Where is God?
Topic: Topical Passage: 1 Kings 19:1-18
It was a busy week because of our trip to Mammoth; therefore, I decided to reuse an old sermon. I chose 1 Kings 19 because this is a very different text from our current study of Colossians, and I believe that the message God gives about himself and our dependence on him will greatly encourage our hearts (read).
This is a familiar account, and it takes place in one of the darkest moments in Israel’s history. Remember that after the death of Solomon, the nation of Israel split, and the 10 northern tribes formed their own nation. The Northern Kingdom was a political and spiritual mess from the beginning. Several of the kings were assassinated in various coupes, and none of the royal dynasties lasted very long. And the Bible does not commend a single one of their 19 kings as righteous. They were all wicked idolaters, and they all rejected God and his will.
But even within the discouraging spiritual history of the Northern Kingdom, Ahab (874–853 B.C.) stands out as especially wicked, and he oversaw an especially dark period in the history of Israel. Notice what is said in 1 Kings 16:29–33. Ahab rejected God by marrying Jezebel, the daughter of a pagan king. Jezebel was the ultimate villain. She was strong willed and committed to advancing Baal worship. Baal worship had a long history in Israel, but Jezebel influenced Ahab to do something that no Israelite leader had ever done. Ahab instituted Baal worship as the official religion of the nation.
Furthermore, Ahab and Jezebel attempted to eliminate the worship of God. First Kings 18:4 states that Jezebel attempted to kill all of God’s prophets. It was so bad that notice what is said in 1 Kings 21:25–26. This was a dark time for those faithful to God. They were in a small minority and an evil king was trying to kill them off. We can kind of relate as our nation becomes more and more hostile to the truth.
In this dark context, God raised up a prophet to show his power, and to encourage the faithful. Elijah bursts onto the scene in chapter 17, and he calls on the Lord to send a severe famine. Since Baal was the god of the storm, this was a direct affront to his power. God proved his sovereignty by preventing rain for 3.5 years, leading up to a significant show down in chapter 18 on Mt. Carmel.
Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a dual. Each would prepare a sacrifice, and whichever God was able to send fire from heaven to burn the sacrifice would be acknowledged as the true God. All day, the prophets of Baal cried out to him and even cut themselves in an effort to get his attention, but nothing happened. Then at the end of the day, Elijah soaked his sacrifice with water, prayed a simple prayer, and fire came down from heaven consuming the sacrifice, the altar, and the water. It was an awesome display that no one could deny. But Elijah wasn’t done. He prayed that God would send rain, and God again answered by sending a heavy rain.
Elijah was on top of the world. He had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is the Lord, and he was sure these two incredible displays would lead Ahab and the nation to repentant and that revival would follow. How could they not repent after such a clear demonstration of power? But God had a different plan, and that brings us to our text, where the story takes a different turn than Elijah expected. The story begins in vv. 1–8 with…
I. Elijah’s Despair and God’s Provision (vv. 1–8): Again Elijah left Mt. Carmel confident that he had won the day for God and that Ahab, Jezebel, and the nation would have no choice but to reject their idolatry and turn to God. But Elijah was in for a major surprise. Notice in vv. 1–2…
Jezebel’s Threat (vv. 1–2): Jezebel was not impressed, and she sent a messenger to Elijah to let him know that she was going to kill him. Jezebel had proven that her threats were not empty. As a result, Elijah ran for his life.
Elijah’s Flight (vv. 3–4): The text describes three stages to his flight which all have significance. First, he fled south to Beersheba (v. 3). This is significant because Beersheba was the southernmost inhabitable region of the Southern Kingdom. Since Elijah’s ministry was to the Northern Kingdom, Beersheba was as far away from Jezebel as Elijah could go and still be among God’s people. At this point, Elijah was safely out of Jezebel’s reach under the domain of the godly king, Jehoshaphat.
But Elijah wasn’t simply looking to preserve his life. Elijah was discouraged, and he was ready to give up on his prophetic ministry. Therefore, even though he was safely out of Jezebel’s reach, he left his servant at Beersheba and went a day’s journey into the wilderness. The only reason for him to do this was because was abandoning the nation of Israel and his prophetic ministry to them. He was done fighting idolatry and trying to turn the people back to God.
And you can feel his apathy and depression in his comments to God. Verse 4 notes that after his journey Elijah sat down under a tree, and he asked God to take his life. Elijah was not merely done with his prophetic ministry; he wanted to die. Elijah was at the end of the line. He was depressed.
But what is especially significant for understanding this chapter is the reason Elijah gives, “I am no better than my fathers.” This statement gives us a window into Elijah’s despair. He wanted revival, and he proudly thought that his incredible miracles would surely drive Israel to their knees. But revival didn’t come, and Elijah feels like a failure, which is why he says in v. 4, “I am no better than my fathers” and asks God to take his life.
It’s easy for us to see the foolishness of Elijah’s arrogance and then despair. It didn’t ultimately matter if Elijah was better than the prophets who preceded him because God, not Elijah, had performed the miracles at Mt. Carmel, and only God could bring revival to Israel.
But Elijah had begun to think that it was up to him to transform the nation, and he had thought that his impressive deeds would provide undeniable and compelling evidence for revival. He lost sight of his dependence on God, and he never even considered if maybe God didn’t intend to bring revival, which God will make clear at the end of the account. As a result, when revival didn’t come, and Jezebel wanted him dead, Elijah’s dreams were crushed.
But before we get too hard on Elijah, we need to recognize our tendency to do the same thing. Parents, have you ever arrogantly thought that your abilities and strategies will automatically produce godly children? Have we ever thought that our evangelistic method or logic were so sound that no one could possibly reject our message? Can we as a church get so enamored with our programs that we think they will automatically generate conversions and disciples? Or have Christians ever been guilty of thinking that if we can bring revival to America if we just take the right steps?
You may have never been suicidal, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t embraced the fundamental error of Elijah, which is to think that we are something special and to think that we can do what only God can do. Thankfully although Elijah had given up hope, God was not ready to give up on Elijah. Notice “God’s Provision” in vv. 5–8.
God’s Provision (vv. 5–8): Elijah did two very important things for someone who is depressed. He slept, and he ate. But more important than that, these verses, describe God’s gracious patience with his prophet. Elijah falls asleep, and after a time, the “angel of the Lord,” awakes him and miraculously provides food for Elijah to eat. Elijah was so physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted that after eating, he fell asleep again, and God waited.
The angel of the Lord woke him up a second time and again miraculously provided food for Elijah to eat. Not only that, the angel, who is very likely Christ, sent Elijah on a third leg of his journey to the “mountain of God” or Mt. Sinai.
The fact that God sent him to this mountain and that the text describes it as a 40 day journey, clearly shows a desire to associate this journey with Israel’s years in the wilderness and especially Israel’s experience of God’s at Mt. Sinai. God knew that above all else, Elijah needed to understand some things about God if his perspective were to change.
And so despite Elijah’s arrogance and despair, God was merciful and gracious. He provided rest and food for Elijah, and he sent him on a journey to teach him an invaluable lesson. Praise God that even when Elijah gave up on life and on God, God was patient.
And praise God that he is also patient with us when we have similar moments. Sometimes, like Elijah, we are arrogant and brash. And sometimes we despair and give up. But God always remains the same, and he is faithful to us even when we are unfaithful to him. That brings us to the second major section of the story in vv. 9–13a…
II. Elijah’s Complaint and God’s Demonstration (vv. 9–13a): Verse 9 notes that when Elijah arrived at the mountain, he entered a cave, and he again fell asleep. This may have been the same cave where God hid Moses when he revealed his glory to him. This is where the story grows very interesting beginning with…
Elijah’s Complaint (vv. 9–10): God simply asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Since God had sent Elijah to Sinai, the question is directed specifically at Elijah’s attempt to abandon God’s people and his prophetic calling.
Elijah gives a whiny response that again gives a window into his arrogant sense of self-sufficiency and the despair that followed when his plans did not succeed. He boasts to God that he had been zealous for God even while the nation rejected God’s Law, tore down God’s altars, and killed God’s prophets. Elijah tells God, these people are attacking you, and I’ve done everything I can to defend your glory.
But all of my efforts have failed. I’m the only one left who cares. While he doesn’t say it, Elijah seems to be hinting that God himself has stopped fighting for revival.
But the problem with v. 10 is that it’s all about Elijah, not God. Elijah’s going on about all he had done to fight for God’s glory, but he left out the fact that God ultimately performed the miracles, not Elijah. There is an incredible arrogance behind Elijah’s despair.
But maybe even more significant is Elijah’s lack of submission to God’s will. Elijah was so focused on bringing revival that he never even considered if God was doing something else. This can happen to us to. Like Elijah, our lives get a little uncomfortable, and we assume that our plans are the only possible right plans. And we get so wrapped up in getting out of the fire that we can’t see any other purpose that God may be accomplishing. But despite Elijah’s attitude in vv. 11–13a God graciously responds with a fascinating display intended to correct Elijah’s faulty thinking.
God’s Demonstration (vv. 11–13a): These verses have always made for a really cool Sunday School story. The problem is that generally speaking, we have no idea what the point of the demonstration is. But hopefully, based on how we have set up the context so far, it is making sense to you.
In this demonstration, God performs three impressive signs. First, he sends a strong wind that was so powerful that it “tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces." Think about how strong this wind must have been. This was no normal mountain breeze. But despite this impressive display, v. 11 says God was not in the wind.
God follows with an earthquake. An earthquake is a powerful force that can shake large mountains, yet, v. 11 again notes that God was not in the earthquake. God follows with a fire. The text doesn’t offer any details, but I’m sure this was an impressive display as well, but again, God was not in the fire. All three of these displays were humanly impressive, but something was missing, God.
Then came a final display, which is described as a “still small voice” or a “gentle whisper.” There was nothing spectacular about this soft, quiet voice, but notice Elijah’s response. “He wrapped his face in his mantle” because while the whisper was not impressive according to human expectations, God was obviously present in it, and God’s presence overwhelmed Elijah in a way that the wind, earthquake, and fire couldn’t possible do. The force of the divine made the force of nature look very small.
What was the point of this display? We’ll see the full significance i in the following verses, but the basic point God was making was to show Elijah that he doesn’t always operate in the realm of the spectacular.
Elijah had thought that calling fire down from heaven or withholding rain and then sending rain were the type of spectacular deeds that were sure to bring the revival he desperately desired. What he didn’t realize is that God’s power is infinitely greater than fire or rain. These miracles were nothing in comparison to God’s full glory and his power to accomplish his will.
God’s will represented in his speech represents a power beyond our imagination. And so the point of this demonstration was to teach Elijah that God’s power is not defined by spectacular earthly signs and that he often moves powerfully in quiet and almost unnoticeable ways.
Application: We need this reminder also because we often think like Elijah. We think that if we can get the right politicians or the right Supreme Court justices, we can fix our nation. We think that if we follow the perfect parenting strategy, we can produce godly children. As a pastor, I can think that if we have beautiful services and I preach the perfect sermons, people will surely be changed.
My point is not to say that we shouldn’t work hard or be excellent in what we do because the Scriptures are clear that we should fight for righteousness and make every effort to make and mature disciples. But unlike Elijah, we must never become so enamored with ourselves that we are sufficient to do what only God can do. We need the hand of God; otherwise, all of our impressive plans and deeds will be nothing but smoke and mirrors.
What Life Point needs, what your family needs, and what the American church needs is the still small voice of God that alone changes hearts. And how we should pray to that end. Despite this moving demonstration, Elijah still had lessons to learn. Verses 13b–18 describe…
III. Elijah’s Complaint and God’s Purpose (vv. 13b–18)
Elijah’s Complaint (vv. 13b–14): Verses 13b and 14 basically repeat vv. 9b–10. Elijah comes out of the cave with his face covered, and he hears the voice of God say, “What are you doing here?” Elijah repeats the same his whiny, arrogant complaint about all he had done for God and about how no one cared except Elijah. Elijah is still obsessed with his hopes for revival.
God responds by giving Elijah a task list. God wasn’t done with Elijah, and he wasn’t going to accept his resignation. Elijah needed to get moving on accomplishing God’s will even though it was different from Elijah’s will.
Elijah’s Task (vv. 15–16): God gave Elijah three tasks. He was to appoint Hazael as king over the Aram. He was to appoint Jehu as king over Israel, and he was to appoint Elisha as his successor as God’s prophet. These tasks were not random distractions for discouraged prophet; they had real significance purpose, as he makes clear in vv. 17–18.
God’s Purpose (vv. 17–18): Verse 17 notes that these three individuals would be instrumental in fulfilling God’s purpose, but God’s purpose was quite different from Elijah’s plan. Rather than bringing revival, God would send judgment.
Hazael would reign in Damascus over Syria and God intended to use him to bring judgment, on Israel. Jehu would lead a coupe against Ahab’s dynasty, and God intended to use him to bring judgment on the house of Ahab for their wickedness. And notice that God didn’t intend to use Elisha to bring revival but instead judgment on the nation.
And since wind, earthquakes, and fire often symbolize God’s judgment, there seems to be an intentional correspondence between these three displays and these three individuals who would perform God’s acts of judgment. Things were not going to get better in Israel. They were going to get worse.
But God’s purpose was not merely to judge, because God concludes the story in v. 18 by stating that he had preserved a faithful remnant of 7,000 in Israel. The 7,000 seem to correspond with the still, small voice of v. 12.
And so while Elijah was focused on impressive miracles and national revival, he had missed God’s greatest work. He was at work in the hearts of his people creating faith among some and preserving a people who were true to him and through whom he would keep all of his grand promises to Israel.
God wasn’t done with his people. He had a plan that he would accomplish. The challenge for Elijah was to see his dependence on God and to humbly submit to his will.
This story would have had great significance to the original readers of this book. Kings was written to the faithful remnant while they were in captivity to Babylon. Like Elijah, they wondered where God was and what he was doing because life under Babylonian rule didn’t seem to match what God had promised his people, and it certainly wasn’t what they desired. They needed to see that God will remain faithful to his promises and that even when we can’t see it, he is faithfully at work accomplishing his sovereign purpose.
IV. Application: What is this story intended to teach us? The overall message is this. God is faithfully accomplishing his sovereign purpose, so we must humbly depend on him and remain faithful to his will.
God is accomplishing his will. So often we look around us, and we can’t see God doing what we think he should be doing (e.g., healing our diseases, saving thousands of souls, relieving our suffering) and so we don’t think he is doing anything at all. That’s simply not true. God knows the beginning and the end and everything in between. He is absolutely accomplishing his good purpose.
Maybe you are struggling with fears, anxieties, doubts, or discontentment because circumstances are not what you want them to be or because you don’t know how they will turn out. Rest assured that the source of your fear or discontentment has not defied God’s sovereign will. He is at work in the shadows even when we can’t see it, doing what is right and good. And the challenge for us is to trust that he is good, that his purpose is better than ours, and that he will do what is right and to trust. As a result…
Humbly depend on him. In comparison to the power of God, we are nothing, and we can’t do anything of significance apart from him. That’s not to say we shouldn’t work toward what we believe are God-honoring goals, but we must recognize our place. We need God, and so we must seek him earnestly trusting him to do what only he can do. Only God can save your kids, only God can build his church, and only God can fix your family.
Remain faithful to his will. Sometimes, God’s will is not what our finite minds think it should be. Maybe that’s where you are today. You’re suffering, work is going poorly, and our nation is a wreck. But remember that God’s mind is infinite. He knows what he is doing. And so like Elijah did at the end of this story, get up and keep doing God’s will trusting the good purposes of God.