Running From Men, Returning To God (1 Kings 19)

The context is this:  Elijah just won a spectacular contest against the prophets of Baal.  As God rained fire down from heaven the people’s hearts were turned back to God and the prophets of Baal were all slaughtered.  King Ahab and Elijah went back to Jezreel.  

To introduce the chapter I want to summarize the first 9 verses.  Jezebel, Ahab’s famous and wicked wife, heard about Elijah killing the prophets and sent a threat to Elijah that she was going to kill him for it.  Elijah became afraid and runs away.  He makes it to Beersheeba, the southernmost part of Judah and then alone goes into the wilderness in hiding.  Finally he drops in exhaustion and despondence under a tree, and asks God to end his life right there.  Instead of falling dead he fell asleep.  Then an angel woke him up with a meal.  Elijah ate, then fell asleep again.  Then he was awakened again by an angel with another meal, and told that he has to eat again because he is about to go on a journey and needs strength.

APPLICATION:  Fear comes when faith leaves.  What happened to the Elijah from chapter 18?  The man who all alone faced down the most evil king in Israel’s history and the king who had been hunting his life and was accompanied by hundreds of false prophets.  What happened to the man who fearlessly faced them all down?  And won?  

Fear comes when faith leaves.  We saw an Elijah standing in faith in chapter 18, but not in chapter 19.  In chapter 19 we see an Elijah running in fear.  

APPLICATION to the APPLICATION:  Do not fear those who have no fear of God.  Don’t let those who have no fear of God make you fear them.  Do not let those who have no fear of God make you stop fearing God and fear them instead.  Jezebel had no fear of God in her eyes.  And her threats were able to make the prophet of God melt with fear.  In Isaiah 8:12 God says, “Do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.  The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.”  There is something in those words:  fear has to do with worship.  God says the fear we give to man is misplaced – our fear belongs to God.  

APPLICATION:  Fix your eyes EVERY DAY on Christ and you will not fear.  I don’t fear inflation.  I don’t fear the stockmarket.  I don’t fear more shutdowns.  I don’t fear a diagnosis.  I don’t fear for my kids and how they will turn out.  I don’t fear

APPLICATION:  Accept that the journey is too much for you, too.  The angel told Elijah that the journey was too much for him and he needed to eat.  It wasn’t just the journey for the next 40 days that was too much for Elijah, those words from the angel aptly described Elijah’s career as a prophet of God.  There was nothing Elijah did in his career that was within his own strength and ability.  Everything required that he be strengthened, sustained and provided for by God.  


So now Elijah is at Mount Horeb and God is about to respond to him. Read 8-18… I want to pull out 5 things.  Before I do I want you to notice the structure of this last section.  You can cut this section in half and each half has the same patter:  1) God asks Elijah what he’s doing there, 2) Elijah gives the same answer, and 3) God responds.  God’s first response is the mighty displays of power, then God’s second response is to send Elijah on a mission.  Lets try and make sense of all this.  Again, lets pull out five things here:

First, the significance of Mount Horeb.  Why did Elijah go to Mount Horeb?  Why did God meet him there rather than back in the wilderness when he was napping?  Perhaps the importance of Mount Horeb begins to emerge when you realize that Mount Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai.  Mount Sinai is historically important for Elijah and his people the Isrealites because it is there that they entered into a covenant relationship with God.  Mount Sinai is the very mountain God led the Israelites to after bringing them out of Egypt.  In one way it was where the nation began.  God gave them the 10 commandments there, the Law, their nationhood, the covenant, all of it.  From Mount Sinai-Horeb they set out a full-fledged nation, in covenant with God, on their way to the land God promised them.  

In this moment, for Elijah to return there was so significant.  It wasn’t just the nation that had departed from Mount Sinai, but you could say that Elijah needed to go back to the beginning as well.  His faith was suffering badly, his perspective was lost, his focus was misplaced.  It wasn’t just going back to a place for sentimental reasons.  Going back to Mount Sinai was in a very real sense going back to God.  I want to point out that God was there when Elijah got there, and this whole episode with God happened there at Mount Horeb and not in the wilderness 40 days earlier.  What I’m saying is that God NEVER left Mount Sinai-Horeb.  Not his location.  But his commitment.  He was still committed to everything that He said at Mount Sinai-Horeb.  He was there still, and as far as he was concerned his relationship with the nation was still defined by the covenant he entered into with them there.  So going to that mountain was Elijah going back to God.  

Second, the questions of God.  God asks Elijah a question in verse 9, “What are you doing here?”  He asks it againGod knows why Elijah was there, he knows everything.  When an all-knowing God asks a question it is not because he is trying to get information he does not already have.  God is asking the question for Elijah’s sake.  God is the inventor of the Socratic method.  He uses questions to draw people out.  He’s making Elijah verbalize what’s going on inside of him.  

What really stands out for me here is that God listens to Elijah.  Jesus would say much later on, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  Elijah showed up to the mountain weary and burdened.  He had nothing left.  He was done.  Beyond done.  

Third, the answer of Elijah.  Notice verse 10…  Elijah feels all alone.  He’s the only one who has been zealous for the LORD.  The other prophets who were zealous are all killed off.  He’s the only prophet left.  Elijah is feeling lonely.  Defeated.  Frightened.  Maybe he was feeling lost.  Maybe he started to question the point of his ministry.  Had his purpose in life as a prophet even been worth it?  Clearly there were not “results” to show for it.  Basically Elijah’s answer to God for why he was there was, “You sent me out, nobody listened and they’re trying to kill me so I’m running back to you.”  

Now this is important because at that moment the nation was in rebellion against God and against that covenant.  Notice again what Elijah said in verse 10, “The Israelites have rejected your covenant and torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.” (and again in verse 14):

  • They rejected the covenant, meaning obeying God’s commands don’t matter to them anymore and they don’t take seriously the curses for breaking that covenant because God isn’t a big deal to them. 
  • They have torn down God’s altars, meaning hey do not worship God anymore so reverently caring for his altars and using them to worship Him are not something they care about.  They have other altars and other gods that are important to them. 
  • “They have put your prophets to death,” meaning anyone who speaks for the true God is persecuted.  They will not listen to God and that is seen in the fact that they will not listen to his spokesmen.  Jesus informed his Apostles in Luke 10:16, “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  Rejecting a man of God who speaks for God is equivalent to rejecting God.  Hating the one who is sent is equivalent to hating the one who sends.  “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” John 15 says.  “If they persecuted me they will persecute you. If they obey my teaching they will obey yours.” 

    This is a principle throughout Scripture:  How you treat God’s people is how you treat God.  “But LORD, when did we clothe you, feed you, and give you water?” That’s the question asked of Jesus by those who will enter the Millennial Kingdom.  Jesus answers them by saying, “Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me.”  To those going to eternal fire he says, “Whatever you didn’t do for the least of these you did not do for me.”  See the principle?  Whatever is done to the people of God is done to God. 

    That’s why when Elijah says the Isrealites have killed the prophets and are hunting him down it must be seen that what they are doing to Elijah is what they are doing to God.  Moses said to the people when they complained to him, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.”  God considers the treatment of His people to be how they are treating Him personally.  God told the prophet Samuel when the people asked for a king, “It is not you they are rejecting, but me.”  Their rejection of Samuel leading them was a rejection of God – because Samuel was God’s chosen prophet to lead the nation.

You can see how demoralized Elijah is in all this.

Fourth, the show of power by God.  In verses 11-12 God responds to Elijah’s answer.  He tells Elijah to go stand out on the mountain.  He’s about to “pass by” and he wants Elijah out there when it happens.  

First there is the devastating wind tearing apart the mountain.  Next came an earthquake that made it seem that the mountain was going to be reduced to rubble.  And finally a great fire came roaring.  Elijah saw God’s fire before in the previous chapter.

But the text says “God was not in” the wind, the earthquake, or the fire.  These were not manifestations of God.  They were certainly caused by God, they were certainly manifestations of His mighty power and his control over the elements of the earth.  What is the meaning of all this for Elijah?  What are we to understand from all this?  

Apparently somewhere in the midst of all this terrifying power Elijah ran into the cave for safety.  And it was after the fire, while he was hiding in the cave, a gentle whisper spoke to Elijah.  The contrast of the roaring and the quaking and the blowing and the howling to a dead silence … and then a whisper.  The Lord must’ve told him to go back out of the cave again and stand on the mountain because Elijah went back out.  Expecting more frightening display of power he covered himself with his cloak.  

It’s like God wanted to overwhelm Elijah with His divine power.  He wanted to remind His prophet who He served and the power He held.  Now for one thing because Elijah needs to be reminded that whatever power Jezebel has is no match for God.  Elijah needs to fear His God not his enemies.  

APPLICATION:  Another thing I see in this is that God’s power will flood you with terror but God’s whisper draws you out to Him.  Imagine being so terrified in that cave and then the One who is literally ripping the mountain apart gently speaks to you, bidding you.  You know he has the power to bring that mountain down on your head and yet in his tender kindness speaks softly and kindly to you, compassionately to you.  I think the fact that God did those powerful acts first was to really make his gentleness with Elijah stand out.  

I want to make a “Moses” point here.  This episode has similarities to Moses’ own episode with God.  Moses also was alone with God on the mountain.  In Exodus 33 God also passed by Moses.  Moses was also God’s man to the people.  Moses travelled 40 years from Mount Sinai in the wilderness, Elijah travelled 40 days to Mount Sinai (some correlation?).  Both of these men have had mountain experiences with God, but both of these men are themselves mountains in Israel.  The honor and renown both of these men have in Israel is simply incalculable.  What’s more, when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain do you remember which two men appeared and spoke with Him?  Moses and Elijah.  Again, on a mountain, with God, speaking with God.

Fifth, God’s words for Elijah.  “Go back the way you came.” Like the LORD told Hagar in Geness 16. Go back to where I sent you, get back to where I sent you, get back to where you were before you got off track. Not geographically, but your perspective and your work.

Going to God results in going for God.

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