Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 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.” Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 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.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 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. 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.” 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. There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19:1-9
It sounds like Ahab is having difficulties breaking out of his old pattern of behavior. Jezebel has heard about everything Elijah had done, presumably both the miracle and the retribution on the prophets of Baal — she wants revenge and retribution. She can’t see the miracle through the massacre, or perhaps she does not want to see the miracle.
Elijah loses his confidence and flees. It is not clear to me what changed between Elijah boldly walking into Ahab’s palace to declare the coming rain in yesterday’s post, and Elijah heading for the hills in this passage. It is possible that the massacre of the prophets of Baal was an “improvisation” on Elijah’s part. Something beyond what God had directed him to do and he feels conflicted and guilty about it.
This seems to be supported by Elijah’s self recrimination — “I have had enough, Lord …Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” His ancestors, since the time they crossed over in to the Promised Land, were engaged in almost constant conflict and bloodshed. In killing the prophets of Baal Elijah was continuing in this old pattern rather than the new pattern God was trying to establish with His people. Both Ahab and Elijah seem to feel like they are stuck in old patterns of behavior. Ahab returns to Jezebel and her council and Elijah flees from Jezebel and God.
Elijah ends up cowering in a Broom Bush (Retama raetam) wanting to die….guilt can be a powerful thing. This account reminds me of when, back in Genesis 21:14-21, Hagar was cast out by Abraham and God provided her a hidden well in the desert. Here the “hidden well” takes the form of stone baked bread and a jar of water delivered by an angel of the Lord.
The angel says something really interesting to Elijah,“Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” I wonder if the angel is referring to Elijah’s hike into the wilderness or his spiritual journey? Elijah has taken a detour spiritually and physically into discouragement and discontentment. The provision of the bread and water was a tangible demonstration of God’s love and forgiveness…just like the bread and wine Jesus will later share with his disciples to remind them of God’s love and forgiveness.
Guilt is an interesting word. We often think of it as an emotion or feeling. It can feel like sandbags weighing down our souls — keeping us from experiencing the freedom that God has promised if we faithfully follow him. Guilt can be like the weights some people wear while exercising. It can make us spiritually tired and prone to want to find a bush to crawl under. God desires our obedience and is sad and disappointed when we fail but he realizes we are flawed followers.
The amazing thing is He loves us anyway…enough to sacrifice His blood and body for us. He provides us with endless flour, oil, and living water so that we don’t need to go hide in a bush. He wants us to pursue Him unfettered by sandbags of guilt — not because we are not guilty but because He has already forgiven us for all past, present, and future offenses.
Prayer: God free us from the grip of guilt so that we can pursue You with unfettered faithfulness.