Lonely Elijah

Lonely Elijah May 1, 2023

One can either be lonely or alone. Loneliness is a terrible feeling. We feel unloved, abandoned, and avoided. The world looks dismal. Being alone though can feel restful or refreshing. I try to be alone when I write to avoid distraction. When I am lonely, I wish for every possible distraction. The prophet Elijah thought he was alone when he was really lonely. He realized how he felt when life took an abrupt turn on him.

Boasting Elijah

2 Kings 18 and 19 tell two stories that describe the loneliness of the prophet. He approached King Ahab and laid down a challenge. “Gather the 450 prophets of Baal and Ashera,” he begins, “and meet me in the high place of Mount Carmel.” This place had an abandoned altar to the Lord. The challenge offered was this. Ahab would gather all of the people to this place. The prophets of Baal would offer a sacrifice. If Baal is the true god, then he would accept the sacrifice himself without anyone setting fire to it.

Elijah is being cocky here. While the prophets gather, he declares, “I alone am the only prophet to the Lord.” Comparing his singular presence to that of the 450 prophets to the Canaanite gods, is like Samson fighting the Philistines alone. He taunts the other prophets while they shout, dance, sing, pray, and cut themselves. “Maybe Baal is out right, now? Perhaps, he is asleep? Shout louder he does not appear to hear you yet!”

Nothing happens.

A Lonely Sacrifice

The story goes on to say that Elijah repaired the altar, prepared the sacrifice, and then ordered it all be doused with water. Then he says do it again. More water is poured over the sacrifice and the wood. Picture a confident illusionist saying, “And now for my next trick…” Elijah offers one prayer and fire comes from heaven. The flames are so hot they consume the wood, the sacrifice, and the water that ran off the sacrifice.

The Lord’s prophet has proved his point. The prophets of Baal are considered false prophets or a false god. They are slaughtered. If you are taking issue with me calling Elijah cocky, remember that Elijah does this during an extended drought. How dare he waste water this way. Absolutely no one, unless ordered by the king, would have attended the show. But there was yet another trick, one being set up for the king. It is going to rain.

The rain comes as Ahab goes back home. Jezebel is furious that the prophets of her people were killed and sends a threat to Elijah. The prophet’s bubble bursts.

The Lonely Prophet

Elijah runs away. He goes to the mount Horeb also known as Sinai where the Lord met Moses and the freed Israelites. Moses was offered the opportunity to allow God to destroy the Israelites while he becomes the ancestor of a great nation. Moses begs for the Israelites. Elijah does the opposite.

Elijah hides in a cave and complains how he has been mistreated. “I am the only prophet you have, and they are trying to take my life away.” Elijah was so assured of himself that he let pride snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Every time God asks, “Why are you here?” Elijah gives the same answer. God demonstrates the divine presence in a gentle stillness. Elijah’s pride turned to fear. His fear exhibited rage. But God calms him.

Not Alone; Not Lonely

Elijah needed to come off the mountain of refuge and see what was in front of him in Israel. He is told to anoint two kings and another prophet. Then God reminds him there are yet, 7000 people who never converted to the Canaanite cult of Baal.

Progressive Christians feel lonely in the present day church. Could you blame us? After so many evangelicals, working class people, and a few former liberals are going toward a secular authoritarianism, we are lonely, afraid, and angry. Yet, we need to remember this story of the first great prophet of the Northern Kingdom. We attempt to cover loneliness with pride. “I am a real Christian.” We are tempted to lash out in anger at our brothers and sisters who do not seem to be as committed to justice. Anger over these things can consume us. Some friends ask me how I keep my sense of humor. It is because I remember kings, presidents, dictators, and governors come and go. I know that false prophets are eventually exposed. And I know there are more out there like me who share my concerns for the church and the society.

There is no need to hide believing it is just us and God.

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