Forthright Magazine

Overcoming discouragement

“Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19:1-4 NRSVUE)

Have you ever been in a similar situation? Elijah went from a ‘mountaintop’ experience to the depths of despair in the barren wilderness. He had met 950 prophets of Ba’al and Asherah in spiritual combat while he alone represented YHVH, Israel’s God. God had shown his power to all who were there by not only consuming Elijah’s drenched sacrifice but also the stones of the altar and the water that had been poured on it. The result was the death of the pagan prophets and the end of the drought God had brought on the northern kingdom (see 1 Kings 18). What a ‘mountaintop’ experience! But, sadly, he didn’t remain long on the mountaintop.

Have you had ‘mountaintop experiences’ in your life as a Christian? Perhaps a successful outreach event with many who were searching for the kingdom who came to learn more? Maybe many taking that step to become a disciple of Jesus by being immersed for the forgiveness of their sins? But then, to go from that great experience, to having people turn on you and try to create problems in your work for the Lord. I’ve been there and I suspect others have as well. You plummet from spiritual heights to spiritual depths. Perhaps you were ready to give up and throw in the towel!

That is where we find Elijah. After God’s great victory on Mount Carmel he fled for his life because the queen was after his life. He fled to the Judean Wilderness, a barren, rocky place far from Jezebel. Although we can read about this in just a few verses he initially travelled around 160 miles, with an ascent of 14,300 feet – this would have taken the better part of a week just to get to Beersheba, where he left his servant. He then travelled on to Mount Horeb, a distance exceeding what he had already travelled. He was fleeing for his life, ready to give up and die.

Elijah ended up in a cave on Mount Horeb where God asked him, “‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away’” (1 Kings 19:13-14). You can hear the despair in Elijah’s voice – but God had other plans for him.

God told him he was to anoint the next king of Aram as well as the next king of Israel and a prophet to carry on his work, Elisha. There was still much for Elijah to do in the service of God! Besides, he was not as alone as he thought he was: God told him, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).

When we are despairing because it seems we are the only one trying to follow God we need to remember that we do not see the entire picture. Rather than giving up we need to press on with the work that God wants us to do. God will bless our efforts!

Photo by Jon Galloway: statue of Elijah, Mount Carmel, Israel.

Readings for next week: 1 Kings 17-21


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