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Sunday 26 June 2022: Trinity 2, Thirteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 8

Telling our troubles to the Lord
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

By Alton P Bell
Senior Pastor of Wembley Family Church, Sudbury, Middlesex

Context: an all-age Black Majority Pentecostal congregation
Aim: to get all pastors to be intentional in learning to lament and passing on the baton

INTRODUCTION

Good morning, today we want to take a glimpse into the final chapter of Elijah’s intentional life. The context of these final months is one of him being alone with God and coming to a decision about his future. Like all of us, as Kenny Rodgers said in his famous song, The Gambler, we all ‘need to know when to fold them, and know when to hold them, when to walk away and when to run.’ Let me be clear here, Elijah was not a gambler, however he knew that he was coming to the end of his ministry and was getting ready to pass on the baton.

Having spent a lifetime of speaking truth to power, Elijah came to the decision that his time was up. He felt like he wanted to end it all, seemingly after his life was threatened by Queen Jezebel, the wife of Ahab King of Israel. In the previous chapter (18) we find Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal (450) and those of Asherah (400) to a showdown and defeating them by calling down fire from heaven. He proved to King Ahab and the people of Israel that Yahweh was supreme, and had the false prophets slaughtered in the Kishon Valley.

Ahab returns to the palace and tells Jezebel all that Elijah did on Mount Carmel and how he slaughtered the prophets whom she entertained daily at her table. She duly sends him a threatening message whereby he runs for his life.

DEVELOPMENT

In our text (1 Kings 19:15-16) we meet Elijah after he had spent quality time in the presence of God at Mount Horeb. We are told that it took him forty days and nights to get there and that he spent one night in the cave when he arrived. We also know that the initial kneejerk reaction of wanting to die had now passed. Many scholars infer from this, that Elijah was in a state of depression after receiving the threat to his life, and hence was suicidal. I am not convinced about this. I believe that Elijah was definitely exhausted and needed quality time to rest and reflect after the arduous task of challenging and defeating the evil hierarchy of Israel. Furthermore, prior to Obadiah telling him that he had saved some of the prophets of the Lord by hiding them in caves, Elijah believed that he was the only true prophet left to speak up for Yahweh. Now, having had a good night’s sleep it was time to have a heart to heart with God. We find this conversation in verses 9b-14.

Here Elijah pours out his complaints to the Lord in the fashion as prescribed by King David (in Psalm 142). Like David he cries to the Lord, verse 1; he tells him about the traps that are set for him, verse 3; how lonely he was, verse 4; how desperately he needed to hear from him, verse 6; and how he longs to be among people who love to praise his name, verse 7.

Elijah knew how to lament. And this was his time of lamenting to the Lord about the seemingly dire situation that the nation of Israel was in. They had the infrastructure as ordained by God, namely the prophet, priest and king to govern the people, but had wandered away from this model and were worshipping idols. All was not lost as the Lord heard his cry and answered him. In verse 15 God speaks to Elijah and sends him back to set things in order before he could pass on the baton and conclude his ministry.

CONCLUSION

What can we learn from the conclusion of Elijah’s ministry? There are times when the pressure of ministry will get the better of us. Like Elijah we need to get away to our ‘Horeb’ where we can encounter God afresh to get a better understanding of the bigger picture. Secondly, there is a desperate need for pastors to learn to lament. Although the situation may seem dire, as it did for Elijah, God will always provide a solution. In Elijah’s case, he had to go back to Israel and the neighbouring countries and appoint and anoint those whom God had instructed him to. This is why as leaders we need to repent, that is, go back to God for him to re-envision us to put the right people in the right places.

Finally, God always has a plan for succession, we need to understand how and where we fit in his plans.

Reference:

See Lamb, D.T., 2010, June. ‘A Prophet Instead of You’ (1 Kings 19:16): Elijah, Elisha and Prophetic Succession. In Prophecy and Prophets in Ancient Israel: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar, New York: T and T Clark International (pp. 172-187).

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