The Runaway Prophet
We will continue to look at the prophet Elijah for he was a very bold person and had done some amazing things. Yet James seems to think that our prayers can be as effective as the prayers of Elijah, as we can read in James 5:16-17 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other 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.”
Here, James makes a very interesting statement, “Elijah was a man like us…” Now to be honest, I don’t think we really believe these words, do we? After all, we may well have prayed that the rain would stop, but that does not mean our prayer was answered at that time. And we 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 our hearts, anyone of us will 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, yet 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 am not supposed to. So how can you possibly tell me that Elijah was just like me…?”
If James could know what we might be thinking, he might well suggest that we study the life of Elijah, to see whether or not he was right. So let us do that. As we have already learned from the previous story about Elijah, God had sent Elijah to king Ahab to tell him that there was going to be a drought throughout the land of Israel (I Kings 17:1). God had then sent the prophet to a safe place to protect Elijah from the king’s fury (I Kings 17:2-6). After some time God had sent the prophet to a widow in Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-9). There, he had told this widow that, while the drought lasted, God would miraculously provide food for her, her son, and for him. And God did exactly what Elijah had promised He would do (I Kings 17:14-16)). This showed that the prophet had great faith and we may well think that our faith will never match his kind of faith. Moreover, we may well want to say to James, “James have you forgotten what the prophet did next? In case you have forgotten, James, let us remind you of it, for it surely shows the great faith of this prophet. It is the story of the end of the drought. You do remember that story, don’t you James? It began when God sent the prophet back to king Ahab (I Kings 18:1- 2).” (Elijah) “Yes, it is true, I once again met king Ahab (I Kings 18:16-17). I met him three years ago when I told him that there was going to be a drought for a season (I Kings 17:1). That is exactly what happened. And God told me to go back to him and this time I was to tell him to gather all the people from Israel at Mount Carmel. I told him as well that he was to gather the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah at the same mountain (I Kings 18:19-20). Once everyone was gathered, I told the people to get two bulls. And these bulls were to be sacrificed. One was to be sacrificed by the prophets of Baal and one was to be sacrificed by me (I Kings 18:22-23). I told the prophets of Baal to sacrifice their bull first because there were so many of them. So that’s what they did. They cut the bull into pieces. However, I told them that they were to cry out to their god but they were not to light the fire (I Kings 18:24). So they began to shout to their god from morning till noon (I Kings 18:26). They shouted louder and louder but their god remained silent. So I told them, “Shout even louder. Perhaps your god is busy or travelling or sleeping even and needs to be awakened (I Kings 18:27). That’s what they did. More than that, they began to even slash themselves with swords and spears (I Kings 18:28). But nothing happened. Their god remained silent (I Kings 18:29). When evening came I began to prepare an altar (I Kings 18:30). I then put wood on it. Cut the bull. Put the pieces of the bull on top of the altar. And I then told the people to pour water over the altar, not one time but three times. So the altar was completely drenched (I Kings 18:31-35). Then I prayed and this is what I prayed, “Lord, the 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, Lord, answer me, so that these people will know that You, Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again( I Kings 18:36-37).”
(Elijah) “And God heard my prayer and answered by sending fire that swallowed up the bull, the stones, the soil and even the water. The wood, of course was swallowed up as well (I Kings 18:38). Then the people cried out. They fell on their knees and they all cried out, “The Lord- He is God (I Kings 18:39).” It was clear that the prophets of Baal were false prophets. So I had them killed off (I Kings 18:40). It was then time for the rain to come so I said to king Ahab, “Please, it is time for you to go home. Get into your carriage because rain is coming.” It is true, there was not a cloud in the sky at that moment. But I began to intercede for I knew God would send the rain. So I prayed and sent my servant to have a look at the sky. He came back the first time and told me, “There is not a cloud in the sky (I Kings 18:43a).” But I continued to pray and sent him back again. And finally he saw a little cloud in the sky (I Kings 18:43b). It was not much but it was sufficient evidence that rain was on its way. By that time I had I had sent him back seven times (I Kings 18:44a). Then I knew it was time for me to go home too. So I began to run and God gave me this great power so that I was able to even outrun king Ahab who was in his carriage on his way to his palace (I Kings 18:44b-46).”
It had been quite a day for Elijah. He had shown himself to be a true prophet of God, full of faith and power. Nothing and no-one had been able to stand in his way (I kings 18:40). No doubt, he planned to have a good dinner followed by a good night’s sleep. We may well want to say to James, “See, James, how can you compare us to Elijah? Look what that man did in just one day. None of us will ever be able to do these things. Surely, James, this must prove that you cannot compare anyone of us to Elijah.” If James were here, he would just smile and tell us to study the next story of Elijah. Very likely, that story began the same evening Elijah had enjoyed a good dinner and was about to retire for the night, for he was very tired. And no wonder, it had been a very eventful day. But he had then received a note from the Palace, as we can read in I Kings 19:1-2 Now Ahab had told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger 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.”
On his return to the Palace, King Ahab had told his wife Jezebel everything that had happened. No doubt, she had flown into a rage after she had heard that all the prophets of Baal had been killed off, since she was a worshipper of Baal. And it was through her that king Ahab and the people of Israel had begun to worship Baal, instead of the God of Israel. Now, her prophets had been killed off by the prophet Elijah. It was time for revenge, and she knew exactly what she was going to do; she was going to send a threatening message to this prophet who dared to do what no man had ever done in this nation, including her own husband; kill off the prophets of Baal. Having sent her message to the prophet, she felt much better and was ready for a good night’s sleep, for the next day would be a much better day for her, with the removal of the prophet Elijah. As for Elijah, we would expect him to simply dismiss queen Jezebel’s message as pure nonsense. After all, had he not shown the people, including king Ahab, that the God of Israel was the true God, and that Baal was nothing more than a false god who was not to be feared? It is true, of course, that Elijah had never dealt with queen Jezebel before, only with her husband king Ahab. But even that should not stop him from realising that her message was only an empty threat, and was nothing to worry about, or was it?
(Elijah) “I have been away for a while. In fact, I have been away for over forty days (I Kings 19:8). I did not plan to go on this trip but it really happened because I received a message from queen Jezebel the day that I had all the prophets of Baal killed off (I Kings 18:40). When I received her message I became very afraid (I Kings 19:3a). So I had a very restless night. And early in the morning, I left home. In fact, I ran for my life. I fled to the desert and when I got there I told God that I wanted to die (I Kings 19:3b-4). I was so tired, I went to sleep because what else could I do ( I Kings 19:5a)? But then, while I was sleeping, an angel woke me. And he told me to have something to eat (I Kings 19:5b). So I did. I then went back to sleep because what else was there to do? However, the angel woke me up again and told me to eat some more (I Kings 19:7). So I had a little bit more food. And I must say, I felt a little better after having eaten more food. I then got up and that is when I had my forty days of travelling. By the time I finished my travelling I had arrived at Mount Horeb (I Kings 19:8). That is where I met God. And He spoke to me. He asked me what I was doing there (I Kings 19:9-13). To be honest, I did not know what I was doing there. I only knew that I was the only prophet left in the land and that everyone was out to kill me so I told God ( I Kings 19:10, 14). I have to say, God did not take notice of my complaints. All He did was to tell me where I was to go and what I had to do (I Kings 19:15-16). And he told me as well that there were seven thousand more people who still worshipped Him (I Kings 19:18). I am, apparently, not the only one in Israel who is obedient to Him.”
The journey Elijah had been on had been of his own choice, and was not part of God’s plan for him. Therefore, he needed to go back where he had come from, and he could then fulfil the assignments God had for him (I Kings 19:15-17). God had not yet finished with him. There was still work for him to do, regardless what the prophet may have thought or wanted. Furthermore, God corrected Elijah, by telling him that there were still seven thousand people left in Israel who worshipped Him (I Kings 19:18). So what do these chapters tell us about Elijah? They tell us that at times Elijah had great faith and at such times he displayed great boldness (I Kings 18:40). Yet, at other times he displayed great fear, suffered depression, and even became suicidal (I Kings 19:4). What may have been the reasons for his sudden fear, his sudden depression? Let’s look at a few reasons. Number one, it could be that as part of his personality, he was possibly inclined to overreact at times to situations, as we have seen him do a few times (I Kings 18:22; I Kings 19:10; I kings 19:14). Number two, after his victories at Mount Carmel, he may have been very tired that day (I Kings 18:36-40). His tiredness would not just have been physical tiredness, but emotional and mental tiredness too. 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. Number three, the enemy would have been very angry and would have prepared a counter attack. It seems Elijah was not quite prepared for that to happen. Therefore, he was very vulnerable and completely broke down when the counter attack came, in the form of a note from queen Jezebel (I Kings 19:2-4)
Looking at these things, perhaps we can now all agree with the words of James, “Elijah was a man just like us” for, at times, we too may display great faith and great boldness while, at other times, we may feel afraid, feel depressed, and perhaps even become so depressed about life and its challenges that we would rather be in heaven with Jesus than continue on in this life.
Like Elijah, we may need to consider the reasons for our depression, and our bouts of fear. Firstly, they might be because have a personality that makes us inclined to overreact at times. If that is the case, then we need to ask God to help us change in that area. Secondly, we must make sure that we take sufficient rest and eat properly. Thirdly, we must be aware that we too have an enemy who will want to launch a counter attack any time we have been victorious in our 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 given to Elijah, most probably we will never be called to stop the rain for three years. But, like Elijah, we may be called to fulfil the assignments God has for us, whatever they may be. And we can trust God to answer our prayers for, as believers, we are righteous in God’s eyes, because we 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 become 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, we can now at least begin to agree with James that, yes, Elijah was a man just like us….