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When The Godly Are Discouraged II

1 Kings 19:9-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 7, 2018.

When we last left Elijah, he was in an extremely depressed and discouraged state.  He felt like a failure and wanted to die.  Instead of giving Elijah what he wanted, God sends an angel to strengthen Elijah and send him to Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai, in order to meet with the Lord.  Today’s passage opens with Elijah’s arrival at the mountain, and what he finds there is what all of us need to find during the wilderness times of our life.  Yes, Elijah meets with God.  However, he also receives a revelation of just how God operates.  Have you ever felt like God wasn’t doing what He should be doing?  Have your expectations been one thing, but reality is quite another?  It is important to recognize that our human perceptions, of what is happening and how things are going, usually misunderstand God.  All people who want to be righteous in this world will have to face this reality and learn to let go of those thoughts that have caused us to want to quit living for the Lord, or at least quit living.  When we are discouraged, we need to get alone with God and seek Him until He gives us what we need to continue on the path that He has put before us.

God let’s Elijah vent

In verse 9 we see that Elijah has arrived at the mountain.  He goes up on it and finds a cave to shelter in for the night.  This is the same mountain where Moses met with God when Israel was coming out of Egypt.  Some have even speculated that this cave might be the same “cleft in the rock” that Moses hid in as God revealed Himself to him.  Regardless there is a clear parallel going on between the two accounts.  In part one of this passage we saw that God cares about the godly when they are discouraged.  He had sent an angel to minister to Elijah in body, and with instruction of what to do next.  Here we also see that God gives room for Elijah to continue venting his emotions.  Yes, Elijah feels like a failure and wants to quit, but there is more to it than that.

God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?”  We could think of this as a silly question because it appears that the angel is the one who told Elijah to journey to Horeb.  However, the angel found Elijah over 115 miles south of Jezreel in the wilderness of Beersheba under a broom tree praying for God to kill him.  There is no indication in the text anywhere that God sent Elijah there.  Instead, every indication is that he is discouraged and afraid of the threat of Jezebel.  So God’s question is not silly, it is extremely important.  Elijah is not where he is supposed to be.  The prophet of the Lord, who had gone so long trusting the Lord and obeying His every word, now is struggling.  He seems to have run off to Horeb, much like Jonah jumped on the ship, although for very different reasons.  It is important for to stop and allow the Holy Spirit to ask us this question from time to time.  What am I doing here?  Am I where God wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do?  Or, have I become too discouraged and fled away from the work that He has called me to?  Some have abandoned spouses, children.  Some have abandoned churches and fellow believers.  We may even have abandoned the mission that Jesus has given us in our daily life.  In such cases, you need to understand that God confronts Elijah in order to get him back on track.  God cares about Elijah.

However, we don’t have to be in the wrong place doing the wrong things to ask this question.  Even those who are trying to be faithful to God need a reminder from time to time why God has them where they are and what they should be doing.  We get into ruts and run on auto-pilot at times.  This may keep things going, but it can also cause us to lose sight of what God’s call is for us.  May all we do be for God and to His glory.

This question opens the door for Elijah to explain just what is eating him inside.  His complaint to God begins with the contrast between his faithfulness to the God of Israel and the unfaithfulness of the other Israelites.  The children of Israel had abandoned God’s covenant (vs. 10).  This word translated as “forsaken” has the idea of being untied and let to go free.  Israel had made a covenant with God and thus they were obligated or tied to keeping the covenant.  However, most people in Israel in those days had cut off or broken those ties, whether externally or internally.  They had come to a point where they no longer felt obligated to keep the Law of Moses.  Now, for them to abandon the Law that God had given is to abandon God Himself.

Do we understand that at the heart of the Bible is the revelation that the Creator is an abandoned and forsaken being?  God understands the heart of the forsaken and abandoned person because He has been in that position for a very long time.  Jesus Himself represents the perfect picture of the Father, when he is executed in public as an outcast of His people.  In contrast to Israel’s abandonment of God is Elijah’s intentional zeal towards the Lord.  Elijah had bravely and zestfully followed the covenant of God and had stood with the God of Israel during His time of abandonment.  Do we not have such a condition in our nation today?  All across this nation, people are daily abandoning God.  Of course there are many who are being saved and taking a stand with Jesus.  Yet, my emphasis is this question.  Will you stand with God during His time of public abandonment and even public crucifixion?  It is not an easy thing to do and is very discouraging at times.  Indeed, we cannot do it in our flesh and by sheer will power alone.  We need the help of God Himself to enable us by His Spirit.

Elijah points out that they had not only abandoned the covenant, but they had also torn down God’s altars.  They weren’t content to quit worshipping the God of Israel.  They also had to tear down the altars to make it difficult for others to keep worshipping Him.  Altars represent the place where we meet with God and deal with sin, but also enter into intimate fellowship.  Today, we do not build up rocks and sacrifice animals to draw near to God.  However, by faith and through prayer, we approach God, confess our sins, and enter into intimacy with Him.  Don’t follow those who are tearing down the altars in their own life, and making it hard for others.  Be a person who is faithful to have your own altar of prayer before the Lord in your daily life.

Lastly, Elijah points out that they have killed the prophets of God and Elijah was the only one left.  On top of that they were trying to snuff out his life.  Even worse than their sin, they had killed the prophets of God.  All who seek to be righteous in a time when society is headed in the other direction will feel like a person who has been driven into the wilderness of society and then hunted like a fox on the run.  Whether metaphorically or literally, all who seek to follow the Lord will feel like society has released its hounds to seek them out and destroy their lives.  Sometimes these hounds have official titles, like Attorney General, and use the cover of law to hound those who are trying to serve God.  They hound little old ladies who have the audacity to try and run a business in a way that pleases God.  This is a discouraging place to get to.  But don’t forget that God cares about the righteous, especially when they are discouraged.  He has not abandoned you.  As God told Joshua, I will not leave you nor forsake you, so Jesus says to those who will follow Him, “I am with you , even to the end of the age.”  Friend, God knows it is hard.  He even shows us through Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that this discouragement is a necessary part of following Him.  Lay down those fears and anger at His altar and take the nail-scarred hand of Jesus.  Let Him lead you forward.

God reveals Himself to Elijah

It is not that Elijah hasn’t known God.  Rather, he has some misperceptions about God that must be dispelled.   In verses 11-14 we are given a scene where the Lord tells Elijah to come out onto the side of the mountain before the Lord.  The text says that the “Lord passed by.”  As I said earlier there is an intentional parallel between this account and the account of Moses in Exodus 34.  In Exodus 34, Moses actually sees a receding glorious form.  But here, Elijah does not see a form.  Instead he sees all manner of natural forces coincidentally happening one after the other.  In the end Elijah only hears the voice of God, but that is enough.  There is a part of all of us that would demand that God come down from the heavens and show Himself to us all.  We can kick and scream that it isn’t fair that God doesn’t make it more obvious.  However, all throughout the Bible, we see that those who saw the greatest miracles and proofs of the greatness of God often didn’t serve him any better.  They were just as quick as we to get discouraged in the days and weeks after the amazing acts of God.  Woe to the person who needs God to come down out of the heaven because when He does come down, it will most likely be too late to get things right.  But, blessed is the person who doesn’t see and yet believes.  Such a person will find the Lord gracious in his time of need.

This scene teaches us something about God.  Elijah had expected something great to change the fortunes of Israel.  So God sends him a ferocious wind that is breaking rocks off the side of the hill.  Yet, it says God wasn’t in the wind.  Next an earthquake shakes the mountain, and yet, God is not in the earthquake.  Lastly a fire roars up the side of the mountain, and yet again, the Lord is not in the fire.  Now, on one hand it is clear that God is orchestrating these “natural” events.    However, each time Elijah thought, “Surely God will speak now.”  But God was silent in between each powerful event.  Elijah wanted God to keep doing big and great things, and these three signs symbolized what was in Elijah’s heart.  Yet, God wasn’t in those things. 

It seems that Elijah had gone back into the cave, probably in order to survive the natural disasters that kept striking.  Then it came, a still, small voice that Elijah could barely hear.  He goes out on the side of the mountain and there that still, small voice says the exact same thing that God said at first, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”   Elijah will answer in verse 14 exactly as he did back in verse 10.  But something is different now.  God has shown Elijah something that he didn’t see before.  Yes, God can bring down fire from heaven, He can send hurricanes, earthquakes, and great fires.  In fact, the Bible says that in the last days God will send such devastating things to those who dwell on the earth.  And in general, they won’t hear Him in it.  They won’t repent and turn back to God.  You see, if your heart is in the right place, you only need to hear a still, small voice, just a whisper to believe.  You only have to hear of the Son of God hanging on a cross at Mt. Calvary and in that moment a still, small voice is in your mind whispering, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”  Yes, God can do big things.  But people who respond to such big things run out of devotion quick.  But, those who respond to the still, small voice are those who can walk through the fire with Jesus.

God gives Elijah the next tasks

Now that Elijah is listening and has a better understanding that God has His own way of doing things, and it isn’t always a cosmic display of power, God gives him the next mission.  Elijah has travelled over 300 miles to hear God tell Him to go back to where he was and go to work.  However, don’t be discouraged.  Sometimes we have to travel an extra 40 years in the wilderness in order to get our hearts in the right place.  God cares about His servants and works with us in our weakness.  He is willing to travel with us during those times when we are discouraged and have our hands hanging down, or even when we are going away from our place of duty.  May God help us to not run from our place of duty.  But, instead, may we learn to stop and retreat into our prayer closet.  We need not go to a particular place miles and miles away.  We only need to go to a particular being and wait upon Him to give us what we need.

The task that God gives Elijah is to anoint Hazael as King over Syria and to anoint Jehu as King over Israel.  Clearly God is letting Elijah know that the time for King Ahab’s rule is coming to an end.  Ahab and Jezebel have refused to repent and thus God will remove them in His perfect timing, not Elijah’s.  Lastly God tells Elijah to anoint Elisha as a prophet in his place.  This would have been a very encouraging word to Elijah.  All people who spend the strength of their life laboring in blood, sweat, and tears at the work of the Lord wonder, “Whose gonna take my place when I’m gone?”  Is this the last generation?  Is it all going to end with me?  Has it all been for nothing?  Ultimately, we are to trust the Lord.  He is always faithful to raise up workers in every generation who desire to be faithful to Him in fact let us notice verse 18.

God corrects Elijah’s perception that He is the only one left.  God tells him that He has reserved 7,000 who have not bowed down to the idol of Baal.  The word reserved is connected to the term remnant.  But it emphasizes an action of God.  God had left for Himself 7,000 people in Israel who had not abandoned Him.  Elijah wasn’t alone and his faithful service to the Lord was more encouraging to those 7,000 than he could know.  Throughout history the wicked have devised acts rebellion against God.  The righteous always refuse to join with them in their folly.  Like those who in the end times will refuse to take the mark of the beast, so God’s people of every generation have refused to take on the actions of the rebels.

May we recognize that we do not perceive things as they truly are.  We can only see the outside and that is often masked and pretended.  But God sees the heart.  Even today, He has way  more than 7,000 globally who are refusing to bow their knees to the spirit of this age.  Let us resolve to be just such a remnant that the Lord has reserved for Himself in our generation.

godly discouraged II