David Jeremiah - The Aftermath
The last five verses of 1 Kings 18 tell us what Elijah did after his victory on Mount Carmel. It had been a long and disappointing day for King Ahab, so Elijah sent him to get something to eat. Meanwhile, Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel to pray and ask God to send the needed rain that he had promised. Now, this was a different kind of prayer. It wasn't like the prayer at the altar where the answer to the prayer came at once. The story in 1 Kings tells us that seven times Elijah sent his servant to look toward the Mediterranean Sea to see if anything looked like it was gonna rain very soon, to watch for a storm gathering.
Six of those times the servant reported nothing, and the prophet prayed a seventh time, and we read in verse 44 of 1 Kings 18, "And it came to pass the seventh time, that the servant said, 'There is a cloud, as small as a man's hand, rising out of the sea!' So he said, 'Go up, and say to Ahab, "Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you".'" As the sky became black with clouds, Elijah commanded the king to return to his palace in Jezreel as soon as possible. The scripture actually says, "Get back to Jezreel before the rain stops you". And even though Elijah didn't have a horse or a chariot, he decided to take the journey too, and the scripture says, well, here it is, in the last verse of 1 Kings 18, the first Iron Man in the world, "Then the hand of the Lord came upon Elijah; and girded up his loins and he ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel".
By the time Elijah and Ahab arrived in Jezreel, it was pouring down rain, and as Elijah waited outside, his beard dripping with water, Ahab goes into the royal palace to tell Jezebel, his wicked wife, what had happened on Mount Carmel. Ahab tells her about Elijah and how he killed all the prophets of Baal, and there was only one thing wrong with Ahab's report. He told Jezebel all that Elijah had done to the prophets, he forgot to tell her all that God had done for Elijah, and the more Ahab talked, the angrier his wife became. Jezebel was a religious fanatic devoted to her faith, and Elijah had attacked her at the core of her very being. And when she finally cooled down a little bit, she determined that she would repay Elijah by taking his life, and she called a servant to her presence.
"And Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 'So let the gods do to me, and more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of those prophets you killed by tomorrow about this time.'" Now, up to this moment, Elijah has been a man of model courage and faithfulness, but these words from Jezebel send him into a fog of despair and depression, and we read in verse 3 of the 19th chapter, "And when he saw that, he arose, and he ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there". "And he prayed that he might die, and he said, 'It is enough. Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.'"
Within hours of his victory on Mount Carmel, Elijah is running for his life from one lone woman. Never underestimate the power of one lone woman. When he could run no more, the scripture says he collapsed under a broom tree and said he wanted to die. David Roper, a student of the Word of God that I've read this week, said, "Elijah's condition was over-adrenalized, over-extended, and emotionally depleted. Brooding over his feelings of inadequacy and apparent failure, he collapses into self-pity, withdrawal, and self-destructive thoughts".
Here is Elijah with his emotional gauge on empty. Did you know that at 14,495 feet above sea level, Mount Whitney is the highest point in the continental United States? You've probably read that or heard it or studied it. And within 100 miles of Mount Whitney is Death Valley, the lowest point in the continental United States at 280 feet below sea level. Often in God's providence, the highest points and the lowest points are really close together. That was certainly true in Elijah's life. His greatest moment was followed by his worst moment, and there's hardly any space between the two of those moments. One day he's on the mountain with his hands up high, and the next day he's bent over in fear running from the queen. As we reflect on this passage and the story that I briefly reviewed for us, let's see if we can discover some of the reasons why we are often prone to follow Elijah into the valley of discouragement. For all of us this should be instructive, so take good notes and listen carefully.
The first thing that you note when you study this is that Elijah's fear replaced his faith. Elijah's discouragement began when his faith was replaced by fear. The scriptures tell us that he was afraid of two things, he was afraid of Jezebel, and he was afraid of dying, and those two things sort of were together. Elijah stopped looking to the Lord, and he started looking at Jezebel. He had not received any divine instruction for this moment, so rather than stand before Jezebel and wait for God to deliver him, he took off out of fear, and when fear grabs hold of us, we can do things we never believed we were capable of doing.
For instance, you remember Peter, the disciple, who started to walk on water? He began to sink because he took his eyes off the Lord and began to look at the water. And the ten spies who examined the Promised Land came back with a negative report because they took their eyes off of God and they focused on the giants, and the disciples in the storm-tossed boat who were filled with fear when they turned their gaze from their Creator, who was in the boat with them, to the circumstances that surrounded the boat in the storm. You see, on top of Mount Carmel, God was with Elijah, and Elijah knew that God was with him, but now he was afraid. How could one woman do what 450 false prophets could not do? Jezebel represented civil authority, and humanly speaking, Elijah had good reason to fear. His personal safety was at stake.
Listen carefully, as long as the drought continued, Elijah was safe because Ahab thought that this mysterious prophet somehow had a secret that could unlock the heavens and restore rain to their droughted land, but the rains had come. Elijah was no longer necessary. He was dispensable now because they got their rain back, and as he began to think about all of this for a moment, he forgot who God was, and he acted not in faith but in fear. Author and educator Neil Anderson has written these words, he said, "Fear is a thief. It erodes our faith. It plunders our hope. It steals our freedom. It takes away our joy of living the abundant life in Christ". And then he wrote, "Phobias are like the coils of a snake. The more we give into them, the tighter they squeeze us".
The Bible tells us as followers of Christ that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. So that we may boldly say: 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'" His fear replaced his faith. That ever happen to you? You trusted God, everything's goin' fine, and then somethin' unusual happens and inserts itself into your life, and all of a sudden, you stop watching and looking at God, and you get your eyes off on the issue, and before you know it you're in a funk, you're in a fear funk, and how often that happens to us?
Second thing we notice was his failure replaced his victory. Only a few hours earlier, Elijah was tasting victory, but Jezebel's edict triggered feelings of failure. Of course, 450 prophets of Baal had been slain. Of course, the people had cried, "Jehovah is God," but Jezebel could import 450 more prophets of Baal from her homeland of Sidon, and her purge against the followers of Jehovah would become overwhelmingly vicious. And the people, the fickle people, they'd soon forget about the excitement on Mount Carmel. They would follow Jezebel's leading, and, once again, they would plunge headlong into the evils of Baal worship, and soon all of Elijah's miraculous power from God would be scarcely remembered, three years of waiting, a glorious day of triumph, and then the realization that he'd really accomplished nothing. He was a failure, and that's what he felt like, a total failure.
Can you see how he allowed himself to think? And he took everything that was good and twisted it around in his mind because now he felt like he was a failure. Had he failed? No, but failure is just as real as you perceive it to be in your mind. And if the devil can get you to think that you have failed when you are in the process of long-term success, he has neutralized you and accomplished his purpose in your life. So Elijah replaced his faith with fear, and he replaced his victory with failure. Here's one you wanna listen to carefully, his fatigue replaced his energy. Now, let me just say, Elijah was worn out and rightfully so.
Let me give you the rest of his Iron Man report. He had just outrun Ahab's chariot from Mount Carmel to Jezreel. I hope it was a slow chariot 'cause I can't imagine this. Then he ran for his life from Jezreel to Beersheba. And from Beersheba, he walked a day's journey into the wilderness where he collapsed under a broom tree, tired and totally stressed out. I don't know who said it the first time, but it's the truth, fatigue makes cowards of us all. Our human bodies weren't made to do what Elijah had just done. He had flat worn himself to a frazzle. He was on a thin edge. And then his frustrations replaced his hope. How many of you know what self-talk is? If you read any of the psychologists today, there's a lot about self-talk, how you talk to yourself and how you communicate to yourself.
I want you to listen in to a little self-talk from Elijah. This is really unbelievable. Elijah may have had the idea that the victory on Mount Carmel would resolve everything in his life, would seem that he believed that, with the crowd chanting, "The Lord, he is God," and with all the priests of Baal being slain that the battle was over, but he forgot this wasn't a battle, this is a war. And when Elijah realized that his victory was not the final victory, that is was short-lived, he became frustrated, and you know what happens when you get frustrated? You start bending the truth and feeling sorry for yourself. So listen to Elijah's words of self-pity.
1 Kings 19:10, "So Elijah said, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; the children 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 to take my life.'" "Lord God, I'm the only one left who loves you". You say, "Well, he didn't really mean that". Well, if he didn't, it's again in verse 14, so read that, "And he said, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.'" Elijah was so frustrated and so hopeless that he actually thought he was the only one left on the face of God's earth who was doing God's will.
Now, if you go back one story in our saga, you'll remember that Elijah is believing a lie that he already knows is a lie because we've already been told that there was at least 101 prophets of the Lord left in Israel. "Obadiah," verse 4 of chapter 18, "had taken 100 prophets and hidden them, 50 to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water". So he wasn't the only one. There were at least 101 beside him. Oh, but that's only part of the story. If you drop down a few verses in chapter 19, here's what the Lord said to Elijah. Verse 18, he said, "Elijah, I have reserved 7,000 in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him".
So Elijah's almost right. He's just 7,301 removed from the truth. How did he let that happen? How can you be that far removed for reality? How many of you know that when you get into this self-thing, where you start listening to yourself and the enemy comes and sows all this seed of doubt and discouragement and failure in your life, it's amazing where your mind can take you to the point where you look, and it's not even close to reality. Several years ago, I came across a book, it's not a biblical book, so don't go there for that, but it was written by a psychologist named Martin Seligman, and I'll never forget how the title of this book caught my eye. It's called "Learned Optimism".
If you do what I do, you know, you deal with the attitudes of people a lot, and some people are pessimists, and some people are optimists, and you always are trying to figure out how you can make a pessimist into an optimist, and I was just shocked to learn that you can learn to be an optimist. That's thrown in for free today. That's not in my notes, but you can do that. In his book, Martin Seligman said three things happen when we become discouraged and depressed. First of all, we think it's personal, "Just me". What did Elijah say? "I'm the only one left". "Lord, you're pickin' on me. Why are you doin' this to me? You don't do this to anybody else. It's just me, Lord, and I don't like it".
We not only think it's personal, he said, we think it's pervasive, which means, "It covers every area of my life. It's not just this one thing that's wrong with me, Lord, it's everything is wrong with me. I'm not just one who has failed, I'm a failure". When our minds start to work like that, we think it's personal, we think it's pervasive, and Seligman said, finally, we think it's permanent, that it's never going to change, and that's where Elijah was. He had come to the conclusion that his situation was hopeless. It was all about him, it was personal. His whole life was messed up, it was pervasive. And it was permanent there's nothing he could do about it, it was never going to change. When Elijah prayed that he might die, this is the fourth prayer we have in his life in the story in the Bible.
Remember, first, he asked God to resurrect a boy from death, and he performed the first resurrection in the Bible. Pretty good answered prayer. He also asked God to send fire down on a sacrifice, and God answered that prayer too, and then he asked God to send rain after three and a half years of drought, and we've just learned that God sent the rain. Finally, he asked God to let him die, and God said, "No". How many of you are glad that God sifts our prayers? And that the Spirit of God who is in us carries our prayers to the Son of God, who interprets them to God the Father, and through the process of filtering, sometimes God just ignores us because he knows we don't know what we're talkin' about. Elijah didn't wanna die. He didn't wanna die. He was depressed. He had thoughts of suicide. He said in this chapter, "I am no better than my fathers".
Who in the world told him that he was? His mind was so messed up and his thought process so upside down, he finally got to the end. There was nothing in his physical tank, there was nothing in his spiritual tank, and there was nothing in his emotional tank, and he said, "Lord, just end it. Let it be over. Let me die". I love what Warren Wiersbe says about this moment in Elijah's life. "The prophet has concluded that he has failed in his mission, and it's time to quit, but the Lord didn't see it that way. He always looks beyond our changing moods and impetuous prayers, and he treats us the way parents treat their discouraged children". So the next verses in 1 Kings 19 show us how tenderly and patiently God deals with us when we're in the depths of despair, and we feel like giving up.
Let me just take you through how God met Elijah's need because this is how he meets our need. Are you ready for this? First thing he did, God met his physical needs. As Elijah is laying under the broom tree and he's asking God to take his life, the Bible says that God dispatches an angel who comes and ministered to him in this manner, verses 5 through 7, "Then as Elijah lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, 'Arise and eat.' Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate, and he drank, and he lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, 'Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.'"
God, first of all, allowed Elijah a time of rest and refreshment. He's filling up his physical gauge. There was no sermon from God, there was no rebuke, there's no blame, there's no shame, not a lightning bolt from heaven, saying, "Look at you, get up, you worthless ingrate. Get on your feet and get back on the job". None of that. God helped him to sleep, and then through his angel he ministered to him physically. He gave him sleep and food and water. Theologian D.A. Carson wrote these words. He said, "Sometimes the godliest thing you can do in your whole life is to get a good night's sleep, not pray all night, but sleep". Now, he said, "I'm certainly not denying that there may be a place for praying all night. I'm merely insisting that, in the normal course of things, spiritual discipline obligates you to get the sleep that your body needs".
What did Elijah need? He needed, first of all, to get some rest because, as we've said so many times here, God understands that our souls and our bodies live so close together that they catch each other's diseases. Until he could get him physically right, he would never get him mentally right, and he would never get him spiritually right. Isn't that one thing that we often forget? Because, as Christians, when somebody comes to us with a problem like that, what do we do? We rush to the spiritual. We give them our favorite Bible verses and a book that we used to have on worry or whatever. I just love the way God dealt so tenderly with his prophet. He said, "Elijah, get a good night's sleep. We'll talk about this later".
Then he met his psychological needs. In his despair, Elijah had become a megalomaniac. He had become so self-focused that he thinks it is him against the whole world, but watch how the Lord gently brings him back into reality. He says to him, "Elijah, let me just help you with this a little bit. Your math is a little bit off. I have reserved 7,000 in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him". I was thinking about this this week. You know what encourages me more than anything else when I get discouraged? It's coming here on Sunday and looking out over this auditorium and seein' all of you people who love the God that I love. God said to Elijah, "You're not alone, son. There's 7,000 people like you in this land".
There's an old proverb that I love that goes like this, "If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you wanna go far, go together". Elijah was encouraged that there were a lot of people there to help him. He was not alone. God met his physical need, then he met his psychological needs. Now he's gonna meet his spiritual needs, and this is one of the greatest parts of the story. 1 Kings 19:8 and 9, we read, "So Elijah arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that for 40 days and 40 nights and he went as far as Horeb, the mountain of God. And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him".
In God's mercy, Elijah found his way through the wilderness to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God and, specifically, to a cave in that historic mountain, and that cave is referred to in Exodus chapter 33 in a very touching story about Moses. Keep focused here. It was at a time when Moses had been experiencing an emotional trauma similar to that which Elijah was now undergoing. On Mount Sinai, Moses had received the tablets of the Ten Commandments. You remember the story? But when he descends into the valley, what he sees is the children of Israel dancing naked around a golden calf idol. From the sublime experience of the holiness of God, the mountaintop of Sinai, watching this now, to the valley and the midst of a heathen orgy, and Moses was angry and justifiably so.
And if you remember the story, he took the tablets on which the Lord God had written the Ten Commandments, and he threw them on the ground, and they shattered, and the shock of what he had witnessed shattered him emotionally. Like Elijah, Moses didn't know what to do or where to go, and what follows is one of the most sacred moments in the Old Testament scriptures. Exodus 33 tells the story, "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. And so it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock,'" in the cave, "and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. And then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen," because the scripture says, "No man has seen God and lived".
In that very special encounter with Almighty God, Moses was refreshed for the ministry to which God had called him, and the same thing is about to happen to Elijah on the same mountain. He's going to have a fresh encounter with the living God. God is going to minister words of encouragement to him on Mount Horeb. And listen to me, friends, when we get discouraged and depressed, and sometimes we need to be physically reinvigorated, sometimes we need a good counselor, someone who knows the truth and helps us, but most of the time, we need to find Mount Horeb and the cave. We need to get alone with our Bibles and with our God and say, "God, show me the way again. I'm lost. Help me to know your purpose for my life".
God did for Elijah what he had done for Moses. And in case you are one of those so-called knowledgeable Christians who thinks that depression is an unforgivable sin, let me remind you that Moses and Elijah were the two men that God took to another mountain one day called the Mount of Transfiguration and honored them with Jesus and the disciples. From the Mount of Horeb and the time of depression to the mount of triumph with Jesus Christ himself. Over the years, I've watched this. I just wish we could live longer so we could use the lessons that it takes us all our lives to learn. I've been challenged sometimes like this.
I want you to hear me. I've learned to expect a spiritual challenge after a time of great celebration. Finish a building program, and watch out. Trial often follows triumph, and to know that it is coming is to be armed and ready, but the opposite is also true. Sometimes the depth of the valley is a promise of the height of the blessing to come. We can anticipate that the path through a dark valley rises toward an elevated scene, a place where God will bless us. Listen, valleys are always defined by the high places that surround them.
One of the great preachers of history, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, discovered that depression often came before an outpouring of God's blessing on his life. This man, who lived to be 57 years of age and accomplished more in 57 years than all the preachers I've ever known could ever do in a full lifetime, made a name for himself and for the gospel as the greatest British preacher in all of history. Here's what he wrote. He said, "Before any great achievement, some measure of depression, for me, is very usual. Such was my experience when I first became a pastor in London. My success appalled me, and the thought of the career which had seemed to open up, so far from elating me, cast me into the lowest depths.
Who was I, that I should continue to lead so great a multitude? I would go to my village obscurity. I would emigrate to America, find a solitary nest in the backwoods, where I might be sufficient for the things which would be demanded of me". He went on to say, "This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry. The cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression," he said, "has now become my John the Baptist, preparing the way for what God wants to do". I don't know if you've ever thought about it, did you ever wonder whether people in the Bible had a life verse? I think I've found Elijah's life verse. It's Isaiah 40:31, "But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint".
This verse sums up what we've learned so far about Elijah. For three years, the prophet had been hidden by God during which time he waited on the Lord. When the Lord sent him to Mount Carmel, he gave him the courage to mount up with wings as eagles and triumph over the prophets of Baal, and after Elijah prayed and it began to rain, the Lord strengthened him to run and not be weary. And, finally, he sustained him for 40 days so he could walk and not faint. What a man and what a story. And how it helps me, I hope it helps you to know that these things that happen to us are human, and remember what we call this series, "Someone Like You". Elijah shows us what to do when those dark things happen in our lives and how God is never gonna forget us, how he often uses them to take us to higher places.
As Christ followers, God often allows the extremities of life to teach us to trust him, to draw us closer to him. But you know what I've discovered? I've discovered that God uses the difficulties of life to bring people to Christ who don't have any relationship with him at all. If you listen, you will hear how God used the death of a spouse or a child or a beloved friend to bring a person to faith. Sometimes it's the anguish of a divorce or the aftermath of a financial collapse. Maybe you've been experiencing something like this in your life. Maybe you're kind of in the valley.
Do you know what I know? God wants you to get to the mountaintop, and he uses the valley to make you aware of your need. You don't need the broom tree. You need the cross tree, and if you come to the cross, you will discover on that mount of Calvary, God settled it once and for all for your future. You don't have to ever lose another night's sleep, wonderin' what's gonna happen to you when you die because, once and for all, we are told in the scripture if you believe in Jesus, you will never die. You'll die physically, maybe, but never die spiritually, and he will resurrect your life in heaven someday to be with God forever. Don't go to the broom tree to pout. Go to the cross tree to pray. Don't be depressed. Be filled with the joy of the Lord and put your trust in Christ.