ELIJAH: THE REBUKED MAN

Elijah listening to the gentle voice of God

1 Kings 19:9—18

Invigorated by the food sent from Heaven, Elijah was able to get up and run some more.  This time, the prophet isn’t running from anybody, he is running to a meeting with God, although he doesn’t know it yet.  God had just called him to Mount Horeb, the exact same place where Yahweh met with Moses; the location of the bush that was unconsumed by God’s fire.

Isaiah 40:31 helps us understand why Elijah was able to run another 200 miles—

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles;  they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

We have no idea whether or not Elijah had even an inkling about what was to happen to him on the mount of revelation.  Would God manifest Himself to the weary prophet?   We do know that all those who seek Him find Him, and Elijah was on a quest for God.  If people who claim to want to be in God’s presence would go to the “house of the Lord” as Elijah went to the “Mount of God,” they would be surprised at what they would find!

1.  A burning question, verse 9

And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

After spending the night in a cave, the word of the Lord finally came to Elijah with a very penetrating question that called the prophet to a moment of self-evaluation.  The literal reading of the question is, “Why are you here?”  That may seem like a silly question given that technically Elijah was there because God told him to be there!  But the real sense of the question is this:  Why are you here when you should be back in Israel encouraging the believers there to stand firm in their faith?

God always seems to get to the root of any matter; unlike people who walk around on egg shells afraid of offending someone, God’s piercing words always strike the heart and expose our motives.

It is interesting that throughout the Old Testament, God’s questions are frequently followed by amazing revelations from Heaven.

2.  An open answer, verse 10

He replied, “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.”

Elijah responded as honest as he could to God’s question, although his facts were completely wrong.  The prophet seemed to have been almost bitter at God; he had served the Lord so earnestly and spectacularly and yet now here he was, running for his life, completely alone.

Though Elijah was honest and sincere, his defense was a weak one.  He had been very zealous for the Lord.  He had been energetic in his ministry.  But now he was afraid for his life.  Supposedly all Israel had fallen away; as far as he was concerned, he was the only man of God left in the country.   Of course he was completely exaggerating; he was not the only believer left by a long shot.  Why did he say the things he said to God?  Like so many of us, Elijah answered God in impatience; God had not stopped the worship of Baal, even though Elijah called down fire from heaven and water from heaven.  God should have stopped the worship of Baal after all Elijah had done!  Or so Elijah thought.

3.  A special manifestation, verses 11—12

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

God commanded His prophet to “stand before” Him.  You will recall that earlier (17:1) we commented that Elijah lived and ministered in the presence of God; this was the only way he could do his work faithfully.  It is through unbelief that one loses their standing before God, and if one has no standing before God, one cannot stand in the world.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  (Ephesians 6:13)

The reason there are so many weak and mealy-mouthed Christians in the world today is because while they claim to have faith, they really have none at all for they are spiritually naked.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.  (Romans 10:17)

If you are not immersed in the Bible, you will have very little faith, if any, because faith doesn’t come from any other source.  You can sing worship courses until your voice is gone, but that is not where your faith will come from.  You can read Christian self-help books until you have square eyeballs, but you won’t get any real faith.

Elijah, standing before God where he belonged, was now witness to the power of God like none other.   He saw the power of God in a fourfold manner.  The first three “manifestations” of God’s power probably put Elijah in mind of the way he thought God should always appear:  in spectacular fashion.  Wasn’t this what Elijah was used to in the past?  After all, God didn’t sing at the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel!  Yet in each of the spectacular manifestations of nature in which Elijah expected to see God, God was nowhere to be found.

  • The wind—God was not in the wind.
  • The earthquake—God was not in there.
  • The fire—God was nowhere to be found in the fire.

God was teaching Elijah a lesson we would do well to take notice of.  There is something more to God than just a mere display of natural powers or natural abilities.  God is not always present in the strong wind of words or the earthquake of clever debate or even in the fire of enthusiasm.   We might be very surprised at what the presence of God really “looks like.”  Elijah was no doubt taken aback when God finally showed up:  in the form of a gentle whisper.  There was not a burning bush in sight when God visited Elijha!  We serve a God of infinite variety; why do we want to dictate to Him how He should act?

4.  Elijah’s response, verses 13—14

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.   Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “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.”

It seems like the wind, the earthquake, and the fire had driven Elijah back into his cave, but when the quiet, calm, gentle voice of God spoke, the prophet came out from his hiding place.   What we are witnessing on top of Mount Horeb, is real victory.  The victory was not on Mount Carmel; the victory occurred when God came to Elijah in gentle whisper.  Our God moves in mysterious ways; God uses small things to teach great lessons.  The old saying is true, “Even a big door swings on small hinges.”  God uses small things to accomplish great things.  This is what Elijah needed to learn.

Elijah pulled his prophet’s cloak over his face and stood fearfully and reverently before God.  There was no whining or bitterness, even though Elijah responded to God’s familiar question the same way as before.

What a slow learner!  Yet, his feelings are totally understandable, are they not?  Most of us can probably relate to how Elijah felt.  How many of us are surrounded by unbelievers all day, every day, in our day-to-day lives?  They could be unbelieving family members or colleagues at work; an unbeliever is an unbeliever, though.  And sometimes we feel alone; as though we are the only faithful servants of God.

In asking the prophet the same question a second time, God is giving Elijah a second chance.   Had His prophet profited from this new and surprising manifestation of God?  Even though Elijah used the exact same words, God did not let him go.  God would not let Elijah shipwreck his own faith over his feelings of the moment.  God knew Elijah’s heart.  He may have failed, but he was no failure and God knew that.

4.  A  humbling task, verses 15—16

The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.

God dealt with Elijah graciously.  Elijah thought he was all alone, but that was far from the truth.  He was walking by sight, not by faith.  God commanded the prophet to make the long journey back to where he came from; the very place where he left the straight and narrow.  God would not let Elijah off the hook.  There was still work to do that only Elijah could do.  Specifically, there were three things he had to do:

  • First, in the area of international relations, Hazael was God’s choice to succeed Ben-Hadad, Israel’s adversary in Damascus. It was up to Elijah to go and anoint Hazael.
  • Second, in the area of national affairs, Jehu needed to be anointed as the next king of Israel.
  • Lastly, in the spiritual realm, Elisha was to be commissioned as successor to Elijah.

Now the first two seem to make sense.  But can you imagine being told to go anoint your own successor?  What does that say about you?  Was Elijah being fired because of his unbelief?  It must have been a humbling job to go and call a man to take your place so soon after accomplishing so many great things for God.  Given what we know of Elijah, God could have easily equipped him to do the work of all three of the men he was about to anoint.

There is a price to pay for unbelief, even if your name is Elijah.  Past successes in the work of the Lord don’t count for the present or the future.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!   (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Our society today is pretty forgiving.  In some circles, in fact, you can’t get fired no matter how incompetent you may be!  Children aren’t disciplined any more.  But God hasn’t changed; and He holds us responsible for our failures and our careless words. He is gracious and merciful and always forgiving.   He will never throw us over and He will never let us go, but we will all pay a price for our disobedience, and even our for our careless words.

Even Jesus warned His followers in Revelation 3:11—

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.

Don’t lose your faith!  Don’t walk by sight!  Trust in the Lord.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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