Ahab told Jezebel about everything that had taken place. He told her how Elijah had executed all the prophets of Ba’al with a sword, and she became furious. Jezebel sent an urgent message to Elijah. “May the gods kill me and worse, if I haven’t killed you the way you killed their priests by this time tomorrow. Your end is near, Elijah.” Terrified, Elijah quickly ran for his life. He traveled the length of Israel and finally arrived at Beersheba, in Judah. He left his young servant there and then went into the desert another day’s journey. He came to a lone broom tree and collapsed in its shade, wanting to be done with it all—to just die. Elijah cried, “Enough of this, GOD! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” Exhausted, he fell asleep. While he was sleeping, a heavenly messenger came and instructed Elijah to “Get up and eat!” He looked around and, to his surprise, right by his head were a loaf of bread baked on some coals and a jug of water. He ate the meal and went back to sleep. The heavenly messenger visited Elijah again—shaking him awake and saying “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.” He got up, ate and drank his fill, and set out. Nourished by that meal, he walked forty days and nights, all the way to Mount Horeb—the mountain of GOD. When he got there, he crawled into a cave and went to sleep. Then the word of GOD spoke to him saying, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah answered, “I have been very zealous for GOD—working my heart out—but the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed your altars, and murdered your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” The ETERNAL ONE responded, “Leave this cave, and go stand on the mountainside in my presence.” Then, a mighty wind separated the mountains and crumbled every stone—but this was not a divine wind, because GOD was not within the wind. After the wind, an earthquake shook the whole earth—but this was not a divine quake, because GOD was not within the earthquake. After the earthquake was over, there was a fire—but this was not a divine fire, because GOD was not within the fire. After the fire, the sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then the word of GOD spoke to him saying, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah answered, “I have been very zealous for GOD—working my heart out—but the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed your altars, and murdered your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” The ETERNAL ONE responded, “Go back through the desert to Damascus. When you get there anoint Elisha son of Shaphat to succeed you as prophet. And, you’re not alone. There are 7,000 Israelites who have not bowed down to Ba’al or kissed his image.”
1 Kings 19:1-18
In the story we hear in 1 Kings, it’s at least possible to see Elijah as more interested in the safety of the museum than the disruption of the mountain.
Elijah knows what’s righteous. When he arrives on Mount Carmel, he’s got it all figured out. His faith is finalized, formatted, and framed, and he’s ready to call out anyone who doesn’t measure up.
Sometimes, when we think we’ve got it all figured out, we close ourselves off to new information. We function with what author Lawrence Wright calls “crushing certainty.” In our certainty, everything else tends to get crushed.
For example, how certain does one have to be to call out 850 people in a religious showdown and then kill them all?
I realize this may sting a bit, but if we’re honest about Elijah’s story—if we let it out from under its glass case—then we have to recognize that if this were to happen today, we would call Elijah a religious extremist ,and we would call what he did terrorism.
How do we imagine the families and loved ones of the 850 murdered prophets felt about Elijah and his religion? Do we think they felt strangely warmed and called into a relationship with Elijah’s GOD? Once more, who told Elijah to do this? Who told him to murder all those prophets?
According to this story, no one.
1 Kings 18:1 says, ”In the third year of the drought, the word of GOD came to Elijah saying, ‘Go, present yourself to Ahab; I will send rain on the earth.’”
That’s it. Those are Elijah’s instructions. Present yourself to the King—GOD is going to bring rain and end the drought. There’s no mention of a religious showdown. There’s nothing about the prophets of Ba’al and Asherah.
GOD never tells Elijah to kill anyone.
So how did we get here? How did we arrive at a place where instead of delivering a message of much-needed water, Elijah kills 850 people and ends up on the run for his life?
I would submit to you the possibility that crushing certainty has something to do with it—that when we hold our faith as something that can be static and stored in a museum, it will inevitably be reduced to a tool for judgment—something by which we compare everything and everyone else.
When we place our faith under glass, it ceases to be a living faith. It can no longer breathe. It can no longer receive or be responsive. It can’t change.
Change happens on the mountain.
And that’s precisely where Elijah is headed.
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