Elijah completes his arduous journey to the mountain of Horeb, otherwise known as the Mount of God. He is likely exhausted, hungry, thirsty and still vaguely fearful for his life. He is probably lonely as well, though this would not be a new experience for him. When he gets there, he hears the voice of God — “What are you doing here, Elijah?“.
A searching question. Why is he here? He ran for his life from a threat from Jezebel. Why did he come to this place, this mountain so full of awesome history for the Israelites? Perhaps he came here because he expected God may reveal Himself here. But Elijah’s response reveals something beyond the mere fear of being killed. It displays a deep sense of disappointment, firstly with God’s people, and secondly with God Himself. We read
“I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (v10)
He is utterly disappointed with his people. Rather than serving God with the zeal he displays and understands, they ‘limp’ between gods, they disregard the solemn covenant God set up with them in ages past, they destroy the altars to their faithful God and go so far as to kill the dedicated prophets of the LORD (though that was Jezebel mainly). I have a feeling that what Elijah is really disappointed about here is their lack of zeal for God. He cannot understand how his people can say with one breath that they follow the LORD, and with the next completely disregard Him. This makes him extremely jealous for the LORD (this is jealousy in its good and useful form).
This type of thinking can cause one to lose hope. To despair. We see that with Elijah here, by the fact that he thoroughly exaggerates his claims. Perhaps he feels like the only faithful servant of God left in the kingdom of Israel. He feels that he carries the burden of serving God alone, while all others either are openly against Him or worse still profess some allegiance to God while maintaining their loyalty to false gods. But he should know that in actual fact he is not the only one. We have already met Obadiah who fears the LORD greatly, and in fact Obadiah was known by Elijah to have hid 100 more prophets of the LORD in caves to survive. That makes at least 101 other people known by Elijah to be faithful to God. Therefore we must conclude that it is his disappointment with the nation at large that is the catalyst for his exaggerated claim of being the only faithful prophet left.
I wonder if we have often been in a similar situation. We feel an overwhelming desire to serve God faithfully, and cannot understand the lack-lustre Christianity around us, let alone the implicit idolatry of the surrounding lifestyle. We start to feel as if perhaps there is no-one else that feels this burning desire that we do. Instead of having a love for God’s people, we start to be disappointed and cynical of God’s people. We start closing ourselves off to the Church because how can it be true? How do we respond to such situations?
The LORD does three things to counteract Elijah’s pessimism. First, He tells Elijah to listen out for Him as He passes by. Along comes a mighty tempestuous wind. It broke upon the mountain and tore rocks asunder, but God’s voice did not come from the wind. Then came an earthquake, but neither was the LORD’s voice in that. Then a raging fire, but again God’s voice was not there. All these were awesome displays of God’s power. Elijah would have been awed, and he may have wondered — if God’s voice hasn’t been in any of those things, what awesome way will He reveal Himself? Surely it could not be more awesome than the wind or the fire? But next came a still, small voice. The sound of a soft whisper. And that was God’s voice. You see, God was showing Elijah that while He was powerful and capable of the purest force, His truest and most fundamental attribute was humility and gentleness. God is showing Elijah that though He is capable of a jealous rage far beyond anything that Elijah can muster, He presents Himself lovingly and gently, something that Elijah is evidently struggling with.
And what does God say to Elijah in the small whisper? The same thing He says before — “What are you doing here, Elijah?“. And believe it or not, Elijah has exactly the same response. Talk about stubborn! So God does the second thing — sends Elijah on a mission. He sends Elijah to appoint a king of Syria, king of Israel and a prophet to succeed him. In some way, God is pointing out to Elijah that there are other faithful people out there, in fact there is one who will carry his message into the next generation. But more-so I think God is saying ‘just get on with business’. One of the best ways to counteract disappointment is to actually get on with God’s business — talk to people, pray with people, whatever He calls you to do.
And then just for good measure God throws the following in:
“Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (v18)
That is, God is saying that there are in fact 7000 men in Israel who have not bowed to Baal. Elijah was grossly underestimating God’s fervour for His own people, and God is gently reminding him of this fact. We must always remember that no-one loves His people more than God Himself. No-one has a heart for them like God Himself. While the ways of the Church are often rightly disappointing, we must never become so cynical as to dismiss her, for in doing so we are criticising the love of God for His own. We are diminishing the power and grace of God. Let us instead love His people and pray for them.