A Hopeless Prophet: Elijah

The Bible is full of great stories of good and evil. Now if there was ever a time of darkness in the land of Israel it was certainly in the days of Elijah. The king, Ahab, and the queen, Jezebel, were as atrocious as they were loathsome. They were proper villains. But in the midst of this darkness arose an unexpected light. We find a man, with no family and no history merely emerging when Israel was at her worst. Enter Elijah.

Who was Elijah? Elijah was a faithful prophet of God, who stood against false prophets, and was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. Elijah’s life is contained within a small section of Scripture. His story is found only from 1 Kings 17-19, 21 and then 2 Kings 1-2. Nevertheless, in spite of the brevity of material available, Elijah remains a chief figure whose prominency is broadcasted most clearly at the Mount of Transfiguration where he stood with Moses in the glory of Christ (Matt. 17). He was the prophet that Israel needed when the land abounded with idolatry and wickedness beyond compare.

Elijah’s story began with his boldness before the king Ahab. Scripture records for us, “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him…he took to wife Jezebel [a gentile] … and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.” (1 Kings 16:30-31) God called Elijah to confront the horrors of Baal in the land.

Baal was an alleged storm god. So it seems only fitting that in his first exchange with Ahab, the prophet Elijah demonstrated the supremacy of God by shutting up the heavenly showers  for three and a half years (James 5:17).

God proceeded to guard Elijah’s life over and over again. He fed him by the birds of the heavens, and used him mightily to transform the life of a gentile woman of Zarephath right in the heart of Baal’s kingdom, as one commentary notes. Elijah would also resurrect the young son of this woman, he would successfully pray for fire from heaven, he would even stand on the very mountain where God delivered His Law to Moses and Israel.

But none of these events were accomplished by the strength of Elijah. In fact, he often showcased that he was anything but strong. On one occasion, Elijah witnessed God defeat the prophets of Baal by having fire come down from heaven and consume his twelve-times drenched offering. The wicked prophets were all put to death and the people of Israel professed faith again in Jehovah God. But immediately thereafter, when Elijah heard the threat of the queen, he ran for his life in fear.

What happens next is even more unexpected of a faithful prophet. Elijah wanted to die because of his despair. But by the provision of God, he came unto Mount Horeb where Moses received the Law. From there God asked Elijah a question, “What are you doing here Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9, author’s translation) This question was not for God’s sake but Elijah’s.

God already knew the answer. He wanted Elijah to consider it though, that he might see his own heart. Elijah found his sorrow overwhelming, but he was not consumed by it. Instead, he laid it before God. Elijah expected immediate transformation, but his victory did not change the king or queen’s heart. He presumed he was all alone. God then showcased His power before the prophet in rock-shattering winds, in vicious earthquakes, and turbulent fires. God was not in any of those obvious displays of force. Instead, He was with Elijah in “a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)

Like Elijah, we can often believe that we are all alone or that our efforts are in vain. Our prayers seem unanswered. Our churches still have places they need to grow. Our bodies suffer. Our hearts ache, and our worlds seem to be slowly going from bad, to worse. Yet somehow, God is still advancing His kingdom in victory, even though its not in the way we expect it. God was not in the loud bangs or the flashy symbols but in the simplicity and angelic reverence of a soft whisper.

We often wonder, “Why does He do this?” or “Why doesn’t He show Himself in a way I’d prefer?” We must go back to the wisdom of Paul, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” (1 Cor. 1:25) Perhaps it is not the case that God is slow to work in our world, but that we are too distracted to notice how He is working in our midst.

Perhaps we too need to remember the wisdom of God to Zerubbabel, the great Reformer of Jerusalem. God said to him, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6) May we like Elijah, grow in our dependence of the Lord knowing that a whisper from His lips is more powerful than every army, and every people, and every warring ideology. May we rest in the sufficiency of His Word and Spirit. May we also lay our griefs before Him who is able to lift us up even with a soft word.