Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
1 Kings 19:1-18
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by fear? Something very real has happened, or will happen, and you don’t know how you’ll be able to cope with the loss it will bring?
Elijah also had a very real reason to fear. He had provoked the most powerful woman in the kingdom on such a level that she made a vow to have him slaughtered within 24 hours. After spending years watching the degeneration of Israelite culture and pushing back, knowing that Jezebel would someday come for him, it had happened. So, very reasonably, Elijah ran. But, he ran in despair: “And he asked that he might die, saying ‘It is enough now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’” (vs. 4).
The dramatics are familiar. In Jonah 4:3, after God relents and saves Nineveh, Jonah says, “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” What would cause these two prophets, chosen by God, who had just witnessed magnificent displays of His power and mercy, to wish they were dead?
We all have selective memories. They’re what allow us to function after traumatic events and move forward in the face of great hardship, but like everything else, they suffer the curse of sin. Elijah was tired. He was scared. And he had allowed himself to forget that the same God who brought fire down on a mountain had a broader plan for His Kingdom. Both Elijah and Jonah were overwhelmed by the frustration of slogging away for God without seeing the results they hoped for – redemption for Elijah, destruction for Jonah – and even though they had just seen big things from God, their view of Him was small.
Their memories were wrong. And ours are regularly wrong. Despair creeps in when we lose sight of the overarching narrative of the Kingdom of God – that He is restoring all things, powerfully, faithfully, and mercifully.