Reading with an Agenda

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 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.”
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 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.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 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.
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.” 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. 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?”
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.”
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. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 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?”
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.”
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. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 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. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

  • 1 Kings 19:1-18

I watch a lot of the local Christian television channel. I think the channel is distributed nationwide, but it might not be on cable systems universally. One of the local non-denominational churches is led by a husband-wife team. The commercials for their church are really sermonettes, and most have a very good point to make. They really do not beg people to attend their church. As a result, I enjoy those commercials, until I watched their latest one.

In the commercial, the husband talks about how even Christians can get depressed. Then the wife tells of Elijah’s great victory in 1 Kings 18 and how he went into depression when he ran from Jezebel (the Scripture above). The couple talked about how God is there to comfort, console, and give a sense of peace, but He does not want us to stay wallowing in self-pity. He will give us work to do, just like He did with Elijah.

From the first time that I watched the commercial until recently, 5-10 times at least, I have thought that I got a totally different message from this Scripture than they did. Sure, God gave Elijah the job of anointing three people. He was to anoint Hazael king over Aram. Hazael would lead an army to defeat Ahab, king of Israel. He was to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel. Jehu was to kill the remainder of the family line of Ahab and take over as king of Israel. He was a bad king also, but the Scriptures state that none was as bad as Ahab. Then Elijah was to anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed Elijah as prophet.

Yes, this is something to “do” instead of wallowing in self-pity, but in doing so, Elijah was performing his retirement out-processing plan – a few things to do before there was nothing left to do. The Scripture above is followed by Elisha becoming Elijah’s assistant. We only have two recorded prophecies by Elijah after this series of anointings. After Jezebel arranges to have Naboth killed so that Ahab can claim Naboth’s vineyard, Elijah tells King Ahab that all the Ahab family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs and all who die in the country will be eaten by birds. Ahab rips his clothing and mourns (1 Kings 21). God amends His judgment by sparing Ahab this indignity, but holding the prophecy to everyone else, including Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. Even with the worst king in Israel’s history, God showed a bit of mercy. Ahab soon died (1 Kings 22), and the last prophetic expression by Elijah was to state that Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, would die in bed (2 Kings 1). This is when a captain plus fifty men went to Elijah and Elijah called down fire and had them consumed. The same thing happened again. When the third captain approached Elijah, he begged for his life and the lives of his men, so God told Elijah that it would be safe to go with this third captain. In the next chapter, Elijah and Elisha going across the river so that Elijah could be separated from Elisha by chariots of fire and taken into heaven in a whirlwind – maybe the most prevalent wrong telling of a Bible story. Elijah did not go to heaven riding a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2).

Granted, it is very difficult to tell a story and create a moral lesson in a matter of seconds during a television commercial, but this couple chose to drive home the point that if you are depressed, quit feeling sorry for yourself and do something for God. That probably was not what these wonderful people meant, but that was the message that was delivered. First, truly depressed people would not be able to respond to a command to work your way out of depression. Second, they missed what Elijah was doing.

We have the Prosperity churches; we have the “Doing” churches. Do we have any churches that worship God anymore? Wait! I am starting to sound like Elijah.

Elijah was snapped from his depression with work to do – granted. He knew that he would be safe from Jezebel’s hitmen, in that God had commissioned him to do the work. Thus, God would keep him safe while doing that work. The work led to the destruction of Elijah’s earthly enemies. It was not just the “doing” that lifted Elijah from his moment of despair, it was the fact that God talked to him personally. God had a plan to avenge his servant Elijah, in part before Elijah’s work as a prophet was over. And Elijah got to pass the torch to Elisha. He knew that his work would continue. There was physical redemption, emotional redemption, legacy redemption, and spiritual redemption. It was much more than “doing” something. As great theologians have said over the centuries, we need to forget “doing” Christianity, and focus on “being” a Christian, being more like Jesus Christ.

As for the legacy, two or four times in my life (two times directly, and twice more with other factors involved), I have moved on to other things and found the department that I left was dismantled. Twice, without my work production, the group could not justify their existence. In each case, it made me feel sad. It would be so much better if someone else could have picked up where I left off, and when I left Germany, I was replaced with someone else. The job that I had created became indispensable. Elijah had his “legacy” guaranteed through God’s commission of Elisha.

But to reduce the entirety of the last four chapters of 1 Kings to Elijah overcoming depression by being kicked in the backside and told to get back to work… That does a disservice to the Scriptures and it serves a purpose that I do not think was intended. We have too many people trying to work their way to heaven. While good works are necessary in this fallen world, if that is the total focus in our earthly lives, we will get to Heaven where no good works are necessary, and we will be bored out of our minds with nothing to do and we will have no clue who our Landlord is.

Let’s take a different look at 1 Kings 19, one without the “doing” agenda. God loved Elijah. He provided for Elijah in every way possible, showing His love in many ways. And God made the path forward very personal. God’s personal attention to us individually and His love for us can cure us of depression and all manner of ills. The doing is just incidental.

Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.

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