Summary: Dealing with despair...moving from fear to faith
"Disappointed With God"
Rev Dr Robert G Leroe
We see quite a contrast between chapters 18 & 19! Elijah moves from exhilaration and intense excitement to dejection, discouragement and depression after his miraculous contest against the prophets of Baal. From his mountain top experience he descends to a deep valley. His disappointment stems from Jezebel’s threat on his life, but also from the poor response of God’s people. Following God’s mighty display of power the people should have returned to faith and allegiance to the Lord. There should have been a national revival. There should have been a popular uprising against the godless king and idolatrous queen. Ahab should have been converted. The divided kingdom should have been united. But fear of reprisal from Ahab & Jezebel kept the people from renouncing Baal. In fact, rather than recognize the hand of God at Mt. Carmel, Ahab sees only a disagreeable prophet, and attributes Baal’s defeat to Elijah, who is once again a fugitive. As Elijah flees, he does so, wondering what it will take to get Israel’s attention, and when his opposition will cease.
We’re tempted to yearn for a return of Biblical miracles. If only God would perform some wonder, the skeptics would be silenced and the world would come to Christ...yet although the fire atop Mount Carmel startled the multitudes, it did not transform their lives. This is true even of some of Christ’s miracles. The crowds were drawn to Him but did not repent. What, then, does God use to touch the heart? Verse 12, a quiet, gentle voice. God does not always use the means which we suppose He might use. God will use whatever means He pleases, and all means are useless apart from Him.
Joshua’s choice (24:15) was theirs--serve God or serve another. Moses’ successor cried out to Israel, “Choose this day whom will serve...as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua received a better response than Elijah. The people affirmed their commitment to Jehovah. One couldn’t hope for a clearer demonstration of divine power than the fire upon Mount Carmel; yet the people remained non-committal. What appeared to be a clear victory appeared to Elijah as a bitter defeat. The fire descended, but the hearts of the people were apparently unchanged.
(This is why pastors so often get discouraged. After pouring their hearts out in communicating God’s grace, their efforts aren’t always fruitful. It is tempting to grow weary in well-doing. We have to remind ourselves that God has called us to be faithful and consistent, not necessarily successful…or at least according to our personal definition of success. God calls Elijah--and us--to re-define success.)
Elijah flees to Beersheba, retreating from his defeated enemy. There he dismisses his servant, not wishing to jeopardize his life further. Just as the disheartened children of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, dejected Elijah spends 40 days in the desert (vs. 8). Is this the fearless prophet who brought both fire and water from the skies? His flight may also be a punishment upon Israel--they didn’t deserve to have a prophet.
In verse 4, Elijah cries out, “I have had enough, Lord: take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” I suspect that Elijah was under the heavy burden of an unrealistic, unattainable goal--to rise above the human condition and attain some new spiritual level of power. He felt he had failed God; his ministry bore little fruit. He was unable to live up to his own expectations, and was angry with himself; maybe even with God. He is shattered, and ready to give up. Perhaps Elijah forgot that God does not hold His servants responsible for results.
Depression has been defined as “anger turned inward”. Elijah is dis-heartened at the lack of response to God’s miracle and his prophetic ministry. Rather than openly rebuke God, he asks to be taken home. “I’ve had it—I can’t take any more.” I think if we’re honest with ourselves, nearly all of us can admit to sharing Elijah’s despondency at times. Nearly everyone has said, “I wish I were dead.” This is only human. Charles Spurgeon asserted, “The best of men are but men at best.” It is understandable for us to feel defeated and depressed and stressed out.
When we consider Elijah (and many other heroes of the Bible), it is comforting to discover that we’re not the only ones who failed through human weakness: Moses complained to God, “I am not able to take care of all these people alone. If You are going to continue doing this to me, put me to death now” (Num. 11:4-5); Jonah prayed, “Lord, please take my life; it is better for me to die than to live (4:3); and David was moved to wish for “wings like a dove--for then I would fly away and be at rest” (Ps 55:6); both Job and Jeremiah regretted they’d been born. If these can be susceptible to anxiety, so can we. Moreover, we can take comfort from Elijah’s frailty, though we should hardly use it as an excuse for our failures. Here is a warning: We cannot be like Elijah upon Mount Carmel without the probability that we will be Elijah under a juniper bush before long.