ELIJAH THE TISHBITE 1 Kings 17–19
“Then the word of the LORd came to Elijah” (1 Kings 17:2).The utter humanity of Elijah has appealed to generations of believers. His story contains encouragement for Christians who ever find themselves depressed or discouraged.
Elijah is undoubtedly one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. He appeared at a critical moment in Israel’s history, when King Ahab, urged on by his Phoenician wife Jezebel, made a determined attempt to wipe out the worship of Yahweh in Israel. Through Elijah, the Lord entered the conflict and decisively defeated the pagan god, stimulating a popular return to the true faith. But Elijah’s confrontational role wore on the great prophet. Even in victory he recognized the superficiality of the popular revival, and felt depressed and alone. He was rested and reassured by God, and returned once again to represent the living God to an apostate king and nation.
Elijah announced a drought to Ahab (17:1). He then hid, first at Kerith (vv. 2–6), and then with a widow in Zarephath (vv. 7–24). After three years Elijah returned to confront the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (18:1–46). But after a decisive victory, Elijah inexplicably fled to Horeb (19:1–9). The Lord spoke to the despondent Elijah, gave him a task, and also a companion in Elisha (19:10–21).
Understanding the Text
“Neither dew nor rain in the next few years” 1 Kings 17:1. Baal was originally a god of storms, worshiped for his supposed ability to bring rain and make the land fertile. The drought announced by Elijah struck at the strength of the pagan deity that Ahab and Jezebel attempted to make dominant in Israel. The drought displayed a major tenet of biblical faith: “The Lord, He is God!” “First make a small cake of bread for me” 1 Kings 17:7–24. While hiding from Ahab, Elijah left Israel and went to Jezebel’s homeland, Phoenicia! There he stayed with a penniless widow who first fed the prophet, and then herself and her son when Elijah promised that her near-empty jug of oil would not run dry, and her near-empty jar of flour would not run out. The widow’s faith was rewarded. Instead of starving, the woman and her son were fed daily. When the widow’s son became ill and “stopped breathing,” Elijah was there to ask God to restore him. The return of the boy to life was final, joyous proof to the widow. God truly did live and speak through Elijah. When you and I are first called to faith in Christ it may seem that we, like the widow, are called on to give up something vital to us. For the widow, the demand was to surrender what little food she had left. But see what happened when she responded to the prophet’s promise. Instead of less, she had more. Instead of giving, she gained. And ultimately that initial choice meant the restoration of her son to life. Whatever you and I give up when we receive Christ, God gives us far more. And ultimately we have eternal life. Archeologists can date pottery jars to within 25 years by their shape and decorations. These jars are from the time of Elijah, between 875–850B.C They remind us that Bible stories like that of the widow of Zarephath are not fairy tales, but are drawn from the lives of real people who used utensils like these nearly 3,000 years ago. “Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord” 1 Kings 18:1–15. After three years Elijah returned to Israel and met Obadiah, a high official in Ahab’s government who was a secret believer. We assume he was a secret believer, for otherwise he would surely have been purged by Jezebel. Some might criticize Obadiah for compromising his faith. But our passage commends him as “devout.” And we see that he used his position to save the lives of a hundred of God’s prophets. Obadiah reminds us not to judge others. We might not make the same choices they do, but each person is responsible to the Lord for the course he takes in life. Who is to say that Obadiah was not directed by God to make the choice he did? “Bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah” 1 Kings 18:16–40. The story of this confrontation on Carmel is one of the best-known stories in Scripture. Several things to note are: *“who eat at Jezebel’s table” (v. 19). The queen supported the pagan “missionaries” she imported from her homeland to convert Israel to her faith. There was a concerted effort during this period to suppress worship of the Lord. *“Elijah began to taunt them” (v. 27). Pagan gods and goddesses were thought by their worshipers to be engaged in humanlike affairs, such as traveling, sleeping, and even doing business. Elijah’s taunts ridiculed this humanistic view of deity. *Ancient texts portray the Phoenician Baal as a bloodthirsty as well as lascivious god. His priests slashed themselves with knives in hopes the smell of blood might attract his attention. *“repaired the altar of the Lord” (v. 30). The “fallen down” condition of an altar dedicated to Yahweh shows how effective Ahab and Jezebel had been up to this time. But the spectacle of fire falling from heaven in answer to Elijah’s prayer moved the people to turn on the pagan prophets and kill them. “There is the sound of a heavy rain” 1 Kings 18:41–46. With the prophets of Baal executed and the Lord publicly acclaimed as God, Elijah sensed that God was ready to bring rain, and prayed to that end. The incident reminds us that God uses our prayers to accomplish His purposes. And that the believer who is close to the Lord will pray in harmony with His will.
When Depression Strikes (1 Kings 19)
A book that I have suggests that “nearly everyone gets depressed. That basic feeling of emptiness, exhaustion, and meaninglessness is universal, crossing all borders of age, sex, and nationality.” The problem is, we sometimes don’t understand our depression. As in Elijah’s case, depression can strike when everything seems to be going extremely well. Even worse, we don’t know what to do about our depression. Is it the mark of some deep spiritual flaw? Does depression indicate weak faith? The story of Elijah’s inexplicable bout of depression after the victory on Carmel encourages us. If a spiritual giant like Elijah can suffer from depression, maybe pygmies like you and I shouldn’t expect too much of ourselves. But even more, Elijah’s experience shows us how God treated His prophet’s depression and gives us clues to how we can help ourselves. When Elijah became despondent and he ran from his ministry, God was not angry. Instead God actually provided food to sustain Elijah while he ran (vv. 6–9). It’s easy to get down on ourselves when depression strikes. We need to remind ourselves that God is with us, bending to sustain us rather than to condemn. When Elijah had rested, God gave His prophet a simple task to do (vv. 15–16). Depression often robs us of the will to act. It’s important to get up in the morning, and set out to perform our daily tasks. When Elijah doubted and complained, God reassured him. He was not alone, for God had reserved “seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal” (v. 18). Remembering that we’re not alone in our experience can help. Finally, God gave Elijah a friend and companion to be with him (vv. 19–21). Having someone who cares is important, even if they don’t know what to say or do to lift our mood. Depression is a problem for many. And there are no easy answers. But we can lift some of the pressure on ourselves by recalling that God still loves us, by going about our work, remembering we’re not alone, and by finding a friend who cares.
Let God’s caring attitude toward Elijah guide you when others are depressed, and sustain you when you suffer depression.