The Runaway Prophet
The prophet Elijah was a very bold person who has done some very amazing things. Yet James seems to think that your prayers can be as effective as the prayers of Elijah. You can read that in James 5:16-17
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain and the earth produced its crop.
James makes here this interesting statement “ Elijah was a man just like us…” Now, to be honest, I don’t think you really believe these words, do you now? After all, you may well have prayed at times that the rain would stop but that does not mean your prayer was answered at that time. And you certainly have never prayed for the rain to stop for three years and then to pray again for the rain to start, and for the heavens to respond by pouring out rain. So, I think, that deep in your heart you think, “Excuse me, James, Elijah might be like you, but after all, you were the half-brother of Jesus and that made you a special person. But James, you do not know me. I am just an ordinary person. I try to hold on to my faith and there are many times when I doubt God and struggle with issues in my life, for I know that I am not supposed to behave in the way that I do, and yet I continue to do these very things I know I am not supposed to. So, how can you possibly tell me that Elijah was just like me….?” If James could know what you might be thinking he may well suggest that you study the life of Elijah to see whether or not he is right, so why don’t you start by reading I Kings 17:1-6
Now Elijah the Tishbite from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, “Leave here, turn eastward, and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
We don’t seem to know anything about Elijah’s beginnings. All we know is that he is from a place called Tishbe. By the time we get to know him, most likely, he is already established as a prophet and is known by king Ahab. What he has to say to the king is not very encouraging, but it does happen. In fact, his words to the king will have caused the king to become very angry with him so God tells him where to hide from the king. But, in time, even Elijah is affected by the drought he has pronounced, because the brook where he stays dries up. Now, I am sure that God could have done something supernatural so that the water in the brook would have continued to flow, but God does not do this, for He has a better plan in mind for His prophet. So He tells Elijah to go to a widow who lives outside Israel, even though there will have been many widows in Israel. Elijah may well have questioned God’s choice of this widow. Nevertheless, in obedience to God’s command he goes to Zarephath and seeks out this widow whom he knows has been prepared by God to take care of him, as you can read in I Kings 17:7-13
Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food. So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat – and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t’ be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.”
Just imagine that you are Elijah. Would you not feel very uncomfortable after your encounter with this widow? You may well question yourself if you still have the same prophetic ability you used to have when you accurately predicted to king Ahab that there would be no rain for three years. That word has proven to be all too true. However, in the case of the widow, you may initially believe you have approached the right widow, but then she tells you she plans on dying. So, either you have picked the wrong widow or, dare you think it, God has not done what He has promised He would do; He has not commanded this widow to take care of you. But then you are not Elijah and it seems Elijah has no such doubts.
At the same time you might like to say to him, “Elijah how can you ask this poor widow to bake you a cake first? How can you be so selfish? You must know that she has no spare flour left for you so how can you insist that she not only make a cake for you besides making a cake for herself and her son, but you insist that she makes a cake for you before making one for her and son? You ought to realise that this poor woman may not have enough flour for three people. Very likely it will mean, therefore, that she will end up giving her portion to you, and that will surely mean death for her.” But, it seems, Elijah knows something that you may not be not aware of, as you can read in I Kings 17:14-16
For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.
It is very clear from these words that Elijah has great faith and you don’t think you can match his faith so you may well want to say to James, “See James, look at the faith of this man. You know I don’t have this kind of faith. And James, have you read what Elijah did do next?” This is recorded in I Kings 18:1-2
After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria.
The meeting between Ahab and Elijah is arranged by a man named Obadiah. He is in charge of the palace, and is a devout man who has been able to protect one hundred of God’s prophets from Ahab’s wife, queen Jezebel. Apparently, she does not like God’s prophets very much, and has shown that by having them killed off, as you can read in I Kings 18:3-16
And Ahab had summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace (Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water). Ahab had said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals. So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another. As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognised him, bowed down to the ground, and said, ”Is it really you, my lord Elijah?” “Yes,” he replied, “Go, tell your master, “Elijah is here.” “What have I done wrong,” asked Obadiah, “that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? As surely as the Lord your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom that my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or a kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you. But now, you tell me to go to my master and say, “Elijah is here.” I don’t know where the spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshipped the Lord since my youth. Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. And now you tell me to go to my master and say, “Elijah is here.” He will kill me!” Elijah said, “As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.” So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
Obediah is very reluctant to do what Elijah asks of him, and that is not surprising. After all, Ahab is very angry with Elijah, blaming him for the famine. Nevertheless, Obadiah does go and tell the king that Elijah is back in the land, and wants to meet with him. You can read of the encounter between king Ahab and the prophet in I Kings 18:17-19
When he (king Ahab) saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You abandoned the Lord’s command and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
After three long years of drought the king and the prophet finally meet up again. God is going to send rain once again. It is clear from Ahab’s words that he has no idea as to why there has been no rain for three years. According to him, this dreadful situation the nation finds herself in is entirely the fault of the prophet. It has nothing whatsoever to do with him. But Elijah sets the record straight by telling the king that he and his fathers are to be blamed for the misery the whole nation finds herself in: they have forgotten the God of Israel and have followed other gods. And it is time for an encounter between the God of Elijah and Ahab’s god, Baal, as you can read in I Kings 18:20-22
So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets.”
The king has all the people assembled together, and Elijah shows them that they are compromised in their faith. His words are very powerful. Yet, in this section you can see a glimpse of Elijah’s humanity, which you might easily miss and you can see it in his words “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left….” It looks like Elijah is throwing a kind of a pity-party, as all human beings can do at times, because he really wants to say, “People, look at me. I am the only one who still loves God. There is no one else who cares about Him.” But what about all the prophets Obadiah has been taken care of? Elijah seems to have forgotten that fact, and this continues to play a role in his view of things as you will find out a little later on.
He then tells the people to get two bulls ready to be sacrificed. One bull is to be sacrificed by the prophets of Baal and the other is to be sacrificed by him, as you can read in I Kings 18:23-24
“Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – He is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
Elijah then gives specific instructions to the prophets of Baal in preparation for their sacrifice to their god, as you can read in I Kings 18:25-26
Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “ Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
The prophets of Baal are giving a big display of their loyalty to Baal. But there is no response from their god. At noon Elijah begins to urge them on to greater action, for it may be that their god is too busy, as you can read in I Kings 18:27-29
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said, “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. May be he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
No matter what the prophets of Baal try, their god does not respond. He does not even respond when they slash themselves with swords and spears! These prophets must have felt very despondent, for their god does not seem to care about them, no matter what they do to try and appease him.
By the evening, Elijah takes over and begins to prepare the altar for his sacrifice, as you can read in I Kings 18:30-35
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “ Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench round it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and the wood. Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
The altar is in ruins. This means it has not been used for a very long time because the people of Israel have been worshipping Baal, instead of worshipping the God of Israel. So Elijah re-builds the altar using twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. He has the wood placed on it and the bull that has been cut in pieces. What he does next is very unusual; he orders for water to be poured over the wood and the sacrifice and he has it done, not just once but three times. You may well think, “Why do you do that, Elijah? Don’t you know that it is now impossible for your sacrifice to be burned? Do you want to be the laughed at by the Baal prophets? Don’t you realise that they are waiting their turn to humiliate you, as you have humiliated them?” If that is what you are thinking, then Elijah would like to say to you, “It is true that, naturally speaking, it is impossible for this sacrifice to be burned. But just wait and see what God will do in this impossible situation.” After all, Luke writes in Luke 1:37
For nothing is impossible with God.
Having prepared the sacrifice, Elijah next turns to prayer knowing that it is only God who can do what no man or false god can do, as you can read in I Kings 18:36-38
At the time of the sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at Your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up he sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
Elijah does not need to follow the example of the prophets of Baal to try and attract the attention of his God by shouting, dancing around the altar, or even slashing himself with a sword or a spear. No, he just prays a simple but powerful prayer, and God hears his prayer and answers by sending fire on the altar. And the people, seeing this, know who is the true God, as you can read in I Kings 18:39
When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!”
It is a good day for Elijah and the people, but it is not a good day for the prophets of Baal. They are shown to be false prophets, and God’s judgement falls on them that day; they are killed off, as you can read in I Kings 18:40
Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
It is only then that Elijah begins to intercede for the rain to come. Meanwhile, the king returns to his palace, as you can read in I Kings 18:41-46
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. “Go and look towards the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” The seventh time, the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, “Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.” Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.
God has told Elijah He is going to send rain today, but it does not happen right away. In fact, Elijah has to pray seven times before a little cloud appears in the sky. The prophet could have said after praying one time, “God, I don’t understand. You have told me that today You are going to send rain so why is it not coming? But he does not say that. Instead, he continues to pray for he knows that God will be true to His word and send the rain as promised. And He does. Once it arrives, Elijah makes a run for it, enabled by the power of the Lord, for he knows that it is not just going to rain, it is going to pour.
It has been quite a day for Elijah. He has shown himself to be a true prophet of God, full of faith and power. Nothing and no one has been able to stand in his way. It has been a very good day for him. He plans to have a good dinner, followed by a good night’s sleep.
Ahab, at his return to the palace, tells his wife Jezebel everything that has happened. No doubt, she will have flown into a rage after she has heard that all the prophets of Baal have been killed off for she is a worshipper of Baal and it is through her that Ahab and the people have begun to worship Baal. And now her prophets have been slaughtered by Elijah! It is time for revenge and she knows exactly how she is going to do it; she is going to send a threatening message to this prophet who dared to do what no man in this nation, including her own husband, had dared to do; kill off the prophets of Baal. After having sent her message to the prophet Elijah, she feels much better and can settle down for a good night’s sleep for tomorrow promises to be a much better day for her with the removal of this prophet.
Elijah is, no doubt, quite surprised to receive a note from the palace at this late hour of the day, when he is about to go to bed. His initial thought may well have been that it is a thank you note from the king, inviting him for breakfast at the palace to show him his appreciation. However, once he has a good look at the addressee, he realises the note has come from the queen, as you can read in I Kings 19:1-2
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a message to Elijah to say, “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.”
We could say this is a somewhat frightening message. But surely the prophet will have dismissed it, as nonsense. Or has he….? You can read Elijah’s response to queen Jezebel’s message in I Kings 19:3-4
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.”
The note so upsets him that sleep evades him. What is he to do? He does not see a way out of his predicament, apart from running away. So, after a restless night, he gets up very early in the morning and hastily makes his departure. It does not matter where he is going. All he knows is that he wants to be as far as away as possible from queen Jezebel. What has happened to this mighty prophet of God? Is this the same Elijah, the one who, the day before, told Ahab to his face that he was the source of Israel’s problems?
Is this the Elijah who only yesterday mocked the Baal prophets and later that day had all 450 of them killed? What has happened to him that this one woman causes him to become so afraid that he has begun to run for his life? In fact,has become suicidal?
Whatever it may have been, God is aware of the goings on in His prophet’s life and knows that His servant needs some rest and some food so He sends an angel to bake a special angel cake for him, as you can read in I Kings 19:5-9a
Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. 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 for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.
Having been fed by the angel twice, Elijah is sufficiently strengthened to travel a long distance. It is only then that God speaks to him, as you can read in I Kings 19:9b-10
And the word of the Lord came to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, have broken down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword, I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
God asks the prophet an interesting question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” No doubt, God knows why he is there, but Elijah needs to know why he is there. Elijah answers him in quite a melodramatic fashion. “God, You may not realise this so I better tell You that Your people are not good, except me, and I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too.” Elijah’s answer sounds very dramatic, is it not? After all, it is only one woman who is trying to kill him. But God is very patient with His prophet, as you can see from I Kings 19:11-13a
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
The Lord tells his prophet to wait for Him to pass by, and then He speaks to Elijah again, as you can read in I Kings 19:13b
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
The Lord repeats His question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” because He wants to confront Elijah that he is not in the place where God wants him to be. But Elijah once again ignores the question and gives God the same reply he has given Him earlier on, as you can read in I Kings 19:14
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
It seems Elijah thinks God is not aware of the situation in Israel as it really is, and the danger he, Elijah, is facing, so he better inform God. However, God, does not take any notice of Elijah’s complaints, nor does He take any notice of his earlier death wish. Instead, he tells him what his next assignment is, but he has to go back first, as you can read in I Kings 19:15-18
The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserved seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
The journey Elijah has been on has been by his own choice, and is not part of God’s plan for him. Therefore, he needs to go back to where he came from, and he can then fulfil the assignments God has for him. God has not yet finished with him. There is still work for him to do regardless of what the prophet may think or want. Moreover, God corrects Elijah by telling him that there are still seven thousand people left in Israel who worship Him, which is six thousand and nine hundred more than even Obediah may have known about.
So what do these chapters tell you about Elijah? It tells you that at times Elijah had great faith and at such times displayed great boldness. Yet, at other times he displayed great fear, suffered from depression and became even suicidal.
What may have been the reasons for his sudden fear, his sudden depression? I can think of a few reasons:-
1. One thing could be that, as part of his personality, he was inclined to perhaps overreact at times to situations, as we have seen him do a few times.
2. Secondly, he may still have been very tired the day after his victories. His tiredness would not just have been a physical tiredness, but an emotional and a mental tiredness. He may well have needed to take some time off. Even prophets of God are still human beings who are in need of sufficient food and rest, like the rest of us, and Elijah may not have realised these things sufficiently.
3. Thirdly, the enemy would have been very angry and would have prepared a counterattack. It seems Elijah was not prepared for that to happen. Therefore, he was very vulnerable and completely broke down when the counterattack came. Looking at these things, perhaps you can now begin to agree with the words of James that “Elijah was a man just like us”, for you too may display great faith and great boldness at times, while at other times you may be afraid, feel depressed, and perhaps even become so depressed about life and its challenges, that you would rather be in heaven with Jesus, than continue on in this life.
Like Elijah, you too may need to consider that the reasons for your depression, your bouts of fear may be because:-
1. You have a certain personality which might make you inclined to overreact at times. If that is the case then you need to ask God to help you change in these areas.
2. Secondly, you must make sure you take sufficient rest and eat properly.
3. Thirdly, you must be aware that you too have an enemy who will want to launch a counterattack any time you have been victorious in your walk with God.
Peter says that so clearly in I Peter 5:8-9
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…
As for the assignments God had for Elijah, you most probably will never be called to stop the rain for three years. But you are called to be as obedient as Elijah was to fulfil the assignments God has for you, whatever they may be. And you can trust God to answer your prayers, for you too are righteous in God’s eyes, because you are clothed with the righteousness of God in Christ, as Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:21
“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So having had a closer look at Elijah’s life, I believe, you can now at least begin to agree with James that, yes, Elijah was a man just like us…