The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday, the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, is from the first book of Kings. The text is 1 Kings 19:1-8 and is the account of Elijah, the great prophet, fleeing from the evil Queen Jezebel. The LORD has just granted Elijah a great victory over the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel as He sent down fire to consume Elijah’s offering (and the altar and the water...). This took place to remind the people who the one, true God was. So, the people took the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 of Asherah and killed them. Then Elijah told King Ahab that the three year drought would now end and the rain would start. But, as impressive and amazing as these victories are, they do not please the Queen. In our text she vows to end the life of Elijah in the same manner as her priest’s lives were ended. Elijah, terrified for his life, takes off!
Following Queen Jezebel’s vow to end Elijah’s life (verses 1-2), our pericope details the journey of Elijah through the wilderness to Mount Horeb (verses 3-8). There he will lament and whine to the LORD seeking to be released from his job description. This is the well-known account of the LORD speaking to Elijah in a still, small voice (a whisper). Of course, we know the LORD did not release Elijah from his prophet duties. Instead of providing a way out, the LORD gave Elijah a way through, which included the calling of Elisha as his apprentice.
Returning to our text, it is obvious that despair, fear, and trauma have engulfed Elijah at this moment. We see all of his miracles and miraculous feats and victories but it is a bit more difficult to understand his emotional state. However, the words of the messenger from the Queen have terrified the great prophet. Even as he flees, God is with him and provides for his needs through The Angel of the LORD—the pre-incarnate Son of God! This is to prepare him for the long journey ahead. Elijah’s request for the LORD take his life reminds us of the plea of Moses, and later, the prophet Jonah who each voiced the similar desire to escape their duties by the LORD God taking their life.
Even as he flees, God is with him and provides for his needs through The Angel of the LORD—the pre-incarnate Son of God!
It is also interesting to note the length of the journey: 40 days and 40 nights. The number “40” is used frequently in Scripture and is seen as a time of repentance and preparation. Examples include the 40-year wilderness wandering, the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai, the 40 days from the resurrection of Jesus to His ascension, etc. This continues to the Church today as we have 40 days of Lent to repent, reflect, and prepare for Resurrection Day.
19:1 הָרַג (ha-Rag) Qal: “to kill; slay”
19:2 וַתִּשְׁלַח (vat-tish-Lach) root: שׁלח (shaw-lakh) Qal: “to send; stretch out”
מָחָר (ma-Char) “tomorrow; next day”
אַחַד מֵהֶם (a-Chad me-Hem) “one of them”
19:3 וַיַּרְא וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל־נַפְשׁוֹ (vai-Yar vai-Ya-kom vai-Ye-lech el-naf-Sho) “And he was afraid, and he rose up and he fled for his life”
וַיָּבֹא (vai-ya-Vo) root: בוא (bo) Qal: “to come; to go in”
19:4 וַיֵּשֶׁב (vai-Ye-shev) root: ישׁב (yaw-shab) Qal: “to sit; dwell; inhabit”
רֹתֶם אֶחָד (Ro-tem e-Chad) Literally: “one broom tree; a certain broom tree”
וַיִּשְׁאַל (vai-yish-Al) root: שׁאל (shaw-al) Qal: “to ask; inquire”
לָמוּת (la-Mut) “to die; that he might die” (see also Jonah 4:8)
19:5 וַיִּשְׁכַּב (vai-yish-Kav) root: שׁכב (shaw-kab) Piel: “to lie down”
וַיִּישַׁן (vai-yi-Shan) root: ישׁן (yaw-shane) Qal: “to fall asleep; go to sleep”
קִוּם אֱכוֹל (kum e-Chol) “rise up, eat”
19:6 וַיַּבֵּט (vai-yab-Bet) root: נבט (naw-bat) Hiphil: “to look”
מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו (me-ra-a-sho-Tav) “at his head; placed at his head”
עֻגַת (u-Gat) “cake; loaf; flat loaf”
רְצָפִים (re-tza-Fim) from: רֶצֶף (reh-tsef) “glowing coal; hot stone”
וְצַפַּחַת (ve-tzap-Pa-chat) “pitcher; jug; jar”
19:7 כִּי רַב מִמְּךָ הַדָּרֶךְ (ki rav mi-me-Cha had-Da-rech) “for the way is too great for you”
19:8 בְּכֹחַ הָאֲכִילָה (be-Cho-ach ha-a-chi-Lah) “in the strength of the eating; in the strength of that food”
אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לַיְלָה (ar-ba-Im yOm ve-ar-ba-Im Lay-lah) “forty days and forty nights”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching 1 Kings 19:1-8.
Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 Kings 19:1-8.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Walter A. Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through 1 Kings 19:1-8.