Elijah: Depressed Hero

Quick synopsis of the larger-than-life Elijah

He was the ancient hero of the Jews; a master “magician” who called down fire from heaven, parted the rivers to walk through on dry land and commanded the weather.

He was an accuser of rebellious Israel who heard and was guided by the clear voice of God.

He raised the dead. 

He threatened royalty.

He outran a horse.

He comforted a widow with a supernatural supply of food.

He fought the powers of darkness-the Baalzebubs-with sarcasm, mockery and the sword. 

He was granted immortality, and rode to the presence of God in a tornado/chariot of fire.

In the New Testament, he enjoyed a quick visit back to earth to converse with Jesus on the Mt of Olives.

What are you doing here, Elijah? (1 Kings 19)

Elijah was despondent; hiding in a cave, terrified, and asking for death. How did our hero get here?

After he challenged the wizards of Baal and Asherah… After he created a bloody spectacle of burnt ground and 900 mutilated bodies at Carmel and outran a chariot through a thunderstorm… After these amazing feats of faith, a death threat shattered his courage and sent him bolting for the desert. We glimpse his frame of mind when he appeals to the crowd at Carmel. 

He tells the crowd, “I am the Lord’s only prophet, but Baal has four hundred fifty prophets.”  In other words, “I’m it! The last follower of Yaweh, against all of you!” 

Whether or not this statement is true, it is the thought that Elijah brooded on later when he was alone. After fleeing for his life, he left his servant in a small town, maybe to confuse his trail and lead his pursuers away, and went into the desert. He broke down under a bush.

He begged the LORD, “I’ve had enough. Just let me die!” Then, he turned over and went to sleep. Feeling exhausted, he gave up.

He might have died there, either from exposure or assassins, but an angel brought him food that revived him enough to travel the 40 days to Mt. Sinai (Horeb). Here, hundred of miles away from the threat of death, the voice of God asked,

“Elijah, why are you here?”

“LORD God All-Powerful, I’ve always done my best to obey you.” he justified.

“But your people have broken their solemn promise to you,” he criticized.

“They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me!” he exaggerated.

“And now they are even trying to kill me!” he ranted.

Elijah battled for God in an over-the-top fashion. He was that kind of guy. He was mouthy by personality, showy, larger than life. And so, God would try to correct his thinking in a likewise, extravagant way. 

God called Elijah to present himself out on the mountain. The Lord was going to pass by. Elijah survived a hurricane that threw boulders like footballs, an earthquake and the fury of a raging fire, but God was not present in any of those bawdy circumstances. Then a gentle breeze tickled Elijah’s face. This is Him. Elijah knows Him. He gathered his cloak, hid his face with it, and went out of the cave to meet Him.

A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?”

With sweet patience, the Almighty summoned forth the theatrics of heaven to demonstrate Elijah’s problem. Elijah felt sorry for himself because he prided himself on always doing the right thing.  He blamed God for not taking care of him as he deserved. As a result, he began to criticize and judge others. Elijah’s attitude was, “Is not fair, God! You should blast them to bits and exalt me. Instead, I’m in this miserable cave and they are exalted in power over me.” Elijah focused on the storms, the horrible and painful circumstances at present. But God wanted to change his vision. It was the soft breeze that brought His presence. God was working. He hadn’t abandoned Elijah. It wasn’t as bad as Elijah imagined. Elijah must rely on the gentle workings of God. It is God’s kindness that woos us to change, not his punishment. He is quick to act in mercy, not in anger.

I think Elijah missed the point, because he replied in the exact fashion as before. “LORD God All-Powerful, I’ve always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!”

So, its time for God to be blunt. “I reserved 7,000 followers—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” Elijah was not alone. If seems likely that if he had gotten that fact wrong, that his understanding of the whole situation was most likely scewed as well. God was working quietly in Israel, while Elijah roared about.

God tells Elijah to go home. He is to appoint the men who will clear the land of Baal worshippers: the replacement king of Syria, the replacement king of Israel, and the replacement prophet, Elisha. The days of Elijah’s career were numbered. With his piteous and resentful attitude, he was unusable.

There is a lesson for those depressed in this story. Do you find that your problems seem overwhelming? Are you fearful and wanting to hide? You may find a clue to the source of your pain in studying the depression of Elijah. And I hope you can find a solution in the gentle encouragement of God.

 Other depressed people in the Bible: Cain, Hannah, Jesus, David,  Paul


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