As 2019 was rapping up and 2020 began, my life felt like a series of punches to the gut. A few of my closest friendships changed dramatically, and at the same time my InterVarsity staff team dissolved as God called everyone else into new things. My spiritual community and closest friendships seemed turned on their head. So when the pandemic began, I didn’t flinch because, by then, isolation, loneliness, and grief had become pretty normal.
In 1 Kings 19 God has just handed Elijah a couple of big wins, but then the queen basically sends Elijah a promise to kill him. After years of a seemingly futile effort of calling Israel back to God, one day of victory and validation doesn’t negate a death threat from someone who is able to carry it out. So Elijah panics and runs, carrying with him the discouragement of years of seemingly fruitless work.
1 Kings 19
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
- How is Elijah feeling? How does he talk to God?
- How does God respond to Elijah in verses 5 and 7? Verse 11? Verse 15?
- Why does God pass by in the form that He does?
- Have you ever talked to God in the way that Elijah does here? How do you think God sees your hurt and discouragement?
- How is God inviting you to see Him differently?
During my season of grief and loneliness I learned how to cry out to God. I realized God doesn’t just want to hear from me when everything is going well; he also wants to hear my sadness and frustration. And in the midst of that, God met me, not with fire or even an audible whisper, but with His presence and His word. When I felt overwhelmed by sadness he kept reminding me who He is and drawing me to Himself.
In the same way, God is big enough to handle your grief, sadness, and frustration. In fact, He welcomes it like any friend would, but He also sustains you, even when you’re running from Him. He’s always inviting you close and giving you the grace you need to get to where He’s inviting you.
When I have read this story I’ve always taken the bread for granted. I always imagined magic bread appearing out of nowhere, but it says the bread was, “baked over hot coals.” Imagine God responding to Elijah’s flight and cry of despair by sending an angel with a stack of wood and all the makings for a loaf of bread, laboriously starting a fire and baking bread next to an exasperated Elijah taking a nap he didn’t want to wake up from. The same Elijah who, after seeing literal fire from heaven, sprinted out of Israel at the first sign of danger. When God had every right to say, “if you’re going to run away, you’re on your own,” or, “who are you to talk to me like that?” God instead sent a home-cooked meal and showed Elijah His incredible power and great tenderness.
God’s love for you doesn’t end when you’re not joyful. He invites you to be honest with Him, in trust. And whether you’re tired, feeling like you don’t have anything left, or are so busy or caught up in sin that you’ve left God hanging, He is still there with you, compassionately inviting you back to Himself.