Posted by: arieliondotcom | May 4, 2013

Running Backwards (1 Kings 19)

Running Backwards
(1 Kings 19)

Have you ever seen a video or movie where it’s run backwards so that things fall up, people and animals run in reverse and you giggle at the absurdity of it? That’s what’s going on here in this chapter. It’s like Opposite Land where things are happening in reverse to what should be and it seems absurd.

First we have a statement that shocked the original hearers. A king whined to his queen like a child. This is the reverse of the usual relationship where the king was in charge and the queen, usually one of many women the king had in a harem, would need permission to approach or speak to the king. Ahab and Jezebel were almost comical if their sins were not so severe and their effects so horrible. He is that silly little man, the kind that calls his wife “Mommy”, and she is the devil in a dress, lording over him and his kingdom in his place. Opposites.

In this case Ahab is telling Jezebel how Elijah had personally killed all of her prophets, those dedicated against the true GOD but who were idol worshipers and encouraged the most disgusting sins imaginable, both sexual and in the murdering of babies. He hands his power to her and she is the one who sends a message to Elijah that by the power of those idols she will make sure he is as dead as those prophets by the next day. Instead of trusting her idols to avenge themselves, Jezebel does the opposite and threatens to kill Elijah herself.

So what’s the problem? Elijah had just killed nearly 500 false prophets who could have easily made a human sacrifice of him. He had stood up to Ahab. So he must have simply shrugged off this threat, right? Not at all! He runs like a rabbit being chased by a hunting dog and hides.

Now GOD had hidden Elijah before, for three years, as Ahab and Jezebel were trying to kill him when GOD used Elijah to stop the rain in judgment for their idolatry. But this is the opposite of that. This was Elijah hiding himself. It’s like the mirror image of the previous event.

And Elijah is acting like Obadiah whom he had once sent to challenge Ahab to come out to meet Elijah. Now, like Obadiah, Elijah was terrified. And when Elijah hides himself, he complains to GOD the way Obadiah complained to him that he had done so much for GOD it was unfair for him to die. But instead of asking or trusting GOD to protect him, Elijah just asks to die in his sleep rather than being caught and killed…probably tortured to death…by Jezebel.

But GOD doesn’t let Elijah die. Instead He has an angel wake him up and feed him. There are several subtle but significant points here.

First is that Scripture emphasizes the kind of tree Elijah rested under, the rethem. This is significant because Psalm 120 sounds as if it could have been written by Elijah, someone living among godless people who hate the godly without cause. The Psalm says these people will be punished with arrows made by being hardened over coals from the same type of tree Elijah is sleeping under. What’s more, the angel who wakes Elijah up and feeds him feeds Elijah with cakes baked on the same kind of coals made from burnt rethem tree which Elijah’s sleeping under.

Second, this may be a theophany, a pre-incarnate vision of JESUS before He was born in flesh. This is significant because we read in John that after His resurrection JESUS appeared on a beach cooking breakfast of bread baked on coals, just as this heavenly being is baking bread on coals for Elijah.

Backwards. When GOD had sent Elijah into hiding He had birds feed Elijah bread and meat. But now the exhausted and depressed Elijah is fed baked bread, possibly from the Hand of GOD.

Whenever you hear this chapter preached it will always be about being sure to rest and refresh yourself. And that could be seen here. They’ll talk about burn out after Elijah had challenged the prophets. And the need to refresh yourself for ministry. But there’s more than that here.

After being refreshed with rest, food, and water, Elijah keeps running and hides in a cave in what’s called the Mountain of GOD. It’s as close as he can get to literally climbing into GOD’s Lap for protection. He sleeps some more but GOD abruptly wakes him up asking “What are you doing here, Elijah?” The opposite of when GOD had hidden him before challenging the prophets. Then it was GOD who told Elijah to hide, as always making us co-workers with Him. Birds and heavenly beings may bring food but we’re still required to take and eat, as JESUS will tell the apostles at the Last Supper. But now Elijah is hiding rather than trusting, the opposite of what he should be doing after being used and refreshed by GOD. And as his justification he almost accuses GOD. As Obadiah had done to him, he complains to GOD that he’s the only godly person left and it’s unfair for Jezebel to want to kill him.

In response, GOD tells Elijah to go to the top of the mountain to see His Glory pass by. We remember a similar incident with Moses. Moses had asked to see GOD’s glory but had only seen as much as any human could see and live. This was more than he’d seen when he and the LORD spoke face to face, because the fulness of GOD’s face would kill him. Now it’s the opposite and it’s GOD Who invites Elijah to get a better glimpse of Him.

Yet that, too, is the reverse of what’s expected. GOD’s not revealed in the windstorm, earthquake or fire He brings. And then there’s silence. Suddenly we read that Elijah is no longer on the mountain top but back in the cave and hears a “still, small voice.” The Hebrew has the sense of the silence being so profound the silence itself seemed to speak. When Elijah goes to the mouth of the cave to see what is being said, GOD asks him again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

So Elijah now realizes he needs to trust GOD and get about GOD’s business again, right? No. The opposite. He whines again about how good he has been and it’s not fair for Jezebel to want to kill him.

And GOD’s response to Elijah is to go back the way he came. He puts Elijah in reverse. And He explains to Elijah that He will appoint EliSHa to follow him and eventually take his place as prophet.
But first Elijah has work to do, anointing two new kings. And by the way, GOD adds, as if to say “Don’t be so full of yourself”, there are 700 others who are just as faithful as he, Elijah, is.

Hebrew scholars say that GOD appointed Elisha for Elijah as He had appointed Aaron for Moses because Moses and Elijah both complained. In Elijah’s case it was because he, a man, was too critical of GOD’s people. GOD had intentionally used Elijah to bring a drought, end it, demonstrate GOD’s power over idols and kill idol worshipers. All of this to soften the hearts of His people and bring them back to Him. Instead Elijah, after all the miracles GOD had shown him, still hardened his attitude against the people he’s supposed to bless.

We see this when Elijah goes through the motions of calling EliSHa. EliSHa has a servant attitude and is plowing his father’s field. Scripture emphasizes EliSHa’s humility by emphasizing he was behind all the others. Elijah just walks up, throws his cloak over EliSHa and walks away. The opposite of the usual process of calling a disciple. It’s EliSHa who says he’ll follow as soon as he says goodbye to his family. But interestingly we don’t read that he does. Instead he kills the oxen and offers the meat, burnt over the yokes they worked under, as a meal for the people nearby. It was a sign that he was giving up the tools of the trade of a farmer and going into service for the LORD with Elijah.

But for his part Elijah seems as if he couldn’t care less and simply says something to the effect of “Why should I care?” when EliSHa says he’ll follow soon.

Opposites. Reverse. Running backwards. Yes, Elijah should have rested after the confrontation with the prophets. And yes we need rest, too. But that’s a stretch of application. This passage says just the opposite of that, really. That when Elijah wanted to flee he should have run back to the fight not back into hiding. And he had to run backwards and retrace his steps to get back on track with the will of GOD.

Fight or flight. Which are we doing today? What challenge are we running from when we should be running to, instead, in the power of Christ? GOD forbid that we should ever hear GOD, as gentle though it may be, ask “What are you doing here?”

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