Focus Passage: 1 Kings 19
Fear is irrational and it causes us to do things that we regret. Oddly, our greatest time for fear is often right after success. We expected greater things to happen and were disappointed. We felt like the whole world was caving in on us because we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to do. So it is for Elijah. He has just performed the greatest miracle of his life and one of the greatest in the Old Testament. Now he runs for his life in fear.
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It is always encouraging to read "Elijah was as human as we are" (James 5:17). In 1 Kings 18 and 19, we see Elijah at his highest and at his lowest. If Elijah could have described to a counselor how he felt and what he thought, the counselor would have diagnosed his condition as a textbook case of burnout. Elijah was physically exhausted and had lost his appetite. He was depressed about himself and his work and was being controlled more and more by self-pity. When the great miracle did not produce revival in Israel, the prophet concluded that he had failed in his mission and decided it was time to quit. But the Lord didn't see it that way. He always looks beyond our changing moods and impetuous prayers, and He pities us the way parents pity their discouraged children. The chapter shows us how tenderly and patiently God deals with us when we're in the depths of despair and feel like giving up.
1. Have you ever seen someone have a midlife crisis? What was that like?
Answers will vary, usually a person is so tired and demoralized that they just sit and wonder how they can go on. They may find themselves having trouble planning and moving forward with life.
2. Why was Queen Jezebel determined to kill Elijah the prophet? (19:1-2) Why do you think that she sent a message instead of just sending troops to arrest or kill the prophet?
Ahab was a quitter, but not his wife! Elijah was now a very popular man. Like Moses, he had brought fire from heaven, and like Moses, he had slain the idolaters (Lev. 9:24; Num. 25). If Jezebel transformed the prophet into a martyr, he might influence people more by his death than by his life. No, the people were waiting for Elijah to tell them what to do, so why not remove him from the scene of his victory? If Elijah disappeared, the people would wonder what had happened, and they would be prone to drift back into worshiping Baal and letting Ahab and Jezebel have their way. Furthermore, whether from Baal or Jehovah, the rains had returned and there was work to do!
3. What did Elijah pray when he had fled to a lonely place? (19:3-5) Why do you think that he wasn’t more excited about his great victory on Mount Carmel?
Jezebel may have suspected that Elijah was a candidate for a physical and emotional breakdown after his demanding day on Mount Carmel, and she was right. He was as human as we are, and as the ancient church fathers used to say to their disciples, "Beware of human reactions after holy exertions." Her letter achieved its purpose and Elijah fled from Jezreel. In a moment of fear, when he forgot all that God had done for him the previous three years, Elijah took his servant, left Israel, and headed for Beersheba, the southernmost city in Judah. Charles Spurgeon said that Elijah "retreated before a beaten enemy." God had answered his prayer (18:36-37) and God's hand had been upon him in the storm (18:46), but now he was walking by sight and not by faith. (See Ps. 16:7-8.)
4. Where do you go when life seems to be too much for you? What do you think God wants you to pray in those times?
Answers will vary, but we hope that people are praying for God’s help and for understanding of what to do next. God had to force Elijah into seeing those answers. God wants us to ask for them.
5. How did God miraculously care for Elijah in the desert? (19:6-9) Why was this a necessary first step even before God could encourage His servant?
Elijah was all spent. God had to meet his physical needs before Elijah was ready to have his spiritual needs met. But while the prophet was asleep, the Lord sent an angel to care for his needs. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word translated "angel" also means "messenger," so some have concluded that this helpful visitor was another traveler whom the Lord brought to Elijah's side just at the right time. However, in verse 7, the visitor is called "the angel of the Lord," an Old Testament title for the second person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We aren't told how long the Lord permitted Elijah to sleep before He awakened him the second time and told him to eat. The Lord knew that Elijah planned to visit Mount Sinai, one of the most sacred places in all Jewish history, and Sinai was located about 250 miles from Beersheba, and he needed strength for the journey. What did God say to Elijah when the prophet had taken refuge in a cave? (19:9)
6. Where did Elijah go (19:8) and why is that place special?
The Lord knew that Elijah planned to visit Mount Sinai, one of the most sacred places in all Jewish history, and Sinai was located about 250 miles from Beersheba, and he needed strength for the journey. But no matter what our destination may be, the journey is too great for us and we need God's strength to reach the goal. How gracious God was to spread a "table in the wilderness" for His discouraged servant (Ps. 78:19, and see Ps. 23:5). Elijah obeyed the messenger of God and was able to travel for forty days and nights on the nourishment from those two meals.—Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) - Old Testament
7. How did Elijah express his despair about his circumstances? (19:10) What did God command Elijah to do? (19:11)
In this reply, Elijah reveals both pride and self-pity, and in using the pronoun "they," he exaggerates the size of the opposition. He makes it look as though every last Jew in the Northern Kingdom had turned against him and the Lord, when actually it was Jezebel who wanted to kill him. The "I only am left" refrain makes it look as though he was indispensable to God's work, when actually no servant of God is indispensable. God then commanded him to stand on the mount at the entrance of the cave, but it doesn't appear that Elijah obeyed him until he heard the still, small voice (v. 13). Another possibility is that he did go out of the cave but fled back into it when God began to demonstrate His great power.
8. To what extent do you think Elijah was justified in being discouraged by his circumstances?
Answers will vary. Do not be afraid to let the people be honest about all that Elijah had been through. He had been through a tough ministry that included 3 years in isolation and a real threat of death.
9. What disturbances of nature did Elijah witness from inside the cave? (19:11-13) In which of the manifestations that Elijah saw was God present? (19:11-13)
What was God trying to accomplish in Elijah's life by means of these awesome and frightening object lessons? For one thing, He was reminding His servant that everything in nature was obedient to Him (Ps. 148)—the wind, the foundations of the earth, the fire—and He didn't lack for a variety of tools to get His work done. If Elijah wanted to resign from his divine calling, the Lord had someone else to take his place. As it turned out, Elijah didn't resign but was given the privilege of calling his successor, Elisha, and spending time with him before being taken to heaven. After this dramatic display of power, there was "a still, small voice," which has also been translated "a gentle whisper, a tone of a gentle blowing." When the prophet heard that voice, he stepped out of the cave and met the Lord. The mighty power and the great noise of the previous exhibitions didn't stir Elijah, but when he heard the still, small voice, he recognized the voice of God. For the second time (see Jonah 3:1), he heard the same question, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" and once again, Elijah repeated the same self-centered evasive answer.
10. What question did God repeat in the "gentle whisper"? (19:13) Is Elijah’s answer any different? What does that tell you about Elijah’s spiritual state?
What are you doing here?" The prophet's reply didn't really answer the question, which explains why God asked it a second time (v. 13). Elijah only told the Lord (who already knew) that he had experienced many trials in his ministry, but he had been faithful to the Lord. But if he was a faithful servant, what was he doing hiding in a cave located hundreds of miles from his appointed place of ministry? God was saying to Elijah, "You called fire from heaven, you had the prophets of Baal slain, and you prayed down a terrific rainstorm, but now you feel like a failure. But you must realize that I don't usually work in a manner that's loud, impressive, and dramatic. My still, small voice brings the Word to the listening ear and heart. Yes, there's a time and place for the wind, the earthquake and the fire, but most of the time, I speak to people in tones of gentle love and quiet persuasion."
11. What "marching orders" did Elijah receive from God? (19:15-17)
First, the Lord told Elijah to return to the place of duty. When we're out of the Lord's will, we have to retrace our steps and make a new beginning (Gen. 13:3; 35:1-3). The honest answer to the question "What are you doing here, Elijah?" was "Nothing! I'm having a personal pity party!" Elijah's first responsibility was to anoint Hazael to be king of Syria. This was a Gentile nation, but it was still the Lord who chose the leaders. "[The] Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses" (Dan. 4:25, nkjv). Then he was to anoint Jehu to be king of Israel, for even though the nation had divided, Israel was still under the divine covenant and was responsible to the Lord. His third task was to anoint Elisha to be his own successor. Elijah had complained because the past generation had failed and the present generation hadn't done any better (v. 4). Now God called him to help equip the future generation by anointing two kings and a prophet.[7How many faithful worshipers did God report to be in Israel? (19:18)
12. What lessons have you learned from Elijah and from the Lord’s encouragement of His prophet?