Elijah’s Discouragement

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.

What Would Jesus Tolerate?

One portrayal of Jesus popular today is that of the socially progressive, tolerant teacher who encourages everyone to follow their own heart, do what makes them happy, and spread love and cheer to everyone.

Studying the Jesus of the book of Revelation might yield surprising results for those who conceive of Jesus only in such a manner. The church here in Mankato has devoted a few weeks to studying the first 2 chapters of that book, and here are some noteworthy observations:

Jesus appears as a brilliantly shining, terrifying being, who among other things, has a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth (1:16). John tells us, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man (1:17).”

Jesus commends the church in Ephesus, saying “you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false (2:2).”

Similarly, Jesus reproves the church in Thyatira, saying “I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess (2:20).”

It is remarkable in our culture that so much prizes tolerance to see a Jesus who commends people who “cannot tolerate evil men” and reproves those who “tolerate the woman Jezebel.”

In addition, Jesus tells the church in Ephesus: “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent (2:5).”

Similarly, He says to the church in Pergamum, “repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth (2:16).”

And as to those in Thyatira who are following Jezebel: “Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds (2:22).”

Notice the language: “unless you repent,” “repent; or else,” “unless they repent.” This is not the kind of language that tends to make us feel comfortable.  Jesus is warning of negative outcomes contingent upon repentance from wicked actions.

It is important, however, to note what Jesus says to the church in Laodicea: “those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent (3:19).”

Jesus reproves and disciplines without apology, but this does not at all mean that He has ceased to love.

The lesson is this: warnings and reprovals are not necessarily “unloving,” indeed they are often the very evidence of unconditional love.

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