“And He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord’” I Kings 19:11 (ESV)
One of my favorite hymns is the one composed by Horatio Spafford in his grief after the death of his 4 daughters in a shipwreck where there mother survived alone. The hymn is “It is Well With My Soul”. I discovered recently that Spafford based this upon 2 Kings 4:26, the story of the Shunammite woman whose son had died. Reading this text I turned a number of pages to the left in my Bible to re-study the story of Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18-19. One of the reasons I love this section of the Bible is because Scripture makes no attempt to excuse or conceal the blemishes, the faults, or the failures of its heroes. That is one of the pointers to the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. In 1 Kings 18 and 19 we learn not only about God’s character, but about the frailty of God’s servants. In 18 we see a mighty triumph of the servant of God. He manifests his bravery before hundreds of prophets who were antagonistic to the servants of God. In 19 we see him panicking before the presence of one—a woman, Jezebel. Mountain top in chapter18; valley in 19. Descriptive of your life? Of mine?
God is Unchanging No Matter Our Circumstances
The Christian life is not simply encountering the highs of spiritual encouragement, but also the lows of discouragement. I believe the following is from Sinclair Ferguson: “It’s not difficult to believe that God loves us when we are on the heights of Carmel. It’s not so easy when like Elijah in the desert we lie stranded or as dismantled and rudderless vessels we roll in the trough of the waves. Most necessary it is for our peace and comfort to believe that the love of God abides unchanging as Himself. ”
We are told of Elijah that he received a threatening message (1 Kings 19:1-3). In other words, if Jezebel has her way, Elijah’s number is up. Are you surprised to read the response—Elijah, afraid, ran for his life. What? He’s just come from a situation where he was on his own in front of 450 guys who were totally opposed to who he was and what he did. They possessed lances and swords. As surely as they slashed themselves with them, they might have slashed him with them. And Elijah had seen God come down in mighty power and vanquish the host of the enemies. But here, just on the strength of a letter, Elijah runs.
Can defeat so quickly follow success? If so, why? When we read our Bibles we find that this is perpetrated time and time again. Think about the victory of faith expressed in Noah’s life as he continued without a drop of rain to build the ark (Genesis 6:14-22). And then consider the sorry description of what happened to Noah in his drunkenness (Genesis 9:20-29). Think about Abraham as he sets out on the journey of faith; then think about what happened to him when he went down to Egypt. Think about David as he triumphs over Goliath. Think about David when kings go out to war as he finds himself embroiled in adultery and murder.
Listen to A.W. Pink: “God suffers it to appear, that the best of men are but men at best. No matter how richly gifted they may be, how eminent in God’s service, how greatly honored & used of Him, let God’s sustaining power be withdrawn from them for a moment, and it will quickly be seen that they are earthen vessels. No man stands any longer than he is supported by divine grace. The most experienced saint, if left to himself, is immediately seen to be as weak as water and as timid as a mouse. Therefore it is vitally important that we pray for those people whom God has raised for leadership responsibility amongst the people of God.”
Effectual Fervent Prayer
It is told of Charles Haddon Spurgeon that when he took people around the Metropolitan Tabernacle he would take them downstairs into a lower room and say, “And this is the boiler house.” There wasn’t a boiler to be seen; it was just full of seats. Spurgeon would say, “Every Sunday morning when I preach here to the 4000 people who are upstairs, there are 300-400 people who are downstairs who pray for me as I preach.” Spurgeon never gave an evangelistic appeal. He only invited those who were troubled in spirit to meet him in his office on a Monday morning.
Biographers note that there was never a Monday morning during Spurgeon’s ministry that he did not have inquirers concerning their soul’s condition before almighty God. What was the key? Some will say because Spurgeon was a phenomenal preacher. But the reason that you and I know about Spurgeon this day is because of the 400 people down in the boiler room while Spurgeon preached.
Elijah represents the failure of a hero. The failures in the Bible are not there for us to hide behind, but as warnings to deliver us from expecting too much of others, and from expecting too much from ourselves. In the aftermath of spiritual triumph it appears that the opportunity for spiritual defeat is at its zenith. Remember what Robert Murray McCheyne said about sin? “The seedbed of every sin that has ever been committed and will ever be committed lies within my own heart.” A reminder to us that the individual who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). Martin Luther said how when he received some notable encouragement of God’s grace he almost immediately knew the experience of the devil riding on his back and seeking to drive him to the ground.
We are told by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-18 to put on the full armor of God to fend off the darts of the Evil One. Two of the darts which come with the most frequency are the darts of complacency which neutralize us, and the darts of despondency which renders our testimony obsolete.
Has there been a change in your heart from faith to fear? Elijah is a great lesson, because his focus changed. He started to look at God through his circumstances, rather than look at his circumstances through God.
Blessings in the Lord Jesus,