The Bible introduces us to the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17, and we are immediately left with the impression that he is a bold and powerful man of God. The story begins with Elijah declaring to the king of Israel, “surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
Elijah’s following actions include raising up a widow’s son from a terminal illness, mocking 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah as they stand by in embarrassment, calling down fire from heaven on an altar to the true God, and personally slaying the prophets of Baal who flee when public opinion turns against them.
There is not much that could be considered a sign of weakness in Elijah through these impressive events. He seems larger than life. But then things change suddenly.
“Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.’ And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.’” (1 Kings 19:1-4)
It seems like Elijah had held it together as long as he could. He had tried to stand strong and turn the people to God in a country that had completely gone astray. But he saw no fruit from his efforts, and he saw no one to help him, and he saw no reason to go on. He just wanted to die.
Thus Elijah journeyed forty days into the wilderness to seek God’s answer to this situation. God’s answer must have been so reassuring. He tells Elijah to go and anoint Hazael and Jehu as new kings and Elisha as a new prophet to carry on his work when he is gone.
“…It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15-18)
Elijah may have felt like all of his efforts had been for nothing, and that death was preferable to more of his worthless, lonely striving. But that was not the truth of the situation. He was doing an important work in a very difficult time for Israel, and there were others, who he had not considered or perhaps had never even met, who were ready to work alongside him and take over when his time really was finished. Though Elijah had said in verse 14, “I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away,” there were actually 7,000 others who were also faithful to God.
Do not be discouraged when your genuine efforts seem unfruitful. It could be that, like Elijah, you are doing an important work simply by carrying on the tradition that many others, who you may never have even met, will carry on.