“And when he (Elijah) saw that, he arose and ran for his life…and came and sat under a broom tree. And prayed that he might die, and said ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers!’”
1 Kings 19
If you’ve been in Sunday School or church much, you’ve probably heard the story. Queen Jezebel swore to kill Elijah in retaliation for his defeat and destruction of the prophets of Baal. So, Elijah takes it on the lam. Exhausted and out of Jezebel’s reach, he drops down in the shade of a juniper tree. This is the place where two paths of faith diverge in a wood.
The traditional rendering depicts Elijah, as a dejected, and depressed coward filled with self-pity sitting in the shade boo-hooing to God. Then, there’s the view of the situation less taken.
In this version, Elijah, in response to a message from God, challenged and beat the prophets of Ahab and Jezebel in a public showdown. The audience was amazed, crying out that God was great, then they promptly hung Elijah out to dry.
He’s left alone to face the wrath of the queen and her army. Having no word from God on how to handle this, he runs for his life. (Would teachers and preachers prefer he died?) Out of her reach, he sits in the shade wondering what the heck just happened.
He gave it his best shot, a miracle happened, and no one cares. He’s ready to call it quits—not because he lacks faith, but everyone else does. He takes a nap and when he wakes up an angel is there with food and drink. This happened twice.
Then, the angel chastises him and sends him back to face the music—wrong! The angel says for him to keep going further into the wilderness. He travels forty days without eating and arrives in the vicinity of the place where Moses saw the burning bush.
While he’s there, God sends a wind, an earthquake, and a fire across the front of the cave Elijah is calling home. But God is not in any of those things—this time. However, he has certainly deployed Elijah with similar signs before.
This time God shows up and whispers. Seems odd God would get so close to a despondent failure, doesn’t it?
It seems God still has 7,000 faithful people in Israel. At this point, Sunday School lessons ask how Elijah missed them. Perhaps the real question is how did they miss Elijah and where were they when his life was on the line?
Here’s the great part. Those same lessons say God still had work for Elijah to do. They are correct, but only in a sense. God sent Elijah to sort of whisper in the ear of three men who, each in his own way, would contribute to the death of Ahab, Jezebel and the unfaithful who left Elijah high and dry. Elijah, far from being the coward, accepts and carries out the assignment.
Elijah, however, was not granted his request to die. Instead, God sent a whirlwind to pick him up and transport him directly into heaven. James would say of Elijah later that he was a man of like passions as we are. He was very passionate about God and disappointed when others were not, but he always did what he was asked to do. He did not get out there on his own and do what he felt ought to be done. When he had a word from God, he acted. When he didn’t, he wasn’t foolish or brash enough to think he had the answer.
At first glance, victory doesn’t always look like it to our peers. To the masses, following the word of God doesn’t always look like the path to success. Thank God, we aren’t playing to the masses on this path less traveled.