Elijah and Weakness
(Elijah Part Five)

[I. Introduction] A few weeks ago we were considering the powerful life of Elijah. It was necessary to take an important detour and mend the condition of the church. Hence, for the last few Sundays we have talked about how to make New Salem great again. On the journey to make our church great we, and I mean all of us individually as well as corporately, have committed to be faithful to the Great Commission. In order to do that, we are saying a very short prayer each morning. The prayer is: “Lord, help me to have at least one gospel conversation this week.” Please be faithful in this prayer and be faithful in looking for opportunities when they arise.

Today we return to the life of Elijah and I believe this message will prove to be a great encouragement to some. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. He appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and spoke with Jesus. Jesus Himself was thought to be Elijah because of the miracles that he performed. John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah. And Elijah was only one of two people who never died. He was taken directly into Heaven by the Lord.

We last saw the absolute victory he had over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. This was mainly a victory of God Himself over the false god, but it was also a personal victory for Elijah, vindicating him as Yahweh’s true prophet. Things sometimes do not turn out the way we expect after personal victories.

READ I Kings 19:1-18. 

Yes, Elijah had a great victory! Against overwhelming odds he both made the prophets of Baal look foolish and he had them killed. Most importantly, all of Israel now knew that Yahweh is God and not Baal! What was Elijah’s expectation now? The text does not tell us but, knowing human nature, he likely expected the leaders – Ahab and Jezebel – to acknowledge his victory and proclaim, along with the people, that Yahweh is God. 

Instead, Jezebel sends a messenger to Elijah saying that he is going to be murdered within 24 hours. In verse 3 we read,

    “Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life…”

Elijah afraid? The man who saw miracle after miracle? The one who was not afraid of Ahab? The one who was not afraid of the prophets of Baal even though a hundred other prophets of God were afraid? Yes, he was afraid. No matter how great our faith and how considerable our victory over a matter, when we are faced with certain circumstances in life we can become fearful.

He ran. He traveled to Beersheba, the southernmost town in Judah. He went as far away from Jezebel as he could get and still remain among God’s people. He left his servant in Beersheba and then went further into the wilderness. He sat under a tree and asked that the Lord would take his life. He was depressed. Not only depressed, but severely depressed. Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, was depressed. This shows that: 

[II.] Any child of God, even those with strong faith, can become depressed. What is the cause of depression? The cause of depression is unfulfilled desire. It is sometimes true that the person experiencing depression may not even be aware of what their desire is. It may be an unspoken desire. It may be a desire that is not identified by the depressed individual. Nevertheless, when a desire or expectation exists and it appears that it will not be fulfilled, depression results.

What was Elijah’s desire or expectation? In verse 10, when he is answering the Lord’s question as to why he went to the mountain of God, he answers:

     “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

He is jealous. This means that he desires that Yahweh be honored and exalted. But the people have forsaken their promise to follow the true God only. This is a legitimate jealousy, a justified jealousy, a holy jealousy. Elijah desired that God’s people be true to Him, but they were not. They destroyed the altars of the Lord – they ceased worshipping God and they ceased dealing with their sins. Elijah desired that they worship God and make sacrifices for their sins. They killed the prophets. Some of those prophets who were murdered must have been friends of Elijah. 

He says, “Only I am left.” In that he was mistaken. Depression makes us see things more pessimistically than they really are. I remember well, when I was an undergraduate in college, and was experiencing some troubled times I shared my woes with a brother in the Lord. He listened to me patiently and, when I was done talking, he said, “Do you know what, brother? You are doing a lot better than you think you are.” As soon as he said that I knew he was right. I felt better just with that realization. Depression makes us see things more pessimistically than they really are. 

Then he said, “They seek to take my life.” In this he was correct. Jezebel was sending soldiers to kill him. Everyone desires to keep their life, at least under normal circumstances. The fact that his life was in danger of being taken from him contributed to his depression.

God did not want Elijah to remain in his depression. How will he get him out?

[III.] Since depression is caused by unfulfilled desire there are only three ways to come out of depression:  

[A.] One way is to change your desire. 

•    Many times we have desires that are unrealistic. 
•    Many times we have desires that are too idealistic. 
•    And sometimes we have desires that may not be sinful, but they distract us from better desires that we should have and nourish. We place too much emphasis upon certain desires when there are better desires to seek.

Let me give an example. A spouse (it could be either the husband or the wife) desires to be loved by their marriage partner. This is not only normal, but is a good desire. They perceive that the love that their husband or wife has for them is not as great as they wish. They may even perceive that their spouse does not love them at all. However, this is probably the pessimism that we saw in the words of Elijah similarly working its way into the mind of our subject. So, they become depressed. Possibly, in this situation, the best way out of the depression is to fulfill the desire. (This will be our second way out.) But, while our subject is waiting for that to happen, they can change their desire. In a marriage relationship there are better and greater desires than being loved more. 

For the husband, he can focus his desire on what he is called to do by God as a husband. He can:

•    Love his wife, 
•    Nourish his wife, 
•    Cherish his wife, and 
•    Sanctify his wife (Eph 5:25-32). 

Why is this a better desire? First, because it is better to love than to be loved. Second, the husband can control this desire. He can fulfill it by his own actions, but he cannot control how much he is loved.

For the wife, she can focus on her desire on what she is called by God to do as a wife. She can 

•    submit to her husband, 
•    obey her husband, and 
•    respect her husband (Eph 5:22-24, 38). 

Why is this a better desire? First, because it is better to obey than to be obeyed. Second, the wife can control this desire. She can fulfill it by her own actions, but she cannot control how much she is loved.

Changing our desires takes away our depression.

The Lord would not change Elijah’s desires because, unlike many of our desires, they were appropriate and good. (One caveat here. Although the biblical text does not overtly state it, Elijah may have expected Jezebel to repent and submit to Yahweh because of His victory over the prophets of Baal. That was an idealistic expectation and God would change it by taking Jezebel’s life!)

[B.] The other way to do away with depression is by fulfilling the desire that one has. 

    Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
        but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
(Proverbs 13:12 ESV)

A desire fulfilled brings life! If depression is caused by not having our desires fulfilled then, obviously, getting the desire of our heart will get us out.

This is what the Lord did for Elijah. By giving him another commission, to anoint two kings and his successor as prophet to Israel, God made it clear that Jezebel was not going to take his life.

This is related to the third way to overcome depression.

[C.] It is not always easy, nor a fast path, to obtain our desire. However, if the means to get our desire is laid out, if we have a plan that looks like it will work, this will bring us hope. Hope lifts! We anticipate that the desires of our hearts will be met! And hope cures depression. 

This is the primary way that the Lord got Elijah out of his deadly doldrums. 

We must see the state of emotional and psychological weakness Elijah found himself. He travels from Mt. Carmel to Beersheba. That is 120 miles and would have taken him six days. Then he goes another day’s journey into the wilderness. He is, to use a contemporary expression, beside himself with fear and worry about Jezebel’s designs on his life. He is likely weak and hungry from the journey and this would have only contributed to his poor state of mind. Our physical condition and health go a long way in contributing to our mental state for either better or worse.

The Lord then supernaturally provides a meal for Elijah, just as he had done before. The Lord continues to care for Elijah in his time of weakness. The Lord continues to care for you in your time of weakness!

Elijah then travels to Mount Horeb. This is another name for Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Mt. Horeb is 250 miles from Beersheba through rugged and difficult terrain. It would have taken 12 or 13 days to get there. But it takes Elijah 40 days and nights. Forty in the Bible is a number associated with trials and testing. At the end of periods of forty (whether days or years) there is something new that the Lord brings about.

•    At the end of 40 days in Noah’s day, the face of the earth was changed. It was water.
•    At the end of 40 years of wandering in the desert, Israel entered the promised land.
•    At the end of 40 days and nights on Mt Sinai, Moses received the Ten Commandments.

Elijah arrives at Mt. Horeb and God asks him a question: “What are you doing here Elijah?” You see, whereas before Elijah would wait upon the Lord to get direction from him as to where to go and what to do, this time he goes to Mt. Horeb on his own. He is desiring to hear from God. God had not spoken to him after Jezebel’s threat, other than the angel simply telling him to eat something.

God is asking him why he came to Mt. Horeb. Elijah came of his own accord, desperate to get a word from God. The Lord will teach him something regarding this matter. But, presently, we should take note of Elijah’s frame of mind. He travels over a hundred miles fleeing Jezebel. Then, he walks 250 miles to Mt. Horeb. He is fearful, depressed, and desperate. Even mighty men and women of God can become depressed and desperate. At least Elijah’s desperation kept him looking towards his only hope, the Lord himself.

God gives Elijah a revelation which, by the Lord’s grace, we will consider later. For today, the question is: How does God get Elijah out of his desperation and his depression?

He gives him a commission. A commission is an authoritative order which includes the grant of authority to carry out the order. In verses 15 and 16 we read this commission and it begins with “Go.” His mission is to begin immediately. He must go to the wilderness of Damascus, find a man named Hazael and anoint him king over Syria - a nation, by the way, that is an enemy of Israel. He is to anoint Jehu king over Israel. And, he is to anoint Elisha as prophet.

Elijah was focused on himself. The Lord takes his mind off of himself and to where it belongs: his calling. Where Elijah’s duty is will be the place where he will also find fulfillment and satisfaction. God knows Elijah better than Elijah knows himself. 

Elijah then anoints Elisha. It appears that his anointing of the kings is circumvented by war, but his ministry is reinvigorated.

[IV.] We may find ourselves in the same situation as Elijah: dejected, depressed, feeling forsaken. The Lord does not want you to remain in such a condition. Let us learn from Elijah’s experience and discover how we may extricate ourselves from such a disposition should we find ourselves there.

[1.] Know that it is not an uncommon experience to be depressed, even among the children of God. We might expect that people of the world have greater incidents of depression than followers of the Lord Jesus. Yet Christians too, even faithful ones, may find themselves in depression. Know that great men of God in the Bible had this experience. To Elijah we may add Jeremiah, Jonah, and the apostle Paul. 

To these we may add other great persons: Charles Spurgeon, John Knox, John Bunyan, Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill.

One of the greatest hymn writers, William Cowper, suffered from severe depression all his life. He tried to take his life more than one time and he was put into an insane asylum for a year and a half. This was in the 1700’s when such an institution had to be one of the worst places on earth.

His mother dies when he was only 6 years old. Five of his brothers and sisters died in infancy. At school he was bullied mercilessly. In college he fell deeply in love with a young lady and, when he asked for her hand in marriage, her father refused. Lost love is, of course, notorious for being the catalyst for depression. It seemed like at every turn of his life things went wrong. 

When he was converted to Christ, at the age of 35, this helped his depression greatly. He would have long periods of freedom from melancholy states of mind. But conversion did not cure him. In 1773, about 5 years after he was converted, he became so depressed that he decided to take his life. He even convinced himself that God would allow it. He was going to drown himself in the Ouse River in England. He took a buggy to a certain place on the river where he thought the river to be most dangerous. When he arrived there was someone there at the exact spot. So, he returned home and grabbed a knife and tried to plunge it into his midsection. But the blade broke and he was unharmed. Then he tied a rope around his neck and stepped into the air in order to hang himself. But the rope broke. After these three failures, one after another, he realized that it was not God’s will that his life end. From this experience he wrote one of his most beloved hymns, God Moves in a Mysterious Way.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

Do you know what other hymn William Cowper wrote? There is a Fountain Filled with Blood! That is one of my favorite hymns of all time. 

You are not alone if you are depressed and God can bring you through it.

[2.] Identify your desire. Remember that depression is caused by unfulfilled desire. Sometimes we may not even know what the desire is that is causing us to feel so low. If that is the case we may ask ourselves, “What would I like to happen so that I would feel better?” The answer to that question may reveal what our desire is. Or, it may just get us closer to identifying it. We may need to ask ourselves more questions.

However long it takes, we must identify our unfulfilled desire. Sometimes it is obvious to ourselves what it is that brings us down.

Ludwig Beethoven was forced to practice piano and music for hours and hours every day from a young age because he came from a musical family and his parents recognized his great ability. At the age of 11 his genius became obvious. He composed beautiful melodies and conducted orchestras publicly. In his late teens he was sent to Vienna to study under the greatest musicians. He composed songs that brought him fame as they were sold and distributed widely. One day he was walking down the street past a small cottage early in the evening and heard someone practicing one of his compositions. He stopped to listen. He heard the girl who was attempting to play it say to herself in frustration, “Oh how I wish I could hear this played the right way!” (There were no recordings in 1801 when this occurred.) he entered the house and discovered that the young lady was blind. Offering to play for her he sat at the piano and played for her for a long time. So long that the candle burned out. But there was a bright moon and the moonlight shone into the cottage. The blind girl was so pleased that she now knew what the composition should sound like. Her desire was fulfilled.

And Beethoven was so inspired by this experience that he composed Moonlight Sonata, considered by many to be his best work. 

This leads us to one way to be led out of depression.

[3.] Fulfill your desire. Remember our passage in Proverbs:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
        but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

First, however, we should ascertain whether our desire is acceptable to the Lord. We are a fallen people with wayward desires. Seek and receive counsel from a godly man or woman to help you make this determination. If we determine that it is then make a plan to obtain what we believe the Lord wishes us to have.

[4.] Making a plan will bring hope and lift your spirit. But, hope deferred can still make your heart sick, that is, depressed. That is what Solomon is talking about here. Therefore, DO formulate a logical plan, but know that the best way out of your emotional bondage is to:

[5.] Change your desire. This is in your power to do. Let your plan work itself out over time. But, in the meantime, weigh what your desire is and integrate a new desire in its place. That desire must be God’s will for you and it will have to do with God’s work on this earth. In other words, your service to Christ. When we take our eyes off of ourselves and immerse ourselves in the Lord’s work we discover that the purpose that we have overshadows our own personal desires. This was Elijah’s experience.

Brothers and sisters, this means taking our discipleship seriously. When you seek to carry out God’s work you will discover that we will have done with lesser things.

This is the way! There is nothing better on this planet than finding joy in the Person of Jesus and in the pleasant mission for which you have been given a commission. Take up your authority and your purpose! Have done with lesser things and find your freedom!