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Worship Series: Bible Stories
Worship Theme: Elijah Flees to Horeb
- CW 283: Speak, O Savior; I Am Listening
- Change My Heart, Oh God
- Alleluia! Let Praises Ring
- CW 473: Savior, I Follow On
- CW 442: Have No Fear, Little Flock
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Message: Elijah Flees to Horeb
Pastor Jake Schram
How has everyone’s week been going? I’m curious. You’ve probably all different sorts of weeks. How many of you had a good week? How many of you had an ok week? How many of you had a terrible week? It’s always going to be a mix. We all have had good weeks. We all have had bad weeks. This week might be good, the next one bad. It just depends on the week. But through any week, we’ll see that the LORD can be your strength through it.
Now, the prophet Elijah was having a really bad week. It’s a shame because it was looking like it was going to be such a great week too. Everything had started off wonderfully. Elijah had been commanded by God to meet with the wicked King Ahab. The wicked King had an even more wicked wife named Jezebel who had taken it upon herself to destroy God’s prophets. King Ahab and especially Jezebel were supporters of the false god Baal. Oh yeah. There is something I forgot to tell you. The last time Elijah met with the king, he told him God had decreed it wasn’t going to rain for a while. In fact, it wasn’t going to rain again until Elijah gave the command from God again. It had been about three years since this happened. Three years without rain! You can imagine the king and his wife are not pleased about this. We all got a little grumpy this past summer when it didn’t rain a lot for like a month. Imagine three years. God tells Elijah to go confront this angry king. Sounds kind of scary. Elijah does it anyway. Through a messenger, he invites the king to meet him. And the king perhaps out of anger, perhaps out of desperation, arrives at the scene.
Elijah knew God was with him and so he offers a challenge. “Let’s see whose God is real, King Ahab. Is it Baal or the One true God as written in the Scriptures? Bring the prophets of Baal. All 450 of them. Oh, and bring the 400 prophets of Asherah, that other false god you worship, and we will have a competition. We will each bring an offering and see whose God responds by consuming it in flames. King Ahab accepts and they carry out the competition. All those false prophets of Baal and Asherah take all day doing rituals and strange chanting and nothing happens. Absolutely nothing happens. Then Elijah drenches his offering with water to make sure everyone knows what he is about to do is not a trick. Elijah prays a short prayer and by the time he is finished, flames burn right through the water, the sacrifice, the wood, even the stones and the soil. This proves who really is the true God. Then Elijah whips up the people into turning on the false prophets and returning back to God. Then as further proof to God’s Sovereignty, Elijah tells Ahab the drought is over and heavy rain is on the way. And of course, the much-needed rain falls from the sky that same day. What a victory! What a fantastic way to start the week.
King Ahab, dejected and perhaps a little surprised, goes and reports to his wife what happened. She is furious. She loses it. Jezebel responds with a message of her own. She basically says, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make you dead.” Jezebel is a scary and wicked woman. And Elijah knows that Jezebel is not kidding around with her oath. Then our text for today picks up and tells us, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” And just like that the week that started so well became bad for Elijah.
This is not just a bad week. This is a terrible week. This is not just anyone giving up here. This is Elijah, the prophet of God! He is one of two men who never experience death, but are simply taken into heaven. This is Elijah, a man of incredibly strong faith. Yet, he is beaten, disheartened, and utterly depressed. He is a completely broken man, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I think Elijah was expecting different results. He had always preached God’s Word under terrible kings and so many deaf ears. But I think with the victory over the prophets of Baal, Elijah thought this was going to be the turning point. The point when everyone realized who the true God was and turned back to God. Maybe even the wicked King Ahab would see the errors of his ways. But none of that happened. After the great victory and all the proof anyone would ever need that the LORD was the one true God, the king did not change. Most of the people did not change. After the initial excitement of the event, they went back to worshipping their false gods. They didn’t protect Elijah, no miraculous reform or spiritual revival happened. And now Elijah sat there with no current directions from God and is probably thinking his entire ministry has been a giant waste of time.
Have you ever been this down in the dumps? Most of you probably have. It could be the news that you lost your job and you desperately needed that money to support your family. It could be the pressure of your current job and you feel in a hopeless position. It could be the betrayal of a friend and now you feel terribly alone. It could be that your loved ones don’t share the same faith as you and it’s getting harder and harder to stand up for what you believe. It could be a failed test, the rejection of your peers, or just seeming to lose at life over and over again. Life often has that sucker punch that happens when you least expect it and tries to keep you down for the count. And this is when the devil pounces. The doubts that you weren’t worried about creep in and nest in your mind. All because God didn’t make things turn out the way you thought they would. His plans don’t seem very good to us sometimes. I’ve been there too. I’ve sat down just like Elijah did and looked at God and said, “I’m spent. My life hurts. I preach your Word God, but are people listening? You have the words of eternal life. So many other events sell out their expensive tickets that cost hundreds of dollars. Why isn’t our church packed for a message that is needed and free? When we are broken like this, we’re in good company. Moses, Peter, Paul, Sarah, Hannah, Jacob, and the list goes on have all sat before God broken and unsure what to do next. There’s a quote from Charles Spurgeon that comes to mind here. “The best of men at best are only men.” Even the best of us are only human and humans all have bad weeks, just like Elijah.
The LORD was not willing to let Elijah go. The LORD had provided for Elijah in so many miraculous ways (even being fed from Ravens). The LORD was about to provide for Elijah again. Our text says, “All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.” Then the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, because the journey is too much for you.”
In a sudden and unexpected way, The LORD shows Elijah his sustaining presence. The LORD had not abandoned him. He sends an angel to take care of him and rejuvenate him. In my opinion we are at the most relatable point of our text when it comes to comfort: food. I don’t want you to think that God has brought Elijah a tub of ice cream and a container of oreos for his pity party, but instead gives him special and nourishing food. Not once, but twice. Food that will allow him to walk for 40 days and 40 nights without nourishment from anything else.
We will get back to that in a second, but first I want to draw your attention to one thing: the LORD’s sustaining presence. There is something to be said about simply being there for someone. When you are at your worst, maybe after a particularly spectacular failure and to still have someone there for you to show you love. It's huge to know you still have the support of someone regardless of your shortcomings. That’s the LORD for you. Despite our sins, he’s not done with us. He’s there for us with loving care each and every day of our lives.
And God provides for you. He gives you food that does the impossible. We are not strong enough to make the journey to heaven, maybe not even the journey on earth. But the sustaining Word that God gives us does the impossible. The Word tells us about Jesus, tells us of our forgiven sins, rejuvenates us in his love. His Word picks you up when your faith is weak. It nourishes and refines it and makes it strong.
Earlier we talked about feeling depressed and how as humans we are very susceptible to it, especially during a bad week. I’ve been there too. But whenever I’m down there and I look up at God and tell him, “I got nothing left. Nothing at all,” I picture Jesus. He’s looking at me and says, “I see you have suffered. I know what it is like to suffer a lot.” It’s not in a way to try and guilt trip me to pushing harder, although it does put my own sufferings into perspective. They are nothing compared to his. But it reminds me of just how much he loved me that he would die on that cross for you and me. And guided by his Word, perhaps I can get back up and do more things in his name. He gives me strength through his Word.
The last verse in our account goes like this. “So he got up and ate and drank. Then, with the strength gained from that food, he walked for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.” God knew how to take care of Elijah. He didn’t give him exactly what he wanted, but he gave him exactly what he needed. Just enough to send him on a journey. And where does Elijah go? He goes to Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, the place where old heroes of faith went to be in God’s presence and hear what he had to say. He is going to dwell in God’s presence. But here is something cool that you might not know. From where Elijah is to where he is going isn’t a normal 40-day journey. He really only needs half of that from where we think Horeb was located. So what is he doing with the other 20 days? Throughout the Bible, the number 40 is used quite a bit. And often it is used in preparation of God’s people for something. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness before he met God on Horeb through the burning bush. He also waited 40 days on the same mountain on two separate occasions to receive God’s laws. God sent Jonah to preach to the Ninevites and they were given 40 days to repent, and they did! Jesus spent 40 days fasting in preparation for entering the desert and facing the temptations of the devil. Jesus spent 40 days after his resurrection preparing his disciples before he ascended into heaven. There are more examples. But the point is God is preparing Elijah to do something. Perhaps in these 40 days, Elijah has time to ponder scripture as he travels to Horeb. It will bring him to God and God is going to further encourage and nurture and support Elijah. He is then going to have him share the Word with others because it was needed more than ever among his people. And God did great things through Elijah. Some hearts were turned. Some hearts are still turned by his ministry as we read his account thousands of years later.
God sends us to his Word where we meet him face to face with him. And he’s preparing you to do something. As you dwell in his Word, your faith slowly becomes purified and refined, growing in strength. God is giving you encouragement, power, and peace that is beyond all understanding through his Word. What is he preparing you to do? What is he calling you to do in your own life? Time will tell, but you will be able to share the love of God with others, even during the bad weeks. Do whatever the Lord gives you to do. Amen.