Just as Joseph and Mary went "a days journey" (Lk 2.44), with every step taking them farther from the Lord Jesus, so Elijah "went a days journey into the wilderness" (1 Kings 19.4), each stride taking him further from the pathway of Gods will. Eventually, he sat down under a juniper tree. Abraham was under an oak (terebinth) tree when God communed with him (Gen 18.1-15). Deborah was under a palm tree as she served the nation (Judg 4.5). Nathanael was under a fig tree, anticipating the Messiahs reign (Jn 1.48). Saul was under a pomegranate tree, indifferent to the nations plight (1 Sam 14.2). Elijah was under the juniper tree, afraid and discouraged. Sitting down gave way to lying down (v.5, RV), a deteriorating situation, just as in Psalm 1.1 walking degenerates to standing and then to sitting. Similarly, Peter "stood" at the worlds fire (Jn 18.25), but then "sat down among them" (Lk 22.55). The people of Galilee "walked in darkness" (Is 9.2), but then they "sat in darkness" (Mt 4.16). It is so easy to settle complacently into circumstances which are far from Gods will for us!
Like Moses before him (Num 11.15), and Jonah after him (Jonah 4.3,8), Elijah requested "that he might die" (v.4). Unlike his prayers in ch.18, this prayer was never answered; not ever! Did he really mean what he was saying anyway? If he wanted to die, he could have stayed in the north, and Jezebel would have obliged him! Was he really no better than his fathers? Of course he was. He was vastly superior to those ancestors who were so reluctant to enter the land. Was he really alone in his loyalty to the Lord? Seven thousand had refused to pay homage to Baal. The simple lesson is that when in the grip of discouragement we tend to express sentiments that we do not really believe in our heart of hearts. A sour spirit can prompt exaggeration, recrimination, and criticism. When feeling low, let us try to avoid the extravagant language that does not reflect our true way of thinking.
The touch of an angel interrupted his fitful sleep. By contrast, Peter was so soundly asleep that, even in the face of the threat of death, a supernatural light failed to waken him, and the angel of the Lord had to smite him (Acts 12.7). Such is the difference between a man who is out of the way, and one who is content in the will of God. But God is kind! When Elijah was so low God used neither ravens nor a widow to feed him, but an angel! When seven disciples were wet and wearied, the Son of God Himself was their cook, and waited upon them (Jn 21.9-13). The tender affection of our God never ceases to amaze us! The hungry Peter was going to have to prepare his own meal, from the stage of slaughtering a beast (Acts 10.13): Elijahs heavenly visitor had it all in hand!
Elijahs dejection was such that he lay down again after his meal (v.6): inertia had really set in! How patient God is! "The angel of the Lord came again the second time" (v.7). For His people, God is the God of the second opportunity. After Jonah absconded, Gods word came to him "the second time" (Jonah 3.1). A heavenly voice spoke to Peter "the second time" after his refusal to obey (Acts 10.15). There is no "second chance" for unrepentant sinners, but when there has been a breakdown in service, God delights in restoring His servants, granting them fresh opportunities to serve Him effectively. Ask John Mark about that!
In the wilderness, angelic intervention fortified Elijah for a forty-day fast. In the wilderness, the Lord Jesus endured a forty-day fast before He experienced the ministry of angels (Mk 1.13).
A cave in the mountains was now Elijahs home. Some of the caves of Scripture are of interest. Lots experience in the cave shows the depravity to which a man can sink once he has made the wrong choices in life. The humiliation of cave-dwelling was one of the results of Midian being in the land (Judg 6.2). Midian (strife) robs the people of God of dignity. A cave staged an amazing display of forbearance and mercy when David spared the life of Saul (1 Sam 24). Here, a cave was the venue for Gods encounter with Elijah. He is not mentioned by name in Hebrews 11, but perhaps he is alluded to there in terms of his clothing, his shelter, and his integrity in vv.37-38. At the place where God first commissioned Moses (Ex 3.1-2), He now recommissioned His beleaguered servant Elijah. There was still work to be done, but first there was the interrogation.
"What doest thou here, Elijah?" (v.9)
The prophet had his well-rehearsed answers, but try asking others the same question. Ask Abraham in Egypt, "What doest thou here?". Ask Elimelech in Moab, or Jonah at Joppa, or Peter in the courtyard, or Demas at Thessalonica. Ask many a saint who is out of touch with God, whose wanderings have taken them to the pleasure-fields of the world, "What doest thou here?".
Elijahs response to the question was basically an acknowledgement of fear, but his reply gives an insight into his feeling of isolation in light of the scale of the apostasy of his day. The people had rebelled against the commandments of God, had renounced the worship of God, and had rejected the servants of God (v.10). That was all true, but Elijahs claim to be standing alone seems a little incongruous when we consider that he professed to be "very jealous for the Lord God of hosts". If He is the Lord of hosts, would He allow the ranks of His loyal servants to be reduced to one solitary frightened man? In fact, He had reserved 7,000 who had never paid homage to Baal (v.18). Even today, some of the Lords dear people are in situations where they feel that the folks with whom they associate are bent on rejecting New Testament teaching, are determined to alter the Scriptural pattern for worship, and tend to pillory faithful teachers of the Word of God. In such circumstances, it must be hard to avoid the sense of exclusion that Elijah felt. Take courage from the fact that God always has His devoted people and will continue to maintain His interests despite what seems a lost cause.
Elijah was now commanded to, "Go forth" (v.11). When he was told to go in ch.17, Scripture simply states that "he went" (v.5). When he was told to go in ch.18, the record is, "And Elijah went" (v.2). In the past, he was quick to obey. In his present frame of mind, he seemed slow to respond and reluctant to obey, and neither wind, nor earthquake, nor fire induced him to leave the cave. Are we less keen to obey God than we once were? The Lords "still small voice" drew him out, and, with his face wrapped in his mantle as a token of reverence, he stood in the mouth of the cave (vv.12-13). How kind of God to speak to His wayward servant so softly. How good of Him to draw him back to the pathway of service, so that among other things he would anoint men who would be used to destroy the rebellious House of Ahab (vv.15-18).
The first task for the revived prophet was to anoint the man who was to be his successor. The mantle that had hidden his face in the presence of deity was now cast upon the young ploughman. This candidate for Gods service was industrious when called, as were Moses, Gideon, the disciples, and many others. God never calls lazy men. Immediately, Elisha saw the significance of Elijahs action, and resolved to follow, but his initial instinct was to go home to kiss his father and mother. He was among those whose mouths had not kissed Baal (v.18), but he did want to kiss his parents, and there was the danger that family ties could have hindered him. Elijah was sympathetic and knew the enormity of the step the young man had to take. "Go back again" (v.20). Elisha did go back, but to make a complete break with his past, evidenced in the destruction of his implements, and the sacrifice of his oxen: like Matthew, he left all to follow (Lk 5.28). Initially, his responsibilities were limited; he "ministered" to Elijah, becoming known as "Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah" (2 Kings 3.11). Eventually, he became a mighty man of God who made a tremendous impact on the nation. How gracious of God to allow His discouraged servant the fellowship of a young man of like mind and earnest commitment during the latter days of his ministry, with the responsibility of schooling him to fill his shoes. Let older men today have the same concern for the future of the testimony.
To be continued.