Elijah’s Humanity And God’s Immanence

1 Kings 16: 29 – 19: 18.

The significant ebbs and flows of Israel’s and Judah’s disobedience or obedience to Yahweh are faithfully recorded in Scripture. One of the lowest points in Israel’s spiritual journey was Jezebel’s marriage to Israel’s King Ahab; the former was the daughter of Tyre and Sidon’s Baal Priest-King. With this political alliance, Baal worship was introduced as the nation’s official religion. In His judgment through Elijah, God sent a prolonged drought over the country. Subsequently, the fatal outcome of 450 Baal prophets at the hands of Elijah at Mount Carmel over a Yahwehistic-Baal sacrificial challenge, resulted in an act of threatened revenge on Elijah by Jezebel. He fled to Beersheba, and in a fit of depression, pleaded with God to take his life. Somewhat of an anti-climax!

It is intriguing to follow Elijah’s mental and emotional orientation coming off his victory at Mount Carmel. Propelled by supernatural impetus, he outpaced Ahab’s chariot, reaching Jezreel, and expecting God to inspire the populace to instantaneously overthrow the Baal hierarchy, as He did at Mount Carmel, but it did not materialise. The human capacity to presume or anticipate God’s judgment or outcome on worldly or other less important issues invariably presupposes that we know better! But as often is the case, our pride limits our understanding that the omniscient God has kept His decisions close to Himself. To attempt to pontificate is to invariably be disappointed, leading possibly to despair, as was the case in Elijah. God is God, and we are His creatures.

God’s mode of handling Elijah’s despondency is instructive. Elijah was no greenhorn in the exercise of his faith in Yahweh. He was an effective and faithful servant and had previously performed several miracles (1Kings 17). In his miserable state, God did not castigate nor reason with him but had an angel fed him in between his slumbers until he recovered sufficiently in strength to move on to Mount Horeb (1Kings 19:3-8). Then God summoned Elijah. Consecutively, a hurricane, an earthquake and fire were realistically simulated around him, but God was not in them to enable a conversation to take place. The learning point was clear: although there was no doubt that God had initiated these earth-wrecking episodes, just like the divine fire from heaven that consumed the drenched sacrifice at Mount Carmel, Elijah had to be reminded that astounding miracles, rare and each served their own purposes, are not Yahweh’s sine qua non in His desire for a meaningful relationship. Subsequently, Elijah heard a gentle blowing, and he immediately recognised God’s presence (1 Kings 19:12-13). To be able to distinguish His voice from the cacophony of earthly noises, and to be able to listen patiently to commence a conversation with Him is what matters, as critical obedience generally arises out of these intimate dealings.

However, God had to first disabuse Elijah of the self-indulgent view he had of himself, as the only surviving faithful Yahweh-follower in the kingdom. There were 7,000 others who had not bowed their knees to Baal (1Kings 19:18). It is not uncommon, especially for those whom God had chosen to publicly demonstrate His unearthly power to be overwhelmed with pride; a glaring human weakness that entangled God’s omnipotence with the frailty of the human vessel. Our failure to humbly disassociate God’s power from ourselves sets us up to forbiddingly glow in the glory that belongs only to the Almighty. God’s other plans for Elijah soon became apparent. Pagan or otherwise, God has the prerogative to use whom He chooses in His time: Elijah was commanded to seek out and anoint three persons – Hazael as king over Aram, Jehu as king over Israel, and Elisha, to succeed him (1Kings 19:15-17). We need to appreciate and see events and people through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, even when it is often uncomfortable and seemed to go against our own predilections since God’s ways are usually far beyond our natural abilities to comprehend this side of heaven (Isa 55:6-9).