When You Are Discouraged

Biblical Truth: A fresh vision of God’s glory and purpose helps believers deal with discouragement.

Recognize:  1 Kings 19:1-3.

[1]  Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. [2]  Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” [3]  And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.   [NASU]

When the torrential rain began to fall, Jezebel was in Jezreel and may have thought that Baal the storm god had triumphed on Mount Carmel. However, when Ahab arrived home, he told her a much different story. Ahab was a weak man, but he should have stood with Elijah and honored the Lord who had so dramatically demonstrated His power. But Ahab had to live with Queen Jezebel and without her support, he knew he was nothing. If ever there was a strong-willed ruler with a gift for doing evil, it was Jezebel. Neither Ahab nor Jezebel accepted the clear evidence given on Mount Carmel that Jehovah was the only true and living God. Instead of repenting and calling the nation back to serving the Lord, Jezebel declared war on Jehovah and His faithful servant Elijah.

Why did Jezebel send a letter to Elijah when she could have sent soldiers and had him killed? He was in Jezreel and the deed could have been easily accomplished on such a wild and stormy night. Jezebel wasn’t only an evil woman; she was also a shrewd strategist who knew how to make the most of Baal’s defeat on Mount Carmel. Elijah was now a very popular man. Like Moses, he had brought fire from heaven, and like Moses, he had slain the idolaters [Lev. 9:24; Num. 25:1]. If Jezebel transformed the prophet into a martyr, he might influence people more by his death than by his life. No, the people were waiting for Elijah to tell them what to do, so why not remove him from the scene of his victory? If Elijah disappeared, the people would wonder what had happened, and they would be prone to drift back into worshiping Baal and letting Ahab and Jezebel have their way.

Her letter achieved its purpose and Elijah fled from Jezreel. In a moment of fear, when he forgot all that God had done for him the previous three years, Elijah took his servant, left Israel, and headed for Beersheba, the southernmost city in Judah. God had answered his prayer [18:36-37] and God’s hand had been upon him in the storm [18:46], but now he was walking by sight and not by faith [see Psalm 16:7-8]. For three years, Elijah had not made a move without hearing and obeying the Lord’s instructions [17:2-3,8-9; 18:1], but now he was running ahead of the Lord in order to save his own life.

When God’s servants get out of God’s will, they’re liable to do all sorts of foolish things and fail in their strongest points. When Abraham fled to Egypt, he failed in his faith, which was his greatest strength [Gen. 12:10ff]. David’s greatest strength was his integrity, and that’s where he failed when he started lying and scheming during the Bathsheba episode [2 Sam. 11-12]. Moses was the meekest of men [Num. 12:3], yet he lost his temper and forfeited the privilege of entering the Promised Land [Num. 20:1-13]. Peter was a courageous man, yet his courage failed and he denied Christ [Mark 14:66-72]. Like Peter, Elijah was a bold man, but his courage failed when he heard Jezebel’s message.

Refresh: 1 Kings 19:4-8.

[4]  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” [5]  He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” [6]  Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. [7]  The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” [8]  So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.  [NASU]

The "juniper tree" is actually a flowering shrub ("the flowering broom tree") that flourishes in the wilderness and provides shade for flocks and herds and travelers. The branches are thin and supple like those of the willow and are used to bind bundles. (The Hebrew word for this shrub means "to bind.") The roots of the plant are used for fuel and make excellent charcoal [Psalm 120:4]. As Elijah sat under its shade, he did a wise thing, he prayed, but he didn’t pray a very wise prayer. It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life. Then he gave his reason: for I am not better than my fathers. But God never asked him to be better than anybody else, but only to hear His Word and obey it.

The combination of emotional burnout, weariness, hunger, and a deep sense of failure, plus lack of faith in the Lord, had brought Elijah into deep depression. But there was also an element of pride involved, and some self-pity, for Elijah was sure that his courageous ministry on Mount Carmel would bring the nation to its knees. Perhaps he was also hoping that Ahab and Jezebel would repent and turn from Baal to Jehovah. His expectations weren’t fulfilled, so he considered himself a failure. But the Lord rarely allows His servants to see all the good they have done, because we walk by faith and not by sight, and Elijah would learn that there were 7,000 people in Israel who had not bowed to Baal and worshiped him. No doubt his own ministry had influenced many of them.

When the heart is heavy and the mind and body are weary, sometimes the best remedy is sleep. Nothing seems right when you’re exhausted. But while the prophet was asleep, the Lord sent an angel to care for his needs. In verse 7, the visitor is called "the angel of the Lord," an Old Testament title for the second person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ. In passages like Gen. 16:10; Ex. 3:1-4 and Judges 2:1-4, the angel of the Lord speaks and acts as God would speak and act. In fact the angel of the Lord in Ex. 3:2 is called "God" and "the Lord" in the rest of the chapter. We assume that this helpful visitor was our Lord Jesus Christ.

The angel of the Lord had prepared a simple but adequate meal of fresh bread and refreshing water, and the prophet partook of both and lay down again to sleep. We aren’t told how long the Lord permitted Elijah to sleep before He awakened him the second time and told him to eat. The Lord knew that Elijah planned to visit Mount Sinai, one of the most sacred places in all Jewish history, and Sinai was located about 250 miles from Beersheba, and he needed strength for the journey. But no matter what our destination may be, the journey is too great for us and we need God’s strength to reach the goal. How gracious God was to spread a "table in the wilderness" for His discouraged servant [Psalm 78:19]. Elijah obeyed the messenger of God and was able to travel for forty days and nights on the nourishment from those two meals.

Reevaluate:  1 Kings 19:9-13.

[9]  Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [10]  He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

[11]  So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. [12]  After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. [13]  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”   [NASU]

[9-10]  Besides feeding the prophet, the Lord reassures Elijah with the book’s most certain comfort – God’s word, which never fails. The first word of the Lord asks him why he is at Horeb. He replies that Israel is apostate, they kill the prophets, and he alone stands for covenant faith. Again, he sees no real reason to continue. Apparently he had hoped that the Mount Carmel episode would produce a final victory over Baalism.

[11-13]  A second word of the Lord invites the prophet to go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for God will pass by there. This theophany, or appearance of the Lord, reminds readers of Exodus 33:18-22, where Moses desires to see God’s glory and is rewarded by being allowed to view “the back” of the Lord’s splendor. God places Moses in the rock and covers him with a divine “hand” to protect him. Here, Elijah waits for God’s word through tearing wind, ground shaking earthquake, and roaring flame. The Lord does not speak, however, through these natural phenomena. Certainly Elijah has experienced God’s sovereignty over nature, and has benefited from miraculous fire, but what he needs now is a definitive word from the Lord. He receives this word in a gentle whisper. Perhaps the Lord attempts to teach Elijah not to expect always the miraculous and wondrous deliverance from problems. Maybe God wants to signify to the prophet that He did not work in His earthly kingdom with the destroying zeal of wrath, or with the pitiless severity of judgment. Or the Lord may simply try to explain to Elijah that He works in small ways at this time.

God speaks in a quiet voice here to a prophet drained of strength. The next passage will reveal still further the Lord’s willingness to labor with relatively limited human resources. Regardless of the meaning of the natural wonders, however, it is God’s word alone that will heal the prophet in this moment of crisis. The voice asks Elijah why he has come to the mountain. This repetition of the question asked in 19:9 forces Elijah to consider carefully his current position and his future destiny. God has fed him as before, and God has spoken to him as in the past. Why has he fled? Elijah answers as in 19:10: Israel has rejected the covenant. Israel has become idolatrous, he is the only prophet left, and Jezebel plans to kill him. Implied in this response is Elijah’s doubts that the Lord can save him or turn the nation back to the covenant. Who has God become in the prophet’s life? Only a restatement and reassessment of his theology can extricate him from this pit of fear and depression.

Reengage:  I Kings 19:15-18.

[15]  The LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram[16]  and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. [17]  It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. [18]  Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”   [NASU]

The Lord’s word to him reaffirms God’s uniqueness, the sovereignty over all nations, and the importance of the prophetic word. God tells him, Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, a command that calls Elijah back into active service of the Lord. He must anoint Hazael king of Syria, which declares Yahweh’s lordship over that non-Israelite country. Similarly, he must anoint Jehu king of Israel, thus reestablishing the Lord’s rule over the Northern Kingdom. Finally, Elijah must anoint Elisha to take his place. This command, coupled with the Lord’s comment that he has selected, or caused to remain, seven thousand persons who do not worship Baal, reminds Elijah that God’s word cannot be silenced. It remains the force that produces the remnant, protects the remnant, and empowers the remnant. As a part of this remnant, Elijah can expect God’s protection and empowerment. The phrase I will leave in verse 18  means "I have reserved for myself." This is "the remnant according to the election of grace" that Paul wrote about in Romans 11:1-6. No matter how wicked the world scene may appear, God always has a remnant that is faithful to Him. Sometimes that remnant is small, but God is always great and accomplishes His purposes.

As you review the chapter, you can see the mistakes that Elijah made and how the Lord overruled them and accomplished His will. Elijah walked by sight and not by faith, yet the Lord sustained him. He looked at himself and his failures instead of at God’s greatness and power. He was more concerned about doing more than his ancestors had done in the past instead of calling and preparing new servants for the future. He isolated himself from God’s people and thereby lost the strength and encouragement of their fellowship and prayers. But let’s not be too hard on Elijah, for he did have a sensitive ear to the still, small voice of the Lord, and he did obey what God told him to do. The Lord rebuked him gently and brought him out of his cave and back into active service. Let’s keep these things in mind and recall them the next time we’re under our juniper tree or in our cave!

Questions for Discussion:

1.      What caused Elijah to go from the experience on Mt. Carmel of being the means of God’s display of power to running in fear for his life from Queen Jezebel? What lesson can we learn from Elijah that will help us in our times of fear and doubt?

2.      Notice the connection between pride and self-pity in Elijah. He expected God to accomplish great things through him, but when this was not God’s plan, Elijah became depressed and felt sorry for himself. What is the solution to prevent this from happening in our own lives?

3.      What is God teaching Elijah through the theophany in verses 11-13? What can we learn from God’s dealings with Elijah here about where our focus needs to be when confronted with fear and doubt?

4.      What lessons can we learn from the mistakes that Elijah made in this chapter?


1, 2 Kings, Paul House, NAC, Broadman.

The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament , Warren W. Wiersbe.

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