The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the First Book of Kings. The text is I Kings 19:9b-21 and is part of the marvelous account of the Prophet Elijah, but in truth, not his most stellar moment. In our text, Elijah is in a cave hiding, whining and looking for a way out of his job description.
The context is very helpful, however. Previous to this pericope Elijah has just won a great contest against the 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. The account is quite familiar and very inspiring as the LORD sends down fire to consume Elijah’s sacrifice while ignoring the false prophets. Thus the people kill all of the false prophets. Now that these prophets of the “rain god” (Baal) are dead, the LORD tells Elijah to start looking for rain. It has been three years of drought. Elijah goes to look for rain and on his eighth time to look out over the sea, he observes the rain clouds coming. Note the numbers: 8 times and then rain comes to water and restores the dead earth (new creation); three years of drought and then the ground is resurrected (new life). These are hardly accidental details. Of course, this angers Jezebel who threatens to kill Elijah, so he makes a run for it. In the wilderness the Angel of the LORD attends to him with food and water. After this, Elijah journeys 40 days and nights and arrives at Mt. Horeb/Sinai where he finds a cave to hide in. This brings us to our text.
In the cave Elijah is lamenting, whining, and begging God to either kill him or at least let him out of his job description. Here we see a common form of Hebrew Lament outside of the Psalms. Notice how Elijah does not take it upon himself to up and quit—he leaves it in the LORD’s hand to deliver him from his enemies and his prophet duties. The LORD comes to Elijah in a still, small voice and instead of a way out, He gives Elijah a way through! I will develop this theme a bit more at the conclusion of the exegetical notes. The LORD tells Elijah to anoint new kings and then anoint his replacement, Elisha, so Elijah can train him up as the next prophet of the LORD.
19:9b פֹה (foh) “at this place; here”
19:10 קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי (kan-No kin-Ne-ti) root: קַנֹּא (kaw-naw) Piel, infinitive construct: “to be
zealous; jealous” “…very zealous”
הָרָסוּ (ha-Ra-su) Qal: “to tear down; throw down”
וַיְבַקְשׁוּ (vay-vak-Shu) root: בקשׁ (baw-kash) Qal: “to seek”
19:11 צא (tze) root: יצא (yaw-tsaw) Qal, imperative: “to go out; lit. - Go out!”
וְחָזָק (ve-cha-Zak) “strong; mighty”
מְפָרֵק (me-fa-Rek) root: פרק (paw-rak) Piel: “to tear; tear off; tear out”
סְלָעִים (se-la-Im) “cliffs; crags; rocks”
רַעַשׁ (Ra-ash) “earthquake”
19:12 דְּמָמָה (de-ma-Mah) “still; calm; whisper”
דַקָּה (dak-Kah) “small; soft”
19:13 וַיָּלֶט (vai-Ya-let) root: לוט (loot) Hiphil: “to wrap; envelop”
בְּאַדַּרְתּוֹ (be-ad-dar-To) from: אדרת (ad-deh-reth) “cloak; robe; mantle; lit. – in his cloak”
הַמְּעָרָה (ham-me-a-Rah) “cave”
19:14 (see verse 10)
19:15 וּמָשַׁחְתָּ (u-ma-shach-Ta) root: משׁח (maw-shakh) Qal: “to anoint”
19:17 הַנִּמְלָט (han-nim-Lat) root: מלט (maw-lat) Niphil: “to flee (to safety); to escape”
19:18 וְהִשְׁאַרְתִּי (ve-hish-ar-Ti) root: שׁאר (shaw-ar) Hiphil: “to leave over; to spare; to reserve”
הַבִּרְכַּיִם (hab-bir-Ka-yim) from: ברך (beh-rek) “knee”
כָרְעוּ (cha-re-U) Qal: “to bow; to bow down”
נָשַׁק (na-Shak) Qal: “to kiss”
19:19 חֹרֵשׁ (cho-Resh) Qal: “to plow”
צְמָדִים (tze-ma-Dim) “team; pair; couple; yoke [of oxen]”
Note the placing of Elijah’s mantle or cloak on Elisha. This is connected to our tradition of the stole being placed upon the newly ordained pastor by the one who ordains him.
19:20 מֶה-עָשִׂיתִי לָךְ (meh a-Si-ti Lach) “what have I done to you?”
19:21 בִּשְּׁלָם (bish-she-Lam) root: בשּׁל (baw-shal) Piel: “to cook; boil”
וַיְשָׁרְתֵהוּ (vay-sha-re-Te-hu) root: שׁרת (shaw-rath) Piel: “to minister; to serve; to assist”
TITLE: A Way Through
I. We are looking for a Way Out.
1. He had many trials and persecutions.
2. He wanted out of his “job”—an end to his misery.
1. We face trials and sufferings in this life…
2. We want a way out…
II. A Way Through.
A. God does not give “ways out”—Elijah; Us
B. God provides a way through.
III. The Way
A. God provides the “way” through His Son.
B. God provides a “way” through His Spirit.
C. The only “Way Out” is Heaven, but until then…
As we look at the text for today’s sermon we read a portion of Scripture concerning the prophet Elijah. Elijah has always amazed me. What a prophet! What a man of God! What amazing and wonderful things he did as God’s chosen instrument! This is the prophet who told King Ahab it would not rain for three years and it did not. This is the prophet who took on 450 prophets of Baal in a sacrifice contest and won—singlehandedly (not including God’s hand, of course!). This is the prophet who raised a widow’s boy from the dead. This is the prophet who gave an ongoing supply of flour and oil for food to the same widow. What an amazing track record! What an amazing and wonderful ministry! Just look at how the LORD used Elijah to spread His Word in the midst of the worst of conditions.
And, in our text for today here is the great prophet, Elijah—the same guy who God used in miraculous ways—hiding in a cave, scared to death. He was frightened and tired. Listen to his words of despair: “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, broken down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left and they are trying to kill me too!” Elijah was scared and tired—tired of the fight, tired of the dangers, tired of the struggle. He was looking for a way out. He was hiding in a cave because Ahab and Jezebel wanted to remove his head from his shoulders. They were out to get him and things did not look good.
As I read this text I believe what Elijah had in mind was retirement. He wanted out of the mess. “God, do not ask me to do anything else!” “God, I have been faithful, now I am tired and want to rest!” “God, I am ready to draw my severance pay and move on!” Elijah wanted a way out.
This should sound familiar. It appears that people, in general, are looking for a way out. With so many tragedies and troubles, tribulations and trauma, hassles and hardships, most people would like nothing better than to escape…
In the movie The Firm, by John Grisham, the hero played by Tom Cruise finds himself in a position which seems impossible. The proverbial “rock and a hard place.” It looks really bad until he hits upon a plan. He goes home and tells the plan to his wife. He says, “I think I may have found a way out! Well, not really a way out. More like a way through!” Think about that: Not a way out; a way through!