Being a prophet in ancient Israel was a tough gig. The purpose of a prophet is to speak God’s word to the king, to turn the nation away from false gods and to the Lord. You have to imagine that Elijah thought the little fire works display on Mount Carmel would have had some effect on the people of Israel, but obviously not. When Ahab gets back, he tells his wife, the evil Jezebel, what Elijah had done in killing all the prophets of Baal, and she basically puts out a contract on his head. Elijah flees to the desert and in despair prays for death. He’s had it. Talk about against the grain. You might even say Elijah is a type of Christ, one who truly spoke “truth to power” and paid for it with his life. Elijah won’t pay with this life, but he sure feels like it.
And what happen to all the people who saw the awesome fireworks display and declared, “The Lord, he is God!” They had asked for it, the competition to see who really was God. And you have to imagine that Elijah didn’t alone kill all the 450 prophets of Baal. But back in the city obviously nothing has changed. The people still worship Baal. Maybe Elijah could have done more, continued the fight, but he obviously felt his life was in danger. So he flees out into the desert, and prays that he might die. One of God’s greatest prophets in the history of redemption and he’s in total despair.
God hears his prayers, but not for death. As he’s sleeping under a broom tree the angel of the Lord comes to him and prepares a little meal of a cake of bread over hot coals and a jar of water. The angel wakes him and tells him to eat, which he does twice. That must of been some heavenly food because strengthened by it he travels for 40 days, of course, until he reaches the Mountain of God. When he gets there, the Lord asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” As if he doesn’t know. But God likes to let us vent, to share with him what is on our heart, what our reality means to us. There is no right or wrong answer per se. Here is Elijah’s answer:
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.”
God’s merciful response is to reveal himself to Elijah on the mount as he had done to Moses, only God is not in any amazingly powerful force of nature, but in a “gentle whisper.” The Lord is not in the wind, not in the earthquake, and not in the fire. The Lord doesn’t have to prove his power with violent displays that put terror in the hearts of men; he is revealed in the little things as well. Elijah clearly knew the Lord was in the whisper because he put his cloak over his face and came out of the cave he was in to meet the Lord. God asks him the question again, and again Elijah gives the same answer, but this time you imagine without despair.
In fact, God gives him instructions to go find some men who have not bowed down to Baal because he has reserved seven thousand in Israel who have not done so, whose “mouths have not kissed him.” This includes Elisha who becomes his attendant. Elijah thought he was alone, but God’s man is never alone. God’s plans are never dependent on weak human beings, but on his own covenant promise and sovereign power to make it happen.
Lastly, it’s no coincidence that God chose Moses and Elijah to meet with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. God spoke to them on that same mountain, and revealed himself to Peter, James and John as the ultimate revelation, the ultimate voice of God: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”