Elijah comes, in our passage today, fresh after his triumph over the prophets of Ba’al at Mt. Carmel.
Elijah challenged King Ahab and Israel, as a whole, to choose between Ba’al and the one true God Yahweh in a contest between the two.
A sacrifice would be put out and the God who burned it up would show Himself to be their God.
What follows after the challenge is an account of the prophets of Ba’al, self-mutilating themselves while Elijah chides their God comically, and finally the undeniable miracle of Yahweh burning up the sacrifice, altar and all, before the so called Ba’al could even get out of the water closet.(1 Kings 18:20-39)
Well it didn’t change the hearts and minds of the leadership of Israel who basically responded to God by saying, “don’t confuse me with the facts!”
Ahab and Jezebel had no faith in the one true God; they only had hatred for Elijah.
Abject mockery of Yahweh would not be tolerated, on this day, and the ones whom regarded themselves as the almighty ones would be mightily humiliated.
Elijah carried out the sentence for enticing the Israelites from serving other gods, and by the authority of the state established by God executes the criminals for their crimes. (Deuteronomy 13:6-11, 17:2-7)
Now what should have been a reaffirming final victory for those loyal to Yahweh, turns quickly to Elijah fleeing in fear to Beersheba, and even to hiding a day’s journey into the wilderness from Jezebel.
It was all going so well and then in the time it took to pause for reflection it all turned so bad?
Why did God allow Elijah to triumph and then subsequently fail with even greater humiliation and defeat?
It is a question we ask ourselves from time to time!
“Good times bad times you know I’ve had my share…” goes the song performed by Led Zeppelin.
In prosperity and poverty in sickness and in health we say in our marital vows.
“The good outweighs the bad” comforts us in the midst of our challenges in life.
But we all seem to know it won’t always be good and it won’t always be bad.
Today even Elijah knows that…even if he doesn’t believe it!
That lack of faith manifests itself most clearly in vs. 4 when he says, “it is enough; now oh LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
And in a smidgen of truth Elijah is right, but not right like he thinks he is, rather right as Yahweh makes him to be.
He is no better than his fathers; he didn’t have more, he was not more blessed, and his creaturely comforts were not much improved over those who went before him.
No he was not better than them, but HE WAS JUST LIKE THEM, and like Moses in particular.
Just like Elijah, Moses was on Mt. Horeb. (Ex. 3:1)
Just like Elijah, Moses went with-out food for the same length of time. (Ex. 34:28)
In verse 9 after the end of our passage today it shows Elijah, “at the entrance of the cave” just like Moses was in the “cliff of a rock” when the LORD’S Glory passed by (Ex. 33:22)
And finally in verse 13 Elijah “wrapped his face in a cloak” just like Moses “hid his face” at the burning bush (Ex. 3:6); because they both knew they were in the presence of the LORD.
Yahweh takes his servant; feeling no better than his fathers and walks him through JUST LIKE HIS FATHERS!
This is so powerful for us today, especially in those moments when we feel down.
We have a cloud of witnesses that went before us. They don’t see us or cheer us on; but rather stand as testimony to us; having been there and done that when we feel like nobody knows the trouble we’ve been through.
In Jacksonville one year we were having a particularly difficult year sharing the gospel and starting mission churches where it seemed no good deed would go unpunished.
After a tough night with all the pastor’s gathered to pray for one another and encourage one another, one of my closest colleagues responded to my exasperation for being castigated, by telling me,
“Marc, John 15:20 tells us Jesus said, ‘A servant is not greater than his master! If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you!’”
That quote comforted me and put all our trials in perspective in the very way I needed it at that very moment.
Doing God’s bidding, doing what is right, and being faithful is its’ own reward; because the consequences will usually make us want to just ask the Lord to take us home sooner than He wants us to come home.
But if today is not your day…
Look at what God does in the midst of those difficult days.
Good times bad times you know we’ve had our share; but never forget that God is always there.
When we find ourselves all alone and nobody seems to be there for us; not our family, not our friends, and not even our pastor!
That’s when God is there, waiting for you to ponder Him through His word, and talk to Him through prayer.
He never leaves us or forsakes us, but makes Himself known when we feel most alone.
When we are out in the wilderness of this world God offers us shade from the heat that the devil tries to bring down on our heads.
He literally shelters us every week, and every day if we need it, in His sanctuaries for our spiritual renewal; through the liturgy and the proclamation of the Gospel.
And when we are famished and exhausted; He feeds us and refreshes us for the journey He laid out for us.
The church for thousands of years fed the hungry and sheltered the homeless and still leads all other entities in that regard today, but God gives us something even better than that…
God gives us eternal food in His Body and Blood and eternal rest through the Hope we always had in Him.
The other day I met with Pastor Zwonitzer to talk about mission opportunities in the Villages.
The conversation turned quickly to getting to know each other better and divulging shared experiences; both good and bad.
As I shared my highs and then my lows I watched his eyes transform from winkled laughter to taut astonishment deep with the empathy only someone who has been there before could muster.
But as soon as he saw my assured countenance that everything worked out to the glory of God, his taut astonishment and empathy quickly relaxed into a satisfied expression and he said, “Isn’t it amazing how we grow and see the glory of God in the most difficult of times!”
I couldn’t agree more.
So…back to our original question…Why did God allow Elijah to triumph and subsequently fail with even greater humiliation and defeat?
The answer is simple…HE DIDN’T
It was never Elijah’s victory to begin with…it was GOD’S.
And…it wasn’t subsequently Elijah’s failure and humiliation either.
That defeat was saved for someone else much much later.
Defeat only comes to the people of God when they utterly and completely reject their salvation in the one true God.
And if we forsake Him, the consequence of that unbelief is our defeat and the result of that defeat is our eternal dwelling apart from Him in Hell.
Elijah suffered no such defeat, he never went to Hell, and in fact he didn’t even die.
2 Kings 2:11-12 tells us of those last days when Elisha his spiritual son walked with him, “And as they walked and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”
No Elijah did not suffer defeat, but the Angel of the LORD whom fed him in our passage today…DID.
For the Angel of the LORD was the messenger of Yahweh and was the appearance of God’s Son, Our Savior Jesus, before His incarnation.
And He was utterly defeated for us and went to Hell on our behalf to tell the Devil to His face that our debt was paid.
He did all this so we could be with Him.
Because it was never about the good times or the bad times it was always about the eternal time He wanted to spend with us.