What became evident for Elijah after the contest on Mount Carmel was that any conversion of the people was only superficial.
They had cried, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:39) and killed all the prophets of Baal. But now, in today’s reading from chapter 19, nothing has changed. Ahab and Jezebel were still in charge, and the discouraged Elijah fled for his life.
He then followed in the footsteps of Moses, who was similarly discouraged when he came down from Mount Sinai only to find the people worshiping a golden calf. Moses asked to die (Exo. 32:32), and Elijah felt the same way,
Then, as Moses ascended Mount Sinai, Elijah went to the same mountain. He did so by going on an enacted exodus journey. An angel miraculously provided food and water for him, and then,
Moses also fasted for that time (Ex. 34:28).
When Moses went into the mountain, he saw a vision of the glory of God. Elijah had his vision on the same mountain when he saw earthquake, wind, and fire and “after the fire the sound of a low whisper.” (v12). A good case can be made here that the “sound of a low whisper” is actually “a roaring and thunderous voice,” based on a closer examination of the Hebrew and evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls (see A Gentle Breeze or a Roaring Thundering Sound by J. Lust). That would make the connection with Moses even stronger because Moses and the people experienced similar phenomena at Mount Sinai.
Why did God put Elijah through this mini exodus experience? God could have just told Elijah not to worry. Instead, the rigmarole of eating the meal, fasting, going on a long journey, climbing the mountain, and then seeing the enigmatic vision with no obvious explanation as to its meaning. Instead of a forty-minute message of encouragement, God put him through a forty-day experience.
We have to trust that the journeys God take us on are learning opportunities
As we know, some lessons can’t be learned academically. An angel sent to Elijah could have said, “have a read of Exodus 32 to 34. Moses felt down too, but God told him what His glory is, and for you, Elijah, the lesson is the same.” But how much more do we learn through experience? Every step of his journey, he would have learned from the echoes with Moses in ways far more meaningful than he would have from reading a book or listening to a talk.
We have to trust that the journeys God take us on, and the experiences He puts us through, are learning opportunities if we focus on what’s happening and stop feeling sorry for ourselves when we’re in difficult situations. Elijah didn’t get over his depressed state immediately. On the mountain, he told God his complaint that “I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (v10). We don’t always learn the lessons straight away, either. Still, when we look back with the understanding that things happen for a reason, we can have those educational moments that only come from God taking us on an educational journey.
Even the Son of God had to go through such journeys. He too fasted for forty days. He learned from the book of Deuteronomy, which he quoted from during his trials in the wilderness. But it was only by going through that wilderness experience that he learned the meaning of those exhortations. When we’re feeling discouraged like Elijah, or whatever other problem we face in life, God doesn’t just teach us through His Word. We need to submit to the experiences God puts us through to grow into the mature sons and daughters He wants in His Kingdom.
Simi Hills, CA