By Brian K. Burns
Elijah the Tishbite was a mighty prophet in the Old Testament. His name means, “Jehovah is God” or “The Lord is God”. He suddenly appeared on the national scene in Israel, and with fiery zeal and confident demonstrations of power, he went about to prove the Lord God’s sovereignty over all other gods. He ministered truth to Israel, commanding them to serve God with all their hearts. The theme of his ministry was contained in these words, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him: but if Baal, follow him!” Under his prophetic ministry, Israel began to be purged of her wicked ways. Those false prophets, who sought to lead the people astray, were put to shame-then put to death. Through Elijah’s bold proclamations of righteousness, Israel began to bow under the sovereignty of Jehovah God.
MAN OF CLAY
Elijah was an obedient servant of the Most High. He was a man of power, a man of action, a man of undaunted courage. He was a man of faith. Yes, Elijah was all these things… most of the time. Elijah was still a man of clay. This is very important for us to realize. At times he manifested the weakness of the human creature.
The most familiar New Testament verse concerning Elijah is found in James 5:17. We usually concentrate on the latter part of this verse, which lauds his earnest prayer life. However, the first part of the verse is also very important. It says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…” He experienced many of the same sufferings and weaknesses the rest of the human race experiences. Let us examine one of Elijah’s failures, for through it we shall find an example, which God has placed in His Word to give us encouragement and hope.
I Kings 18-19 are two of the fastest-moving, action-packed chapters in all the Old Testament. The only true constant in either of them is the great and awesome character of God. In these two chapters, the character of Elijah is shown to be powerful, yet also periodically defective and vacillating. First, in chapter 18, there was the showdown with the prophets of Satan. The fire of God had fallen and consumed the burnt offering Elijah had prepared, while the god of the false prophets did nothing (because, he couldn’t!). All the Israelites fell on their faces crying, “The Lord, He is God the Lord, He is God!” Their hearts were being turned back to the God of their fathers. Then, Elijah had all of the false prophets of Satan killed. After this, he left to pray, and God again poured rain upon the earth. Next, under the hand of God, Elijah girded up his loins and outran horse-drawn chariots to the city of Jezreel to prepare for future ministry. Whoo! What a day’s work! What a testimony of the powerful, wonderful effect the Spirit of God can have upon a yielded person!
What happened next, in chapter 19? Well, ole devilish Jezebel, the wicked queen, threatened to kill Elijah for the blow he had inflicted upon her reign of darkness. This should have been no big deal for Elijah to handle, right? No need to worry about a demon-possessed queen when you have the power of God on your side, right? All he had to do was go forth in righteous fury and smite her hit men with blindness or something, right? He could have, at least, peacefully yielded in the indomitable spirit of martyrdom, right? But poor Elijah did neither of these spiritual things. Instead, “He was afraid, and arose and ran for his life. “He temporarily gave in to the spirit of fear, and fled. Elijah left Jezreel and went first to Beersheba. Even in Beersheba he didn’t feel safe- so he left his servant there, and went another day’s journey into the wilderness, near Mount Sinai. There, under a broom-tree, he asked God to take his life. He’d had enough.
In this chapter, we see the great prophet full of fear and in great depression of mind. The man who had enough faith in God to call down His fire from heaven, the man who stood against a host of representatives of the powers of darkness and prevailed, this great believer gave up because of the empty threat of an idolatrous wench! What caused this man of God to temporarily lose faith in the Almighty? What was God trying to show him? What can we learn from Elijah’s experience?
TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS
II Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves.” The principles in this verse shed a lot of light on Elijah’s sudden manifestation of weakness. Let’s look at this further. The treasure, of course, is Christ Jesus, in Whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead in all power, wisdom, and knowledge. We are the earthen vessels- basically selfish, weak, and fearful- possessing all the ignoble traits associated with humanity. Even after we are born-again, God requires us to remain in this rotting shell, which is subject to many of the same weaknesses and liable to commit many of the same mistakes as other people. He has wisely decided not to perfect our Christian experience immediately, but allows us to gain a deeper knowledge of Him, and become more like Him, with the passage of time. Among other agents which cause us to grow are tribulation, trial, and error. This is simply the truth. Even you and I still periodically goof up! (Surprise!) Certain elements of our humanity remain (at least temporally) in order that we all might more fully understand that He is the Power, His is the glory.
The Lord never wants us to forget Who He is and how very much we need Him. When we stop needing Him, then for us He is no longer God! We come to more fully understand, how holy and awesome He is when we truly see how sinful and helpless we are in and of ourselves. Therefore, He allows us to carry the glorious power of His presence in mortal flesh. We sometimes stumble and must look up and say, “Oh God, I still need You!” This cry, uttered with our lips and sincerely believed in our hearts, is the fulfillment of our calling as human beings. It is perfectly natural, and as vital as breathing, for us to say, “God, I need You. I am weak.”
God has given us many examples of the “earthen vessel” principle, for which I am most grateful. In the gospels, Peter boldly proclaimed, “Lord, though all others desert You, I am ready to go with You both to prison and to death.”1 That very day, however, he is seen vehemently swearing and cursing that he never knew Jesus. The ironic thing was, Peter really did not know Jesus, at least not like he thought he did. Peter needed to go through that ugly night when he forsook Christ. He needed to see who he really was without Jesus’ strength. Once the bare fact of his sinful pride was revealed, he was much more able to effectively minister the gospel.
With the sole exception of Jesus, all biblical men of God had their moments of sinful weakness and spiritual insecurity. Most of them emerged from their dilemma as better men of God. Abraham, the father of faith, who personally received promises from God, lied about the identity of his wife, Sarah, because he feared for his life.2 David, the apple of God’s eye, became an adulterer and a murderer near the height of his ministry.3
Elijah, whose story I have been using as a primary example, proved that he certainly was not above error, either. How strange that he who boldly cried, “How long will you hesitate?”-hesitated. He whose very name means “The Lord is God” periodically asked himself, “Is the Lord God?” We all sometimes move in fear. Great is this mystery- Christ Jesus, the hope of glory, in Whom is the fullness of God, dwells with and uses weak, earthen vessels- namely US!4
All this is not to say that God tempts us with evil, oh no!5 It is to say that He uses our weaknesses to reveal His glory. Also, this is not to say that we Christians are worthless people with no power or privilege. We have great authority and privilege as believers in Jesus. We have been declared righteous. We are sanctified, justified, and strong- but only because of Who Christ is.6 It is absolutely vital for us to understand this: Without Him we are nothing, N-O-T-H-I-N-G.7 If you do not believe this, God will reveal it to you… as he had to do with Peter!
MOVING ON IN GOD’S GRACE
The truths that I most intend to express to all of you through this teaching are these: The Lord is very compassionate and gracious. He knows our frame, that we are but dust. He is therefore very patient with His children. Just as a loving father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. He has not dealt with us according to our sins.8 As we humbly and sincerely continue to come to Him, in the name of Christ Jesus, He will continue to uphold us, and use us in ministry- though we periodically stumble. Of course, this is no excuse for blatant, consistent, and unrepentant sin to be given a place in our lives! We must press on to spiritual excellence! We are to move toward experiential victory in every area of our life and ministry. His awesome commands do cry out to us and will not be silent; “Be ye perfect, as Your heavenly Father is perfection, and “…be holy in all your behavior.” 11
Absolute obedience is our standard, our goal. But thank God that repentance and forgiveness are at the heart of the gospel message, and are available to us.12 Thank God that David was no less the apple of God’s eye after he sincerely repented of his atrocious acts. Thank God that Elijah not only found forgiveness and healing, but he also gained much wisdom in that 19th chapter of I Kings. Read it and you will see how his faith was restored, and his great vision for ministry was corrected, by the Lord Himself. The primary thing he lost was a heap of pride!
Thank God that, though we stumble and fall, we can get up in God’s strength, and again be used as His hands and feet in these last days. Thank God, we can arise from the bed of temporary defeat, we can reverse our backslidden state, and turn from wicked attitudes and ways.13 We can rebound from losing a round with fear, lust, or pride, and again take up the fight against wickedness! We can be forgiven and again show forth the glory of Him Who calls men out of darkness and into His marvelous light.14 So, get up, go to God, go to your brethren, do whatever you must do to get right. Let’s get on with our Father’s business! Let’s not allow anything in this world to keep us from seeing God’s purposes fulfilled in and through us. Oh, seek the face of God! We are earthen vessels, to be sure. However, within us dwells the power of the Holy Spirit!
Elijah rebounded, you and I can, too, because of Who He is. Hallelujah! Brothers and sisters, Jesus really loves you.
1. Luke 22:31-34; Mark 14:27-31 2. Genesis 20 3.1 Samuel 11 4. Colossians 1:25-27; 2:9
5. James 1:13-15 6. I Corinthians 1:30-31 7. John 15:4-6 8. Psalm 103:10-14 9. Philippians 3:13-16 10. Matthew 5:48 11.1 Peter 1:15-16 12. Romans 2:4; Acts 5:31; Psalm 13:1-6
13.. Luke 15:11-32; Isaiah 55:1-2; 6-9 14. 1 Peter 2:9-12