1 Kings 19 1-8 2006

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Penrecost 12

1 Kings 19:4-8

August 27, 2006

“I Give Up”

            Our text comes between Elijah’s triumph on Mount Carmel and the “still small voice” incident (the NIV’s “quiet whisper”). It is the low point in Elijah’s career as a prophet. He was afraid, defeated, “burned out,” and ready to give up. He was at a point where men of God and the people of God often find themselves.

Elijah had his glorious moment on Mount Carmel. It was God’s glorious moment, of course, and maybe even Elijah had to learn this truth more clearly. The prophets of Baal were defeated. God had provided a double miracle—the all-consuming fire from heaven and the rain that ended the drought. Both had come through Elijah’s prayer. It may be that he assumed the fertility cult was at an end. It may even be that he assumed that his time under the cross was at an end.

It was not so. Jezebel and her co-religionists had suffered a severe setback, but they were not finished. The hearts of the people seemed to be just as hard as ever towards God.

All of Elijah’s dreams seemed to collapse. The man of courage found himself afraid and running. The victorious prophet thought his cause was lost for good. God’s enemies seemed to be in charge, and Elijah felt that he was the only one left. It is a feeling a pastor may have after a week of calls on delinquents with no response, followed by a church council meeting in which he has to explain that it simply is not loving, evangelical practice to drop the “dead wood” from the rolls. It’s like the feeling that hits a pastor when the son of a prominent member leaves the church and the family blames the pastor. Or maybe it’s like the feeling that comes when someone tells him that he’s paid a big salary for working one day a week.

Pastor’s are not alone. Laypeople have similar feelings. Peer pressure works on the young and the old. The pressure of the job, or of being without a job, the mockery for being a Christian or acting in ways that fit the Christian life, the condescension, the accusations of narrow-mindedness that come from unbelievers—these all take their toll.

But there is something worse that faces the shepherd and his flock. It is the realization that we often fail to serve the Lord Jesus as he deserves to be served. From this knowledge comes a guilt which can paralyze and lead to despair, guilt which works against faith, hope, and love. Or text says

v. 4—He himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord, ” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” In other words, Elijah basiclly says, I give up Lord, it is too much for me, and I can’t go on. Sound familiar? Have you ever felt that way? I know you have and so do I, more often than I am willing to admit.

In Elijah we see a man, James the brother of Jesus said, “Elijah was a man, (a human), just like us.” He was weak within himself to accomplish what God had called him to do. Every fiber of his being had given up and wanted to die. The straw had finally broken the camel’s back. To him it seemed there was no reason to go on.

His recognition that he was “no better than his ancestors” prompted him to pray and make a confession. His confession to God was, I give up God. What led him to this confession is not clear. Was it a result of the fear that he felt because of the threat on his life? Was it because of fear that he had run and failed to oppose godlessness by standing up for the covenant of the Lord? Was it his failure to eradicate the fertility cult, something he thought he had done? Was it an overwhelming sense of sin or inadequacy?

Whatever, it was well said. It is also in the tradition of other men of God who did not assume a Pharisaic role in opposition to their people but confessed their sins along with those of their people (Ne 1:5ff; Da 9:4ff). It is a humble admission like that of the publican and like Paul’s “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle” (1 Co 15:9).

But the reality of his sin was not a reason to give up. It is precisely when we realize that we are failures and inadequate that we receive God’s power and strength. In His weakness, Elijah saw the power and the providence of God His Savior. Our text goes on…

vv. 5–7—Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”

As God had provided food for Elijah before in the home of a widow, so he was doing again. Neither the failure of his expectations, nor his fear, nor any of his sins had placed him outside the sphere of God’s love or nullified his call as a prophet. God acted in a remarkable way. A holy messenger, angel of vast power came to him, but came to him as a “ministering spirit” (Heb 1:14). Such messengers were and are at God’s disposal. Yet God has chosen to bring his Word to the world through creatures like us, limited in power, prone to error, and frequently defeated. The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, “7 So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh,  a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. 8iThree times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”[1]

We must remember that these angels still exhist and yes they do minister to us even though we often don’t see or understand the. Papa! Although these servants of our God are not visible to us, they are still present and active. A young man commented to his pastor that he had thought angels were something you heard about as a small child but stopped believing in by the time you reached adolescence. There still are such beings, they are still our servants, and God helps us through them.

Even more reassuring is the truth that God’s help and blessing are always with us. “God helps those who help themselves” says the old proverb; people will even maintain it’s in the Bible. The truth is that God helps those who cannot help themselves, and he lets them see that help only after he lets them know in no uncertain terms that they cannot help themselves. Yes, even when we don’t see the help, it is there. Even the fear, frustration, and failure that we face in our service to God are used by him for our blessing. They confront us so that we may be drawn closer to God’s grace and so that his grace may work more effectively in us and through us. Our help may not be as spectacular as it was in the case of Elijah, but it is no less real.


            So God helped Elijah as our text continues…v. 8—So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

The food which Elijah received was certainly well fortified. It gave Elijah a supernatural degree of strength it lasted him for forty day. This underscores the truth that God was providing strength to his prophet. Elijah had thought that he was alone and defeated, no longer of use to God or man. But God was with him, God was giving him strength, and God still had use for him.

Elijah’s journey took him to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. That mountain was associated with Moses, God’s great manifestation to him, and the covenant given to the people. Elijah was sent to this mountain to commune with God. Even the time of the journey suggested the time that Moses spent on the mountain. All this points us to the importance of shutting things out and spending time in the Word and in prayer. Luther is an puzzle to the modern psychologist, because he could have severe bouts of depression and yet produce extraordinary amounts of work. Luther spent three hurs a day praying. He called them “the three best hours of the day. So God called Elijah to rest with God.

            This text is of great comfort for us all. We remind ourselves, first of all, that the people in the Bible were real. Elijah was real. His experiences, good and bad, were not so different from ours. The same God who granted him grace and elicited service from him grants us the same grace and elicits the same service from us.

We are reminded, moreover, of our failures, whether they come from expectations, fear, sin, frustration, or self-righteous pride. They neither disqualify nor excuse us from service of God. They serve a good purpose in reminding us of our sin and our utter dependence on God the Holy Spirit.

Finally, we are not to look to internal resources for help when we are on the bottom. We confess our sins as God’s law reveals them to us. We find that our sources of strength are the same as Elijah’s.

There’s an old saying that has a lot of truth to it: “When God lets us stumble, he does so that we may fall into his arms.” When he lets us fail as his servants, he does so that we might lose faith in our strength and employ his instead. When we do not fail in faith and service, but we fail to achieve anything among our fellowmen except their opposition, we should think of our Savior, who was persecuted and suffered innocently for us. We can grow in imitation and praise through suffering at the hands of our enemies and join our Savior in loving and forgiving them.[2]


i [Matt. 26:44]

[1]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (2 Co 12:7-9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2]Wendland, E., Wendland, E., & Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship. (1999, c1984). Sermon Studies on the Old Testament : (ILCW series B) (electronic ed.) (301). Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House.

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