Elijah obeyed the Lord and received His blessings for his faithfulness, but that didn’t stop the prophet from fearing for his life at the hand of man. Because of the tasks that God had Elijah perform, his life was constantly in danger. In his human frailty, he grew weary and depressed. Yet, Yahweh came to Elijah at multiple times to show His love and care for him in his times of greatest need.
In one particular instance, an angel instructed Elijah to travel to Mount Horeb, a journey that took forty days. During that time he must have seriously questioned what he was doing and its purpose. It left him depleted and with little hope. In 1 Kings 19:10 we see Elijah’s lament:
He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
That forty days gave him too much opportunity to think. He concluded that despite his faithfulness to God, no one in Israel paid attention to what he said – he believed God’s Word was returning void; more than that, he believed he was the only person left in all the land who still revered the Lord.
At this moment of deepest despair, God showed up. As He did, Elijah once more voiced his complaint in 1 Kings 19:14, just to make sure Yahweh had heard him the first time. He did.
God did something quite unusual with Elijah to assure him of His continued presence. He instructed the prophet to anoint three different individuals for service to Him. We see that in 1 Kings 19:15-16:
And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.”
God told Elijah to anoint:
- The next king over Syria which was a pagan nation and enemy of Israel
- The next king over apostate Israel in place of wicked King Ahab
- The next prophet who would succeed Elijah
The purpose of these anointings was to specifically address Elijah’s complaint. Israel had turned from Yahweh, and Elijah hated that. Just like any ministry leader, he wanted to see fruit from his efforts. In this case, God largely agreed with Elijah that the unbelieving people of Israel had hardened their hearts to such an extent that few remained who followed Him. These anointings provided the means for God to rectify the situation. In the solution, we can read between the lines that God was as fed up with Israel’s apostasy as Elijah was. The text of 1 Kings 19:17-18 tells us what God declared:
“And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
The new king of Syria would pursue the heretical people of Israel and put them to death. If anyone escaped the enemy’s sword, the new king of Israel would hunt these unbelievers down and kill them. If any of these still remained after the first two waves of slaughter, then Elijah’s successor prophet would finish God’s task.
What was at issue? Why was God ordaining the demise of these people? It was because they had turned from him to worship Baal. This was always an abomination to Yahweh, and he inevitably brought wrath and punishment to those who so foolishly turned from Him.
These two new kings and the next prophet didn’t appear instantly. As in most things in life when God is at work, it took some time for the prophecy to be fulfilled. We don’t see the next king of Syria until 2 Kings 8; neither does the next king of Israel come into the picture until 2 Kings 9. As for the next prophet, Elisha, he doesn’t actually succeed Elijah until 2 Kings 2.
These tasks of anointing showed Elijah that God was at work, but Yahweh also wanted to reassure him there were others who still loved the Lord. He did this by telling Elijah that there was a remnant in Israel of 7,000 others who followed the Lord. Surely this helped Elijah not feel so alone. Somewhere in the land were a faithful few.
For those of us who labor for the Lord, our “success” often ranges in our ministry efforts from prominent to seemingly nothing. We all know of high-profile pastors. Some of them are true ministers of the Gospel, while others only pretend to be so. There have been many missionaries over the years who worked hard in difficult places and actually saw no one turn to the Lord. Yet, they planted seeds, and only when those missionaries died did plants and fruit appear. It must have been exceedingly discouraging, but these faithful ones carried on in the hope and promise of God that all they did wouldn’t be wasted. Sometimes there’s a late harvest rather than an early one.
God told Elijah that his ministry had some effect; He also let him know that through his work, greater things would happen later.
The bottom line message that God gave Elijah was to simply trust that He was present and silently at work. That’s difficult to accept at times, yet isn’t that what faith and trust in God are all about?
God fulfills His promises. When He calls someone to work for the Kingdom, it is not in vain.