From Carmel to a Cave, part 1
Life has its ups and downs, its mountain top experiences and its valley of the shadow of death experiences. People have their ups and downs, too. Elijah had experienced a great, miraculous victory on Mt. Carmel in his contest against the prophets of Baal. He had shown himself to be brave and bold. God had demonstrated undeniably who was the true and living God. Elijah had prayed and the rains had returned; the drought was over. Elijah had even out-run Ahab’s chariot from Mt. Carmel back to Jezreel. So everything was going well for Elijah.
But everything turned sour for him as soon as Jezebel heard what Elijah had done. Jezebel was not impressed with Elijah’s great victory over her prophets. Elijah’s great victory didn’t impress her one bit; it only made her angry. The great prophet Elijah didn’t intimidate her at all. As soon as she heard what had happened to her prophets, she sent Elijah a message saying that he’d be dead the next day.
Elijah’s response to Jezebel’s letter reveals him to be an ordinary person in many ways. Elijah is the great prophet of God. He’s seen God do many miracles. God listens to him when he prays. God empowers him to do remarkable things. The hand of the Lord is upon him. Yet when Jezebel threatens him, he crumbles, he folds, he quits and runs away. Elijah can stand alone against the King of Israel and 850 prophets of Baal, but he can’t stand up under the pressure of a nasty threat from one wicked woman. How can this be? Why does Elijah pay any attention to Jezebel? Why is he intimidated by her? Why does he run away?
James tells us that Elijah was a man of like passions as we are. He had the same kind of strengths and weaknesses as we all do. For reasons we’ll consider today, he reached his breaking point and ran away.
The Bible shows its characters in all their triumphs and tragedies, their good and bad, their successes and failures. Even the heroes of the faith have their weaknesses. We see Elijah at his best and at his worst as we pass from chapter 18 to chapter 19. It’s a strange and sudden transition from the heights to the depths. We see a man of faith transition into a man of fear.
We may have those same kinds of experiences and responses, too. After a major success may come a major defeat. After demonstrating personal strength, we may demonstrate personal weakness. Great faith succumbs to great fear. Boldness gives way to doubt. But there is usually a reason when that happens. If we make the kind of mistakes Elijah did, it could happen to us as well. Elijah was imperfect, and so are we. We need to learn from his mistakes and not repeat them ourselves.
Elijah exhibits all the signs of deep discouragement if not depression. At one point, he asks God to take his life. So he’s at a very low point. And at the bottom of that deep valley, God helps Elijah overcome this discouragement.