17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:17-18 NIVO)
We spent all of our time taking a look at how Elijah so faithfully followed every instruction the Lord gave him. We first run into Elijah in the opening of 1 Kings 17, where we read,
1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1 NIVO)
This is the verse that James highlights for us in James 5:17, but it’s not the whole story of Elijah. God told Elijah to go down to the Kerith Ravine where ravens would feed him and Elijah went and stayed there until the Lord said, “Move!” God then told Elijah to go to the house of a widow who lived in Zarephath and she would feed him. Elijah did what God said to do and he stayed there until the Lord said, “Move!” Elijah followed God step-by-step, never hesitating, never asking questions.
Most people see the crowning moment of Elijah’s life as coming in 1 Kings 18, in the showdown on Mount Carmel. Elijah faced off against the false prophets of Baal with all of the Israelites looking on. By the time the curtain fell, the people who were watching it all take place, the people who had wavered between serving God and serving the false god, Baal, were heard crying out, “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!” What an incredible scene it must have been.
If you will remember, we closed our time together by focusing on Elijah crouched down in prayer. It hadn’t rained in the land for three and one half years, but Elijah prayed. Nothing happened, not a cloud in the sky, but Elijah prayed and prayed and prayed until eventually, when he sent his servant back to check for the seventh time, he saw a cloud the size of a man’s hand rising over the sea. What an amazing picture of the faithfulness of Elijah, the persistence of Elijah in prayer, and the steadfastness of Elijah in trusting in and following God. James wrote, “Elijah was a man just like us…”
Elijah was just like us in that he needed to be persistent in prayer and faithful and obedient in following God’s lead, regardless of the risk and regardless of the cost. With that said, I’m almost certain many of your left worship thinking, “I’m nothing like Elijah. Look how God used Elijah. Look at the miracles God did through Elijah. Look at the courage of Elijah. I’m nothing like Elijah!”
Because we are limited in our time together on Sunday morning I wasn’t able to share the rest of the story of Elijah with you, but I want to do that this morning. It is almost unimaginable that immediately following 1 Kings 18 and the great victory of God over the false prophets of Baal, we find Elijah, in the very next chapter, 1 Kings 19, sitting under a broom tree and praying. Take a look at 1 Kings 19:4 with me and listen in as Elijah prays.
4 …He came to a broom tree, 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.” (1 Kings 19:4 NIVO)
“I have had enough, LORD. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Are you kidding me? How could Elijah have found himself in the depths of despair so quickly after he had experienced the greatest moment of his life? How could God’s faithful servant be tangled so tightly in the clutches of exasperation and hopelessness? How could a man who loved God with his whole heart have experienced such deep despair? People of faith, men and women who love God, who are serving God, they don’t have those kinds of thoughts do they? I would dare say that if you or I were to confess the same feelings Elijah expressed to God, to a Christian friend, they might tell us, “You shouldn’t say things like that,” or “You don’t really feel that way,” or “You just need to have more faith.” That’s not how God responded to Elijah, but we’ll get to that a little later. For now, I want you to know that many of God’s people, people we read about in God’s Word, have felt exactly as Elijah felt and they were willing to share their feelings with God. Let me give you just a sample.
Let’s start with someone most everyone here this morning will recognize, Moses, the great deliverer used by God to free the Hebrews from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. A man of faith? An obedient servant of God? You better believe it, yet there was a time, while he was leading those freed slaves through the wilderness that he had had enough. Turn to Numbers 11:13-15 with me and let’s read together.
13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now– if I have found favor in your eyes– and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11:13-15 NIVO)
Moses was at his wits end. The burden was too much. The people’s complaining had worn him slick and all he wanted at that point was to die.
Or, how about Job, let’s take a look at Job’s life just for a moment. It’s one thing when people praise you, but it’s an altogether different deal when God points you out in a crowd, as He did Job to Satan. Turn to Job 1:8. Here’s how God described Job.
8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8 NIVO)
Did you hear that? God said Job was, “my servant.” God said, “There is no one on earth like him.” God said, “He is blameless.” God said, “He is upright.” God said, “He is a man who fears God and shuns evil.” And yet, you know what Job went through. He lost all of his kids, his hired-hands, his livestock, his health…he even lost his will to live. Turn with me to Job 3 and let’s read together beginning in verse 3.
3 “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’ 4 That day– may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine upon it. 5 May darkness and deep shadow claim it once more; may a cloud settle over it; may blackness overwhelm its light. 6 That night–may thick darkness seize it; may it not be included among the days of the year nor be entered in any of the months. 7 May that night be barren; may no shout of joy be heard in it. 8 May those who curse days curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan. 9 May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn, 10 for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me to hide trouble from my eyes. 11 “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? (Job 3:3-11 NIVO)
Is this the same man God described with such glowing terms? An “upright and blameless man?” A man unlike any man on the face of the planet who fears God and shuns evil? You got it! It’s the same man.
One last example for us to take a look at this morning. Job and Moses were faithful, willing servants of God, but Jonah on the other hand, was one of the most reluctant, unwilling servants of God we find in the Bible. Jonah hated the Ninevites and yet he went and preached the shortest sermon found anywhere in the Bible to the people of Nineveh. You can find it in Jonah 3:4 where Jonah stood in the city, in the midst of the people, and said, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” (Jonah 3:4 NIVO) Eight little words in English, but it’s only four words in Hebrew. The shortest sermon ever and yet the people of Nineveh heard the voice of God through the words of Jonah and they repented. You would think Jonah would have been overwhelmed. After all, Jesus said,
7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7 NIVO)
Jonah wasn’t excited at all. As a matter of fact, Jonah was furious! He was so upset that he walked out of the city and begged God to take his life. Turn with me to Jonah 4:3-8 and let’s read together.
3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” 5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3-8 NIVO)
Jonah began and ended in the same place, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” Do you see any commonalities taking place in the lives of Moses, Job, and Jonah that drove them to the depths of despair and caused them to just want to close their eyes and never wake up? I see something they all had in common and that was their circumstances, their experience of the painful predicament of life.
Now, you might not think Jonah’s situation was painful, after all seeing people repent of their sins and turn to God is an occasion for rejoicing isn’t it? To Jonah, it was the most painful of all possible experiences because Jonah knew the Ninevites, he knew how they had tortured and brutalized others. What’s interesting is that archaeologists have discovered reliefs, carvings in stone, in Nineveh, of the Assyrians torturing people by impaling, decapitation, flaying them with knives, and pulling out their tongues. The Ninevites were some vicious people and Jonah wanted them to suffer in the same way they had made others suffer. Watching God’s grace soften the hearts of the Ninevites drove Jonah to despair.
So it was their circumstances, the experiences of life, that drove Moses, Job, and Jonah to want to die, but what about Elijah, the man who was just like us? We’ll let’s go back to 1 Kings 19 and take a look. Let’s read the first four verses together.
1 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 desert. He came to a broom tree, 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.” (1 Kings 19:1-4 NIVO)
At the end of 1 Kings 18 we learn that after the defeat of the false prophets, Elijah ran all the way back to Jezreel, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, the very home of Jezebel and Ahab. He must have been so overjoyed to see the hearts of the people turned back to God that he thought revival would break out all over the land. Elijah must have thought, “Surely when Ahab gets home and tells Jezebel, even she will be convinced that the LORD is God!” That’s not how it worked out did it? Jezebel said, “I’m going to kill you by this time tomorrow!” The very next verse tells us, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”
Elijah ran south, as far south as you can get, until he arrived in Beersheba. He left his servant and went a day’s journey further into the desert. Elijah sat down under a broom tree and said, “I have had enough LORD. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” That’s it. No more. Please Lord, if this is the way it’s going to be just let me die. Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt totally depleted by life? Exhausted and exasperated by the troubles that seem relentless when they are beating against your heart and your mind?
You know my favorite preacher is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I’ve shared so many quotes from Pastor Spurgeon through the years that you probably feel like you know him, even if you’ve never read one of his sermons. Pastor Spurgeon was called the “Prince of Preachers,” they couldn’t build buildings big enough to hold all of the people who wanted to hear him teach God’s Word, and yet it’s not just his powerful proclamation of the Word of God that draws me to him. I’m so drawn to Pastor Spurgeon because he was so transparent about his struggles. He battled depression, he battled poor health, as well as the slings and arrows of those who said bad things about him.
Far too often preachers pretend to be bulletproof, larger-than-life, and unaffected by the circumstances that weigh heavy on the hearts of those seated in the pews. Nothing could be further from the truth and Spurgeon was honest, brutally honest about it. Spurgeon suffered from gout caused by an excess of uric acid in the bloodstream. The uric acid forms crystals in the joints that causes severe pain and Spurgeon knew it all too well. The pain drove him to bed for weeks at a time. On one occasion he wrote,
I have been brought very low. My flesh has been tortured with pain and my spirit has been prostrate with depression. …With some difficulty I write these lines in my bed, mingling them with the groans of pain and the songs of hope. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)
There were no preachers as successful as Spurgeon in his day and yet his success didn’t shield him from the battles of life. It was the battles of life, battles faced by each and every one of us who have ever lived, that drove him deep into despondency and despair. Spurgeon, like Elijah, Moses, Job, and Jonah–they were all affected by their circumstances. How about you?
I want you to notice how God responded to His servant Elijah because it is so very different from the way many people respond to those who are struggling with God and with life. After Elijah said, “I have had enough LORD. Take my life;” he laid down and fell asleep. Look at 1 Kings 19:5 with me.
5 Then he lay down under the tree 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 a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. (1 Kings 19:5-6 NIVO)
The Lord sent an angel who took the time to bake some bread and prepare a jar of water before he nudged Elijah and said, “Get up and eat.” That’s it?! No, that’s not all, Elijah laid back down and went back to sleep. Elijah was spent, he was weary, drained, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. He didn’t need a Bible study on spiritual warfare, he didn’t need to repent for his lack of faith or his negative confessions, and he didn’t need a “do-better” talk from anyone–he needed to rest. How do I know, because the angel of the Lord fed him and let him rest. We should take notes my friends. There are times when you and I will just be spent. Life will be too much. You need to rest. I don’t know about you, but that’s contrary to everything I’ve been taught throughout my life. Go, go, go! Press on! Fight through! If Elijah needed to rest, you and I need to rest as well.
After some time the angel of the LORD came back. Elijah wasn’t retired, he was just given a time of rest. When the angel of the LORD came back he said,
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.” (1 Kings 19:7 NIVO)
“Journey? What journey?” Elijah didn’t know anything about a journey. He wasn’t planning on going anywhere, but remember the last time we were together? Whenever the Lord spoke, Elijah followed, so he got up after eating and traveled to Horeb. Elijah’s depression and despair hadn’t lifted. You might wonder how I know that. Well, it’s a two hundred mile journey from Beersheba to Horeb and it took Elijah forty days and forty nights, which, if my math is right, he covered five miles a day. It was rough desert, but five miles a day means something more was going on than the heat and tough terrain. When Elijah arrived at Horeb he went into a cave and spent the night. In 1 Kings 19:9 we read,
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?” (1 Kings 19:9 NIVO)
Let me ask you something that I’ve been thinking about this week. Do you think God didn’t know the answer to the question He asked Elijah? Of course He knew, but He let Elijah talk. Elijah had a lot on his mind, he needed to get some things off his chest, so God let Elijah talk. There’s another great insight for you and me. When life is troubling, when the cares of this world are weighing heavy upon you, it’s ok to be honest, it’s ok to talk about it. You don’t have to throw out Christian cliches, you can be honest with God. For those of us who have friends that are in the lowlands, let them talk. Just listen. Don’t be like Job’s friends who tried to talk him out of his despair and wanted to correct his theology. Let them talk. Elijah did talk, it spilled out of him. He said,
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken 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.” (1 Kings 19:10 NIVO)
Poor pitiful me, right? God didn’t seem to think so. He didn’t even address anything Elijah said. God said,
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.” (1 Kings 19:11 NIVO)
Elijah once again did as God said and the Lord passed by. First, there was a powerful wind, so powerful it ripped the mountain apart, but the Lord wasn’t in the wind. Next, there was an earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but once again the Lord wasn’t in the fire. Then, we read that after the fire came there was “a gentle whisper.” Compared to a violent wind, earthquake, and rampaging fire, a gentle whisper is pretty quiet. Truth is, what Elijah experienced was even more quiet than a gentle whisper. The New Revised Version translates the phrase, “after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”
God had worked in Elijah’s life, in the past, through the marvelous, the miraculous, but this time God moved in the silence. In the silence. We don’t often hear that message today do we? People flock to the miraculous. People flock to the majestic, the marvelous, the mega-moves of God. As a result we’ve become conditioned to never even look for God’s hand in the silence. People are drawn to the thunderous voice and as a result we oftentimes miss God in the silence.
You know what’s really interesting about what happened after God revealed Himself in the silence? Elijah was still complaining. This is no Disney movie, this is real life. We would rewrite the script so that once Elijah heard the sheer sound of silence he would have fallen on his face and cried out, “Lord, now I believe! Lord send me to face Jezebel with the power you gave me to face her false prophets!” Didn’t happen. Here’s what did happen. God told Elijah, “Now go back the way you came…” God gave Elijah His next set of instructions. Go and anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu king over Israel. Anoint, prepare Elisha, to succeed you as a prophet when the time comes. And oh, by the way Elijah,
18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel– all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18 NIVO)
In the very next verse we read where Elijah got up and headed out until he found Elisha. So you see, Elijah was a man just like us. He experienced mountain top experiences with God and he also found himself in the deepest darkest most desolate valley where he could not see beyond his present circumstance. He was miserable and just wanted to die and yet God wasn’t through with him yet. And God isn’t through with you or me either my friend.
I’ll never forget my very first semester of Seminary. After four years of intensive study in undergrad studying the theory of Coaching Defensive Football, Bowling, Golf, and an occasional English or Basic College Math class I found myself having to write papers using the Turabian format. “Tur” who? I’m reading books that have more than 100 pages for the first time in my life. Words I couldn’t even pronounce written by people I had never heard of in my life. On top of that, I wore a “Fellowship of Christian Athletes” t-shirt to class one day and one of my professors singled me out in front of the class and made some snide comment about athletes. I had turned in my first paper. You have no idea how hard I worked to complete it. The day the professor handed our papers back to us, he skipped me and said, “Mr. Hays I need to see you in my office after class.” I felt like I had been sentenced to the gas chamber. When I went into his office he laid my paper in front of me and it looked like he had slit his wrist and bled all over it, over every single page. I had never seen so much red ink in my life.
I went home so dejected. I was ready to quit. To make a long story short. I met Dr. Darnell shortly thereafter, but I still wasn’t convinced. Then, one night I was up in the middle of the night reading God’s Word. I was distraught. I didn’t want to fail, but I knew I couldn’t do the work. Then I stumbled on this verse in the middle of the night.
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14 NIVO)
It was as if God Himself was talking to me. I took the job Dr. Darnell had offered to me, I went back to class, and because of Connie’s help with English grammar, Connie and David’s encouragement, and God’s tenacity, we graduated. I say, “We” on purpose. Oh, my friend, don’t give up. God answered Elijah when he was on Mount Carmel, but God was never nearer Elijah than when he was in his deepest valley. If you are stumbling in the dark, you need to know the Lord knows right where you are, He has led you there, and He will never leave you or forsake you.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 19, 2018
Elijah Was a Man Just Like Us