elijah. And this bold confident man goes up to Jezebel, confronts her with the same confidence he had on the mountain and she melts into a puddle. Just kidding. Elijah panics and runs for his life, finding a cave to hide in.
This is where God asks him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” to which Elijah replies: “I have served you faithfully, the people have betrayed you. I’m the only one left who worships you and now they’re trying to kill me.
How does God respond? I might respond by saying, “Buck up Elijah. Didn’t you just confidently confront 850 people and win? Where is that courage now?” But God said: “Go stand on the mount before the LORD.” Don’t you just love it when you’re in a desperate situation and God decides that it’s a good teaching opportunity?
So Elijah is out there where a great and strong wind tears the mountain apart, which is followed by a powerful earthquake and a fire. But God was not in any of these powerful displays. After all that, there is the sound of a low whisper, which can actually be translated as “thin silence.” When Elijah heard the silence he wrapped himself in his cloak and went out where God asked him again: “What are you doing here?” to which Elijah gives the same response.
Then God gives him a new command, a new mission and reminds him that there are 7,000 people who have not bowed to worship Baal – in other words, Elijah wasn’t the only one.
There’s more to Elijah’s story, but we’ll stop there for today and ask, what can we learn from Elijah’s story about suffering and struggle?
1.) When you’re doing God’s work, He will provide for you.
This whole thing started with Elijah being obedient to God. Shortly after he followed through with his mission he found himself in hiding. I can only imagine what Elijah’s thoughts were in that moment. “I go and do the thing God tells me to do and what did it get me but isolation and recycled food.”
Regardless God provided for him. Sure, it probably wasn’t the way he would have liked. And, to be honest, most of us would probably rather starve than eat food that a Raven had in its mouth. Still, God provided.
God will provide for our needs when we are doing his work. When you’re struggling and it feels like God isn’t providing, we can ask ourselves a couple of questions. 1.) Have I been faithfully doing God’s work? If the answer to that question is yes and it seems like God still isn’t providing, then 2.) Could it be that what I think I need is really what I want? Because, if we’re honest, most of us think we need things that we really don’t.
2.) When you’re doing God’s work, you may face fierce opposition, but God will protect you.
Look at the confidence Elijah had on that mountain. Can you imagine having the same confidence in the face of an army of at least 850? This wasn’t just a few people. There were probably servants and others with them too. There could have been thousands on that mountain. And Elijah opposed them all.
We can be confident, that when God gives us a mission that flies in the face of the vastly worshipped gods of our modern era that we will face opposition. If you talk about dying to yourself in a society that exalts and worships self, someone is going to have a problem. If you live a sacrificial life, take risks to share the gospel with someone who thinks they don’t need a savior, you will face opposition.
But God will protect you. You may have to endure the emotional trauma of being disliked, but God is on your side and you have His approval. And his opinion is the only one that matters.
3.) When you’re surrounded by chaos, seek the peace of God’s presence.
There are times when it feels like the whole world is against you. It felt that way to Elijah. Here he had just done this big thing for God and his reward is a hit being put out for him. So he runs in terror. It may feel like the world is against you, but none of us have experienced what Elijah did that day. But even then, the whole world wasn’t against Elijah either. It just seemed that way to him in the chaos of the now.
When we’re caught up in the chaos of the now it’s so easy to lose the permanent, eternal, never-changing perspective of the Father. It’s easy when you’re in it to lose the perspective of the one who is over it. When the chaos of life is roaring like a wind, knocking free huge boulders, when it’s shakes the earth beneath our feet and the world appears to be on fire, we need to escape the cacophony of chaos to find the peace of God’s presence. That’s the only way to get perspective, get to know the one who isn’t limited by being in it like we are.
“And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper [thin silence].And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”1 Kings 19:12