Encounters with God is a sermon series about the theophanies or divine appearances and how they reveal the stunning character of God and his heart for a world that is lost without him. Is there any hope for the exhausted? Any grace for when you’re feeling burned out? Absolutely. In the encounter with God and Elijah, we discover God’s care for the whole person and our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Recorded on Dec 5, 2021, on 1 Kings 19, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re talking about The Greatness of God. And today, we’re continuing a sermon series called Encounters with God. In the Bible, when God appears to someone it’s known as a theophany or divine appearing. And these encounters are wild stories, God never seems to act how we would expect. Well today, we’ll consider the fascinating encounter with God and the prophet Elijah. And to me, this encounter is one of the most comforting and practically helpful stories if you ever get to the point where you’re feeling exhausted or burned out. The holiday season can be a tiring season under normal circumstances. But after the last 2 years of chaos and loss, I think we’re all feeling a little fatigued. Exhaustion shows up differently for different people. Some of us get more down/depressed, others get more angry/irritable, some of us feel all of these things. As followers of Jesus, what can we do when we’re exhausted? Is there any hope, any grace for the burned out? Absolutely. In our text for the day, we’ll see God care for Elijah in his exhaustion as a whole person, ministering to him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If you have a Bible/app, please open to 1 Kings 19:1. We’ll unpack this story as we go:
1 Kings 19:1-5a (NIV), “1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 3 Elijah was afraid[a] and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.”
Ok, let’s pause here. What is going on here? Well, first, when is this taking place? So Ahab and Jezebel were the king and queen over the northern kingdom of Israel about 850 years before the birth of Jesus. This is about 100 years or so after the time of King David and Solomon. Under David, the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were unified. But after the time of Solomon, the unified kingdom started to fall apart. So it was right in the middle of this tumultuous time that God had called Elijah to be a prophet in Israel. This was a tough assignment. There was no peace at this time, and it wasn’t just that war was coming. There was vast corruption in the house of Israel. There was widespread idolatry/violence/injustice under the leadership of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. But immediately before this, Elijah’s ministry career had really reached a pinnacle. 1 Kings 18 describes an epic showdown between hundreds of prophets of the false Canaanite god, Baal, and Elijah. And Yahweh had shown up in a very public way, that he was the one true God, not Baal. Though hundreds of prophets cried out for hours and hours and cut themselves, Baal never answered them. In contrast, Elijah simply prayed and Yahweh rained down fire, completely consuming his offering. Now, you might think that after such a mighty victory, Elijah would be feeling good! That he would feel vindicated and wouldn’t need to be afraid of anything. But when he heard how Jezebel responded, and he heard her solemn vow to kill him, Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.
Let’s look at a map together [map slide]. We started our story up at Mount Carmel in the northern part of the northern kingdom of Israel. This was where the showdown with the prophets of Baal happened. After this, it says that he ran all the way from Mount Carmel to the Valley of Jezreel which was about 20 miles away. So Elijah had just run almost the distance of a marathon when he heard the threat of Jezebel. So Elijah fled down to the southernmost city of Beersheba in the southern kingdom of Judah. This was a distance of about 120 miles. Elijah left his servant there and continued another day’s journey into the wilderness beyond the borders of Judah. Back in v. 4, it says, “He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” Elijah is utterly exhausted. He’s burned out. He had traveled for days and days. And he’s at the place mentally and emotionally where he’s ready to give up on everything. He actually asks God to take his life. Have you ever gotten to that place? Ready to give up? Ready to lay down and just go to sleep anywhere? Where everything seemed hopeless? Maybe you’ve felt that way or maybe you’re feeling that way today. How do you think God would respond to Elijah, the mighty prophet, in this state? With a rebuke? We know Elijah had seen God do amazing things before. I could imagine God responding saying, “Elijah, were you not paying attention to what I did at Mount Carmel? Did you not learn anything from my triumph over the prophets of Baal? Where is your faith??” But is that how God responds? Look back at v. 5.
1 Kings 19:5b-9 (NIV), “All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.”
So after fleeing for his life, and after getting to the point of despairing of even life itself, what happens? An angel comes to him in the wilderness and ministers to him. But it’s no regular angel, it’s the angel of the Lord. This is an angel who represents the very power and presence of God himself. And what does he do? First, he touches Elijah. Twice it says that the angel touched him. Why does he do this? Because human beings need touch. It’s comforting. It’s life-giving. A hand on your arm or a hug, it’s vital in any good relationship, but especially for someone who is so discouraged. This reminds me of Luke’s gospel. Luke was a physician by training and in his gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus, Luke emphasizes the healing ministry of Jesus. And Luke often mentions how Jesus touched someone as he healed them. Luke knew how helpful that would be for healing. So here, the angel touches Elijah. Second, what does he do? He feeds Elijah. Twice it says that the angel of the Lord cooked a warm meal for him. It says he was strengthened by the food. And I know some of you know what this is about. How clearly do we think about our lives when we’re hungry? Not very well. So he ate. Finally, it says that Elijah did what? He slept. He was exhausted, he had traveled so far, and he had farther to go. He needed to stop and rest. He needed a Sabbath or he wasn’t going to make it. God ministers to Elijah first by addressing his physical needs. But then after this, what does he do? He continues on. He travels another 250 miles, all the way down the Sinai Peninsula to Mount Horeb, which is also called Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. This is where God called Moses from the burning bush. This is where God entered into a covenant with the people of Israel after freeing them from Egypt. This is where God had spoken to his people in the past, perhaps he would speak again? Would God speak? Let’s continue with v. 9.
1 Kings 19:9b-13 (NIV), “And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?””
God’s questions aren’t like our questions. They’re never about gaining information, they’re always an opportunity to uncover the hidden things, the thoughts and motives of the heart. And so they’re always an opportunity to grow. What are you doing here? Have I not sent you to Israel? Do you not have an important job to do? How does Elijah respond? It’s here, in this amazing encounter with God, that we get a little insight into why he was so discouraged and ready to give up. Elijah essentially says, “I have fought for you, Lord. I have been faithful to you, but no one else has been faithful. No one worships you anymore. There hasn’t been a revival. In fact, they’re killing your prophets. I’m the only one left and now they’re trying to kill me too.” No wonder he’s exhausted. No wonder he’s discouraged and in despair! From his perspective, the mighty victory of God over the prophets of Baal didn’t vindicate him, it only made his life more difficult!
And how does God respond? Here, at the famous Mount Horeb, God shows up once again, but not in the way we might expect. It starts out similarly to Moses’ experience or maybe Job’s experience that we looked at last week. There’s a great and powerful wind. It shatters the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. Then there is a powerful earthquake, but again, the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. Then there came a consuming fire, but again, the Lord wasn’t in any of these displays of power and strength and glory. How does God appear to Elijah? As a gentle whisper, a still small voice. It was the gentleness, it was the quiet voice of God that drew Elijah out of the cave, out of his place of hiding/fear/darkness/despair. Last week, we saw that Job needed to be reminded of the power of God. Here, Elijah needed something different. He needed a gentle whisper. When he heard it, he knew God was near. He pulled his cloak over his face in the fear of the Lord, in reverent and humble awe. He was in the presence of the Lord. And the Lord asks him again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” V. 14.
1 Kings 19:14-18 (NIV), “14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.””
So in the end, it was the word of the Lord that is what Elijah needed to hear. Not the mighty wind, not the earthquake, not the fire, but the word of the Lord. And what does God say? First, that he’s not done with Elijah. He still has a job to do. “Go back the way you came, Elijah. I still have more I want you to do for me. Anoint Hazael as king over Aram, Elijah, for I am still sovereign over the nations. Anoint Jehu as king over Israel, Elijah, for I am still sovereign over Israel. Ahab and Jezebel will not have the final say. These are my people. Also, appoint Elisha as your successor. The ministry won’t die with you. Even though it might feel hopeless now, my work in the world will continue on after you.” Finally, the word of the Lord reveals that even though Elijah feels like he’s all alone, he’s not. God says he has a remnant of thousands of faithful men and women in Israel. Isn’t this amazing? In the midst of exhaustion, burn-out, and despair, God ministers to Elijah as a whole person. He ministers to his physical and emotional needs, talking with him, touching him, and giving him a nap and a snack. But then he also ministers to his mind and soul by his gentle and encouraging word. Elijah, you may feel alone, but you’re not alone. I am with you. My presence is near to you. Besides that, there are thousands of faithful people left. Also, you may feel as though your ministry has been pointless, but your faithfulness/ministry hasn’t been in vain. It may not have turned out how you expected, but I have been at work and I have more still for you to do. And this might be a good time to remind you that not everything you feel is helpful, not everything you feel is true. But how kind is the Lord? How helpful? God is great and God is good. So Elijah goes back to work. He goes back and is obedient to God’s word and at the end of his life, he was taken directly into heaven.
Now, Elijah isn’t the only faithful man to experience this dark night of the soul. There are other people in the Bible and in church history, faithful men and women who experienced this level of pain and despair. Faith in God doesn’t necessarily prevent this from happening. But in those moments. In those days of darkness, what do we need? We need to be ministered to as a whole person. We need to rest. We need to Sabbath. But we also need the word of God. We need the gentle voice of God correcting us and restoring our joy and hope. Ultimately, we need Jesus. We need the one who is the bread of life and the water of life. We need the one who came to take our place on the cross. We need the one who intercedes for us even to this day. What do you do when you’re exhausted and burned out? Listen to Jesus, the one who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:28-29, NIV).