The sacrifice of spiritual power
1Kings 19: Exhausted, he fell asleep.
Personally, if all I had from Elijah’s story was his confrontation with Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal I think I’d be impressed with him but he wouldn’t be one of my favorites in the Bible. In fact, he just might scare me a bit as a bigger-than-life prayer warrior and miracle worker. It’s his humanity that draws me to him. This man prays down fire, out-runs chariots, and then, in fear, runs for his life out to the loneliness of the desert. It’s here that he collapses in the shade of a bush and gives notice to God that he’s ready to die. While I’m in awe of his power on Mount Carmel I just feel sorry for him out here past Beersheba, alone in the desert. As I look at him here I see that he isn’t some kind of superman at all. He’s an ordinary man who trusts God with all his heart and, in so doing, gets way out of his comfort zone! Doing all that stuff takes all his energy. Now, with nothing left, he first runs, then cries out to God that he’s had enough. It’s when I see that doing all these impressive things is terribly hard for this man that I more fully appreciate what he does.
Take Away: Spiritual giants are, in the end, ordinary people with an extraordinary trust in the Lord.
Praying to exhaustion
1Kings 19: When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life.
It’s been a banner day for Elijah, the man of God. First, he challenges the prophets of Baal to a “god-contest” and wins a decisive victory when, as a result of his prayer, fire falls from heaven. The people are now convinced that “the Lord is God.” Then, he turns his attention to the three-year drought. He prevails in prayer and, as a result, the rain comes in a great storm. Finally, empowered by the Spirit of God, Elijah outruns the chariot of Ahab, racing down the mountain into the city. Tell you what, I call that a good day’s work! Ahab arrives home in the midst of the welcome storm, but the news for his Baal-worshipping, God-hating wife Jezebel isn’t good. All because of Elijah Baal has been defeated and his prophets executed. Jezebel never hesitates; she sends word to Elijah that he’ll be next. In a surprising twist, her words terrify Elijah! This is the guy who prayed down fire on the altar and rain from the sky. This is the guy who saw to the execution of hundreds of false prophets. Now, because of the threats of one woman he runs for his life. I’d expect Elijah to just pray down a bit more fire and take care of this wicked woman then and there. Why on earth is Elijah scared witless by Jezebel? I think the answer is that he’s simply out of gas. Intense praying, especially intercession requires of us all our energy. Sometimes prayer is pictured as a tranquil respite from the pressures of life, and, happily, sometimes it is. Still, that’s not always the case. Sometimes prayer is the hardest work we’ll ever do. Such prayer is worth doing in spite of its emotional, spiritual, and even physical price. In this, we’re soldiers in the army of God who have an active, demanding assignment.
Take Away: Prayer can be the most rewarding, exhausting work we’ll ever do.
1 Samuel 22: I’m to blame for the death of everyone in your father’s family.
When David flees for his life from Saul he stops at Nob, the place of worship. In his desperation David tells a lie to Ahitub, the priest there, telling him he’s on a mission for the king. He asks for provisions and a weapon. Since David is highly respected the priest gives him holy bread to eat and the prized sword of Goliath that is stored there. As David is leaving he sees one of Saul’s men, Doeg the Edomite, who’s also at Nob and has seen what’s happened. However, David’s so afraid for his own life that he hurries on, escaping from Saul. Now we see the consequences of David’s dishonesty and failure to consider the danger in which he placed Ahitub and all those in Nob. Saul’s man, Doeg, reports the incident and Saul takes revenge on all those at Nob: men, women, children, and even the livestock. All are killed except the son of the priest, Ahimelech, who escapes to join David. When he hears what’s happened David says, “I’m to blame.” This is more than a gracious admission; it’s the terrible truth. In his fear David thought only of himself and in doing so, brought destruction to many innocent people. Fear is an awful thing. It causes us to shrink our world to only ourselves. Fear loses sight of God and causes us to ignore the consequences of our words and deeds. David’s admission and his taking Ahimelech in and under his protection is commendable, but it doesn’t undo the damage that was done in his fear-generated failure.
Take Away: Trust is the remedy for fear.
A personal promise from the Lord
Jeremiah 45: I’ll keep you alive through the whole business.
The story of Jeremiah pretty much ends with him in Egypt. Aside from the conclusion to his writings in the last pages of the book we’re about to move to an “appendix” of some of his prophecies concerning other nations. Just before we do that, we find the brief words of chapter 45. Obviously, this is out of place and would fit better back in chapter 36. It’s in that chapter that we find the story of Jeremiah’s dictating his gloom and doom message to his loyal secretary, Baruch. This good man writes it all down, not once, but twice. Baruch, then, is very aware of what’s coming, and frankly that knowledge scares him to death. The king might deny it all and act to silence the messenger. Baruch, though, believes every word he’s written. In an act of mercy, Jeremiah informs his faithful secretary that now he has a message specifically for him. God’s word for this good man is this: “Things are going to get worse, but don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you and see you through this whole business.” I can just imagine Baruch’s blood pressure dropping several points as Jeremiah states these words of assurance to him. I can’t find any prophecies in the Bible with my name on them, but I do find plenty of promises addressed to those who put their trust in the Lord. Like Baruch, then, I have a word from the Lord to hold on to even when things are in the “getting worse” stage. I don’t have to be consumed with worry because God has promised life to me.
Take Away: It’s a great comfort in troubling times to remember that the Lord has promised life to me.
Jeremiah’s worst nightmare
Jeremiah 37: Please don’t send me back to that dungeon.
In this passage, the story of Jeremiah returns to Zedekiah and the attack of the Babylonians. The prophet has made many enemies with his gloom and doom preaching. Ultimately, he’s imprisoned on trumped up charges. The prison he finds himself in is his worst nightmare. He’s imprisoned in a cistern. There, we’re told, he stays for a long time. Jeremiah’s out of sight, but he isn’t out of Zedekiah’s mind. The king hates Jeremiah’s sermons, but, somewhere, deep inside himself, he knows that Jeremiah’s telling the truth. Finally, Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah and, in spite of his misery, Jeremiah tells the king, not what he might want to hear, but the truth: Judah will fall and Zedekiah will be handed over to the king of Babylon. Even though the prophet has just given more bad news, Jeremiah pleads with Zedekiah for mercy. He’s done nothing to bring such inhumane treatment upon himself. He begs Zedekiah to not send him back to that terrible dungeon. To his credit the king has mercy on Jeremiah and, while Jeremiah’s to remain under guard, he’s put in a better place and given rations for food. A couple of things come to mind. First, in spite of his fierce messages, Jeremiah’s just a man. He’s miserable and afraid in the cistern. He isn’t too proud to beg for mercy. Even the spiritual giants in my life are still human and in need of compassion and mercy. Second, even though Zedekiah’s deeply flawed, he shows mercy to Jeremiah. We’re created in the image of God and that means that from the most unlikely of candidates there’s the potential of the reflection of his image.
Take Away: Even spiritual giants remain human beings with the accompanying weaknesses and flaws of humanity.