Friday, February 21, 2014

Elijah - maybe he should not have slain the prophets

The story of Elijah and his contest with the 450 prophets of Baal is a familiar one so I decided to look a little deeper this morning for something new. When the children of Israel were divided in their loyalty and tempted to follow Baal worship Elijah demands that they choose whether they would follow Baal or God, you cannot serve both. A contest of sorts followed and the prophets of Baal called upon their god unsuccessfully while Elijah got an impressive display of God's power. Had he left it there and gathered the people together for teaching things might have gone differently. But he chose to slaughter the 450 prophets. God had already shown His power, Elijah did not need to show his.  Queen Jezebel reacts to the insult to her religion and the death of her prophets by promising to do the same to Elijah within 24 hours and he runs for his life. How odd. He had just seen an impressive display of God's power but he seems to think God cannot, or will not, now protect him from Jezebel. It is somewhat like Peter, who stood up to those who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and within 24 hours denies him three times.

Elijah escaped into the wilderness beyond Jezebel's reach. Exhausted and upset he sat down under a tree and gives in to despair and self condemnation. He must have felt that he deserved no help from God for his act against those 450 men. (We saw such a different way of dealing with that kind of threat in the Bible Lesson a few weeks ago when Elisha spares his enemies, treats them with kindness, and sends them home.) So there sits Elijah, just wanting to die. At this point God sends an angel to encourages him to rise up and take nourishment from the food and drink provided. He does so but then just goes back to sleep. The angel comes a second time and now Elijah begins '40 days and 40 nights' in a wilderness experience. But at least now he is moving forward and headed for Mount Horeb, a holy place. When he gets there he has stopped asking to die but chooses to live in a cave, he does not ask for forgiveness nor is he willing to take up his mantle and go back to teach the people. Now God himself comes to him. I love His question, "Elijah, what are you doing here?"

There have been times when I have felt that cave experience, just wanting to be left alone to go over and over a mistake I made. But God has not left me there either. He asks me the same question, what are you doing here? I have work for you to do. In Elijah's case He had shown him His great power, I have had some remarkable healing in my life as well. Why do we choose to give up when there is so much good God wants us to do? God tells him to come outside and watch. Then Elijah sees that God is not in the earthquake, wind, or fire, but is that still, small voice of Truth. And he is ready to return to doing what God has planned for him to do. As I was ready to learn from my experiences and trust my life to God's keeping.

That still small voice reaches us even in the darkest places and times, when we are most fearful. God is always talking to us, we must choose. Do we take retribution in our own hands? If we make a mistake do we go hide in some mental or physical cave or do we choose instead to be still and listen. God already knows what we need and He supplies it. He is always with us, even in our wilderness moments. Especially in our wilderness moments.

How grateful I am for all the wisdom and practical applications of what we study in our Bible Lessons. Even the great ones had testing times. Maybe that is part of what helped them to become great. It is what we take from that experience that lift us higher into a better and closer relationship with God. Next time I am tempted to 'slay the prophets' I will remember Elijah and choose instead to listen for the still, small voice.

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