May 5, 2003

LifeWay Explore the Bible Series for May 18

Trust God even in times of apparent defeat
___bluebull 1 Kings 19:1-6, 9b-10, 15-18
___By Jim Perkins
___Madison Hills Baptist Church, San Antonio
___The scene bemused (and amused) me as I watched them fan the face of the huge football player, attempting to rouse him from a dead faint. He had intended to join the other student donors at our university blood drive, but the sight of the little needle overwhelmed him--muscles turned to mush as he slumped down in the donor's chair.
___God's prophet, Elijah, also was overwhelmed. It had appeared the victory was God's--Baal's prophets were finished, Israel gave God the glory and the rains inundated the land. Elijah scarcely had time, however, to savor the victory. It was as if the horn had just sounded to end the fourth quarter.
___Now, before the prophet had the opportunity to celebrate the victory as the band played the school song, the opponent was back on the field brandishing billy clubs and threatening a bloody overtime.
___This enemy was deadly serious. Jezebel intended to kill Elijah (19:2), and she had the resources necessary to carry out that threat. As one might imagine, the prophet truly feared for his life and decided to vacate the premises for a less hostile territory--Beersheba, the southernmost city in Judah. The life of Elijah had devolved from heroic prophet to disillusioned refugee in what seemed to be the nightmare of an overnight development.
___Whether the prophet suffered from a diagnosable, clinical depression cannot be known. We can be reasonably confident, however, that he experienced fear (19:3), frustration, discouragement and the hopeless feeling of total defeat. That Elijah left his servant behind as the prophet went out into the desert to die gives evidence that he considered his ministry to be finished and life no longer worth living (19:4).
___Elijah had removed himself from the arena of battle. Now he simply--yet profoundly--needed rest. Exhaustion is a multifaceted phenomenon, and the prophet's life reflected the characteristics of a multitude of contributory factors capable of producing it. He appeared to be emotionally, physically and spiritually drained. Elijah needed rest and the nourishment that brings physical and spiritual renewal.
___Elijah received just that. His retreat provided rest, and the personal ministry of an angel provided both food and a renewal of hope. Perhaps a glimpse of the extent of that personal renewal can be seen in the fact that through this time God's prophet was prepared to undertake a strenuous journey from the region of Beersheba to Mount Horeb--probably a distance of more than 200 miles (19:5-8). This Mount Horeb is identified by many biblical scholars as the same mountain of Moses' calling and the reception of the covenant (Exodus 3:1, 19:20).
___Elijah's sojourn to the mountain brought the most encouraging possibility of all. As the prophet rested in a cave on the mountain, the unfailing "word of the Lord came to him" (19:9).
___Note that his conversation with the living God, the Master of the universe, brought a unique and deeply reconstructive opportunity to Elijah. In the midst of the comfort of God's word, the prophet was free to share from the depths of his heart, especially all his frustration and fear that perhaps his efforts had come to naught. After all, it appeared to Elijah that the Israelites persisted in--or had returned to--their adulterous worship of Baal. Elijah also was convinced all the other prophets had been murdered. As far as Elijah knew, his was a lonely, solitary stand for the honor of the Lord God (19:10).
___It seems God chose this mountaintop experience to teach his prophet a truth valid for all the ages. Even as Elijah squared off against the doubles team of discouragement and defeat, the prophet was reminded the effects of defeat are never quite as disastrous, damaging or disqualifying as we imagine.
___God also chose to address his prophet at Mount Horeb with encouraging words spoken at the engaging volume level of a "gentle whisper" (19:11-12). A quick reference back to 18:38 illustrates the marked and purposeful contrast between this conversation with God and his mighty actions in the raucous and nature-rending phenomena of Mount Carmel (18:38; 19:11-12).
___Even as God gave Elijah the opportunity once more to express the depths of his discouragement and despair, the Lord also spoke encouraging words of renewal and reassignment to his servant: "Go back the way you came, ... I reserve 7,000 in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal" (19:15, 18). Reserved for us, then, is a powerful testimony of God's faithful acts in the midst of defeat or discouragement--for his faithful servant who will listen, God is ready to encourage, renew and reassign to his kingdom work.
___Questions for discussion
___bluebull In what areas of life have you faced defeat or extreme discouragement? How did you respond?
___bluebull What is it about Elijah's life and God's faithful acts that could cause you to respond to your discouragements or defeats in a more redemptive manner? Refer also to Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 3:13-14.

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