1 Kings 19:9-18 Sour Grapes
Elijah has had enough. He expected sweet victory but he got sour grapes instead. Jezebel is trying to kill him and he wants to give up and die. But God is not done with him yet.
Have you ever bought a beautiful bag of grapes, got it home, and ate one only to find out they were HORRIBLE? This is how Elijah is feeling. He was on a mountain top high after his showdown with the prophets of Baal. He goes back to Jezreel in high spirits. But when Ahab comes home and tells Jezebel what happened she is out for blood. Elijah is once again a hunted man.
Jezebel is furious with how Elijah treated her prophets. Elijah killed all the prophets of Baal because their god was useless and failed to answer their pleas. The same fate would have befallen him if his God had failed to answer. But He didn’t! Jezebel vows to do the same thing to Elijah that he did to her prophets.
Elijah runs for his life! When he finally stops he asks God to let him die. He is tired of the fight. But God isn’t through with him yet. Instead He fortified Elijah and brought him to His holy mountain; Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai). Here God will deal with Elijah’s frustration. This is where we pick up our story today.
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Elijah is astounded by the territory he has covered in the last 40 days. No stops for food or water. No naps or sleepovers. Just him and the Lord. He doesn’t long for death anymore since he felt heard when he cried out earlier. But he is still discouraged by all that has happened.
“Why didn’t Israel fall to its knees and repent? The people were certainly convinced the Lord is God.” “Why is Jezebel still clinging to the Baals? She and Ahab are going to lead the people right back into idolatry!” “What more must I, or can I even do?” These are the thoughts plaguing Elijah.
Elijah is led by the Spirit of the Lord to a cave on the side of the mountain. As soon as he enters it he feels the weight of his travels. He is exhausted. He sits down to rest. From where he sits Elijah can see that there are berries growing beside the mouth of the cave and for the first time in a LONG while, Elijah is hungry. He picks several handfuls and takes them to a nearby stream to wash them. He also realizes he is thirsty and the stream quenches his thirst too. After these basic needs are met, Elijah returns to the cave. He brushes the dirt with his feet and finds a nice dry place to lie down. As soon as his head is placed upon his cloak he is asleep.
Elijah feels lost; at the end of his rope. He doesn’t know where to go from here. He spends his days looking out over the plain and eating berries. He is angry, that no one really listened to him. He feels lonely, because he is the only one left in all of Israel who follows the Lord. His heart longs for the people to return to the Lord. And he feels useless because he couldn’t make the people see the truth.
Several days pass with Elijah consumed in self-doubt and anger. One day a man appeared before him in the cave. Elijah wasn’t frightened as he has encountered the Lord many times in just such circumstances as this. The man addresses Elijah.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (verse 9b).
Elijah’s mouth opens and his anger pours out. “I have been very jealous for the Lord, that God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (verse 10).
“Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord” (verse 11a) said the man. After he had spoken these words he disappeared.
Before Elijah could even move and mighty wind tore through the mountain. It broke rocks lose from where they had stood for centuries. Elijah watched from where he stood and felt no draw of the Lord. The One Elijah longed to see was not in the wind.
The wind died down and an earthquake shook the mountain and the cave in which Elijah stood. The ground rolled beneath his feet but his heart stayed unmoved. The One Elijah longed to see was not in the earthquake either.
Once the ground stopped rolling fire raged up the side of the mountain licking up even the berry bush that stood at the door of the cave where Elijah stood. Heat bombarded the cave but Elijah’s heart was still cold. The One Elijah longed to see was not in the fire either.
The fire quickly burned out and then Elijah heard the sound of a low whisper. This whisper called not to Elijah’s ears but to his heart. Elijah quickly wrapped his cloak around his face and rushed to the mouth of the cave. At the mouth of the cave Elijah heard a voice. It held the same question he had been asked earlier. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (verse 13b).
Elijah was ready again with his practiced answer. “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (verse 14).
“You have been very jealous for Me. The people are in rebellion and have committed abominable sins. And Jezebel seeks your life. These things are true but I have a plan that must be worked out. I will judge the people for their sins. You are NOT alone. I have heard your weariness and am sending you help and I will allow you to rest; but not yet. ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sowrd of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 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’ (verses 15b-18).”
Elijah heart swells as his mind wrestles with what he has just heard and received from the Lord. “The Lord has seen me at my lowest hour and He has answered me. I am NOT alone and I don’t have to do this on my own. HE has a plan. And that plan includes rest for me.”
(to be continued)
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Something I wonder about. Did Elijah feel God was angry with him when He told him to anoint Elisha in his place? Was this a gift for Elijah or a punishment? The fact that he was taken straight into Heaven later on makes me think it was probably a gift. Elijah got the rest he so dearly wanted. We aren’t told how long Elijah was on the scene, calling the people to repentance, before the drought. Maybe he had been calling them for YEARS and truly had had enough. How much was ‘enough’ for Elijah? Only God and Elijah know the answer to that question.
I’ve heard preachers talk about that even Elijah had doubts and God let him voice them. This is true but in reading the story this time I see that God didn’t calm his doubts but removed the weight of them from him instead. It almost feels like Elijah was ‘relieved of duty’ instead of comforted. God confronted his ‘false assumptions’ and laid out His new plan, that DIDN’T include him. But did this calm Elijah’s heart? God was replacing him in the next round. How did that feel to Elijah? Was he relieved because he could rest or remorseful for complaining and ‘getting benched’? Maybe God was saying that Elijah’s part of the work was done and it was time for the next phase of His plan instead of saying Elijah was being replaced because he couldn’t cut it anymore. I definitely prefer option one!
Father God, I don’t want to be a ‘whiner’ or read things into Your word that aren’t there. Was this a time when Elijah came to the end of himself and You carried him through the next steps? Did You ‘tie the knot’ and help him hold on a little longer? Were You upset by his take on things? Was his appointment of Elisha a punishment or a planned ‘handing off of the baton’ in Your ‘relay race’?
I CANNOT do it all. NO ONE can. Even in maintaining this blog, I’m finding I am lacking in several areas. But You are providing me with the people who can help and do the things I can’t. I trust YOUR plan here for me like Elijah trusted the one You set out for him. It is NOT a sin to need help, or to even ask for it.
(I wonder how long Elijah practiced his answer to the “What are you doing here” question. I might have said, “I don’t know. You tell me. You are the one who brought me here.”)