Kings Lesson 17 - Throwing in the Towel
If you could choose a character in the Bible who best teaches us how to overcome despair and suffering, who would you choose? Probably Job or the Apostle Paul, right? Those are the obvious choices. But what about Elijah? Here in the book 1 Kings 1 we find a story just as profound and didactic as Job's or Paul's. What God will teach Elijah in this story is a lesson we need as well.
“THROWING IN THE TOWEL”
(I Kings 18:41-19:18)
William Carey, the pioneering missionary to India seems an unlikely candidate for depression. Known as the Father of Modern Missions, we have discovered written in his diary these words, “I am defective in all my duties, in prayer I wander and am too formal . . . I soon tire; devotion languishes and I do not walk with God."
Surprising words from a saint!
The truth is, even the best can become depressed and downhearted.
In fact, I happen to believe that we have the recipe for discouragement built into the fabric of our culture.
Listen to this editorial. “The world is too big for us. Too much is going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement. Try as you will, you get behind in the race, in spite of yourself. It’s an incessant strain to keep pace and still, you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment. The political world is news seen so rapidly you’re out of breath trying to keep pace with who’s in and who’s out. Everything is high pressure. Human nature can’t endure much more.
So reads the editorial in the Atlantic Journal, June 16th, 1833.
Hopefully as we bathe our minds and hearts in the fresh water of the word, we will understand a little better why the Word of God most often refers to the Christian experience as a walk; and never as a mad dash.
If I were to ask you to choose a character in the Bible that went through the pain of despair and depression, not many of us would think of Elijah. The prophet of fire and miracle.
In fact, if I were to ask you to choose a chapter in the Bible that provides counsel for overcoming deep despair, not many of us would select I Kings 19.
And I invite your attention to that Biblical location this morning.
Before we take a closer look at the therapy of Divine counsel for this depressed patient of God’s - we need to understand what led Elijah to the edge of despair.
In chapter 18, you remember our observation of some incredible miracles. Elijah was literally having fun as he mocked the false prophets of Baal; suggesting that Baal wasn’t answering their prayer to ignite their sacrifice with fire from heaven because, well, he was sleeping, or on a journey, or maybe in the powder room.
Then Elijah in verse 37 prayed, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that Thou, O Lord, art God and that Thou has turned their heart back again.” 38. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces, and they said, “The Lord, He is God, the Lord He is God.”
Can you imagine being Elijah at this moment - he’s been praying for years that revival would occur - that Baal would be overthrown - this is the most exciting victory in his entire life! Oh Lord, it’s wonderful to be your prophet!
I remember one day going out to my car as a sophomore in Bible College. It was the middle of winter, I turned the key in the ignition – it was dead – I got out, popped open the hood – looked under it – which was all I knew to do – had no idea what I was looking for – but it looked like it was all there. I put my hands on the battery, prepared to pray for divine healing – took a quick look both ways to make sure no one was coming – after all I was a Bible major – I prayed, “O Lord, heal whatever it is in here that isn’t working . . . I think it’s the battery.” Got back in the car, turned the key and guess what! It didn’t start! That’s my miracle working story . . .
Elijah prayed and fire fell from heaven – I can’t even get a spark in my battery.
It works for other Christians!
I had a friend in college who came to school directly from the bush in South Africa. For the first time in his life he flew on an airplane all the way to the U.S. He collected his clothes and belongings at the baggage claim area – most of it in cardboard boxes and then began to shuffle toward the exit. He was so loaded down with stuff he knew he wouldn’t be able to open the terminal exit doors and so he prayed as he was walking, “Lord, please help me, I can’t open those doors,” and just then he stepped on the rubber mat which activated the automatic doors – they swung open! Thank you Lord! Wow! He had a revival right there on that rubber mat.
I don’t care what you’ve seen and what prayer God answered – as wonderful as I’m sure they were to you – can you imagine praying in front of thousands of people that God would do something that doesn’t usually happen – that fire would plunge from heaven, land on top of your altar and consume everything!
And it happened. Booossssshhhhh! You’re Elijah . . . how do you act? Ha! People respect you now! It’s Mr. Elijah now! Somebody crosses you – boooosssshhhhh! That false prophet – booooosssshhhhh. That baal-worshipper – boooossshhhhh. That former boyfriend or girlfriend – boooossshhhhhh. That professor – boooosshhh . . . . boooosssshhhhh.
Alright, stop it! I don’t have that power and I’m already in trouble.
“Oh God . . . send fire . . . and fire fell.” And Elijah summoned the people and they executed the false prophets of Baal.
Now notice verse 41. Now Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower.”
There is? Where? There’s not a cloud in the sky - it hasn’t rained for 3 1/2 years and no black clouds are anywhere to be seen! How do you hear the sound of a downpour?
Elijah’s hearing with the ears of faith - the ears of faith never dependant upon experience and circumstances but upon the word of God. Go back to verse 1 (ch. 18) Now it came about after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab and I will send rain on the face of the earth.
Where most Christians would say, “I’ll believe it when I see it, Elijah is putting on his raincoat – he’s putting up his umbrella.”
“Faith is the evidence of things not seen!”
Somehow in the mystery of God’s purposes, He links His power to the prayers of his children.
All day long the queen has been wondering and waiting. . .
Fresh Rain from Heaven
Elijah’s ears of faith! (18:41)
Elijah’s expectation of the future (18:45, 46)
The poet, Heine wrote tongue in cheek these words, “My wishes are a humble dwelling with a thatched roof, a good bed, good food, flowers at my windows, and some fine tall trees before my door. And if God wants to make me completely happy, he will grant me the joy of seeing six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees.”
Fearful Threats From Jezebel (19:2)
The Septuagint adds a phrase to Jezebel’s warning, “As surely as you are Elijah and I am Jezebel. She’s playing off the fact that meaning of Elijah’s name refers to “Yahweh as God” and the meaning of her name Izybel or Jezebel refers to Baal the Prince . . . ”. It is as though the queen was continuing the challenge - so what if a fireball fell from heaven - the fight’s not over.
Elijah runs ahead of Ahab down the mountain to Jezreel. Can you imagine his excitement - his expecyations! He was a man just like us - fresh with spiritual victory! I imagine he’s reasoning as he ran - “The news of fire falling from heaven and consuming the altar and now this heavy rain will certainly bring Jezebel to her knees in worship before the one true God. Surely, now she will renounce Baalism and bow before the Lord - maybe even appoint me Chaplain of the Kings Court - Bible study and discipleship in the palace - I can just see Jezebel giving her testimony as she travels through her hometown of Phoenicia; maybe even the widow and her son will be honored as having hidden me - I can just see it - Jezebel photocopying the study outlines for tonight's small group meeting.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I feel confident enough by the way Elijah responded to say that Elijah thought the battle against Baal was over - that Mount Carmel signaled the end of the struggle - nothing could be further from the truth.
Frankly, one of our chief problems in the Christian life is bound up in the word, “expectation”. And one of our most discouraging hurdles is being reminded that victory today does not guarantee victory tomorrow.
In fact, with every advance forward, comes a responding pressure to go backward.
he forgot about the great multitude at Carmel who acknowledged that Yahweh was God
he forgot about the one hundred prophets protected by courageous Obadiah
he forgot the fireball from heaven
he forgot the cleansing from the land of several hundred false prophets
he forgot . . . he forgot . . . he forgot!
One author wrote, “Despair is always color-blind; it can only see the dark side of life.”
God, The Great Physician
Severe amnesia, distorted vision and congestive heart failure
Repairing a discouraged heart
Can you hear the pathos in his voice - he’s 90 miles from nowhere - alone in the wilderness - despairing, depressed, defeated - vs. 4b. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.”
That’s it Lord - I’ve had it - I quit.
Like the manager of a boxer who's taking a beating, who will never be able to pull out of it - that manager throws his towel into the ring, signaling defeat, automatically ending the bout - Elijah, the boxer of Baal throws it in and signals defeat.
How many of you hear have done the same - “Lord, that’s all I can take - it is enough - I give in - Uncle!”
Well, the master physician told us that He will not test us above that which we are able, but will with the trial/temptation, make a way of escape that we may be able to “get away from it?” . . that we may be able to ENDURE it!”
To bear up under - the same Greek word is used in I Peter where he talks about “bearing up under sorrow”.
Jesus Christ did not promise the believer an inoculation you from sorrow.
He did promise His personal involvement in the midst of it. . .notice how the great Physician handles a man who wants to end it all.
The first thing God does with Elijah is this - God provides Elijah plenty of time to rest (19:5-7)
Notice that God does nothing about Elijah’s request to die. He doesn’t storm up to him and say, “Now listen here Elijah - that’s the most selfish thing I’ve ever heard. . .you think life is hard; you think the world is corrupt? You should view it from up here!” No! Just sleep Elijah.
Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t answer all of our prayers?! Think of it, If Elijah had been taken home - he would have missed riding to heaven in a whirlwind carried in a chariot of fire - he would never have founded the schools of the prophets that produced more than a hundred faithful men for a special time in redemptive history - he would have never met and commissioned Elisha - he would have never heard that still small voice that he’s going to as soon as he wakes up!
God didn’t answer his prayer - in fact, He didn’t respond with anything other than provided a long, well needed rest for one tired prophet.
Elijah was a man just like us - which leads me to believe that just about everybody comes to the Lord with the same complaint - “Lord, that’s enough - is this how You allow Your friends to be treated . . . no wonder you don’t have more?”
Now if that sounds sacrilegious, it is strictly intentional - because when you find yourself under the juniper tree - you don’t feel very spiritual!
What some of you need to do is stop and rest - this afternoon, the best thing some of you could do for your spiritual growth and maturity is take a nap.
I plan to - if no one calls me!
You say, but I’ve got a kid whose climbing the walls - give ‘em a large dose of benadryl - I didn’t say that . . .
I love the answer that little kid gave when he was asked, “Son, if your mother could have anything in the world, what is the one thing she’d like the most.” He said, “She’d like to go back to bed.”
When you’re tired, like Elijah - you tend to look for juniper trees and despair - and you tend to jump to conclusions.
Elijah thought God had lost . . . the situation was hopeless.
And now he’s dictating to God what he thinks ought to be done
You’re praying prayers like an executive dictates letters to his secretary - Lord,. do this and that; this is what I’ve concluded I really need, and here’s the deadline, make sure you meet the deadline! Have a nice day, sincerely, Stephen.
The Lord does more than allow Elijah protected sleep, He also prepares food to eat (with a supernatural touch)
Elijah was convinced that he was alone - “Lord, I alone am left”.
-God produces an opportunity to talk (19:9 &13)
Refreshing a frail memory
-three powerful displays to remind Elijah of his sovereignty over the universe
When a person is treated for amnesia - names, people, place, and situations will be brought up before the suffering person in order to refresh their memory.
Restoring lost vision - There are 7,000 who’ve not bowed to Baal; there are other men to stand for me; Jehu will be anointed who will stamp out Baalism in another generation - Elijah, you’re declaring the verdict because of what you see now - I have plans for when you are no longer here. c.f. II Kings - Jehu sees Jezebel die and he 10:28, “eradicated Baal out of Israel”. Oh and by the way Elijah - you need to see that I have someone for you who will be your companion and eventually your replacement.
-God provokes a deeper understanding of Himself (a still small voice)
Now you notice that Elijah wraps his mantle around his face; like you’d toss your scarf around your neck or tie the arms of your sweater around your waist and he goes out to hear some interesting revelation about God -
God doesn’t just move through fire and hurricane - He is powerful enough work through a whisper - a gentle breeze - quietness.
Now notice God asks the prophet the second time, the same question - Elijah, what are you doing here? And Elijah repeats himself.
But I want you to understand that while the language is the same, I believe the tone and attitude is totally different!
Now Elijah has his mantle on - in the next verse God will command Elijah to go! There are no more miracles, no more power displays - why? Because God’s message had gotten through.
The first time Elijah said, “Lord, I’ve stood as your representative, but to no avail - they’ve killed the prophets - the nation has become idolatrous and now they want to kill me too - I quit!!!!
But this time Elijah says, “Lord, I’ve stood as your representative, but to no avail - they’ve killed the prophets - the nation ahs become idolatrous and now they want to kill me too - what next!
Have you stopped? Are you serving . . . caring . . . loving?
The discouraging experiences of life can create one of two things in the life of every believer:
dependency or despair
awareness or anxiety
passion or panic
How do you take the proper steps to ensure you land on the left side of that column:
1. take a reality check - you’re not alone
2. welcome spiritual reinforcements
3. make a fresh commitment to serve other people
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