“It is enough; now, O Lord take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers . . .after the fire a still small voice and it was so when Elijah heard it that he wrapped his face in his mantel and went out and stood in the entering in of the cave. . .and the Lord said, unto him, Go, return.”
The juniper tree!
What a lonely place.
It was there that Elijah sighed, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” Despondency, as a treacherous viper infected his soul with the venom of doubt. It was no use to go on. The cause of God was lost.
O Lord, take away my life!
Jehovah, however is not affected by the vacillating faith of a pilgrim. In His steadfastness to His people He suffers long with their doubts and fears. He condescends in mercy and heals the broken-hearted. We so aptly sing,
“The Lord upholds the falt’ring feet
He makes the weak securely stand.
The burdened ones bowed down with grief
Are helped by His most gracious hand.”
Here too, Jehovah mercifully preached to the preacher.
Let’s join Elijah at Horeb. Jehovah dwelt in His Sanctuary. The mountain was His pulpit. The valley the pew. The sermon was the still small voice. It is profitable to spend a moment there, for a dejected servant entered this sanctuary, but an invigorated man of God departed.
The vestibule to that sanctuary was the wilderness.
It was there that a lonely juniper tree sheltered a pitiful servant of God. Elijah had decided to run away from God. He asked God to kill him.
What brought this on?
This question takes on an added measure of preponderance when we recall that this Elijah was the servant of God who only days before arose to the pinnacle of power at Carmel. What a thrill it is to recall this moment of faith. He brazenly announced to Ahab there would be no rain, but by the word that he would bring. For over three years the barren waste of Canaan groaned for water. Fearlessly, Elijah called fuming Ahab to Mount Carmel to witness his challenge to the prophets of Baal. They had agreed that the God who would answer by fire and consume the offering on the altar would be heralded as the true God. Derisively he jeered at the futility of the prophets of Baal, “Cry louder!” Feverishly they danced about the altar, lancing themselves with knives. All this was to no avail, heaven remained stonily silent. How we tingle in ecstasy as Elijah unwaveringly called them to surround the drenched altar. With words of simple faith, he addressed the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of fire consumed not only the offering, but the altar as well. How awesome to hear Carmel’s heights reverberate with the chant, “Jehovah, He is the God.” Without favor the people slew the priests of Baal.
The rains descended.
It was all so beautiful. Faith in full blossom.
Here beneath the juniper tree, the hot blast of the desert wind wilted that faith. The arid soul of the same Elijah cried out, “It is enough, take away my life.”
Yes, it was Jezebel who occasioned this change. Fickle Ahab had tattled to this adulterous woman. In fiery breath, baited with hellish anger she shrieks, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” That was too much for Elijah who had just come out of his three years of banishment. It was more than he could take. He yielded to his sinful nature and decided to run.
His problem was spiritual. What good did it do to preach? He had hoped that a change would take place, that Israel as a nation would now recognize their historic relationship with God. He must have fondly imagined that even Ahab would put Jezebel in her place. He aspired to see a national revival. All this to no apparent avail. Again his life was at stake, no one offered to come to his rescue. He concluded that there weren’t any children of God in Israel anyway. He might just as well quit. “I, only I am left, and they seek my life to take it away.”
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? We too are often under that juniper tree. Life seems not worth living, we feel like giving up. God’s cause appears so weak.
We cringe in fear as we face the modern Jezebels. The world of sin flaunts in arrogant display their weapons of destruction and we shrink back in holy horror. What does the true church amount to today? It seems as if all the power is on the side of our mortal enemy. Place the Church of Jesus Christ on one side of the balance with the world on the other, then judge them according to human standards, and the scales will tip in favor of the world every time. Numbers—the world has the edge by far, money—the church can’t compare, learning—the schools of our land indoctrinate thousands of students to be enemies of the church, prestige—it was once popular to be Christian, but not today, influence—the moral fiber of society gets worse, not better. The forces of Antichrist manifested in both government and false church are determined either by persuasion or persecution to undermine the faithful church of Christ. The cause of Christ appears ridiculously naive. We often ask, what is the use, is there yet faith on the earth?
We feel this constricting influence within our own churches. We are not immune to the attack; we are called of God to bear the brunt of it. We are small; that often occasions discouragement. We have many ambitious programs, but feel our hands are tied over and over. We love our truth and desire the witness to go forth, yet we have no missionary. Our Seminary, so vital to the well-being of our churches is small; we often, ask, why are there not more young men that desire the ministry? Is the influence of this world so great upon our youth that they almost forget this need? Our vacant churches spend a great deal of time beneath the juniper tree. They wrestle with the question, will we ever get a minister of our own; can we go on this way? Government is fingering its way into education; we begin to question, can our schools exist? We can hardly supply the needs of the existing schools; why talk about beginning more grade schools and high schools. The darkness of doubt soon closes in around us and we throw ourselves down beneath the juniper and say, “It is enough.” We might just as well give up. The future is dark, the cause appears hopeless.
When we talk that way, our feet are faltering.
The Lord upholds such feet. He called Elijah to His holy mountain. It is good) to spend some time in God’s dwelling place; then we get the proper perspective once again and go on encouraged.
Nourished by the food that the angel provided, Elijah traveled to Mt. Horeb. As soon as he had arrived, Jehovah began to prepare him for the sermon that He was about to preach. That was necessary, for the transition from the juniper tree to the still small voice on the mountain is not easily made. We know that when we enter the church for divine worship. Here too, a despondent, grumbling, stubborn Elijah had to be made ready for such, a glorious gospel. As he was, he could never be receptive to such sublime truths. So God asked him a personal question. He called him from the cave and said, “What doest thou here Elijah?” As the perfect Psycho-analyst, God posited a leading question that required Elijah to do some introspection.
Elijah was quick to answer. It sounded pretty good too! I am jealous for the Lord God, I have preached and maintained the truth, but all to no avail. Israel has forsaken the covenant, thrown down the altars of God, killed His prophets, and I’m the only one left you get the point? Elijah said, it was because of jealousy for God that he left. He could no longer associate with such a people; he was alone anyway: he might just as well die in the desert; for God’s sake he couldn’t stand it any more.
There was something basically wrong with his reasoning. Jehovah now proceeded to show what was wrong.
God caused three powerful displays to pass before Elijah: wind, earthquake, and fire. Each time God was not in them. These three were followed by the still small voice. Elijah recognized this voice as God and therefore went forth and stood upon the cleft with head covered by his mantle. It was then that God applied this sermon to Elijah. “Go return, I have work for you; anoint Jehu, Hazael, and Elisha as instruments for the destruction of all the worshippers of Baal, and above all I have 7000 that have not bowed the knee to Baal; go preach to them, they need you.”
Let’s notice three things that God will tell us when we become weary and would think the cause of the church to be hopeless.
First, by outward appearance God’s cause is always small. That is the first idea of the three powerful displays contrasted to the still small voice. God was not in the wind, fire, and earthquake. They did not represent His cause. This is not to say they were not brought about by God’s control; they obviously were, for “the Lord passed by,” but he was not in them. Similarly, the cause of the world is always great. Antichrist that reigned throughout history and will personally reign in the end will possess a grand display of power and splendor. The cause of God in contrast from an outward point of view doesn’t amount to much. Elijah thought the nation of Israel would turn, he expected big things, but God now wanted to remind him, no, there is a small remnant, and that from human standards isn’t much. So for us today, we must not think God’s cause is in grand world revival and national conversion. God’s cause today is not in the redemption of society; we must not expect governments to become Christian, we can’t expect worldly organizations to be persuaded to adopt Christian principles. God’s cause is small and distinct. It is always a remnant in the midst of a wicked world.
Secondly, Elijah as a servant of God had to be a servant of destruction to the Baal worshippers and to all who continued in sin. We easily forget this too. The calling of the church is to testify against all evil and bring God’s judgment upon all workers of iniquity. Elijah had to anoint three men who would be instruments in God’s hand to inflict His judgment upon the enemies of the church. It is also through the preaching, the still small voice, and the daily testimony of the believer in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, that God leaves them without excuse and the measure of iniquity is filled. Through contact with the believer, the world rises in greater enmity and thus hastens its own destruction.
Thirdly, the true power of the church is found not in outward things, but in the Word of God, the still small voice. God speaks and the fruits of His word must not be determined by mere men, but God will use it to fulfill His will. He has His covenant people, the 7000, seven times 10, times 10, times 10 or the complete number of the covenant children in the world. The power for gathering and preserving this remnant is not determined by men, but by God Himself.
Remember Pentecost! We have just celebrated this glorious day in the church. This is a reflection upon that wonder. Elijah had to be reminded in type and shadow, we have to be reminded of the fulfillment. If we take our eye off God and His Spirit, things sometimes looks very dark and hopeless. When in faith we see the 7000 who struggle in this world of sin, know that through the Spirit of our living Lord not one shall be lost, but all shall surely be gathered into the fold and retained in safety, we have every reason to continue. Even the Jezebels can not destroy us but are under God’s almighty direction to fulfill His will.
Elijah had work to do, he had to return! He did.
We have work to do, we must press on! We will.
Remember the still small voice; remember the Holy Spirit of God. God is our refuge and strength.