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Discover the Book - Aug. 19, 2008

  • 2008 Aug 19

Elijah in the Prison of Depression

 God used a tremendous therapy with Elijah. 1 Kings 19:5–7: “And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.  And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head.  And he did eat and drink, and laid down again.  And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee.” 

Despondency or despair does not always come from spiritual or emotional causes.  Oftentimes, it simply comes from physical causes—lack of sleep or poor eating habits.  Satan often attacks us when we’re tired.  That was the first step in the Lord’s therapeutic treatment of Elijah’s despondency.  Before He ever ministered to Elijah’s spirit, He ministered to Elijah’s body. There are some sincere Christian workaholics who boast “I would rather burn out than rust out.”  Such an attitude may sound very pious, but the truth of the matter is that burning out and rusting out are not the only two choices for the servant of the Lord to make.  Such a choice sounds like the following: “Well, you’re going to die so choose which way you want it—by the knife or by gun!”

 There must be a balance where we can both abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58) and also come apart and rest a while (Mk. 6:31).  If we don’t learn how to come apart, then we will soon do just that—come apart!

Elijah Depressed

“And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the mount of God”(1 Ki 19:8).  He kept on going!  He had gone 150 miles to Beer-sheba and then he kept on going to the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula where Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai, was located.  This was 300 miles away from Jezreel and Jezebel.  He came to Mount Sinai, the place where Moses, one of his illustrious predecessors, received the law from God; the place where Israel had made a covenant with God.  Why would he go there? I believe he went there because he had given up on Israel.  He wanted God to renew His covenant with him alone and start a new people, just as He had done with Moses 700 years before.  In other words, what God had intended to do with Moses but didn’t, Elijah now desires to be done with him (Ex. 32:9–14).

Verse 9: “And he came there unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him”  You’ll notice how that is the first time in this passage that the word of God came to Elijah.  In 1 Kings 17:2, 8 and 18:1, the Bible says “the word of the Lord came unto him,” but in 19:3, it doesn’t say that.  Elijah was disobedient to God in running away from Jezebel.  He was not following the word of the Lord as he had at previous times.

He’s had some food, he’s had some rest, so he can now think clearly.  So God begins to deal with his spiritual problem.

Verse 9: “ What doest thou here, Elijah?”  In other words, “Elijah, why are you here? You ought to be in Israel.  The people there are perishing for lack of knowledge, and you’re in the wrong place.” verse 10: “ I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts.  For the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

There is Elijah’s depression.  And now, he’s in the grips of it because he’s filled with self-pity. “I’m the only one left.  And I’ve done a pretty good job, too.  You’ve seen what I’ve done, Lord.  I stood up to the prophets of Baal.  I’ve stood up to Ahab” (paraphrased).  Do you notice the number of I’s?  Elijah was a great man of God.  Don’t misunderstand me.  My criticism of him is not because I have arrived, but because God had recorded it here for us to learn from it and appreciate it.  This great man of God had taken his eyes off the Lord and started feeling sorry for himself.  Have you ever felt sorry for yourself—a pity party, as it’s called, and you’re the only one invited?  That’s the mark of depression and despondency. “And I, even I only, am left.”  Elijah was in the real throes of depression, and he was useless to God.  He was 300 miles away from the place that he ought to be, feeling sorry for himself.  Elijah was despondent under a juniper tree; he was depressed in a cave; now notice that Elijah was delivered before the Lord.

Elijah Delivered

The Lord dealt with him in verses 11 and 12: “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.  And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind.  And after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire a still, small voice.”  Wind, earthquakes, fire—all symbols of God’s mighty power and Elijah had known that type of ministry.  He had been the one who had thundered, who had blown, who had quaked.  He had been a man of power, but somehow, God was teaching him a lesson here.  God was not in any of these things, but He was very present in a “still, small voice.”

God desires both great and small ministry for Him. What was He teaching Elijah by showing him these noisy manifestations of nature followed by a quiet word? Great natural catastrophes like those mentioned can quickly destroy men’s lives, but only the “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit can regenerate men through the patient teaching of the Word.  Elijah’s problem was shared by the two disciples of Jesus who wanted a Samaritan village, which had refused them hospitality, to be destroyed by fire from Heaven—Elijah style!  They were rebuked by the Savior for their wrong spirit (Lk. 9:55).  In the same way, God does not always work in such outward displays of vengeance.  Elijah’s new type of ministry was to be of the “still, small voice” variety, in contrast to the preceding dramatic measures.

God uses all of His children in varying ways. Verse 13 and 14: “And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave.  And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”  Now God begins to deal with His depressed prophet. Verses 18: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”  With that answer, He dealt with Elijah’s excuse—“I’m the only one left.”  In effect, God said to His prophet: “You are not indispensable, Elijah, you’re not the only one.  And if you go and do something else and forsake the prophetic ministry, I may just get one of those 7,000 to do it.  Don’t think that you’re a privileged character with God.”  Don’t think that because you suppose you are the only one doing the work, that you have some sort of special privilege.

Dear reader, don’t think that you’re indispensable to God.  You may be in the throes of despondency and despair simply because you are convinced that you have to carry the whole weight of some responsibility.

God wants us to serve Him all the time. Now, how does God deal with the depression of Elijah?  Verses 15–17: “And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.  And Jehu, the son of Nimshi, shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel.  And Elisha, the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah, shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy stead.  And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael, shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu, shall Elisha slay.” 

He told Elijah to do three things: Anoint a king of Syria, anoint Jehu as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha as his (Elijah’s) successor.  One of the greatest problems with depressed people is that they have lost their willingness to serve the Lord.  They are sitting around doing nothing, feeling sorry for themselves.  One of the best therapies is simply to get busy.  The cure for Elijah’s depression was to get his eyes on the Lord, to recognize that he was not indispensable, and then to get busy and stop feeling sorry for himself.  Get your focus outward and not inward.  Get your eyes off yourself and get them on the Lord.  Get your eyes off the problems and on the tasks at hand.  Get busy for the Lord and stop feeling sorry for yourself.  That’s the best therapy you can have.  Elijah did that, and thank God, because of his tremendous deliverance at the hand of the Lord, his ministry was not over.  Because he was delivered from this abominable depression, much of his greatest ministry still lay ahead.  True, it was a different type of ministry.  Gone were the days of Mount Carmel, but Elijah was not to be put on the shelf.  The inspired admonition of the apostle will serve well to close this chapter of Elijah’s life. “And let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).



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