December 17th, 2013

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And Elijah ran


Scripture: 1 Kings 19:1-18

Immediately following Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal, the greatest power encounter since the plagues from God descended on the people of Egypt, Elijah ran away.

He had good reason.  He had just defeated the prophets of Baal and made fools of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  Jezebel was bloodthirsty, evil and capable of fulfilling the threats she made on Elijah’s life.  Fear enveloped Elijah.  He didn’t remember that he served the God who rained fire from heaven, he didn’t remember that he, with swagger, had confronted 450 prophets of Baal and won, he just filled up with fear.  Fight or flight?  He flew.

When he could run no more he collapsed under a broom tree and said to God: “It is enough; now, O LORD take away my life…”  This catharsis precedes one of most beautiful encounters that God has with anyone in the Bible.

This is the passage where God speaks to Elijah not in the hurricane wind and not in the earthquake or the fire but in the whisper.  Before Elijah gets to that cave high in the mountain however, an angel is sent to feed him.  It may be because one of my daily tasks is to prepare and cook food for those I love, but this scene moves me.  The angel doesn’t rouse Elijah to offer explanation or to lecture him about his fear and failure.  He is sent to attend to his physical exhaustion that is feeding his hopelessness and despair.

(Alexander Ivanov, Prophet Elijah in the desert)

There is a similar encounter that Jesus has with his disciples in a resurrection appearance.  In John’s gospel we find Jesus calling out from the shore to his disciples who have been fishing all night.  He causes them to have a huge catch of fish.  As they scrabble out of the boat and onto the shore, Jesus calls out to them, “Come and have breakfast.”  These men, overcome by grief and confusion over the loss of expectations about how Jesus was going to bring in the Kingdom are served freshly grilled fish from his own hand.  Before he attended to their hearts he fed their bodies.

When Elijah had received the meal from the angel he was strengthen enough to travel for forty days.  He was able to discern that the voice of the LORD came from the whisper and that he, not the only prophet in Israel still had tasks to complete.  The disciple Peter, after having received food from his master’s hand was able to express his love for Jesus and accept that there were even greater challenges in his future.

It seems easy for me to believe that God despises my weakness, that he grows weary of me and that he rushes to look for a stronger and more capable servant.  These encounters tell me it isn’t true.  They tell me God “…remembers that (I am) dust” like Psalm 103 tries to encourage me to believe.  The same motivation that moves me to provide food for my family moves him too, because there are many things yet for me to do.

Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen

The Robbie Saey band perform a piece based on Psalm 62, which calls us to recognize our refuge in God.