4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
I Kings 19:4-8
The context for this passage is 1 Kings 18:20-46, and goes into the following chapter. In the scene above, Elijah had just come from completely vanquishing the prophets of Baal in a mountaintop showdown that involved a mob of hysterical Baal-worshippers versus one resolute man of God, armed with a soaked altar and a prayer, both in contest to see which god/God would produce fire on request. Elijah had stacked the deck firmly against his own favor, pouring buckets of water over the altar and sacrifice (which I have to believe caused a small stir among the onlooking crowd, suffering in the midst of a severe drought –what a waste to be pouring a precious resource on something intended to go up in flames! Foolishness!).
After the worshippers of Baal had exhausted their frenzied cries to their god for fire and been met with no response, Elijah quietly wanders to the broken and neglected altar of God, repairs it, and proceeds to pray. One voice, in faith, calling for God to set fire to the drenched offering and show these people who can’t make up their minds exactly Who is God. And, of course, as the story continues, God delivered in explosive fashion. God’s name won the day, and several thousand prophets of Baal did not live to propagate their lies and confuse the children of God another day.
Yet, as any follower of Christ can tell you, no God-inspired deed goes unthreatened. As Elijah wanders off into the sunset, Jezebel receives news of the slaughter of Baal’s prophets that took place following this showdown, and responds in what I have to believe is an embarrassed rage, threatening the life of the prophet of God, Elijah and swearing his demise by her now-proven impotent gods.
Elijah is understandably exhausted, physically and spiritually, upon hearing news that the queen did not receive the news of her side’s loss well and that she is after his very life. He’s worn out from listening intently to God’s directions, daring to appear as a fool to thousands, putting himself in the line of fire to point the way to the One True God. He was hungry. He was tired. Even God’s prophets get that way, and I think it no mistake that this story wound up where it did in the Scriptures. We usually think of Elijah as a mighty, brave prophet of God, willing to stand alone and proclaim His name to a deaf nation. This story is where it is so that, like Elijah, we will not fall victim to the lie that we stand alone when we stand in His name.
“And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He said, ‘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.’ ”
I Kings 19:13b-14
And God reminds him, not in an earthquake, or fire, or whirlwind, but a whisper -because Elijah knows God’s voice as well as His power- that He is there with him, meets his physical needs by bringing him food and water, and reminds him the truth that he is not alone, but there are yet 7,000 souls who still have not bowed the knee to Baal. Where these 7,000 were during the battle on the mountaintop is not known, but they were there among the children of God, and Elijah was their prophet. This story is here to remind us that even prophets sometimes become short-sighted and lose hope. Sometimes they, too, are prone to entertaining thoughts of defeat and loneliness. And when those times come, when we turn to Him for comfort, he will run after us, arms open, providing exactly the truth and nourishment we need, infusing our souls and bodies and minds with hope to feel His smile upon us, remove our heart-burdens, and give us what we need to live to fight another day.
My footnote on the verse describing the whisper of God (I Kings 19:12) calls it alternately, “a sound, a thin silence.” I have to wonder why God chose to precede his conversation with Elijah using the exhibition of power he did, first the mighty wind, then an earthquake, then fire, but He made His home in a thin silence. A whisper. Perhaps that’s to remind us not to confuse the wonder of His works for Yahweh himself. Perhaps that’s to remind us that what He longs for from us isn’t so much to be a channel for bringing the whirlwind or the earthquake or the fire, it’s to be able to hear His voice and receive His comfort in the quiet.