God faithfully cared for Jonah in spite of his self-induced suffering and rebellion. Even more beautiful, I think, is God’s nurturing of the prophet Elijah who did everything God said, and yet still suffered.
Elijah, a suffering servant
Elijah was a messenger for God’s truth during the reign of King Ahab. King Ahab was the eighth king of Israel and was known as the most evil. King Ahab married a pagan woman, Queen Jezebel, and he allowed her to promote Baal or idol worship among the Israelites.
So that’s the climate of the culture Elijah was to prophesize. In some ways, it’s similar to our culture today — where selfishness and sin unchecked can lead to great evil. Similar to a postmodern world, Baal turned out to be a highly adaptable god. Different people worshiped him in different ways, as a fertility god, a rain god, basically whatever they needed of him to suit their desires.
Elijah was not popular because he was speaking the word of the LORD and it wasn’t what the people wanted to hear. Because of it, he was in hiding for several years. During that time God provided for Elijah and protected him in hiding.
Eventually, the LORD instructed Elijah to go before the King. So Elijah boldly went before King Ahab and told him what God said to do. Bring all of the prophets of Baal, and all the people of Israel, and meet me on Mount Carmel.
The showdown at Mount Carmel
Elijah asked the people to prepare two sacrifices to see which god answered by fire. It was determined that whoever answered with fire, was the true God. So the 450 prophets of Baal,
“called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. ‘O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered.’” (1 Kings 18:26, NIV)
It’s Elijah’s turn to prepare a sacrifice for the LORD. He puts water all around the altar filling every trench. That would make it pretty near impossible to ignite a flame. Then Elijah prayed, and the LORD God of Israel answered with fire! And all the people fell to the ground and worshiped God.
Next, Elijah seized the prophets of Baal, which of course did not make Ahab and Jezebel happy. In fact, Jezebel wanted Elijah’s life; she had a contract out on his head.
Like Jonah, Elijah also went running
He was afraid and ran for his life. Instead of finding himself under a vine, he came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.
“‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said.” (1 Kings 19: 3–4, NIV)
Then he fell asleep.
The prophet, Elijah has been either in hiding, on the run, or in difficult circumstances for a very long time.
Elijah was asked to do something by God that was hard.
I think we can see ourselves in this story.
Do you ever feel like you’re on the run, in hiding, or facing incredibly difficult circumstances? Do you feel tired and helpless and like you want to give up like Elijah, even though you’ve seen God provide things for you in the past?
Sometimes it takes a good long while to get to this point. I tend to keep pressing forward in the path of resistance. It takes me a long while to get to a place of surrender.
A couple of summers ago I hit the proverbial wall. I was running full throttle. Things were firing on all cylinders. I thought I was doing all the things. And all of the right things. Then, I came face to face with my limitations.
I was anxious and exhausted and I felt like I was failing on all fronts, in spite of everything I was doing. Fortunately, my husband supported me in the midst of extreme exhaustion and anxiety. He helped me switched gears from my son’s superpowered medical and therapy priorities to my mental and physical health.
I went to the feet of the Lord and said. “Lord, I’ve had enough. I can’t go on like this.” And I rested. I began to accept my weakness and allow God to nurture me in my weakness. By going to God to rest, I found permission to be weak and tired and limited. Just like Elijah.
“All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.” (1 Kings 19:5–6, NIV)
Elijah was so tired he went back to sleep.
“The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’” (1 Kings 19:7, NIV)
The journey is too much for you
Have you ever felt like the journey is too much for you?
This is such a beautiful picture of how God nurtures us in our suffering. This is a picture of God as the nursemaid. The text says that Elijah got up and ate and drank at the Lord’s encouragement. And then strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
“Then a voice said to him, ‘Elijah, what are you doing here?’” (1 Kings 19: 13, NIV)
What does Elijah say? In my paraphrase he says, I love you, God. I’m living for you. I may not like it, but I’m doing everything you have told me to do, everything you have called me to do. And he goes on to list it all.
We can do that too. Here I am God. I’m trying to be faithful to what you’ve called me to. We list it all out before God in prayer.
Elijah is so desperate. He says, “now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10, NIV) He has beyond met his limitations, and the LORD said,
“‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’”
“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD wasn’t in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11–13, NIV)
And Elijah covered his face because no human can stand the sight of a just and holy God. Again, the LORD said,
“Elijah, what are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:13, NIV)
Humbled, Elijah stated his situation again.
The LORD listened and told him to go back the way he came. Get back on your path. Go live the life I’ve given you because I have a purpose and a plan for you. And Elijah goes on to anoint a new king over Israel.
Elijah had run into the desert all by himself where he met God to nurture him and reestablish his purpose
God fed him, gave him rest, reminded him who He was. The God of the whole universe who is not found in the wind, or an earthquake but in a whisper, He reestablished his mission for his life.
And God does that for us too.
Two very different prophets — Jonah and Elijah. Two very different responses to God’s nurture.
The Scriptures never tell us that Jonah came to accept the mission God gave him. We are left feeling the weight of his unresolved bitterness toward God and his life.
Elijah goes on to fulfill the purposes of God and even anoints another prophet, Elisha, to follow after him. He is strengthened and nurtured by the only One who can give him what he needs.
These stories show us how God cares for us whether we are rebellious like Jonah or obedient like Elijah. His character is the same.
Let us allow Him to nurture us in our suffering so that we can rest in His presence when we are tired and be strengthened to keep moving forward even though it’s hard.