Summary: Having defeated the prophets of Baal Elijah is exhausted and afraid but God strengthens him and sends him off to appoint Elisha to take over from him.
It must have been an overwhelming experience for Elijah on Mt Carmel mustn't it? In fact, to see the lightning fall from the sky and consume everything on the altar, after what was the simplest of prayers by Elijah, must have had an incredible impact not only on him but on everyone present. It certainly had an impact on the prophets of Baal who were rounded up by the crowd and executed at the base of the mountain.
Can you see the Light?
But notice that despite the clear sign of God's power and the impotence of Baal, Jezebel isn't moved. You can imagine Ahab running into the palace, breathless, and telling Jezebel everything that happened: “Honey, you should have been there. Elijah prayed to Yahweh and fire came down from heaven and zapped everything - even the water in the pit around the altar went up in a cloud of steam. And then he killed all our prophets.” To which Jezebel replies something like: “Pull yourself together Ahab. Act like a King. So what if Elijah’s pulled off this magic trick? If you think I’m going to give up my religion you’ve got another think coming.” Then she sends a message to Elijah: “I’ll teach you to kill my prophets. You’re a dead man.”
How many times have you heard someone say, “I just want to see some evidence that God is real and then I’ll believe in him.” Or perhaps it was a Christian saying “All we need to do is show people the miracles that God is still doing in our world and they’ll want to follow him.” But of course faith in God isn’t that straightforward is it? There’s a spiritual dimension to it that has nothing to do with the degree of evidence that people have presented to them. John pointed out in his gospel that the light has come into the world but people actually loved darkness rather than light. I think it was C.S. Lewis who once pointed out that no amount of logical argument will overcome prejudice. Only the Spirit of God moving in a person’s heart will allow them to see the truth. And that was certainly true of Jezebel.
But let’s leave Jezebel for now and concentrate on Elijah. How does Elijah respond to Jezebel’s threat? What’s going through his mind as he heads for the hills? Our text tells us Elijah was afraid, but I want to suggest that in fact that may not be the best translation of a difficult passage. The original text actually has two variants. One has the word afraid but the other has the word ‘saw’. A number of textual critics have suggested that the translation ‘Elijah saw’ may be the original and ‘Elijah was afraid’ was a later modification to make it easier to understand in the context. In that case I think what the writer may be saying is that Elijah saw the situation in Israel and decided it was time to get out. He saw how the obvious evidence of Yahweh’s power had been ignored by Jezebel and her followers and so he realised that there was no point in pursuing his role as the prophet of Yahweh. Why wait around to be arrested and killed by Jezebel? If she wasn’t convinced by what happened on Mt Carmel, nothing was going to convince her. And so he flees for his life, disheartened and discouraged.