A Misplaced Focus
Throughout Elijah’s ministry, he had seen the Lord do many miracles. God had used ravens to bring Elijah food at the brook Cherith during the famine. Later, He provided lodging for him with the widow of Zarephath and miraculously multiplied her food so that it would last to the end of the famine. At Mt. Carmel, God sent fire down from heaven and devoured the water, the stones, and the burnt sacrifice Elijah had prepared. Soon after that, God caused rain to fall at the end of the three years of famine. Finally, as the rain began to fall, the hand of the Lord strengthened Elijah and gave him power and speed to outrun Ahab’s chariot and get to Jezreel ahead of Ahab.
Elijah had seen God do mighty and dramatic things. Perhaps he expected another miracle to take place when Ahab returned to Jezebel. Maybe he thought Jezebel would hear of God’s great power and turn to Him and let all God’s prophets go. Maybe God would strike her dead so that she could not lead Israel astray and persecute those who believed in God. Surely, things must get easier from here on out. But, no! Jezebel became furious. She blamed Elijah for all that had happened. This did not seem fair. Elijah had stood alone against the 850 prophets of Baal. He expected something good and wonderful to happen. Instead, he was running for his life. Elijah was very discouraged. He felt like his life was in vain. It seemed to him that all the work he had done for God had amounted to nothing. He was depressed and wanted to die.
When Elijah heard God speak to him in a still, small voice, he was afraid and wrapped his face in his mantle. Then he went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. He was afraid of God, but his attitude had not changed. While he stood there, God said to him, “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.” (I Kings 19:14) This was the same answer Elijah had given to God the first time God asked him, “What doest thou here?” Elijah was still focused on himself and his problems. He felt very lonely. God saw his loneliness and pitied him. He assured Elijah, “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” (19:18) With compassion, God told Elijah, “You are not alone. You may not see them, but there are seven thousand in Israel who still love Me. They have not worshipped Baal. You are not alone.”
Provision and Preparation of Elijah’s Replacement
God saw that Elijah was getting weary in the work, and He prepared another man to learn from him and to take his place later. First, however, He tested Elijah’s obedience by giving him a job to do. It was a tough job. God sent Elijah to anoint Hazael to be king over Syria and Jehu to be king over Israel. Once again, Elijah had to put his life on the line. Anointing these two as kings while the other kings were still reigning could be considered treason. This was a very dangerous job. However, Elijah obeyed and did as God commanded. Elijah passed the test.
Then, God did something very special for Elijah. He sent him to anoint Elisha to be prophet in Elijah’s stead. Elijah did this and Elisha “arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.” (19:21) God had given Elijah a companion and someone to take up Elijah’s work after he was gone.
It seems that Elijah was still discouraged. It is not clear how long Elisha ministered to him before he was able to do public service for the Lord again. Nothing more is mentioned of Elijah until the middle of chapter twenty-one. In the meantime, God sent other prophets to talk to Ahab and to help the children of Israel. Once Elijah began his public ministry again, he was able to serve until the Lord took him to Heaven in a chariot of fire with horses of fire. These parted Elijah and Elisha asunder, “and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (II Kings 2:11)
Elisha was very sad after Elijah was gone, but he wasted no time in filling his master’s place and fulfilling the ministry God had called him to do.
This story is both sad and happy. It is the story of a man who got discouraged and gave up. Although God allowed him to work for Him again, the enthusiasm and power that was there at the beginning of Elijah’s ministry never returned. Elijah seemed to remain a weary worker. But, Elijah still loved God. God had compassion on him and raised up a man who would take his place and serve with fresh enthusiasm and a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elisha was able to take over his ministry with a new zeal and the mighty power of God upon his life!