************ Sermon on 1 Kings 19:3-4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 8, 2004
1 Kings 19:1-5
1 Kings 19:3-4
"Elijah Wants to Quit!"
Have you ever wanted to quit? You are at the limit of your physical endurance and you cannot take another step or empty another box. Or, you are emotionally drained and cannot handle another moment with the kids screaming underfoot. Or, you are fed up with the Church and Christian School and their constant demands on your money and time. Or, you are tired of the constant attacks of Satan against the faith and doctrines you hold dear. Or, you cannot handle one more bill collector or notice due and the constant worry about money. Or, you are suffering from burnout. Or, your life is so depressing you just want to end it all.
Lots of people think this way – that life is not worth living and that they just want to end it all. Statistics tell us that the number of suicides for those who are ages 15 to 19 is 11.1 per 100,000 people. Every year we seem to have a couple of teens in Visalia who commit suicide. Statistics also tell us the number of suicides for those who are ages 75 to 84 is 24.9 per 100,000 people [Newsweek, 4/18/94. "To Verify," Leadership]. Too many old people are buying into the myth that a less than perfect life is not worth living and that suicide or assisted suicide is the only answer.
In this morning's Scripture reading we see Elijah – the mighty man of God – wanting to quit. He wants to give up. He is tired and fed up and discouraged and depressed and wrung-out and drained and burned-out. He thinks he cannot go on. He thinks he cannot take another step, fight another battle, or proclaim another word from the Lord. Elijah, of all people, wants to throw down his stick and quit.
I Elijah Flees the Battlefield
A "Elijah was afraid and ran for his life." He was afraid of Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. He had been in the northern Kingdom of Israel, in the town of Jezreel (1 Kings 18:46). He fled south into the Kingdom of Judah. The first stopping point mentioned by Scripture is Beersheba – a town 100 miles from Jezreel lying on Judah's southern border. But this was not Elijah's final destination. The prophet continued south of Judah into the desert.
B "When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there." This is the last time the servant is mentioned. We can only conclude that Elijah discharged or laid-off his servant.
Why did Elijah discharge the servant? Only one answer seems plausible. Elijah must have believed he was at the end of his life. He must have believed his career as a prophet was almost ended. Therefore, he no longer had need for a servant.
C Elijah "went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed ..." The broom tree is a desert shrub found throughout the desert south of Judah. Its roots were used to make coals (Psalm 120:4). Such roots could also be eaten (Job 30:4). Although this shrub did not have many leaves, it did have many branches and twigs and therefore gave some shade against the summer sun and protection from the wind.
D Elijah sat down under the broom tree "and prayed that he might die." This was not a pious prayer asking God to take his soul to be with Christ. Elijah's prayer said nothing about life after death. Elijah's prayer was simply a request for death. Elijah's prayer was simply a request to end it all.
E Don't forget the geography of our story. Elijah prayed for death in the middle of the desert – a desert outside of the Promised Land. This has great significance: Elijah prayed for death in a desert that was not part of the area in which the Lord was revealing the history of salvation. We have to remember that the revelation of the Kingdom of God was geographically limited in the Old Testament. In the days of Elijah it was still confined to Canaan. The people among whom the Lord revealed Himself lived in Canaan. The church of the old covenant lived in Canaan. The Kingdom of God on earth was established within the geographical boundaries of the Promised Land. The powers of the coming age were at work among God's people in Canaan.
We can go further and say that on earth the Lord attacked the powers of darkness, the kingdom of Satan, especially within the boundaries of Canaan. It was especially in Canaan that the Seed of the woman struggled against the seed of the serpent.
In our Scripture reading we see that the prophet Elijah withdrew from the battlefield and went outside the borders of the land. This was not the first time he did this. But his time at the brook Cherith and the widow of Zarephath was at the Lord's command.
Elijah was doing what a soldier is allowed to do only with his commander's permission. No soldier, especially during war, is allowed to leave his place in the ranks, withdraw from the battlefield, take off his uniform, and lay down his weapons just because he thinks he has had enough. In today's military language, we would have to say that Elijah was "Absent Without Leave."
Elijah was frightened on the battlefield, for the enemy seemed too strong for him. In his fear he deserted, threw down his stick, and asked for death.
The prophet Jeremiah, too, had a strong desire to withdraw from the battle, which was becoming too much for him. He too wanted to escape to the desert. He wanted to find rest in the loneliness of the wilderness, far from the battlefield:
(Jer 9:2) Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people.But it did not go any further than a wish on Jeremiah's part. He did not carry out the wish as long as the Lord Himself did not give him permission to do so.
F Elijah not only deserted his post. He also abandoned the small flock of faithful believers. As the prophet of the Lord in Israel, it was Elijah's task to feed and care for his fellow believers. But Elijah gave no thought to the faithful remnant before he left the battlefield. In fact, he didn't think there were any believers left (vs 10). He forgot about Obadiah; he forgot about the 100 prophets Obadiah hid. He wanted to die believing he was the only one left. In deserting his post, then, Elijah was letting go of God's people; he was leaving the people as a flock without a shepherd.
II Elijah's Prayer for Release
A In our Scripture reading we hear a prayer of Elijah. We have heard a number of his prayers. As we look at Elijah's prayers we conclude that Elijah's greatness seems to come out especially in his prayers. Elijah prayed and there was drought for 3.5 years. Elijah prayed and the son of the widow of Zarephath was raised from the dead. Elijah prayed and fire came down from heaven and burnt the offering on Mount Carmel. Elijah prayed and an overwhelming downpour of rain descended on Israel. "Elijah was a man just like us," says James (5:17); yet he was able to move heaven and earth with his prayers.
B Now, listen to Elijah pray under the broom tree. This is not one of those powerful prayers of which James speaks:
(1Ki 19:4) "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."With regards to his life Elijah says, "Enough!" And with regards to death he says, "now!"
"I have had enough, LORD." Elijah looks at himself when he says this. He cannot go any further, he is burned out, he is at the end of his rope, he wants to throw down his stick, God cannot and may not ask any more of him. His life can now end for it is enough.
"I have had enough, LORD." Elijah also looks at the people of Israel when he says this. He is sick and tired of the sinful people, the mob of adulterers, the faithless crowd. He thinks they are beyond saving. He thinks it is time for God to stop showing them His grace and mercy and love. From Elijah's point-of-view the Lord has done enough and it is time for Him to quit too.
"I have had enough, LORD." In his despair, Elijah was letting go of the work of the Lord. That work could only be viewed through the eyes of faith. The prophet was only looking at his own work, his own struggle, and he reduced the work of the Lord to those dimensions. And, he wrongly concluded that God's work was limited or bound by the boundaries of his own work. Elijah reduced the work of the Lord to the boundaries of his own work. Now that he believed he had failed in his work, he wrongly assumed that the Lord's work had failed as well.
Faith see things differently. Faith does not dare limit the work of the Lord to the narrow confines of human work and strength. Faith knows that the Lord's work of grace does not end when we have reached the end of our strength. Faith knows that God's work does not go under if we perish in the battle. If we fall before the forces opposed to Christ, this does not mean the Lord's cause is lost! Elijah forgot that when it comes right down to it, the battle belongs to the Lord. It was, first of all, the Lord's fight against Jezebel.
C "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." At least Elijah is right at this point. Sitting there under the broom tree, Elijah realizes he is not greater nor better than the generations, the patriarchs, the prophets, and the holy men who came before him. Elijah realized he was as weak and powerless as anyone else.
Here was an admission that all those signs and wonders Elijah performed were not done by Elijah but by God through Elijah. Elijah was but a frail instrument in the hands of a mighty God.
Realizing his weakness and powerlessness, Elijah asked God to take his life.
III Christ and Our Struggle
A Elijah was a great man in God's Kingdom. About that there can be no doubt. No one had such power at his disposal as did Elijah; the forces of God's Kingdom were bound to and in and with Elijah for a time. That's why he could pronounce a drought and there was drought; that's why he could call on God to raise a dead boy and the boy arose; that's why he could call down fire from heaven and fire came down; that's why he could pray for rain and heavy rain fell down.
But when we see and hear Elijah under the broom tree we realize that someone greater and stronger than Elijah is needed.
That someone is Jesus.
Whereas Elijah was no better that his ancestors, Scripture assures us that Jesus is greater than Abraham and Moses and Solomon and Jonah (cf Mt 12:41-42; Lk 11:31-32).
Whereas Elijah fled from the battle field, the wondrous message of the Gospels is that Jesus did not flee. He did not let go of His people and abandon them in battle. Rather, He was the One forsaken by all.
Whereas Elijah struggled with an evil woman, Jesus struggled with Satan.
Whereas Elijah lost courage when he thought he was the only one left, Jesus shows His strength best during those three awful hours when He was all alone.
Whereas Elijah wanted to die before he saw the victory, Christ could not die until He had won the victory. Only then could He say, "It is enough. It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
Yes, the Christ is greater and better than Elijah – greater and better by far.
B We, who live after the first coming of Christ, are involved in the same struggle as Elijah was. However, ours is a different phase of the struggle.
In the time of the new covenant, it is impossible to flee the way Elijah did, running away from the battlefield and seeking safety outside the enemy's territory. We live after Pentecost. With Pentecost, the entire world has become the battlefield. The struggle of the two great powers is no longer confined to the boundaries of a nation or a land but now encompasses the entire earth. Therefore, we can never flee the battle and throw down our stick and find an isolated place apart from the struggle as Elijah tried to do.
Not only is it impossible to flee the battle, but our struggle is not against the flesh and blood of a Jezebel; rather, it is against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, against principalities and powers (Eph 6:12). This means our battle is more intense, fierce, and even frightening.
We also know that today the devil is fighting extra hard. The Apostle John writes in Revelation 12:12 that the devil "is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short." And, Peter can write, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). Satan is making one last, desperate, useless attempt to defeat the Kingdom of God even though he knows Christ has already won the decisive victory at the cross and the grave.
And, in our struggle today, we gain much comfort, strength, and encouragement from the knowledge that Christ has triumphed. "It is enough, it is finished," He cried. Though the battle continues we know the war has already been won. We know that with Christ and in Christ we have already triumphed over all the Jezebels of this world. We know that we are in the last stage of the struggle and that the remaining time is short (1 Cor 7:29). We know that to flee the battlefield when the war is already won makes us worse than Elijah.
And, we know that ultimately the battle continues to belong to the Lord. Like Elijah, we are but weak and frail instruments or weapons in the hands of a mighty and awesome God.
C The devil is attacking us from every direction. He attacks us through the increasing decadence of our culture as we saw in the half-time show of the Super Bowl. He attacks us through a secular humanism that wants to remove all mention of God and Christ and prayer from the public square. He attacks us through churches and doctrines that strive for political correctness rather than obedience to the Word. He attacks us through temptation and sin and evil.
Within the Christian Reformed Church we see the devil busy at work. In First Toronto, where practicing gays are not only welcomed into church membership but now are also being considered for church office, it is the devil busy at work. When Classis and the denomination permits women in the ruling offices of elder and pastor, it is the devil busy at work. When Professors are allowed to teach views that are at variance with Scripture, it is the devil busy at work.
In all of this it is easy to be like Elijah – to become discouraged, to stop fighting, to quit the struggle, to leave the battlefield, to throw down out stick. But we can't quit. We must answer the Lord's call. We must continue to be soldiers of the cross. We must continue to be weapons in the hands of a mighty God. Because, don't forget, the battle belongs to the Lord and He has already won the victory.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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