1 Kings 19: 1-18 (NIV)
Elijah Flees to Horeb
19 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
The Lord Appears to Elijah
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 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.” 11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 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.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Given Elijah’s very personal relationship with God, I often had expected his cave experience to end differently. After being fed by animals, fasting for forty days, and directly hearing the voice of God, I thought Elijah’s direct request for vindication would have been directly addressed, especially since the biblical narrative suggests that Ahab and Jezebel had it coming.
Yet, instead of Elijah’s peace coming through a vindictive conquest of his enemies, God gives Elijah a path to peace via purpose and destiny. Instead of returning to Samaria to confront the evil king and queen, God sends Elijah on multiple assignments that involve fulfilling a greater good than personal vindication. So it may be the same case with some of us today. God may take us aside and give us private cave experiences to turn our focus away from the monsters of our past to fulfilling our true purpose and destiny.
I have learned that life is full of adversity and monsters. Hence, the focus shouldn’t be on what they are doing or what God is doing to them. Admittedly, this kind perspective may be hard to let go off, especially when the issue is personal like Elijah’s. Nevertheless, as Christians we must remember that vengeance is the Lord’s and our primary focus should be on what we are doing. True peace and fulfillment in life comes from doing what we were created to do. Fundamentally, we are created to worship God. Further, our worship includes positively contributing to the communities and societies in which we live.
Elijah found peace in the end by continuing to do what God told him to do. From birth to the cross, Jesus took peace in knowing that he was fulfilling the will of his Father. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus today, let us remember that Jesus came so that we do not have to be dismayed by the evil we see around us. Instead, take peace in knowing that the good of serving our God faithfully is something that no evil can overcome.