Elijah Decline And Still Small Voice
1 Kings 19:1-15a
Carmel To Horeb
You remember the story that Stuart told last week,
Of Elijah like the magician on Mount Carmel
And he gets fire to come down from heaven,#
And then a most remarkable thing happens.
Queen Jezebel, who is a byword for Biblical evil, says
May the Lord do to me and yet more if I do not have his life
And Elijah who has just killed hundreds of prophets, and who has brought down fire from heaven does not turn up at Jezebel’s house and bring fire down upon her.
Instead he runs away.
How has Elijah run away?
Why the collapse?
He runs to the desert of Beersheba which is a well known Biblical running away place
And he lies down and he says “O Lord, take away my life for I am no better than my fathers”.
He runs first to the wilderness where angels feed him,
And he eats and drinks and lies down again
And angels feed him again.
And this time he goes to the mountain of Horeb
Which is a famous place for talking to God,
It is the place where the ten commandments were given to Moses
And like Moses, Elijah stays in the cave there
And the word of God comes to Elijah in the form of a question
“What are you doing here Elijah?”
And Elijah answers with a story
I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts, and the sons of Israel have forsaken your covenant and thrown down your altars and killed your prophets by the sword and I , even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
What are you doing here?
Let’s just got back a bit, and notice that when Elijah ran away,
First of all he was given some help,
Some food for angels
He was given some sympathy,
But then he hit a hard question from God,
“What are you doing here Elijah?”
It is like God here is playing the role of a good friend
Who doesn’t tell us what we want to hear, but what we need.
As if a friend who has lost their job,
Or who has left a relationship
Has hit a point where someone has to say to them,
“What are you doing here?”
And the timing of that is very difficult, it cannot be instant
But it cannot be left too late
The question “What are you doing here?”
What mistakes is God trying to draw Elijah out of?
What mistakes does he want Elijah to confront that have led to this point.
The first mistake is that Elijah wants “Perfect Success”.
Elijah has defeated all the prophets of Baal
He has brought down fire from the mountain,
But still one person holds out, Jezebel.
He cannot cope with the fact that there are still some who hold out.
In this life we will have failures and triumphs,
But we will never have perfect triumph,
We will never get every single thing that we want,
There will always be something niggling away at us,
And we have to work out what we do with that.
The Biblical approach to this issue can be found in Psalm 23.
You prepare a table before me – in the presence of my enemies,
And the challenge is to enjoy the meal
Even when success is not perfect.
It is a remarkable feature of the life of Jesus, that he was able to enjoy this meal even though his betrayer at first sat at the table with him
And that he was going to be killed.
Because God was always bigger for Jesus than anything that might go wrong
But Elijah wanted perfect success, and that is why he ran away.
Elijah thought he was better than the rest
Elijah when he first runs away, says this interesting line
“I am no better than my fathers.”
Which kind of implies that up to that point, Elijah had thought that he was better than his father.
This is something that I live with quite often, because my Dad has the same vocation as me, and I want to compare how I am getting on, with how he is getting on.
We compare ourselves as fathers, with our Dad’s as fathers
We compare ourselves with those who have gone before,
And the painful conclusion that we have to hit
Is that we are the same as them
Just as they had blind spots, so do we
Just as they had fixed habits which brought them low, so do we,
Frailty and indecision and stupidity blights us as it did them.
We are no better than the rest.
Elijah edits his story.
It is interesting, when God asks Elijah “What are you doing here Elijah, he gives this response”
And note here how the story has been edited.
Elijah has been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts.
And the people of Israel have indeed thrown down the altars,
And they have killed the prophets by the sword
– although what Elijah fails to mention is that he has been responsible for some Baal prophets being killed by the sword also
And I, only am left
– which is wrong, and Elijah knows it is wrong, because Elijah met another man Obadiah earlier, who was sheltering 100 prophets, and Elijah knew this.
And they seek my life to take it away
– well actually only one person seeks Elijah’s life to take it away.
Do you see how the story has been edited here.
Elijah has presented a complicated situation as only one way traffic
Elijah has begun with what he has done, and missed the rest.
And he pretended that he is the only one left
And he is exaggerated the number of people who are after him.
His story has been carefully edited.
So that everyone, including God, looks bad
And the only one who has done any good is Elijah.
Give My Body To The Flames
When I conduct weddings I often speak about a line in 1 Corinthians 13, which seems kind of odd for a wedding.
“If I give away all I have and I deliver up my body to be burned and have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)
Nobody in a marriage gives away all that they have
And few make martyrs of themselves by throwing themselves onto the fire,
But a common dynamic in a marriage is to recount to ourselves who has given up the most
Who has sacrificed the most
Have a competition in our head where we count all the things that we do for the other, and belittle the amount that the other does for us.
You know, if someone is having an argument with their spouse, and the spouse says, “Would you like a cup of tea.”
What does the disgruntled spouse say? “No”
Why, because the sacrifice competition which is currently in their head a clear points victory might be jeopardised.
“No, I had one earlier” – translation “No, you’re not getting to win the sacrifice competition.”
And Elijah has had himself a little sacrifice competition with God.
And Elijah is winning, and Elijah wants God to know this.
So let us think for a moment what has been behind Elijah’s downfall:
- He has wanted perfect success
- He thought he was better than his fathers
- He has edited his story.
God responds with question, which he keeps asking “What are you doing here?”
God appears to Elijah, but not in the way that Elijah wants.
And then God appears to him.
And there is a great wind
And rocks are being smashed by the wind
And there was wind at the beginning of creation
And there was wind over the Red Seas when the people escaped from the Egyptians
This time, much wind, but this time, no God.
And then there is an earthquake, and there was a shaking of the mountain when Moses received the ten commandments
But this time, no God in the earthquake
And then this time, fire, surely fire, Elijah knows all about fire
He has just seen God and the fire
But this time fire, but this time no God.
And then quietness, quietness, quiet enough that you might think to yourself that you were imagining things,
And in the quiet, fine voice
Still not a statement that gives certainty,
But a voice that is quiet, but cannot be ignored.
Work To Be Done
And finally a job, there is work to be
You will go and anoint Hazael king of Damascus
And you go and anoint Jehu king of Israel
You will go and anoint Elisha, and you will go and anoint
There is work to be done.
This is the story of Elijah’s collapse,
- Because he wanted perfect victory
- Because he thought he was better than his fathers
- Because he had his story, in which he was the winner of the sacrifice competition.
And God confronted him
- Firstly with comfort, but then with questions
- Not with silence, but with a quiet voice
- Not with indulgence, but with work still to do.
Jesus last supper
And Jesus, when the time was close
Did not get obsessed over the disciple who had betrayed him
He who had the monstrous justice of having done nothing wrong
And was about to be killed
And he would indeed be abandoned by all,
Still loved those who were with him
And together with them
Spoke of the work that God had ahead for him to do.
And he took bread
And he said this is my body
And he took the cup
And he said this is the blood of the new covenant which is shed for you.
He went out and did the work that he had been called to do.
This is our story
More than the story of the hurt, and the blame
And the abandonment
This is the story
Take the food that God offers
For there is work ahead for you to do.