Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Elijah has fled to a solitary place. God meets him there with one question... One diagnostic question: What are you doing here?
As I read it, he answers with three bits of information. How he's been? I have been zealous.
How the people are: they have forsaken the covenant, thrown down altars and killed your prophets.
Then Elijah tells God why he's in the wilderness: they're going to kill me.
God's diagnosis: Elijah is tired and hungry.
God's treatment plan: A little nap under the tree and some cakes delivered by an angel. Check.
Then God instructs Elijah to go to the mountain because God is about to pass by. Elijah complies with God's treatment plan. And sure enough God passes by. And then it begins again.
God's diagnostic question remains the same: What are you doing here? Elijah's answer remains the same. God's diagnosis is not the same this time. And God's treatment plan is also not the same.
God's diagnosis: Elijah needs colleagues.
God's treatment plan: God offers help, tangible help with the calling of a new king and a new prophet. God gives Elijah colleagues.
From a pastoral care point of view, this text is fairly instructive. God asks a simple question and listens for and inside Elijah's answer. The treatment plan is comprehensive. God's diagnosis is complex. Elijah's needs are met on a physical, emotional and spiritual level... and relational level.
While I've "yadda yadda yadda'd" over the whole wind, earthquake and sheer silence section, I'm fully intrigued by God's care of this solitary leader. And so for us preachers who often find ourselves running away to a wilderness place (or wishing we could run away to a solitary place), how might we answer God's diagnostic question, What are you doing here? Elijah gives us a little help in answer this question. He answered by saying how had he been, how the people are and why he was in the wilderness.
How have you been?
What's going on with the people?
And why are you in the wilderness?
I wonder what God's diagnosis and treatment plan might be for us if we were to have an honest conversation like this with God.
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