First Kings 19 contains a story familiar to many. Elijah, having been used by God to demonstrate his power to his people beyond any doubt, having slain a host of pagan priests, and having outrun a chariot (see 1 Kings 18), experienced a panic attack. The burned-out prophet ran from Jezreel in central Israel all the way to Beersheba, the southernmost city of Judah. From there he went into the wilderness, collapsed under a broom bush and asked God to let him die.
Many of us know the disappointment and depression that can follow after we finally “make it to the top.” Elijah had accomplished all a prophet could possibly do. But instead of finding satisfaction and safety in the God he knew to be all-powerful, he surrendered to fear (see 1 Kings 19:1 – 4). Even in this time of weakness, though, God provided food and direction, and Elijah continued his arduous journey for 40 more days, arriving at last at Horeb (Mount Sinai, where Moses had long ago received the Law). Here, though, Elijah continued to wallow in self-pity and depression.
God’s question in verse 9 is a good one to consider if you’re where Elijah was: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah’s answer, though technically correct—or almost correct—came from his insanity rather than from the reality to be found in God’s power and protection. 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” (verse 10).
God didn’t rebuke Elijah for his depression. Instead, he revealed himself to the despondent prophet. As instructed by the Lord, Elijah exited the cave, where he had been holding a one-man pity party, to wait on the mountain for the Lord to pass by (see verse 11). God’s power was showcased in a great wind, in an earthquake and finally in a fire. But the Lord wasn’t present in any of these spectacular events. At last, following the fire, God spoke to his prophet in a gentle whisper.
There’s a vital lesson in Elijah’s experience. We may have experienced some great victories recently. Or we may be cowering and crying in the cave like Elijah, overwhelmed by fear or depression. No matter where we find ourselves, we need to turn down the volume of the tumult within and perk up our ears for that soothing whisper. God asks us to seek him daily in prayer and meditation on his Word, so that our fear and sense of failure can be displaced by an informed and growing faith.
Drawn from an article in the NIV Celebrate Recovery Study Bible.
The NIV Celebrate Recovery Study Bible contains the complete text of the NIV with hundreds of notes and study features that connect Scripture to eight recovery principles from the Celebrate Recovery program developed by John Baker and Rick Warren. Includes articles, recovery stories, biblical character studies and more.