Jezebel, the Queen of Israel, had just issued a death threat against Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). This threat wasn’t to be taken lightly, as Jezebel was incredibly powerful and committed to succeeding. She had control over 850 assorted pagan priests – and she had significant influence over her husband, King Ahab.
“No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel.”
– 1 Kings 21:25 NLT
Individually, King Ahab is referred to a one of the most evil kings mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 16:30-33), and Jezebel’s name is even used as a synonym for great evil (Revelation 2:20). Faced with a death threat which originated from these sources, as any normal person would, Elijah was fearful and ran.
However, Elijah wasn’t any ordinary person and Jezebel’s threat came directly after a pinnacle point in his life when arguably his faith in God should have been strongest. Elijah had just seen God’s extraordinary work during the contest on Mount Carmel against the prophets of Baal, additionally Elijah’s prayer had recently been answered, breaking a three-year drought (1 Kings 18).
Despite all of this, when an enraged Jezebel learnt of her Baal’s defeat at Mt Carmel, Elijah still ran.
“3 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. 4 Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
– 1 Kings 19:3-4 NLT
Why did his faith leave him so quickly?
Perhaps the bigger question should be, despite his decision to run, why didn’t God give up on Elijah.
Realistically, Elijah had failed God – he had forgotten that he didn’t have to rely on his own capabilities to stay safe. He felt defeated, believing that he was the only person left who was true to God (1 Kings 19:10). Elijah’s thought process had jumped straight to fearing the consequences of the threat, rather than remembering that the same God who helped him on Mt Carmel was still very real.
Instead of giving up on Elijah, God sent an angel to Elijah on two occasions to provide him with the food and water he needed to survive (1 Kings 19:5-8).
It was only once Elijah’s basic needs had been met, and his heath had been restored, that God spoke to Elijah.
“11 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
– 1 Kings 19:11-13 NLT
God didn’t reveal Himself to Elijah in a loud way, rather He met Elijah’s needs first and then appeared to him in a quiet, peaceful whisper.
Elijah isn’t the only person who has lost their faith or become overwhelmed at the prospect of their individual limitations. Many placed all their trust and belief in themselves to solve a problem – only to find to realise that it may be more than they can handle.
What is interesting about Elijah’s lapse of faith, is how God responded to it. God didn’t merely give Elijah the tools and tell Elijah to fix himself, nor did he rebuke him for his disbelief. Rather, God was patient, and met Elijah’s basic needs first – meeting Elijah exactly where he was and helping to restore him at his lowest point.
God didn’t require Elijah to change before he could reconnect with Him. God displayed how much Elijah, and in turn everyone, means to Him. He is not prepared to abandon someone because of their lapse in faith. God will try time and time again to reach out to anyone, wherever they are, and help build them up.
“10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
– Ephesians 2:10 NLT