Sermon: 1 Kings 19:1-18 (A Time of Doubt)

[this sermon is a part of a community lenten evening series)

I invite you to open your bibles with me, this evening, to the book of 1 Kings, chapter 19. 1 Kings is in the Old Testament, after 1 & 2 Samuel, and before 2 Kings. If you don’t have a bible with you, feel free to grab one from the pew. 1 Kings 19, beginning in verse 1.

Now, through our Lenten evening series we have been journeying through the wilderness. The wilderness can be a hard place to dwell. But, I was also taught several years ago that the wilderness is God’s land. When in the wilderness, we are not alone. Rather, God leads us through the wilderness. We often think the wilderness is a place of wandering, but it’s not. Do you know how often the bible speaks of God making the Israelites wander through the wilderness? Any guesses? Once. The bible speaks much more about how God led us in the wilderness.

Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:2-3)

I want you to keep that in mind as we continue our journey through the wilderness. The wilderness is God’s land. God leads us through the wilderness.

The story we are about to hear takes place shortly after a fairly well-known story about Elijah — that of Elijah on Mt Carmel. You may remember it — Elijah and the prophets of Baal gathered together. Each built an alter — Elijah to the Lord, and the prophets of Baal to Baal. The one to rain down fire from heaven was the one true God. Elijah even went so far as to douse his altar and offering in 12 jars of water. Nothing happened when the prophets of Baal cried out to their god. But, when Elijah called out, the Lord sent fire from heaven which consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. (1 Kings 18:38)

Before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me:

Father, may your Word be our rule,

your Holy Spirit our teacher,

and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen. 

Hear now the word of the Lord.

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 like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Immediately following God’s great victory on Mt Carmel, Elijah flees to the wilderness, flooded with feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and depression. We may have expected Elijah to be on a spiritual high. God reigned down fire from heaven, accepted his offering. Baal was proven false. And yet, Elijah did not feel good at all. He spiraled down into a pit of uncertainty. He didn’t doubt God and His abilities and faithfulness. He doubted himself.

“Am I alone in this?”

Elijah sure thinks so.

I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

I’m alone, and I can’t do it anymore. I try, and try, and nothing works. You work in marvelous ways, and still the Israelites don’t turn to you. What’s the point? What am I doing wrong? Why don’t they listen? Why don’t they understand? I’ve been zealous for you, God! I’m doing my best, but it’s just not working. I don’t know if it’s worth fighting anymore. I’m the only faithful one left, and it’s just too much. I just want to give up.

Do Elijah’s thoughts feel at all familiar? Are there times when you too have asked, “Am I alone in this?”

Elijah came from a place of victory, where he had seen God’s mighty hand at work, and he walked into the wilderness. It was a time of doubt – not of God, but of himself. Was he strong enough? Could he keep going? He looked around him and it seemed everyone he knew was walking a different way, was following a different path. Everywhere he looked, people followed the advice of the wicked, took the path that sinners tread, and sat in the seat of scoffers. No one delighted in God’s law day and night. Instead of following the Lord even when it was difficult, he looked around and people wanted easy. And they hated him because he chose to walk the wilderness road of discipleship. He looked around and it seemed he was the only one left. He wanted to give up, to quit on his calling. It was too hard, he wasn’t strong enough.

Have you been there? Have you ever felt alone in the road God calls you to walk? Have you ever felt you were not strong enough to make the journey?

Even as churches we can feel alone. Year after year, we see more churches turn their backs on biblical truth and bow the knee to the Baals of our culture. And we can wonder: are we alone in this? Are we the only ones left? Is this little corner of Iowa all that is left? How can we keep walking when we feel so alone?

The worst part of walking in the wilderness is feeling alone — feeling like the journey is too much for you.

The reality is that it is too much for you. The good news, however, is that we don’t do it alone. Remember back to the beginning. We don’t wander aimlessly through the wilderness. Rather, God leads us.

How did God lead Elijah through the wilderness?

Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.

God provided shade for Elijah. It may not seem like much, but if you have ever been in the Israeli wilderness, you will know how great that provision of shade really is. After all day with the dry heat beating down on you, shade is a gift from God. For the people of Israel, who lived in a harsh land, they knew the value of shade. The broom tree — a fern-like bush — sprouts up out of the rocks, and provides a light shade. It’s just enough shade to regain your energy in order to keep going.

Suddenly an angel touched him (Elijah) and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

God provides bread and water to help Elijah on his journey. The journey is too much for him, it is too hard. Get up and eat. God gives enough to get to the next step, and then the next step, and then the next step. Shade, bread, water. God provided Elijah’s daily bread — bread enough for today.

God acknowledges that it’s too much for us, that we can’t do it on our own, and so He provides.

Elijah doubted himself in the desert because he believed the journey was too difficult, but he also doubted because he felt that he was alone.

I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

I alone am left. But, is Elijah alone? God reminds him that He is always with him.

Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

God promises his presence, passing by in the silence. God is not just there on Mount Carmel — in the fire coming down from heaven — but also in the silence, in the quiet road of the wilderness. No matter where we go, what road we travel, God’s presence goes with us.

Elijah was not alone. Not only was God with him, but there were those in Israel who had never bowed to Baal — who had remained faithful to the Lord — 7000. But, so Elijah would know this more deeply, God also provided a companion — someone who would learn from him, and eventually become prophet in his place: Elisha.

The doubt Elijah experienced was met with provision by God. God does the same for us. He provides shade and food for the journey — we too receive bread from heaven. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

God provides people to join us on the journey — brothers and sisters in Christ. Look around you. We are not alone.

When we experience those times of doubt in the wilderness, God provides for us. Thanks be to God.

Please pray with me.

O Lord God,
you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. So guide us that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 

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