Elijah, the imperfect broken superhero (part 2)
While Elijah reveals much of his humanity that we recognized that he is just like us, his life also reveals how God takes care of his servants. There is this interesting passage in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah went to Mount Horeb. This is a familiar passage to us.
1 Kings 19:9–14 (NKJV)
9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
Our emphasis on reading this passage is often how God speaks to us. God speaks to us not in the wind, earthquake, fire or but in a still small voice. Yes, this is true. God can but does not usually uses the forces of nature to talk to use. He talks to us as one person to another.
What does God says? He asked Elijah what he is doing there (v.9). It is not as if God does not know, but God wants Elijah to articulate why he is there. And Elijah answered by pouring out his anguish.
“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” (v.10).
Note that Elijah starts with “I” rather than your humble servant and this “I” is defined by what he did for the Lord. Then he said ‘the children of Israel’ as if he is not part of them. It is a distancing of himself and the people of God – your people broke the covenant, your altars and killed your prophets. Then it reverts back to “I” as being special and in danger. These are the words of a man who is having a meltdown in his ministry. Nowadays we call it burned-out.
God’s answer is revealing about him, not in the noisy and turmoil wind, earthquake or fire, but in a soft whisper. What did God whisper? Surely words of encouragement and healing.
God then asked Elijah the same question as in v.9, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v.12). Elijah answered with the exact words as in his earlier reply to God (v.10, 14)! What does this mean? It seems that between the first and second question with the divine encounter in between, Elijah was not aware of something miraculous have happened. He did not receive the proffered healing.
Instead of smiting him and throwing him aside as a failed prophet, God directed him to put into place his succession process. Elisha is to take over his ministry. God even sent a whirlwind to bring Elijah to him (2 Kings 2:11). This is a compassionate God who understands our frail human nature that breaks under strain. Instead of condemnation, he brings us to a place of rest in heaven. Psalm 23 is a wonderful metaphor of our final rest. God, who is the Lord of the Sabbath understands the rhythm of work and rest. Elijah was given rest so that he will be ready for his role in the Transfiguration.