Elijah: Dynamic Prophet, Desolate Soul

Posted on November 29, 2017


By David Ettinger

You can read the account of the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2:12.


Elijah on Mount Carmel

Elijah is Israel’s most heroic Old Testament personality. He spoke God’s word unflinchingly to pagan kings and did the miraculous through God’s enabling. He presided over the extraordinary showdown on Mount Carmel between God and Baal, and announced the end to the three-year drought which devastated Israel. He stood against the nation’s apostasy and was a lone voice for God in a land where idol-worship was rampant. He never backed down in the face of intimidation or failed to remain firm in his faith and zeal for God.

Except once.

Following the amazing occurrences on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), Elijah was sure that Baal worship in Israel was at last obliterated. Furthermore, the crushing drought was over. Additionally, God had supernaturally invigorated Elijah so that he could outrun King Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel, a 20-mile sprint.

Everything was going right for Elijah until …

When Queen Jezebel heard that Elijah had ordered the slaying of her 450 prophets of Baal,[1] she swore to kill Elijah.[2] Considering the display of God’s might he had just witnessed, Elijah’s extreme reaction to the queen’s threat is stunning: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:3). How could this dynamic man of God have been so cowed by Jezebel’s decree? Had not God just proven Himself mightier than any human or false deity? If God was with Elijah – as He clearly was – then how could anyone stand against the prophet? Elijah’s reaction to Jezebel seems to make no sense.

1 kingsUnless we consider Elijah’s condition leading up to Jezebel’s threat.

The man from Tishbe came on the scene of Israel’s history seemingly out of nowhere. God ordered him to leave his home and confront King Ahab.[3] Right after Elijah delivered the message that God would punish the nation with a drought, the Lord told Elijah not to return to his family, but to hide in the Kerith Ravine, where God would take care of his needs.[4] From the best we can tell, Elijah at this time, was completely alone, a solitary figure living in a solitary piece of land.

When the ravine dried up as result of the flood, God sent Elijah into pagan territory – Phoenicia (Jezebel’s homeland) – away from his beloved Israel. There, Elijah resided with a widow and her son.[5] Three years after first calling Elijah, God sent his messenger back to Israel, where he was to again confront Ahab and supervise the “deity battle” of Mount Carmel.

Unlike later prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea, Elijah did not have a decades’-long ministry in which he delivered numerous messages to thousands of people. Elijah was a loner, a man seemingly void of family and close personal relationships. We know he had a servant, who is mentioned once,[6] but don’t get the sense there was a close affinity between them. Elijah’s closest friend and confidant was God, who watched over, protected, nourished, and miraculously empowered His chosen vessel.

sad flowerYet, for all of God’s nurturing, Elijah, who apparently neither married nor had children, comes across on the pages as Scripture as a man who stood alone and had little to no human companionship. He had no one to share the great Mount Carmel victory with, and no one to pour out his fear and disappointment to when he discovered that the momentous spiritual revolution he anticipated would not occur. His hopes were crushed by Jezebel’s cruel decree, and there were no loving, comforting arms of a wife to hold him. He had gone from the heights of spiritual ecstasy to the depths of fleshly despair within mere hours, and there was not a single close friend to help him carry his burden.

Instead, Elijah was miserable, defeated, and humanly alone. With no one to run to, Elijah ran south – south into the desert wilderness of the Negev. After about 300 miles traveled in 50 days, he arrived at Mount Sinai, where God would deal gently, tenderly, and lovingly with his embattled prophet and give him the strength he needed to carry on his ministry.

Elijah would become Israel’s greatest prophet, but for a time, he was simply a fragile fragment of a man: frightened, fatigued, friendless, and forsaken. This is why he cracked.

Fortunately, when Elijah needed him most, God was there to put his prophet back together again. But the lesson of Elijah’s life is evident: Even the boldest, bravest, and most dynamic of men and women can be beaten by loneliness. Human beings were not built to live alone, as Israel’s greatest prophet sadly learned.

[1] 1 Kings 18:40

[2] 1 Kings 19:2

[3] 1 Kings 17:1

[4] 1 Kings 17:3-4

[5] 1 Kings 17:9

[6] 1 Kings 19:3