Elijah is a no-holds-barred, tell-it-like-it-is figure from the Old Testament. He is beloved for his “hands-on” approach to faith. He is known for his passion for God (his own words) in a time when God’s people were being led astray to follow after the Baal gods. In order to counteract the influence of the Balls, Elijah set up an encounter with the prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel to show who the true God is. It was a no-brainer. The Baal prophets prayed, pleaded, and cut themselves, but their god did not respond. Elijah had servants set up the bull, watered the altar and the trench, and the Lord God answered by fire. Israel was persuaded that Jehovah God was the only true God. He seized the moment and had the prophets killed–all 450 of them. On the heels of this decisive event, Ahab tells Jezebel about the brown-out of the Baals.
7 The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.” 8-9 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 the mountain of God, to Horeb. When he got there, he crawled into a cave and went to sleep. Then the word of God came to him: “So Elijah, what are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:7-9, The Message)
Jezebel issues a threat setting a deadline on Elijah’s life. Elijah runs. He covers some 100 miles, from Jezreel to Beersheba and ends up in a cave. I think his cave experience has much to teach us. As we look at Elijah’s cave experience, there are some questions worth asking: (1) What force would cause a person to flee like Elijah did? (2) What would drive a person to go from triumph to terror? (3) What would compel a person to withdraw into a cave? (4) What happened to take a person off their game? The answer to these questions will explain something about the trigger.
The Big Trigger
Elijah was heavily invested in the future of his nation. He had predicted a drought to King Ahab. He had supernaturally received food from a widow and birds. He had announced the end of a drought. He had challenged the 450 prophets of Baal and mobilized people to elilminate idols. He had outrun the storm and Ahab’s chariot, and when confronted by Jezebel he ran–he even left his servant! Apparently, there was not a large and immediate return to the worship of Jehovah. In fact, the King’s wife vowed to kill him. What a way to treat a man who selflessly risked his neck to save the nation? Who wouldn’t be angry? He resented Israel and Jezebel: “for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword.
The Downward Spiral
First, he was depleted by victory. The Mount Carmel encounter was huge! His public victory against idolatry was spectacular! He thought he would get some well-deserved recognition for his stand against wickedness.
Second, he was disconcerted by fear. Instead of being impressed with Elijah, Jezebel was infuriated and flew into a rage, demanding his immediate execution. Jezebel’s threat consumed his every thought and overwhelmed his faith. In his panic, he lost his handle on the power and provision of God, even though he had just experienced it in a mighty way. The threat from Jezebel had shaken him to the core. Instead of praying to God for help, he bolted.
He was disabled by isolation. Elijah was stuck in emotional overdrive: he was driven, fatigued, tired, exhausted, weary, burned-out, anxious and running on empty. Elijah exacerbated the situation. Instead of connecting, he treated into his shell–that intensified his loneliness.
He was devastated by self-pity. Elijah ran for an entire day until he saw a small broom tree and collapsed in its shade. In his despair, he prayed that he might die. He let self-pity cultivate a “victim mentality” within himself. He had succumbed to the “poor me” syndrome. Elijah said: “I’ve had enough!”
Elijah was fed up. He wanted nothing to do with anyone. He was frustrated with the turn of events and with the response of Israel. He had little faith, a bad attitude, and an ugly spirit.
The problem with caves: they can start out as a “hiding place”, but if we stay there long enough the can become a “prison”, and beyond that a “burial place”! (See Joshua 10)
Burnout is a reversible ailment. Elijah was given four prescriptions that have great application to our own lives-if we’re willing to take the medicine.
Rest: God knew that the most important medicine Elijah needed was rest. Elijah had collapsed under a broom tree and had fallen asleep in utter exhaustion. God sent an angel to refresh him with bread and water.
Rediscover God: God asked Elijah what he was doing in the cave. Elijah gave a shaky answer. When Elijah was in his cave a violent rushing wind swept across the ridges, but the Bible says that God was not in the wind. Then an eerie earthquake ripped through the entire area causing gigantic rock slides and cracks everywhere. But God didn’t reveal Himself in the earthquake either. This was followed by a furious fire that consumed everything, but God wasn’t in the fire either. When Elijah heard the soft voice of God, “he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave at the revelation of God’s holy and majestic whisper.”
Reassignment: Now that Elijah is rested and has rediscovered God, he’s given a third prescription– a reassignment to serve others: “Anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also anoint Jehu over Israel and anoint Elisha to succeed you as prophet. God wanted him to make a choice of godly action based on obedience rather than inaction based on his emotions.
Relationships: The final prescription has to do with relationships. God’s work is never done alone! Even though he was rested and had rediscovered God, he was still alienated from others. God then provided him with a genuine friend and a personal attendant.
Maybe you are going through a cave experience yourself. You find yourself withdrawing from people and activities. What often drives us there results from faulty responses to problems and a faulty perception of reality. Self-pity and resentment extract a heavy price from us when we allow ourselves to indulge in them. They are both sins. Those wrong responses can also be unlearned and repented of–that will bring us out of the cave!