Weekly Meditation: 19th June 2016
1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a
Psalm 42, 43
When Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, he showed amazing courage and trust in God. Although outnumbered by 450 to one, he put his life in jeopardy by building an altar and placing his sacrifice on it, then – to make things more challenging – he soaked his offering with water, and invited God to send down fire. Water was a very precious commodity, because this was the third year of a severe drought and famine. If Elijah had failed, he would not have stood a chance of surviving. He further provoked the prophets by taunting them, while they called on their god from morning till noon without effect (1 Kings 18:1-45).
Elijah’s faith was fully vindicated. God sent down fire to consume both offering and altar. However, three Bible verses later, we find him running for his life, full of fear (1 Kings 19:3). He made, not for Carmel where he had so spectacularly triumphed, but for the desert. There he flung himself down under a tree and prayed for death (19:4). It seems that Elijah felt his life was now purposeless and no longer worth living. Later, on Mount Horeb, where once Moses had met and spoken with God (Exodus 3:1), Elijah also had an encounter with the Lord (19:8).
This time God did not manifest himself in flames as on Carmel, nor in the wind and the earthquake that struck the mountain. Instead he spoke in a ‘gentle whisper’ (19:11-12). God’s purpose was to restore Elijah’s faith and to put matters back in perspective. Perhaps in the experience on Carmel Elijah had begun to trust too much in his own strength; perhaps he felt he himself was wielding God’s power, rather than relying on God to act. He believed himself to be the ‘only one left’ who served the Lord (19:14), but God was able to reinstate him as his prophet, and instruct him for further service (19:15) – and he told Elijah that far from being the only one left, there were 7000 other faithful servants of God (19:18).
God is able to restore the people he has made, even those whose trust is failing and whose faith is weak or non-existent. In the story of the healing of a demoniac, after all the disorder of the man who lived naked among the tombs, after the shouting of the demons who possessed him, of their shrieking cries, ‘Don’t torture me!’ (Luke 8:28) and the squealing of the pigs into whom the demons fled (8:32), we have the simple testimony that the former demoniac was found ‘sitting at Jesus feet, dressed and in his right mind’ (8:35); calmness in contrast to uproar, and a man equipped now to witness to God’s power (8:39).
When we trust in ourselves we will fail; Paul sought to impress this upon the Galatian church. He warned them that to rely on their Jewish nationality, on their free status, on their gender (far superior to be male!) or on their ability to keep the law, would avail them nothing (3:23,28). The law itself had been only a means to lead them to Christ, by revealing their imperfection and their need for salvation (3:24), but now through faith in Christ they were all one, truly ‘Abraham’s seed’ (3:28-29).
We all become ‘downcast’ and ‘disturbed’ in our faith from time to time (Psalm 42:5). The psalmist clearly is no exception; he longs for God like a thirsty deer, seeking him with tears and remembering his former faith as if it long past (42:3-4). The remedy, though, is to put hope and trust in the Lord and to praise him as saviour and God (42:5,11).
By Susan Thorne