TEXT: 1 Kings 19:1-18
TITLE: “Hard Hearts and a Broken Prophet”
DATE: 21st April 2013
If the 18th Chapter of 1 Kings is a great climax in the fight of the godly against the evil forces in the Bible, then the 19th Chapter is for many a huge anti-climax, as Elijah flees after receiving a death threat from Ahab’s wife, Jezebel! We shall find the strong prophet of the Mountain of Carmel now broken at the Mountain of Moses (Mt. Horeb/ Mt Sinai) - and between these two places a huge physical distance. We read that Elijah initially fled for his life from the town of Jezreel in the northern territory of Israel to Beersheba, about 160 kilometers south of Jezreel, in the territory of Judah, and then finally another approximately 320 kilometers further south into the Sinai peninsula where Mt. Horeb (Mt Sinai) is located! So, what has happened?
A lot of ink has been spilled over the “psychology of Elijah”. Many have poured over the factors which might have led to this great reversal in Elijah’s thinking. The keyword for many interpreters of this text is the word “fear” which is found in 19:3: “Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life…”.
It is strange that (all things considered) such a fearless man should turn into a wimp overnight – all because king Ahab’s wife, Jezebel had said to him, “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.” (19:2). It was after this threat that Elijah arose and ran for his life. (v.3) It just doesn’t make sense, does it? One moment he faces 450 false prophets, man alone in the strength of the Lord, and overcomes, and the next moment he capitulates before one woman and flees. As I have said, this text has kept commentators occupied.
Much has been made of the psychological impact – the emotional and the physical tiredness that Elijah must have experienced after this great contest. Much has been said about Elijah’s lack of ‘spiritual guardedness’. He has been accused of losing it- having a crisis of faith. There is something to be said for such observations, and I think we all know the feeling expressed by Simon Peter in Luke 5:5 when he says to Jesus after a disappointing fishing expedition: “Master we have toiled all night and took nothing!” Working hard, and seeing little results can have a crushing effect upon the soul of any man, and particularly so in the ministry. But is that the real issue here? Is this as simple as saying: “Well here we have an example of a spiritual man who overworked himself, and who did not take care of his own soul, and the result is that he bombed out emotionally, physically and spiritually ”? Is that the great lesson of 1 Kings 19? I am thankful that I have had a few months now reflecting on the life and times of Elijah, and I am thankful that I have had a week of study and reflection on this particular text behind me in the company of the Holy Spirit and some good commentaries. I believe that I have come away with a better understanding of this text. Let us begin by looking at the text again, before we make application.
The narrative can be divided into 6 parts:
1. Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah (vv.1-2)
2. Elijah sees what is happening in Israel. There is no spiritual revival after this contest with the prophets of Ba’al. This and the death threat causes him to flee to Beersheba in Judah (v.3)
3. From Beersheba, Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness. It is here that we learn something of Elijah’s emotional state. He is depressed. He tells God that he wants to die. He feels a failure: “I am no better than my fathers”. He then sleeps (emotional and physical exhaustion) and as He awakens, there is food and drink brought to him by an angel of the Lord. The angel informs him that he will need this sustenance for the journey ahead. This provides us with another clue. God is calling him for a meeting at Mt. Horeb (Sinai), the mountain where God had previously made a significant covenant with Israel through Moses (vv. 4-8). This is an important fact to be considered.
4. At Mt. Horeb the word of the Lord came to him (vv. 9-18). God asks the question (twice) : “What are you doing here Elijah?” (vv. 9 , 13). Elijah responds (see vv. 10, 14). He reveals his zeal for God’s work on the one hand. On the other hand he reveals his very real disappointment at the gross failure of Israel, God’s covenant people, to return to their covenant God at this significant time at which the false gods of Ba’al were so evidently defeated . It seems that the glorious victory at Carmel and the profession of the people “The Lord , he is God” ( 18:39) had no real effect on Ahab and certainly none on Jezebel. The nation of Israel seemed to continue in their spiritually apathetic state.
5. God hears Elijah and now in vv. 15 &16 God gives Elijah a new commission. He tells him three things (i) Go to Damascus (capital city of Syria) and anoint the Hazael in place of Ben Hadad  (ii) Anoint Jehu as king over Israel in the place of the house of Ahab and (iii) find yourself a replacement. Anoint Elishah, the son of Shaphat to be prophet in your place. This shall happen in 2 Kings 2.
6. This new commission really amounts to a very severe judgment upon Israel. The wrath of God upon all the evil shall be exercised through these “servants” of God, beginning with Elijah. God’s instruments include (surprisingly) a pagan king like Hazael and a murderous and rebellious Israelite king called Jehu, and it includes also the true servant of the Lord, who will be Elisha. There will be a systematic purging of Israel under Hazael , Jehu an Elisha (see v. 17). It will be a bleak, dark time in Israel. It will seem as if the lamp of Israel will be extinguished, and yet at this time God assures Elijah that there are 7000 in Israel, who have been kept by the grace of God, and whose hearts had been undefiled by the present evil idol worship (v.18).
This is the story line. Now what shall we make of it? What is the Holy Spirit teaching us here? What about Elijah? Has he become a sell out?
Having taken careful note of the text and context (I trust), let us make some observations and conclusions :
1. Elijah’s running away from Jezreel to Beersheba was not necessarily motivated by carnal or self -centered fear, but by a sense of failure and futility. The slant will colour our interpretation of Elijah’s psychological state . We are helped in this if we consider an alternative translation of the text. I know that the ESV (our preferred translation) along with most other translations (e.g. NASB, RSV, NIV, Amplified ) reads in v.3… “then he was afraid.” The alternate translation (e.g. KJV & ASV) reads: “And then he saw…”. Now why this discrepancy? Here is the explanation. The oldest Hebrew text has no vowels. The original Hebrew text only consist of consonants. So if I wrote, “Mary is a blonde” in old Hebrew, then I would write “Mry s blnd” (The vowels are understood). So too, the Hebrew word used here yar’ah, (without the vowels) can mean “to be afraid “ or it can mean “saw” (in the imperfect tense), depending on which vowels you insert. The Masoretes are to blame for this. They added vowels to the Hebrew text between the 7th and 11th centuries AD. By this they chose “and he was afraid” over “and he saw”. Why do we make all this fuss over language? Because the emphasis would make a difference in Elijah’s motives for fleeing. The one says he ran out of fear; the other says that he ran because he saw the writing on the wall, and he was bitterly disappointed and disillusioned. I personally cannot see that Elijah had a personality change, becoming a wimp. I cannot see that he became a spiritual drop out. Let’s see whether the rest of the text stands up to this reasoning.
2. Elijah needed distance between the problem in Israel because he was intensely disappointed with Israel. He desperately needed to meet with God at a place of origins, because he needed further perspective. Having arrived in Beersheba, he leaves his servant there and walks a day’s journey further into the desert. By now his emotions and his body are beginning to catch up. He is deeply depressed and he tells God that he wants to die. Instead of death he experiences what some of called ‘ the small death’ – sleep which is God’s blessed gift to revive us, and to make us forget the stresses and strains of life for a while. In this the wilderness, God in love for his exhausted servant sent an angel to sustain him with freshly baked cake and water (19:6). And still he was tired. He lay down again,and the angel nudged him and encouraged him to get up and continue the journey to Horeb , the mountain where Moses had previously met with God for 40 days and nights . Significantly it took Elijah 40 days and 40 nights to get there (19:8). And God spoke to him there: “ And the word of the LORD came to him“. The LORD asks him: “ What are you doing here Elijah?”
Now many people take that as a rebuke from God, as if to say “you should not be here! You are in the wrong place!“ It really is not necessary to come to such a conclusion. This could equally mean: “What have you come to tell me?” If this is true, God was looking at his servant in a softer , loving light. I think that the response indicates this , because Elijah then tells God why he is here. Elijah says that he is upset for God’s sake. Note the emphasis in v.10: “The people of Israel have thrown down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword …”. Here’s the point! Elijah is not whining . He has come to talk to God as this most historically significant place of Israel’s beginnings! He has come to formally charge Israel with apostasy before God. He is righteously angry and disappointed before God, and he is at the right place to do so! Nowhere in this text do we that God is angry with Elijah for being disbelieving and in the wrong place . If anything, we observe God’s tender kindness towards his faithful prophet.
To recapitulate: Elijah was not so much afraid of Jezebel,as he was broken by the continued stubbornness and unrepentant paganism of the nation. Elijah was here because God had essentially driven him there. Elijah had come to bring a charge of apostasy against Israel!
3. This teaches us afresh the depth of human depravity and stubborn willfulness. No matter how much proof there is of God’s power over evil, people will not believe. Sometimes we are tempted to think that if only we can get people to hear the truth. If only we can convert them through our well rehearsed arguments. If we think that, we have not yet comprehended the deadness of the human heart (Eph. 2:1). The testimony of Jesus is true : “And this is the judgment, that light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light.” (Jn 3:19).
4. We would do well to desire Elijah’s heart and passion for the glory of God, and for his hatred for sin and depression over sin. Do we really care about the unfaithfulness of the present professing church? Can we be happy with this doctrinal indifference and idolatrous pragmatism of our day - so much that we get upset for God’s sake? Can God’s servants get depressed and despondent, and is that OK ? Yes! If it is over God’s glory, and honour and interests it is always OK. We are after all meant to be God’s holy people. We must feel to some degree what He feels about sin Do you ever get depressed over the way things are in our society, for God’s sake?
5. The wrath of God is revealed against all the ungodliness of men who suppress the truth by their ungodliness. (Rom 1:18). In the closing verses of our text today we shall see this. God is beginning to act against wicked Israel . And Elijah is there to anoint the following people, believers and non believers alike to do God’s work – to bring punishment upon Israel. And, in the process, God will take his tired servant out of the world and replace him with another man, Elishah who will faithfully run with the baton.
Elijah has not been God’s last broken- hearted servant. Plenty of cases have abounded in our own days, but you need not fear being a broken hearted servant when you are in the hands of a good God! Amen.
 Hazael murders Ben Hadad in 2 Kings 8:7 and becomes king of Syria
 This happens in 2 Kings 9 when under the direction of Elisha a young prophet was called to anoint Jehu as king over Israel. Jehu killed Joram ( Ahab’s son – now on the throne ) and he also killed Jezebel (9:30ff) in accordance with the word of the LORD
 The Hebrew imperfect does not have tense apart from context and syntax just like the Hebrew perfect. The Hebrew imperfect denotes incomplete action, whether in the past, present, or future.