1 Kings 19:3-8
In the Name of our Lord Jesus, who loves us with an everlasting love, dear Friends,
Israel’s King Ahab married one of the most wicked women who ever lived (not that he was any
great guy himself) … but even today, the very mention of her name is synonymous with evil.
Her name was Jezebel. Jezebel hated the true God. Because of her powerful influence, most
of the Israel’s people turned their backs on God and worshiped idols. This was the situation
into which God called his prophet, Elijah. Elijah’s call was to preach the truth to these wayward
people … and even to the wicked queen!
Drastic times call for drastic action, so Elijah proposed a contest between the prophets of the
false god, Baal, and the one true God. The prophets of Baal turned out in force – 450 of
them! And how many turned out in support of the one true God? One … just Elijah. Elijah
challenged these false prophets to set up a sacrificial bull on an altar to see which god was
strong enough to send down fire from heaven to burn up the sacrifice. Baal’s prophets prayed
to their idol … nothing happened. They danced around the altar and sang songs to Baal …
nothing. After an hour or so, Elijah, being a helpful sort of guy, offered them some advice:
“Shout louder! Maybe he’s hard of hearing … or maybe he’s on vacation. I know … I’ll bet he’
s asleep.” So Baal’s prophets shouted louder and even offered their own flesh as they cut
themselves with swords and spears. Baal never showed. Finally, after hours of this
nonsense, Elijah had enough. He set a bull on the old broken-down altar of the LORD. He
dug a trench around it. He told men to drench the sacrifice with water. Elijah made them pour
water on everything three times. Then Elijah knelt in prayer. He asked God to make himself
known to his people – to use this opportunity to bring Israel back to the truth. Suddenly, God
sent fire from heaven. It dried up the water … it burned the sacrifice to ashes along with the
wood. It even disintegrated the stone altar … and the soil under it! When the people of Israel
saw this, they started shouting, “The LORD – he is God!” In accordance with God’s ancient
law, Elijah gave the order, and the men of Israel killed the false prophets who had led Israel
away from God. What a victory!
Meanwhile, back at the castle, Jezebel heard how Elijah’s God had made hers look foolish.
She also heard that her prophets were dead and that Israel had gone back to the God of the
Bible. So she sent a little note to Elijah: “May the gods kill me if I don’t make you just as dead
as my prophets!” She meant it. She had killed before. Elijah suddenly felt very alone. You
can just imagine the people of Israel backing away from him. The wicked queen had sworn
she would get him. Elijah needed a friend. He looked around, but it seemed like the only one
standing with him was his personal servant. At such a frightening time in Elijah’s life, he
needed to hear what we will hear this morning … and want we will later sing: “What a friend we
have in Jesus!”
Verses 3-5a: “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 desert. He came to a
broom tree, 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 and fell asleep.”
Elijah’s story reminds us that even believers can fall into despair. For Elijah, that fall involved
a four-step process. It began with fear. There was good reason to be afraid of Jezebel. She
had the nasty habit of getting rid of her opposition in all kinds of awful ways. But … why hadn’t
Elijah been afraid when he stood alone in front of 450 false prophets who would loved to have
seen him dead? Elijah wasn’t afraid then because he was keeping his eyes where they
belonged … on almighty God. Now all Elijah saw was his situation. He took his eyes off the
Lord and suddenly he was afraid.
Our text tells us that Elijah ran for his life all the way to Beersheba in Judah. That’s nearly a
hundred miles! That was step two in Elijah’s descent into despair. Elijah ran because he was
looking in the wrong place for an answer to his problem with Jezebel. Elijah took his eyes off
God and, instead, looked inside Elijah for answers. He did not consult God (the text tells us
when he did). Instead, because he felt he needed to do something, he ran a marathon … four
Have you ever been where Elijah was … so afraid … so downhearted … so alone? Do you
recall what got you started on that downward spiral? As a parent, I know the fear of seeing my
children grow up in an increasingly godless world … a world where right is called bigoted and
wrong … a world where what God calls sinful is now called normal and healthy. As a pastor, I
know the fear of seeing people take their faith for granted and wander away from worship and
the fellowship of believers. As a citizen, I know the fear of terrorist threats, falling economies,
and the erosion of my rights once granted me by our constitution. As a Christian, I know the
fear that my beliefs are so far from mainstream, that enemies of the cross will even use the
courts to try to silence the truth.
What are we going to do? How are we supposed to react? The lunatic fringe reacts by
refusing to pay taxes to what they call an ‘evil government’, or by withdrawing to cultic
compounds where they try their best to shut out the world. So, what are we going to do? Do
you know that is the wrong question? That’s the question Elijah asked … the one that set him
off running. That is looking inside ourselves for answers … and that will leave us just as
exhausted as Elijah after his hundred-mile marathon.
Fear and looking inside himself had set Elijah up for a very big fall. Step three removed Elijah’
s safety net. Elijah left his God-fearing servant and went off into the desert by himself. Now, I’
m all for alone time, but this was right where Satan could get at Elijah … away from friends …
away from godly encouragement. Where I come from, ranchers have a serious problem with
coyotes. When a coyote stalks a herd of sheep, which sheep do you suppose he will go after
first? He will go for the weak ones, the strays … the ones who are all alone. That was Elijah.
His actions had cut him out of the herd … away from support … and Satan moved in for the kill.
Some people, when they are feeling that far down … even desperate … separate themselves
from their support group. They stop talking to family and friends. They may find that they just
don’t have the energy to get to church any more. I have heard people say that they don’t
want to discuss their problems with a pastor or another Christian because they already know
what those Christians will say: ‘Don’t worry … God will take care of you … God works for the
good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose … watch and
pray so that you will not enter into temptation’. Are those really just tired old sayings? Or, are
they godly counsel from people who care?
Now Elijah had reached the fourth step in his descent into despair. He felt hopeless and
helpless. He had tried to come up with his own answers. He had run away from
companionship and godly counsel. He finally slumped down in the shade of a desert bush …
and prayed for death. He wanted out. “I’ve had enough!” he shouted at the heavens. “I’ve
failed just like my ancestors. They tried to call your people back and they ended up dead.
What‘s the use? Just kill me!” Think about what Elijah said to God. Had Elijah really had
‘enough’? Did Elijah have the right … or even the information … to make that call? Was he
the one who should decide when his life should be over?
Sometimes, like Elijah, we can get so far down that it feels like we just can’t take any more. On
the one hand, it is amazing how much we really can take … and, history tells us that, when
people were at what they thought was their breaking point, God was just about to do
something amazing. On the other hand, why do you suppose Elijah felt so hopeless and
helpless? In a way, Elijah was playing God! Elijah let his feelings steer his reaction to his
fears instead of taking it to the Lord in prayer. Elijah looked to Elijah for help. At the moment,
he was not seeking God’s counsel and direction. Elijah wanted Elijah’s company … not God’s
and not man’s. And, when Elijah saw that Elijah didn’t have any good answers, Elijah decided
that Elijah should die.
That is such an easy trap to fall into! Our feelings tell us that we can’t go on. What do we
know? God promises us the strength to go wherever he leads. Our feelings tell us that we
want out. What right do we have to demand an end to our lives? God gives life … and he
takes it … in his time and in his way. O, what peace we often forfeit when we try to play God!
Instead of giving in to feelings of having had enough, let’s get over trying to be the god of our
lives. Let’s stop forfeiting the peace God has for us.
… And, let’s learn what Elijah learned in verses 5b-8: “All at once an angel touched him and
said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked
over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 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.’ 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.”
Elijah looked around … and saw that God still cares. There was food and water … and even
encouragement through the angel of the LORD. Look around you and see how much God still
cares for you! He has richly and daily provided you with clothing and shoes, food and drink,
house and home, spouse and children, land, cattle, and all we own, and all that we need to
keep our bodies and lives. But, even if, like Job, we lose these, what have we lost? Have we
lost God’s love? No! Have we lost heaven? No! Nothing can erase what Jesus did for us on
Calvary! Martin Luther nearly lost everything, including his life, for standing up for the truth of
God’s Word. But, when Luther looked around and saw all that God had given him, he was
moved to write, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife … let these all be gone …
they yet have nothing won … the Kingdom ours remaineth!” We have not lost Christ! We
have not lost heaven! No matter what happens, our precious Savior is still our refuge!
What a refuge our Lord was for Elijah! God fed Elijah some miracle food. That miraculous
bread from heaven – that one divine meal – sustained Elijah for more than a month! What
about us? Does God still give us miracle bread from heaven? You know he does. You heard
about that miracle bread in today’s Gospel. Jesus is the Bread of Life! His Word and
sacraments are the food that sustains us. Because our faith comes from the Gospel in Word
and sacrament, our miracle bread is even better that the bread Elijah ate. Our bread makes
us live forever! Amen.
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