Friday, 30 June 2023 Elijah’s rest counters his gloom
I Kings 19: 1 – 18
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 more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’
This story of Elijah fleeing for his life, being fed by an angel and eventually finding God’s direction through ‘sheer silence’ is one of those powerful Biblical narratives that resonates down the ages and speaks to our own experience of being human.
Scared, exhausted and wanting to die – it is an extreme situation, and yet many of us will have felt something of those emotions at one time or another. We may have been helped by the story of an angel waking Elijah, providing food and encouraging him to eat. We too may have known the experience of being at the end of our tether, when, unexpectedly, help comes.
This week we are thinking about the concept of ‘Rest’.
Elijah is not a very restful character. Last week we read about him challenging the prophets of Baal and slaughtering every one of them. That is what has landed him in this current terrifying situation. He goes into the wilderness, not because he thinks it would do him good to have a retreat, but because Jezebel has sworn to kill him.
And it is not even that he rests until sleep, food and drink restore a more realistically positive perspective. No, having eaten and drunk he embarks on a long journey to Horeb, approximately two hundred miles!
What then, might this story say to us about rest?
I wonder if there are times in life when our daily time of quiet, or our cherished weekly day(s) off, or even a brief retreat, are not enough. Are there times that are so demanding, so disturbing, or even so exhilarating, that they need to be followed by stepping aside on to a totally different path for a considerable period until our inner tumult has had time to subside and we can hear God’s direction afresh?
Lord, if or when a crisis drains all my physical, emotional and spiritual strength, find me in the wilderness. Feed me, lest the journey be too much for me.
Help me to sit out the storm, until I hear (and feel) blessed silence. And in the silence may I hear your voice.
Beyond the personal, may all who strive for justice and peace have their strength renewed and the way ahead made clear. Amen
The Rev’d Gwen Collins, retired minister, Avenue St Andrew’s URC, Southampton