Now 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 even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." And [Elijah] was afraid and arose and ran for his life . . . and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life . . . (1 Kings 19:1-4).
There is not a time that I read this vignette when I don’t wonder what got into Elijah. After all, the guy had just witnessed a stunning display of God’s power in the previous chapter.
Why did Elijah, after watching fire fall from the sky to lap up the water, stones and offering – why didn’t Jezebel’s threat elicit little more than a disdainful smirk from the prophet? I’d have thought he would have mocked the queen and said something like, “You know my address. Come and take your best shot.”
But that’s not how it happened. Instead, Elijah ran for his life.
I suppose we shouldn’t be too hard on Elijah. While it’s true most of us haven’t seen fire fall from heaven, many of us have seen the unmistakable hand of God in our lives and yet, when the next storm threatens, we cry out, “Lord, I’m the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too" (see 1 Kings 19:10).
I do that all the time.
I’m glad this story of Elijah’s dismal failure is recorded in Scripture. Without it, I’d think he was super-human, and I would give up trying to attain the relationship with God that he had.
St. James tells us in the New Testament, “Elijah was a man with a nature just like ours” (James 5:17), and these chapters in 1 Kings illustrate for us just how human Elijah really was. Perhaps more important, they illustrate just how accessible God really is.
“God knows our frame,” the Psalmist reminds us. “He is mindful that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). That promise in the Psalms, and the compassion of God toward Elijah in 1 Kings, are beacons in our fear – beacons to assure us God watches over us, protects us, draws us near, even when we forget He is there, and the power He exercises on our behalf.