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It Is Not As Bad As You Think It Is

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Summary of the story of Elijah and all his victories, why he ran away, and how God dealt with him to get him back on track.

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A Surprise Villain

Have you ever seen a movie or played a video game in which the hero is fighting who he believes to be the arch villain, the final boss of the conflict? All the hero has to do is defeat this enemy, and the conflict is over, he wins, good triumphs, and everyone can live happily ever after. But just as the hero defeats the villain, he is horrified to discover that this was not actually the final villain. The foe he defeated was just the arch villain’s right hand man. But now the real arch villain emerges. Now the tired hero has to fight an even stronger, tougher villain when he has not recovered from his last fight yet. How is he going to win this? In the story we are going to explore today, the our hero runs into a similar situation.

I. Backstory

The story begins with the Northern kingdom of Israel. Israel had been divided since the days of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. The Southern Kingdom had the land of the tribe of Judah and Benjamin. The Northern Kingdom had all of the land of the other ten tribes. Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom had lead Isreal into idolatry by creating two golden calves and a false priesthood and claiming that these calves represented the Lord God who had brought them out of Egypt This was the way that Israel should have worshiped God all along. Israel had continued in this idolatrous pattern for hundreds of years. As they went, Israel fell further and further from God and each successive king got more wicked.
Then King Ahab, the most wicked king to date, took power and married Jezebel, the daughter of the King of Sidon. They worked together to lead Israel into even further wickedness by instituting Baal worship in the land. They built the temple of Baal in Samaria and lead the people to observe all the rituals of Baal worship. Israel was falling further and further away from the Lord their God.
Then Elijah the prophet shows up out of nowhere. He challenges king Ahab and says that it will not rain in the land these years except at his word. He goes into hiding, and for 3 1/2 years, it does not rain. Baal was known as “the lord of the storm”(Vos). He was supposed to be in control of the rain. By the prophet of Yahweh saying that God will not allow it to rain, God is showing his power over Baal. Ahab tries to find Elijah, but God protects him and helps him hide. During this time, Jezebel launches a campaign to find Elijah and root out the prophets who are resisting their program of paganizing Israel. Great persecution ensues and many of the prophets are killed.
During the 3 1/2 years, God supernaturally provides for Elijah by sending him to the brook Cherith and having ravens feed him meat and bread twice a day. Then, when the brook dries up because of the drought, God sends him to the widow at Zarephath. Elijah stays with her and her son for the rest of the drought and God provides supernaturally for them with jars of flour and oil which don’t run out as they are used for backing bread. At one point, the widows son dies and God raises him from the dead in response to Elijah’s prayer. Finally, God sends Elijah to confront Ahab.
Elijah tells Ahab to gather all of the people, the prophets of Baal, and the prophets of Asherah on Mount Carmel. He suggests a contest of the gods. Let he and the prophets of Baal each prepare an ox to sacrifice on their alter, but put no fire to it. Then let them cry out to Baal, and he will cry out to the Lord. And the god who answers by fire will be God. Everyone agrees. The prophets of Baal cry out to him all day, and nothing happens. Elijah cries out to God once, and God sends fire from heaven and consumes not only the sacrifice, but also the alter and all of the water that Elijah poured on it. All of the people fall on their faces and cry out “the Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God.” All Israel saw the miracle and they were convinced that Yahweh is the true God. Then Elijah has them put the prophets of Baal to death.
Then Elijah tells Ahab to eat and drink while he prays for rain. He goes and prays, and a cloud appears. He tells Ahab to hurry back to his palace in Jezreel so he isn’t caught in the rain. Then, the Spirit of God comes on him, and he outruns Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel. In the mean time, it starts pouring rain. The drought is over. He has just won all of these battles, seen God to all of these miracles, all of Israel is convinced that the Lord is the true God, and now the rain has shown Israel that the Lord is in control of the rain, not Baal. Elijah has just won all of the battles, defeated the enemies of the Lord, and all of the kingdom will now be restored to right relationship with God. The conflict is over, Ahab has been converted, everyone can live happily ever after now; or so he thinks.
We’ll pick up reading here:
1 Kings 19:1-4 (NASB95) “Now 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 even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And he was afraid and 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 juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.””

II. The Problem

After Ahab tells Jezebel what Elijah did, she threatens to kill him. He runs for his life down to Beersheba, dismisses his servant, goes out into the wilderness, and asks to die. He is totally discouraged and depressed, totally defeated and humiliated! He thinks all of the victories God won and everything God did has been in vain. But this presents us a problem: why does Elijah run when he was on the cusp of total victory for the Lord? All Israel had been convinced that Yahweh is the true God. Baal had been shown to be inferior to him. Ahab had even been somewhat convinced. Jezebel is the only one left who is against him and the Lord. Why does he run from her?
The obvious surface answer is that Jezebel threatened to kill him (v.2). But this raises another smaller problem: why did Jezebel send a messenger saying she will kill him instead of just sending soldiers to kill him? She could have just sent soldiers to kill him just as easily without giving him a warning that they are coming. The answer is that Jezebel wanted Elijah to run. Frank Gaebelein in the Expositors Bible Commentary agrees with this conclusion. He says that she probably wanted to discredit Elijah and Yahweh before the people who have been won over (148). If she kills Elijah, she makes him a martyr and his movement may coalesce around him. But if he runs away, then he is discredited, and the people who followed him are set up to fall away again. This was a calculated psychological attack designed to get him to run.
But this still doesn't answer why Elijah ran. The text says “he became afraid” (v.3). Iain Provan in the New International Bible Commentary says that in the Hebrew, it is more accurately translated as “he sees how things are” (144). The word translated as afraid is actually the Hebrew word for seeing. Elijah runs because he sees something that makes him afraid.
But what did he see? After he stopped and slept under the tree, an angel comes and gives him food and water twice. With that, he is strengthened to journey all the way to Mount Sinai. He stays in a cave, likely at the same place where God revealed himself to Moses. When he gets there, God asks him what he is doing there. And his answer in verse 10 reveals what he saw.
1 Kings 19:10 (NASB95) “He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.””
Who threatened to kill him? -Jezebel (v.2). Who killed the prophets? -Jezebel (18:4,13). Who did he say killed the prophets? -The sons of Israel. Who did he say is trying to kill him? -The sons of Israel. He says he is alone. He is the last one left who is faithful to the Lord. Is he really alone? -No. God is with him. Look at all the miracles God did for him. He knows Obadiah is an official in the royal palace who is loyal to the Lord. He knows Obadiah hid 100 prophets of the Lord by 50’s in a couple caves. He knows because Obadiah told him in 18:13.
Jezebel’s threat made him forget that God was with him. He forgot that he was not alone. The threat caused him to see a distorted picture of the situation. It was greatly exaggerated in his mind how bad the situation was. He thinks he is alone and that the whole nation that he just converted are all after him when only Jezebel and the soldiers she can send are really after him. It isn’t as bad as he thinks it is.

III. The Solution.

So how does God solve this?
First, God meets Elijah’s physical needs. Twice an angel appears to him when he is under the tree and gives him a jar of water and a cake of bread. He gets to eat, drink, and sleep to replenish his physical strength after all of the running he did. To deal with his fear and correct his vision, God sets the record strait. He is not alone. God says that he still has 7000 in Israel who have not worshiped Baal (v.18). God tells him to anoint Hazael as king of Aram, Jehu as king of Israel, and Elisha as prophet after him. He sees that God is going to wage war on Baal worship and destroy the wicked house of Ahab that spearheaded it.

IV. The End of the Story

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