Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:1-8 ESV)
The story of Elijah is an account of God’s Word remaining powerful but he wrestles and struggles with it.
In all the words that we hear, whose do we believe? Whose do we trust? It boils down to who can back their words up with action?
Now you’d think Elijah would say ‘God would’ and thus God’s Word is the one to follow. It makes sense in this context when you read the preceding chapters. It is Elijah against the royal house of Omri – notably King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. It is Elijah against the prophets of Baal – 450 to 1. 450 prophets special to the queen and Elijah will battle them dramatically and win (1 Kings 18). 450 dead and 1 living. Words of the true God are powerful against the words of the false god. But after the victory there is no repentance, no change of behaviour from the house of Omri – just more words – actually threats – made because Queen Jezebel believes she can carry them out. ‘You’re dead, Elijah.’ And the point in telling Elijah is to terrify him –‘I know where you are and I can get to you’.
Why is Elijah afraid at this point? Getting threatened isn’t pleasant but if you’re stronger than the one threatening you, the threat doesn’t matter. It can’t be put into effect if you’re stronger.
Is Elijah afraid because God is silent at that moment? Does Elijah replay all his past dealings with God searching for a ‘word from the Lord’ and in all the words can he not find the reply to give to Jezebel?
God’s Word is God’s Word but the big question is “How is it God’s Word FOR ME?”. All of God’s Word has truth, wisdom, power, and strength but it can address us differently – speaking to us, speaking about us and we have to ‘join the dots’, speaking about history which we learn and find ourselves part of, speaking to others in our hearing, speaking to our future, speaking to our past, speaking to comfort, speaking to challenge. God’s Word has a coherence, a completeness – today we call it the story of our sin and God’s grace. It can talk about rescue from sin and the power of death and also about dying to self and walking in the valley of the shadow of death. Which do we hear when?
Isn’t that the issue?!
What God does for Elijah is instructive. God cares for the depressed physically. Food – literal food. Sustenance. Rest. More food. There are no words as such – no telling off, no cajoling. Yes, there will be a time for words but later – both Elijah’s and God’s words later in the chapter – but for now, God strengthens Elijah physically.
It is interesting that our lectionary compilers link this little scene to Jesus teaching in the Capernaum synagogue. We heard it last Sunday. We hear it today. We’ll hear more next Sunday. In the context of food in the wilderness, Jesus is continuing to point to himself – and he makes the claim that he is the bread of heaven, the bread of life. This is really a faith situation – whose words do you believe? Whose words will guide your daily behaviour? Whose words will strengthen you and give you life? Your own words? Other people’s words? Jesus’ words?
We don’t mind God’s Word – until we do. It can challenge our sensibilities and sensitivities. It challenges our sense of self – our desires – maybe even our hopes and dreams. It speaks to us about ‘big’ things – such as authority and how we live together in all our interactions; it talks about gender and sexual behaviour, property, all the ‘stuff’ we accumulate, even ecology; it has many things to say about how we speak and interact. But in all these words, it doesn’t give us day to day details other than look at the relationship and the situation we’re in and follow Jesus. And God’s Word spends lots of time talking about this relationship with Jesus – who he is and why we should have a relationship with him – how this relationship has come about and what it means for day to day living. And again for much of these words disciples nod and agree – until we don’t!
Listening to Jesus, following the Bible is hard when you’re trying to work out what words apply when and to whom. Of course people make it more complicated than it really is precisely so we all can dodge what Jesus is saying – contextualise it, minimise it.
But Jesus is clear. Serve others. Forgive others. Bless, don’t curse. Be chaste (as in not promiscuous). Submit to authority. We know what Jesus says.
And, of course, this means switching our brains on, listening, thinking about God’s Word. And the big picture remains what God says to us personally – in the absolution, in Baptism, at Holy Communion where we are personally addressed – where we hear the ‘for you’. Jesus is ‘for you’; the cross is ‘for you’; the resurrection is ‘for you’. No matter who we are and what we’ve done, God’s kindness – all these ‘for you’s’ – lead us to repentance and to change and to a different path, to different behaviour, to following someone else instead and his words.
God’s words can speak into any context. They are not magical. Hear one verse and your headache is gone for 24 hours. No. Listen to two verses and your mood lifts for a week. Not quite. Our situations may remain dark and grim but – and this is the power of words – and the most powerful word of all is God’s Word because it can create out of nothing – God’s Word in Jesus can and does create something out of nothing – hope, a resolve to be faithful, a recognition of repentance, a knowledge that forgiveness is the way to live, a resolve to do something specific – which it might be for someone depressed that they get out of bed that day! God’s Word never minimises the bad things – it doesn’t have to because it offers a presence no matter how bad things are and Jesus offers help no matter how dark and tough things are.
Jesus doesn’t lie. He does say, ‘I love you’ and also ‘Don’t be afraid!’ and many other things in between. He can be trusted.
- 1 Kings 19:1 - 8