After the great victory and demonstration of God’s power on Mt. Carmel we now see another side of Elijah’s character, a more human, frail and fallible side. When King Ahab arrives in Jezreel he reports to Queen Jezebel all that occurred on Mt. Carmel, including the killing of the prophets of Baal. Jezebel erupts in anger and sends a message to Elijah, “May the gods judge me severely if by this time tomorrow I do not take your life as you did theirs!” Elijah is so terrified by this threat that he immediately runs as far away from Jezebel and Israel that is possible.
It surprises us that Elijah reacts this way, rather than resting in God for His protection as he had for the past three and one-half years, Elijah ran for his life. He ran all the way through the kingdom of Judah to the southernmost town in the land, Beersheba. He leaves his servant in Beersheba and travels another day’s journey out into the desert. There he sits down under a broom tree and says to the LORD, “I’ve had enough! Now, O LORD, take my life. After all, I’m no better than my ancestors.” Elijah is exhausted and discouraged, focused on his circumstances he sees his failure to remove Baal worship rather than the powerful work of God.
After Elijah expresses his despair he lays down and falls asleep, he is gently awakened by an angel who tells him to get up and eat. There by his head is a fresh baked loaf of bread and a jug of water, Elijah eats and drinks and goes right back to sleep. The angel awakens him a second time and tells him to eat and drink again so he will have the energy for his journey. Elijah then leaves that spot and travels for 40 days and nights to the mountain of God, Mt Sinai. Like Moses and the people of Israel, Elijah traveled the desert sustained by the food and drink that God provided.
At Mt Sinai, Elijah finds a cave to spend the night, on Mt Carmel we saw the prophet as a great spiritual leader ready to save Israel by his trust in the LORD; on Mt Sinai we see the prophet as weak and without trust or understanding. In the cave the LORD speaks to Elijah asking, “Why are you here?” Elijah’s answer shows he has not learned from his 40 days of travel in the wilderness, “I have been absolutely loyal to the LORD, the sovereign God, even though the Israelites have abandoned the agreement they made with you, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left and now they want to take my life.”
Elijah’s self-pity strikes us as terribly wrong, what about his servant that he left behind, what about the widow who fed him for years, what about faithful Obediah and the people he hid from Jezebel? In Elijah’s discouragement he has devalued God’s victory over Baal as failure. God in his mercy does not reprimand Elijah for his lack of faith; instead He reveals his power to him. The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD. Look, the LORD is ready to pass by.” Elijah experiences powerful wind storm, an earthquake and fire from heaven – but the LORD was not in any of those demonstrations. Elijah experienced God’s power – but the LORD was not in any of these, that is, they were not His instruments of self-revelation. Elijah returns to his cave then he hears the sound of a gentle whisper, he covers his face and steps out to meet the LORD – God asks again, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
Elijah gives the same answer as before; his answer shows he did not understand the significance of God’s revelation. The God who controls the wind, earthquake and fire is sovereign over Ahab, Jezebel and any others that oppose him. Then the LORD sends Elijah back the way he came, retracing all of his steps taken in fear and doubt, with a specific job to do in Israel that will carry forward the work of purifying the land.
Elijah was to anoint Hazael king over Aram, anoint Jehu king over Israel and anoint Elisha to succeed Elijah as prophet. Through these three men God would complete the purge of Baal worship that Elijah had begun. Then God reveals to Elijah the true status of His people: “I still have left in Israel seven thousand followers who have not bowed their knees to Baal or kissed the images of him.”
Chapter 19 concludes with Elisha’s calling to ministry. Elisha is plowing the fields of his family’s farm with 12 pairs of oxen; this signifies wealth, power and strength. As Elijah is walking by he throws his cloak over Elisha. Throwing a prophet’s cloak around a person symbolized the passing of the power and authority of the office to that individual. Immediately Elisha leaves his work and runs after Elijah, requesting that he be allowed to kiss his parents goodbye, then he will follow. Elisha realized the meaning of receiving Elijah’s cloak and was ready to sever all ties with his former occupation and accept God’s call.
Elisha returned to the field, took his pair of oxen and slaughtered them. He cooked the meat over a fire that he made by burning the harness and yoke. He gave the people meat and they ate. Then he got up and followed Elijah to become his assistant. Elisha is a great example of obedience; he leaves his family with a celebratory meal to follow Elijah to learn from him and to serve him as his assistant.