I Kings 19:1-15a
What does the MVP do after winning the Super Bowl? He runs off to Disney World. What did Elijah do after he defeated the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel? He ran also, but not to Space Mountain. After God poured fire down on the alter Elijah built, it began to rain for the first time in three years. Delirious with joy, Elijah jubilantly ran toward the city of Jezreel. He wanted to be the first to tell Jezebel that Yahweh, not Baal was responsible for the rains that were cascading from heaven. It was only natural that Elijah wanted the chance to brag about his victory. I am sure the prophet figured once Ahab told Jezebel about the fireworks on Mt. Carmel, the Queen would fall to her knees, begging Yahweh for forgiveness. If that is what he believed, Elijah greatly underestimated his adversary. Jezebel, outraged by this turn of events, sent a very clear message to Elijah. She informed the prophet of the Lord that he was as good as dead.
Elijah, standing at the edge of the city, filled with excitement over God’s great victory, heard the edict of the Jezebel. Hours before, the people of Israel had slaughtered the Queen’s prophets. Minutes before, the King had fled into the city in disgrace. All of the momentum was on the side of Elijah. The prophet and the Queen stood toe to toe. And Elijah blinked. Fear swept over him as he headed south, back into Judah where he would be safe from the Queen’s long arm. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him. The victor of Mt. Carmel became the coward of Jezreel. But who could blame him? Jezebel never played fair. She was a woman scorned, a woman who was fighting for her kingdom. What was Elijah fighting for? He was the only prophet of God left. The people of Israel were no allies. They would turn on him as quickly as they had turned on the prophets of Baal. So Elijah ran, and he kept on running until he made his way deep into the wilderness. He stayed for 40 days and 40 nights, praying that God would let him die in peace.
Sometimes I wonder which is harder, life or God? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have made all the right moves, for all the right reasons and even made all the acceptable sacrifices but failed? Your motives were pure, your actions were noble but your accomplishments were limited, if at all. Well meaning and caring friends have come to offer support and words of comfort. Because they know nothing else to say, time honored phrases are uttered. “You tried your best”. “Maybe it just wasn’t to be”. My all time favorite is, “There is nothing else you could have done.” Their words are soothing but not convincing. You wonder if there wasn’t something else that could have been done? When everyone leaves, when the silence and the darkness begins to replace the evening light, slowly, hesitantly, and perhaps even fearfully you dare to wrestle with life, its consequences and how to begin to pick up the pieces.
Kate Wolf, a brilliant poet who left us much too soon sang,
I’ve been walkin’ in my sleep,
Counting troubles ‘stead of counting sheep.
Where the years went I can’t say,
I just turned around and they’ve gone away.
Now I find myself on the mountainside,
Where the rivers change directions,
Across the Great Divide.
Elijah sat alone, high on the mountain of the Lord, far away from Jezebel, surrounded by his own demons. If you have ever had the courage to question your actions at the end of the day you know the voices that fought for that crowded space within his psyche. On Mt. Carmel Elijah had witnessed the power of God in a way most of us can not even imagine. Then less than 24 hours later, Elijah had allowed his fear of death to override God’s promise of life. Even 40 days in the wilderness could not erase that image of his fleeing from Jezebel. And so he sat, more spiritually dead than alive, afraid to confront his own shadow. He sat, looking for direction but hoping it might not come. He sat, waiting for God, fearful God might actually show up.
The inner conflict within was disrupted by the eruption of earth and sky. Outside the cave a storm like Elijah had never witness engulfed Mt. Horeb. This man who had fled Jezebel walked to the edge of the mountain. Lightning flashed around his head, but the memories of his failure lingered. Rain fell like a waterfall across his shoulders but his soul remained stained. Rocks split below his feet not unlike the brokenness of Elijah’s own heart. Then the rain, the thunder, even the ground became silent. Elijah stood, daring not to move, desperate to hear anything other than the pounding of his own pulse. And God spoke, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”
“The finest hour I’ve ever seen,
Is the one that comes between
The edge of night and the break of day.
It’s when the darkness rolls away.” (Kate Wolfe)
How marvelous that God understands us. How marvelous that God knows that sometimes the complications of life are overwhelming and we reach our limit. How marvelous that God knows that sometimes we have ridden one river for so long that we need to change directions. How marvelous that God doesn’t add to our guilt, doesn’t multiply our insecurities, doesn’t make demeaning statements like, “I am so disappointed in you” or “I expected more from you”, but rather says exactly the right thing, “What are you doing here? Get back on your feet. You may have momentarily lost confidence in yourself but you are mine and I am with you always. There is work to be done and you are still the one I am counting on.”
Some of you may remember those moments with children or grandchildren when the task of the day was to remove the training wheels and let your child take her first solo ride on a two wheeler. That was an ugly day. First I had to convince Martina to get on the bike. Then the inevitable question, “Will I fall?” We all know falling is part of the biking experience but I looked at her and said, “Don’t worry. You will be fine.” Then together we take off. We ran up and down the sidewalk, running along side the bike with our hand on the seat to steady the ride. At some point, and I don’t know if it was when my confidence in the Martina has risen or my legs couldn’t run any further but I let go. And off she went, flying free, at least for a moment. Then she began to wobble and there was no way I could catch up in time to prevent the inevitable. She crashed! Immediately she looked my way as if I had caused it. When I reached her, there were two choices. I could coddle her, kiss her wounds and put the bike in the garage. Or I could coddle her, kiss her wounds and say, “What are you doing on the ground? Let’s try again. I will be right with you.” My daughter’s response was immediate. She remembered those five seconds of exhilaration. She remembered and responded. Before I could say another word, Martina was back on the bike and down the street
God lifts us up and puts us back on our feet. Jezebel might give us a temporary setback but the God of Elijah still remains uncompromised by the sin that accompanies the human endeavor. When we retreat to the Holy Mountain, or even the seclusion of a darkened room, when we are looking for a word of encouragement, a piece of enlightenment, or acknowledgement of our trials, the silence is broken by God’s holy affirmation.
Do you remember the words of the poet John Whittier?
“Breathe through the heat of our desires,
God’s coolness and God’s balm.
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire,
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm.”
Listen; not in the calamity of the moment but in the quiet secluded spot occupied by the God of breathtaking silence. Listen; God will speak. Listen; God will revive your weary soul.