Sometimes we just get stuck. God allows it and knows it, but He doesn’t want us to stay there. One of the greatest examples of this to me is what happened to the prophet Elijah, during the time before the fall of northern Israel in 722 BC.
Elijah is perhaps best remembered for standing on Mt. Carmel, literally calling down fire from heaven to confound the prophets of Baal, 450 of them in fact.(See I Kings 18) Israel at that time was ruled by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Ahab comes across as a weak character and it seems Jezebel was the one who wore the pants in the family.
And they were serious Baal worshipers. This wasn’t some little innocent misdemeanor. Baal worship involved cruel, disgusting sacrifices to demonic idols and was just completely forbidden by the laws of Israel. But it sounds like it had pretty much taken over the hearts and minds of the Israelites, en masse.
After Elijah had called down fire from heaven in front of the prophets of Baal (after they’d tried and failed for hours to do the same thing), there was one detail Elijah had to attend to. The Bible says he slew the 450 prophets of Baal while they were all still up there. ( I Kings 18:40) The multitude who’d come to see the showdown sided with Elijah at that time and helped round up the Baalites in order to help facilitate all this.
So far, so good; right? But Queen Jezebel was definitely not impressed. She sent a message to Elijah basically saying he was toast. Or, more specifically, that he’d be dead within 24 hours.
What did Elijah do and say? “OK, baby! Bring it on! You and me: high noon!” No. the Bible say that Elijah “arose and fled for his life” (I Kings 19:3), way down into southern Israel, or Judah as it was called then.
This is where we see that Elijah got stuck. He actually ended up down in the Sinai, in a cave at Mt. Horeb. At this point it’s always seemed to me to be one of the perhaps few places in the Bible where there’s a touch of dry humor. The Bible says that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the cave saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9)
Yahweh, the mighty God of Abraham, has to ask someone what they are doing?! Doesn’t He know everything?! But maybe Elijah was really not doing very good right then. He may have needed some company and conversation. Could that question even have brought a brief smile to Elijah?
Elijah replied to God, “I’ve been very zealous for God. The sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, slain Your prophets and I, I alone, am left. And they seek my life.” (I Kings 19:10)
Elijah was stuck. He wasn’t totally wrong in what he was saying. But he was totally defeated and had come to the end of himself, thinking it was all over for the Lord’s cause.
But God told him to go and stand on the mountain before the Lord. Then comes the famous event of the wind, the earthquake and the fire that manifest themselves before Elijah. And afterwards, “a still small voice” (I Kings 19:12) says the same thing again to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:13) Elijah answers again the same way.
All Elijah had was the voice and presence of God. He felt utterly alone, without a friend, without a follower and possibly an utter failure in bringing his nation back to God.
What an incredibly poignant moment that must have been. So often I wish there could be some inspired movie maker who’d begin to do justice to some of these Biblical events. On this journey to the mount, the Bible even says that Elijah prayed that God would take his life as he said, “I’m no better than my fathers.” (I Kings 19:4) Stuck, depressed, seemingly a failure, overwhelmed, utterly hopeless.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) And that was totally true of Elijah at that point in his life. Also, as it says in I Corinthians 10:13, “There is no temptation taken you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful, Who’ll not allow you to be tempted above that you are able. But will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
Elijah really needed to find “a way of escape” and God had one. First, He told Elijah what to do next: anoint a new king in Syria, a new king of Israel and to anoint a new prophet, Elisha, to be trained to take the place of Elijah. (I Kings 19:15-17)
So basically it was a “You need to get busy, son” message. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need. We need to get moving with what God wants us to do, rather than to wallow in our extreme difficultly. But then there was a final thing the Lord said to Elijah, concerning his earlier heart cry. God told him, “I have yet 7000 in Israel who’ve not bowed the knee to Baal or kissed him.” (I Kings 19:18)
It really must have been pretty bad at that time. Out of a nation of one or two million, God Himself told Elijah that there were only 7,000 Israelis who were not given over to the demonic god of the surrounding nations.
No wonder Elijah was distraught. It sounds like well over 99% of his people at that time had fallen away from faith in God. But Elijah kept on believing, kept on obeying and was faithful in his generation to the uttermost.
I’ve been stuck sometimes, actually many times. Maybe you have too. Utterly, utterly boxed in. Hopeless. Basically ready to give up and just die. Defeated, forlorn, forsaken by friends, mocked, persecuted, “running from Jezebel”.
I guess we need to remember Elijah and the many other stories from God’s Word that give us hope and strength. Keep on believing. Like someone said one time, “If your will power doesn’t work, try your ‘won’t’ power”. Elijah couldn’t go forward. But at least he didn’t really go backwards. He’d just come to the end of his rope. But God hadn’t. God doesn’t come to the end of His rope. So we all just need to remember to keep holding on.