Fleeing From Jezebel – 1 Kings 19. 1–18

Jezebel’s fury in Jezreel, vv. 1, 2

Ahab hurried back to Jezreel and reported to Jezebel all that Elijah had done that day at Mount Carmel. The prophets of Baal were defeated and slain. Ahab gave no glory to the Lord, who had answered by fire from heaven, consuming the burnt sacrifice and the wood on Elijah’s altar, 18. 38. Jezebel was filled with rage and blind, unreasoning hatred. She thought only of revenge and sent a messenger to Elijah to inform him that within twenty-four hours he would die. If not, her gods, the divinities of paganism, would hold her accountable and her life would be forfeited.

She overlooked at least three things. The gods whom she claimed to fear had been impotent to protect the prophets of Baal. She did not pause to consider the implications of making such a threat against Elijah, who had so recently proved that his God possessed such tremendous power which He was prepared to use on His servant’s behalf. The message she sent to Elijah had forewarned him and afforded him an opportunity to escape. Up to this point, the prophet had been guided by the Lord; but when he read the message brought by Jezebel’s messenger, he succumbed to sudden panic. Momentarily forgetting his faith in God, he ‘went for his life’, v. 3.

For one thing, he was bitterly disappointed; there was no acknowledgement by Ahab or Jezebel of what the Lord had done with such a spectacular demonstration of His power at Mount Carmel. The people had fallen on their faces and cried with one voice, ‘The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God’, 18. 39. In spite of this, the events on Mount Carmel had not resulted in the national revival and recovery from idolatry that Elijah had hoped for, and he was overcome with anxiety for his own safety. It seems incredible that the man who had stood at Carmel, unflinching before the 450 prophets of Baal, should flee in fear from one evil woman.

Elijah in the wilderness, vv. 3-8

When Elijah fled from Jezebel he did not stop until he had reached Beersheba, the most southerly point in Israel. A biblical phrase used nine times in the Old Testament is ‘from Dan to Beersheba’ - from north to south.

Leaving his servant at Beersheba, he pressed on a day’s journey into the wilderness, totally dejected, wishing only to be alone. He sat down under a broom tree, glad for the shade it provided, and asked the Lord that he might die. He said, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers’, v. 4. It seems ironic that the man who was destined never to die should flee from Jezebel to escape death; and now he expresses a desire to die. What a contradiction! He had been unable to bring about the restoration of Israel and their deliverance from idolatry. He had failed just as his forefathers had done. He said, ‘I am no better than they’. Could we conclude that he had harboured the thought that he was superior to others, and better than former generations?

Elijah was totally downcast; he could see no future for himself in the work of the Lord. Mount Carmel had been his finest hour, but the wilderness beyond Beersheba was, without doubt, his lowest hour. What a stark contrast there is between chapter 18 and chapter 19! In chapter 18, he had experienced God’s power and blessing, ‘And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah’, 18. 46. In chapter 19, he is utterly dejected and depressed. What an amazing change of circumstances in so short a time. We are reminded of Peter, who drew his sword in the garden of Gethsemane in defence of his Master; and yet soon afterwards denied Him before a servant girl in the house of Caiaphas.

Elijah lay down and slept under the broom tree, v. 5 NKJV. He was exhausted after the long journey of over one hundred miles. Probably he had had very little to eat since he left Jezreel and was now physically weak, which added to his depression. As he slept, an angel touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat’, v. 5. He touched him to waken him and prepared food to strengthen him: a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. While Elijah slept, the angel had prepared his breakfast, ‘And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again’, v. 6.

‘The angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And [Elijah] arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God’, vv. 7, 8. The two meals which the angel gave him were sufficient to sustain him during the long journey ahead. How often, as believers, the journey can seem too great. It is then that the Lord grants us rest, gives us spiritual food, and quickens our steps heavenward.

Elijah was the first to use the divine title, ‘the Lord God of hosts’, vv. 10, 14. While one angel was sent to minister to God’s discouraged servant, the Bible speaks of ‘an innumerable company of angels’, Heb. 12. 22, stating, ‘The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him’, Ps. 34. 7.

The Lord will provide

This was not the first time that the Lord had provided food in a miraculous way. In Psalm 78 verse 19, the question was asked, ‘Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?’ The answer is given in the following verses, ‘[He] opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven. Man did eat angels’ food: he sent them meat to the full’, vv. 23-25. It was God’s provision for the children of Israel in the same wilderness where Elijah now was.

It was not the first time that Elijah had been sustained by food which was miraculously provided. At Zarephath, in the home of a widow, his own prophecy was fulfilled, ‘And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah’, 1 Kgs. 17. 16.

In spite of the murmuring and failures of the children of Israel in the wilderness, the Lord continued to guide them and provide food for them until they reached the Promised Land, ‘He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people’, Exod. 13. 22. The Lord continued to provide manna until they reached the borders of Canaan, 16. 35.

Elijah in the cave at Horeb, vv. 9-18

‘(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth’, Heb. 11. 38. It was in the cave that Elijah heard the voice of the Lord, asking, ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’ v. 9. He had known the guidance of the Lord formerly, ‘the word of the Lord came unto him, saying’, 1 Kgs. 17. 2, 8; 18. 1. He was directed to the brook Cherith, 17. 3; to Zarephath, v. 9; and to show himself to Ahab, 18. 1. However, he had fled from Jezebel without asking the Lord for guidance, and now he must answer the Lord’s searching question, ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’

The prophet answered, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away’, 19. 10, 14. These two verses are identical; in each of them Elijah uses four personal pronouns. Instead of looking up, he was now thinking only of self-preservation; he was looking in. The Lord’s answer is recorded, ‘But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal’, Rom. 11. 4; cp. 1 Kgs. 19. 18.

The Lord spoke again to Elijah, ‘Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake 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: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice’, vv. 11, 12. Only then did Elijah venture to the entrance of the cave; although he had not been told to ‘Go forth’ as he had in verse 11.

In scripture, the wind, the earthquake, and the fire are all associated with God’s judgement.1The Lord was not appearing in judgement to Elijah, but speaking in a ‘still small voice’, a voice of gentle stillness. This was the third time the Lord spoke to the prophet in the cave. Was it because he was ashamed that Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle before he went out? The Lord spoke to him again, 19. 13. What a lesson for us to learn once more; it is in the stillness of God’s presence, away from the din and clamour of a busy world, that we hear the Master’s voice.

The question to Elijah was repeated, ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’ His answer was the same in verses 10 and 14. There was no change to his thinking, in spite of all he had seen and heard.

When the Lord spoke to Elijah again, vv. 15-18, He commissioned him to carry out further tasks:

  1. anoint Hazael to be king over Syria;
  2. anoint Jehu king over Israel;
  3. anoint Elisha to be a prophet ‘in thy room’.

No servant, however gifted, is indispensable, and when the Lord calls them home the work will continue in the hands of others. How significant, then, were the words regarding Elisha, his successor, ‘and Elisha … shalt thou anoint … in thy room‘, v. 16.

On the Mount of Transfiguration

In Luke’s account of the transfiguration, Elijah is with the Lord Jesus, ‘And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias … and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem’, 9. 30, 31. All three had fasted for forty days and nights: Moses, Deut. 9. 9; Elijah, 1 Kgs. 19. 8; and the Lord Jesus, Luke 4. 2. As in all things, the Lord Jesus is unique and supreme. He was the only one of them who had the power, if He had so desired, to miraculously produce food and end His fast.

Both Moses and Elijah were marked by failure and were unable to complete their service. By smiting the rock at Horeb, Moses was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan. By fleeing from Jezebel, Elijah left his tasks unfinished and had to anoint Elisha in his place. The Lord Jesus is the perfect, unfailing servant. The conversation on the mountain was of a finished work, ‘his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem’, Luke 9. 31.



Isa. 29. 6; Ps. 18. 7; Job 1. 16; Exod. 9. 23.


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