No good deed

“Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:2-3 NKJV).

Elijah is often considered the greatest of all the prophets of Israel. On the Mount of Transfiguration, he appeared with Moses and Jesus as the representative of the prophetic office (Mark 9:2-13). His challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel stands as one of the greatest exhibitions of faith and courage of all time (1 Kings 18:20-40). There he defeated and put to death 850 idolatrous prophets, establishing the Lord as the one true God.

When Queen Jezebel, the royal sponsor of Baalism in Israel, heard of Elijah’s victory, her response was far different from what the prophet may have expected and hoped. Rather than accept the verdict of the test – that the Lord only is God – she vowed vengeance against Elijah.

A modern cynical proverb holds that “No good deed goes unpunished.” Elijah would no doubt agree wholeheartedly. Rather than lead the people of Israel back into acceptable worship of the Lord, he was forced to run far away from Israel, all the way back to Mount Sinai (called in the text by its alternate name, Horeb) to save his life from the angry queen.

Later in chapter 19 we find Elijah in despair, calling on God to take his life because he is the last true believer in the land and is under condemnation by the Queen. Facing apparently insurmountable odds, the courageous prophet is giving up.

Many believers in all generations come to places in their lives where hope seems gone and defeat certain. Though they may have served God faithfully for many years people turn against them, false accusations are made, and their Christian example seems unappreciated or even disbelieved. What good have they done? What benefit is there to righteousness?

God’s reply to Elijah was short and to the point. In verses 15-18 he basically said, “Go back to Israel. Your work is not complete. Appoint your replacement, so that if you die others can carry on. You are not the only faithful one left.”

As a missionary, I must confess that one dangerous temptation is the sense of being overwhelmed by a seemingly impossible task. After 50 years of preaching the Gospel in India, members of Churches of Christ have baptized millions, and planted over ten thousand churches. Yet, since the population has increased from 8 hundred million to 1.3 billion, there are now 500 million more lost souls in that country than when we began. How can we ever fulfill the great commission?

We must learn the lesson of Elijah. God is with us. We are not alone. With his help we can still accomplish great things. Men may punish us for the good that we do, but God will see that true justice prevails. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

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