If the story ended here, it would be a glorious ending. But it doesn’t. Chapter 19 just doesn’t fit in with the rest of Elijah’s life and ministry.
Elijah’s life up until this point is exemplary. His life is one that all Christians would hope to emulate. He displayed uncompromising obedience to God. He did whatever God asked him to do in the face of intense opposition. He went to the king of Israel and told him to repent. That’s bold. He knocked on the door of a widow’s house and asked to share her final meal. That takes courage. He had a showdown with 450 prophets of Baal. That takes guts.
And he showed an intimacy with God in his prayers. He prayed and there was a drought. He prayed and a widow’s final meal was multiplied miraculously. Elijah was fed by ravens who dropped off bread and meat twice a day. He prayed and fire came down from heaven and burnt up the altar. He prayed and the first drops of rain started coming down after a three and a half year drought.
No wonder Elijah is referenced in James 5 as a man of prayer.
16 …The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 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. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. 19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
It was the prayers of Elijah that turned people from their sin unto salvation. Like the widow. Elijah’s prayer to raise her son led to the widow’s salvation.
Elijah obeyed without compromising. He was bold. He was courageous. He was a man of prayer. And in light of this incredible storyline, chapter 19 sticks out like a sore thumb.
Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, hears about the killing of the 450 Baal prophets. And she sends a death threat to Elijah. Within 24 hours, I am going to kill you. I’m sure she wanted to kill Elijah, but I think she has a greater goal than simply taking out Elijah. If you recall, the crowd watching the showdown between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal saw the outcome and turned on the prophets of Baal after witnessing the miracle. The crowd must have been quite large to subdue and slaughter 450 prophets. So from that one event, there must have been a resurgence of confidence in the God of the Old Testament. It was a perfect time for Elijah to rally the troops. Killing him could have been an option and she could of done that, but I don’t think she would have warned him if her intention was to take him out.
Instead, Jezebel intimidates Elijah and her plan works. He flees. And by Elijah fleeing, it probably helped to discredit the name of God. Yeah, there was a miracle and fire coming down from heaven and rain ending the drought, but where is your prophet now? He’s hiding in a cave.
We pick up the action in 1 Kings 19:3–
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 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.” 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
This side of Elijah we haven’t seen before. Prior to this chapter, he was a man of uncompromising obedience, he was a man of courage and prayer and he experienced many supernatural miracles. Now he’s running for his life. And he’s ready to call it quits. Take my life – I am no better than my ancestors, remember all the other prophets who were killed. I’m no better than them. He feels all alone. He’s reached the end of his rope. He’s ready to throw in the towel. He’s reached his low point.
This is so true to life. We want that miracle from God, that amazing answer to prayer, that experience that is over the top. And once in awhile in our Christian life, we actually get that miracle, that answered prayer, an amazing provision and we are overjoyed and recommit our lives to the Lord. But difficulty suddenly arises, a storm hits us, and we find ourselves in a vulnerable place, with our faith feeble, our hearts discouraged, and we lack faith even though God has proven Himself over and over again.
How does God respond to Elijah when he’s reached rock bottom? First, he sends an angel.
5 …All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
God sent an angel to feed him twice and let him rest in between the meals. After regaining his strength, Elijah left on a journey and 40 days later and he reaches the foot of Mt Horeb, or Mt Sinai.