Summary: In a contest on Mt. Carmel, he was God's instrument to prove to Israel that Jehovah was the Lord. But after that amazing victory Elijah sank into the depths of despair. He sat down under a juniper tree and asked God to take his life. Does that surprise you about a man of God? I hope not.
ELIJAH: FIGHTING DEPRESSION (Text: 1 Kings 18-19)
Depression is the common cold of our emotions. Eventually it touches everyone—even God's people. I know this because I am a born-again Christian who has battled depression for many years. Just recently, I passed through a period of deep depression, which I know caused my wife grief, since I become gloomy and have a quick temper; I say and do hurtful things. I don’t want to talk to anyone or go anyplace. I know I am hard to live with when I am depressed; my wife must really love me to put up with me when I’m down. I am better now; praise God, I always get better; thank you Jesus. I’m telling you this because I believe it qualifies me to comment on the subject. It would be nice to think we Christians didn't have dark days, that discouragement came only to those around us. But looking through the Bible at the great saints—people we admire as heroes—we find that they also had times of despair. If we are to experience victorious living we must, therefore, learn how to deal with depression.
The classic example of a depressed person in the Bible is the prophet Elijah, the iron man of the Old Testament. Elijah lived and served during the days of the wicked king Ahab and his sinister queen, Jezebel, who introduced Baal worship into Israel. Elijah was the champion of orthodoxy, chosen by God to challenge the king and the prophets of Baal and to call the nation back from apostasy.
In a contest on Mt. Carmel, he was God's instrument to prove to Israel that Jehovah was the Lord. But after that amazing victory Elijah sank into the depths of despair. He sat down under a juniper tree and asked God to take his life. Does that surprise you about a man of God? I hope not. Longfellow said, "Some must lead, and some must follow, but all have feet of clay." We sometimes look upon men like Elijah as super saints. In reality, he was, as the scriptures say, "A man of like passions even as we are." That means he was cut from the same bolt of human cloth as we were. He had the same weaknesses, frailties, and emotions as the rest of us. Yes, even Elijah became depressed.
These two experiences, Elijah on Mt. Carmel and Elijah under the juniper tree, are set side by side in the scripture (1 Kings 18-1 Kings 19). In 1 Kings 18, Elijah is at the height of success; in 1 Kings 19 he is in the depths of despair. In 1 Kings 18 he is on the mountain top of victory; in 1 Kings 19 he is in the valley of defeat. In 1 Kings 18 he is elated; in 1 Kings 19 he is deflated. We are all capable of such roller-coaster emotions.
1 Kings 18 records the incredible story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel. He assembled Israel on the mountain and accused them of spiritual schizophrenia. They were "halting"—literally "limping" between two opinions. They could not decide whether to worship God or to worship Baal.
So Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal—450 of them—to a theological shoot-out. "I'll call on my God," he says, "you call on Baal, and let's see which one answers with fire from heaven. The one that does will be the God of Israel."
Baal's prophets accept the challenge, set up their altar and began crying to their god. But no fire falls. "Maybe he can't hear you," Elijah says. Then he suggests that they shout louder. They do, but still no fire falls. "Is he asleep?" Elijah taunts. "You had better wake him up." As a final appeal, Baal's prophets slash themselves with knives but that doesn't work either. No fire comes. After all this, Elijah builds an altar to the Lord, digs a trench around it, and orders that water be poured over it. Twelve barrels of water in all are used until the sacrifice is soaked through and through and the ditch around it is running over. Then Elijah prays a simple prayer and God sends fire to consume the sacrifice, the altar and even the water.
With that turning point, the people worshiped the Lord and shouted, "The Lord, he is God. The Lord, he is God." Then, in obedience to Elijah's command, they slaughtered Baal's prophets. It was a high hour. Everyone knew God's hand was upon Elijah.
Elijah is not permitted to relish the mountain-top experience long, however. As soon as queen Jezebel hears what happened she sends Elijah a message saying, "You have killed all of my prophets; by this time tomorrow I am going to kill you also."
When the prophet of God read her message his heart sank and he began to run for his life. He ran all the way to Beersheba, the southern-most city in Judah. Beersheba was the end of civilization. Beyond it there was nothing but desert. He was getting as far away from the queen as possible.