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Over the course of 25 years of counseling, it was common for clients to come to our office exhausted: emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. While trying to function exhausted, often discouragement, disillusionment, depression and despair added to the struggle. While listening to their story I prayed asking God to help them feel safe and to guide me in the timing and content of my response. Sometimes God brought to mind a story from my testimony of God’s healing, redeeming grace, but on a number of occasions I could identify with both the client and with Elijah.
No character in the Old Testament is more vividly portrayed, or has as much fascination at that of the unique character of Elijah. The New Testament attests to his greatness and reveals what an indelible impression he made upon the mind of his nation. All we know of him before his dramatic appearance can be summed up in the words: Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead. (I King 17:1) Scripture is silent about his past history.
Suddenly he burst onto the scene to rebuke the godless and to reawaken and restore the nation of which he is a part. This man with faith of iron is presented in many ways:
As a fearless, bold and dauntless reformer (1 Kings 18:17-46)
As a rebuker of kings (I Kings 21:20; II Kings 1:16).
As a mighty intercessor, praying with faith and intensity (I Kings 17:20, 22; 18:36-38; James 5:17).
As a man prone to discouragement (I Kings 19:4).
As one capable of fallible judgement (I Kings 19:4, 18).
As a prophet divinely honored (II Kings 2:11; Matt. 17:3)
As a performer of miracles (I Kings 19:8).
As a God-inspired prophet ready to obey and trust God (I Kings 17:1; 21:9-24; II Kings 1:2-17).
As a saint whose end was glorious (II Kings 2:1).
Both mystery and majesty are associated with Elijah, the mightiest of the prophets. His first recorded statement is to Ahab, the king. It is nothing short of amazing. 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 (1 Kings 17:1). He is a man of courage because false prophets were killed.
God then led Elijah into a ravine where he drank from a brook and was fed by the ravens. When the brook dried up God told him to go to Zarephath. There God worked 2 major miracles through him. First, the widow’s jar of flour and jar of oil are refilled by God until it rains. Second, her son becomes ill and dies. Elijah cried out to the Lord, O Lord my God, let this boys life return to him (I Kings 17:21).
God then Elijah to present himself to Ahab, the King. First, he told Ahab that God is about to send rain on the land. Second, he told Ahab to summon the people from all over Israel to meet him at Mount Carmel. Finally, Ahab is to bring 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah for a show down. It was agreed that whoever answered with fire, the people of Israel would acknowledge as God and would serve. The false prophets never heard from their god. However, when Elijah stepped forward and prayed, the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When Gods people saw this they fell prostrate and cried, The Lord - He is God! The Lord - He is God! Elijah then instructed the people to seize and kill the prophets of Baal, which they did. Then he prays for rain.
Ahab the King, told Jezebel everything that 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. (I Kings 19:1-2).
Elijah’s response to Queen Jezebel is so out of character, it causes me to want to believe that this is not the same Elijah that we have been learning about. Fear is not a word associated with Elijah, until now. Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. 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 that my ancestors. Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
Sometimes people of faith do things that dont make sense. Elijah’s words, thoughts, emotions and actions are those of someone who is clinically depressed, disillusioned and suicidal. Somehow Jezebel’s words have more power the God’s Word, so Elijah is clearly working out of his feelings rather than his faith.
Why would God record this part of Elijah’s story? I mean does your respect for Elijah change having learned that he was depressed, disillusioned and suicidal? I have to suggest that God is revealing something about Himself to us by recording this story.
Elijah has gotten some rest, been fed twice by the angel of the Lord, and traveled 40 days and 40 nights to Horeb, the Mountain of God. He is in a cave in the dark. And the word of the Lord came to him: What are you doing here, Elijah? (I Kings 19:10). It is important to note that God does not ask him, why are you here? Or why did you do that? It is my observation that it is as if God is saying... Elijah, now that you are here, talk to me about what you are doing.
Every day each of us face situations. And we have a choice. We can respond to those situations with faith or with fear. But even if we respond with fear, God begins a process of bring us back closer to Him.
Elijah replies. 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. (I Kings 19:10). This tells me that Elijah is not only depressed, but he is paranoid.
The Lord said, Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Several things happened and then Elijah heard a gentle whisper. He pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
I am going to suggest that walking to the mouth of the cave, in his condition, was as big a step of faith as Elijah ever took. God is drawing him out of the darkness of his fear and isolation. And again asked What are you doing here, Elijah? Elijahs answer is word for word the same as before in verse 10. Sometimes God is so close that we can feel him breathing down our neck, but we are so stuck in our disappointment, fear, feelings that we dont hear Him and dont obey simple commands.
Why did God not interrupt him and say...you already said that. You are repeating yourself. God knows when we speak our struggles we are processing when has happened. God is very patient in meeting us where we are and helping us find our way back to truth, healing, courage and Kingdom productivity.
God now knows it is time to put things back in order in Elijahs mind. And it is time to put him back to serving. God did not call him to another Mt. Carmel experience, but God did not discredit him from further service either. He reminds Elijah that He is still God and He is still in control of His Creation. I reserve 7,000 in Israel - all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him. (V 18).
God then told Elijah to go back the way he came and to anoint several people, both Kings and a prophet. But as you read the rest of Elijahs story, you will not find him saying to Elisha, I know you are going to hear about the time I was afraid and ran and hid in the cave, so I might as well tell you.
I do not know where you find yourself today. Whether you are on your way to Zarephath, to Mount Carmel, to the desert or in a cave, please know God is willing to meet you right where you are and work with you to get you to the place He has for you. He is patient and compassionate. He wants to hear us process our struggle.
In sharing my own testimony and Elijah’s story I’ve often seen hope come alive in the eyes of someone who had no hope. I pray you will find hope as you learn more about God’s love and character!
We have several resources available to help you in your journey!
This is our first book that includes some of my personal testimony and tools we have developed and use in counseling.
Forgive: The Journey Toward Peace
This is our second book, which is a revision of the first, but includes study questions at the end of each chapter.
Forgive: The Journey Toward Peace
Revised with study questions.
This is our third book. It includes interviews with my wife Rosemary, our son Matt and me. It includes an outline of the nonprofit Biblical Counseling ministry we started in May of 1995. It is written by Joann Wilbanks, LPC. She is a member of the Ladies Sunday School class Rosemary teaches and is a counselor at Hope Family Ministries.
Since May, 1995 we have provided Biblical, Pastoral counseling on a donation basis. But we couldn’t have done it without people praying for and supporting us.
Please consider praying for and supporting Hope Family Ministries!