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Discover the Book - Aug. 18, 2008

  • 2008 Aug 18

Elijah, A Person Like You

James 5:17 reminds us that Elijah was “a man of like passions,” a man of clay subject to the same trials and failures as any believer. How strange that Elijah should face 850 angry prophets and not be afraid, and then run away from the threats of one woman! Certainly there was a physical cause to his failure: the great contest on Mt. Carmel had undoubtedly wearied Elijah and drained him emotionally. Christians would do well to take better care of their bodies, especially after times of intense ministry and sacrifice (cf. Mark 6:31). But the main cause for Elijah’s failure was spiritual: he saw Jezebel and failed to see the Lord; he listened to Jezebel’s threats and forgot to wait for God’s promises. In every step he had taken, Elijah had waited for God’s command (17:2, 8; 18:1, 36), but now his fear led to impatience, and impatience led to disobedience (Isa. 28:16). He was no longer risking his life for God’s glory; rather, he was trying to save his life for his own sake.

This may be encouraging to us even in common cases, if we consider that Elijah was a man of like passions with us. He was a zealous good man and a very great man, but he had his infirmities, and was subject to disorder in his passions as well as others. In prayer we must not look to the merit of man, but to the grace of God. Only in this we should copy after Elijah - that he prayed earnestly, or, as it is in the original, in prayer he prayed. It is not enough to say a prayer, but we must pray in prayer. Our thoughts must be fixed, our desires firm and ardent, and our graces in exercise; and, when we thus pray in prayer, we shall speed in prayer. Elijah prayed that it might not rain; and God heard him in his pleading against an idolatrous persecuting country, so that it rained not on the earth for the space of three years and six months. Again he prayed, and the heaven gave rain, etc. Thus you see prayer is the key which opens and shuts heaven. To this there is an allusion, Rev. 11:6, where the two witnesses are said to have power to shut heaven, that it rain not. This instance of the extraordinary efficacy of prayer is recorded for encouragement even to ordinary Christians to be instant and earnest in prayer. God never says to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek my face in vain. If Elijah by prayer could do such great and wonderful things, surely the prayers of no righteous man shall return void. Where there may not be so much of a miracle in God’s answering our prayers, yet there may be as much of grace.

Oftentimes, the great characters of the Bible the Abrahams and the Elijahs and the Pauls—are considered as super saints with halos around their heads to whom most people can’t relate.  But Elijah was no super saint—he was a man.  That truth will be graphically illustrated over and over again throughout these studies.  He was a man with feelings.  As a matter of fact, James 5:17 says it this way: “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are.”  Or simply stated, one could say, “Elijah was a man just like us.”  He had problems.  I don’t know if he was single or married, but if he was single, he faced the problems of loneliness; if he was married, he faced the problems of providing for a wife and kids.  He was a man just like us.  And it’s good to keep that in mind at the beginning of this series of studies.  Hence, the title of this chapter “Elijah: A Person Like You.”  The difference in Elijah was not in his genes, but in his faith.  He was a man who was sold out to God.  He had failings.  And you’ll be able to identify with him along the way in some of the things that he did.  But even though he was made of the same stuff as we are, what a challenge he is to us in the way he believed God!

Secondly, he was a man who lived in the presence of God.  Look at 1 Kings 17:1 again: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand.”  Elijah was living in the presence of God.  He was standing in His presence and speaking with His authority.  As a matter of fact, James 5:17 says, “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed.”  You see, that’s the difference between Elijah and us.  It’s not that his nature was different than ours; it’s that we have not learned to pray like he prayed.  That’s the difference.  He was a man, but he was a man who stood in the presence of God.

Elijah Despondent

“And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.  Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, 'So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.'  And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life”(1 Ki. 19:1–3).

How could it happen that a man who had been fearless and undaunted could then lose that courage and begin to run for his life? However, such an experience often happens with the child of God.  A psychologist would call it despondency.  Oftentimes, after a believer’s greatest spiritual victories, he finds himself in what John Bunyan called the “Slough of Despond.”  A Christian should not be surprised if, after some great spiritual victory, a strange period of despondency arrives on the scene.

After this great spiritual experience on the mountaintop, Ahab told his wicked wife, Jezebel, what Elijah had done.  She was the hand that ruled her weak-kneed husband.  She wasn’t impressed with the report, but replied, “I’m not afraid of him.  In 24 hours, he’s going to be dead”(paraphrased).

And then a strange thing transpired.  This man of God, who was willing to stand up before the prophets of Baal, in the sight of the nation, turned one hundred eighty degrees and took off in the opposite direction.

Verse 3: “And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.”

Beer-sheba is in the southern part of present-day Israel—150 miles from Jezreel!  There he left his servant, but he kept going.

19:4: “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 away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.”

Why did he leave his servant there and keep going? In simple terms, he was quitting the prophetic ministry.  He was not planning on coming back to what he considered to be a land that was wicked beyond help.  Then after another day’s journey, he sat down under a juniper tree and asked God to take his life.

What in the world happened? Where is the Elijah of Mount Carmel? Where is the Elijah who stood before Ahab and pointed his finger toward him and said, “It’s not going to rain for three years until I say so!”  Are we reading about the same man?

Right after a great spiritual experience is the time when Satan’s attacks are the strongest.  When I was a pastor, it would happen like this.  After a wonderful service of blessing at church, our family would pull out of the church parking lot, and about one-half mile down the road one of the kids would become sick in the car!  What a way to deflate a spiritual bubble!  There is a saying, “a pastor resigns from his church every Monday.”  That may not be true, but many pastors can identify with the feeling!

That’s what happened to Elijah.  He is on the mountaintop with God, and then a few hours later, after his great spiritual experience, he’s leaving town and running from one woman.  Simply stated, Elijah looked at circumstances and not at the Lord.  When he first stood fearlessly before Ahab his eyes were on the Lord.  At the lonely brook Cherith, his eyes were on the Lord.  And then when he came down, he got his eyes on Jezebel.  When we take our eyes off the Lord and look at the circumstances, we become candidates for despondency.



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