Elijah the prophet wanted to die. He asked God to take his life because he had come to the conclusion that he was a failure. Elijah had just been victorious in the showdown with the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. God had sent fire down from heaven to consume Elijahís sacrifice (see I Kings 18:17-40). In addition, the prophet had predicted a terrible famine, and the Lord had not sent rain for three years. After that time, Elijah prayed for rain, and God produced a torrential downpour (see vv. 41-46). God was working mightily through His servant Elijah. This made him very unpopular with Ahab and Jezebel, the wicked king and queen of Israel. We read in I Kings 19:1-3:
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.
1. He was terribly discouraged.
2. He had remained faithful in proclaiming Godís message, yet the only result, as far as he could see, was a threat on his life.
3. He believed that he was the only faithful person left.
a. Moses, the meek and humble servant, became proud and boastful.
b. Abraham, the great man of faith, doubted God and lied about his wife.
c. Peter, a courageous man, became fearful and denied the Lord three times.
Realizing that our leaders are not perfect will enable us to better understand and help them in their ministry. When he became depressed and discouraged, Elijah reacted as most people do-he sought release from his troubles through death. However, God refused to answer his prayer. Instead, the Lord provided the physical nourishment and spiritual encouragement that he needed to go on.
Why did God choose not to answer Elijahís prayer? In this passage we find several important factors that help us understand why God responded as He did Elijah. He evaluates our prayers in similar manner determining whether or not to answer them.
I. God Looked Behind Him.
A. Elijahís confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel had been spiritually, physically and emotionally demanding on him.
1. His life had been in danger.
2. We all know that when we are tired, hungry and emotionally drained, we become discouraged.
3. In this mental state, we often say things we donít really mean.
4. The Lord understands our human nature.
5. He loves us and knows what is best for us--even when we donít.
B. There are some things for us to remember about the Lord when He is considering our requests.
1. God takes our human nature, with its problems, into account when considering our requests.
2. He often refuses to give us what we ask for.
3. He knew that Elijahís request was motivated by his physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, not by a genuine desire to die.
4. So God did not answer Elijahís prayer, instead, He gave the prophet what he really needed.
a. The Lord sent an angel to minister to his physical needs, providing food and water.
b. Then God directed Elijah to Mount Horeb, where He reminded the prophet of His great power.
c. This renewed Elijahís faith and spiritual strength and prepared him to go back and face his enemies. (cf 1Ki. 19:15-19)
II. God Looked Within Elijah.
A. He saw that the real problem wasnít Jezebel and her threats, it was a heart problem.
1. Elijahís heart was filled with unbelief.
2. When he received the message that Jezebel was going to kill him, he fled to the wilderness and cried out, "Lord, take my life."
3. Obviously, Elijah didnít really want to die.
a. If he had, he would have stayed where he was and let Jezebel take care of it!
b. Likewise, I donít think Jezebel really wanted to kill Elijah.
4. She threatened him in an effort to frighten him off.
a. Elijah had just won a great victory against the false prophets of Baal.
b. When the people had seen Godís power in consuming the sacrifice, they had cried out, "The Lord, he is the God" (I Kings 18:39).
c. Jezebel feared that Elijah would start a great revival, preaching to the people and leading them back to God.
d. By running away, Elijah gave Jezebel exactly what she wanted.
B. He saw that Elijah was walking by sight, not by faith.
1. When Jezebel heard about everything the prophet had done, she said, "I will take care of you" (see 19:2)
2. We then read in the next verse: "And when he saw that, he arose and went for his life" (v. 3).
3. Instead of trusting God to take care of him, Elijah looked at the circumstances and ran in fear.
4. He ran ahead of God rather than waiting for the Lord to reveal His will to him. (cf Is. 28:16)
C. He saw a heart filled unbelief, impatience, pride and self-pity.
1. The prophet seemed to be more concerned about his reputation than he was about his ministry.
2. In addition, self-pity moved in.
a. Elijah felt sorry for himself.
b. He had worked so hard, but all he had received in return was hatred.
c. So he decided to protect himself instead of doing the work of God.
d. Mt. 10:39, "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."
3. Instead of trusting God and staying to face Jezebel, Elijah fled to the wilderness, where he wallowed in self-pity.
4. He was discouraged and alone.
a. When you are very discouraged, you should never spend a lot of time alone.
b. It only breeds more depression and self-pity.
5. In the wilderness God instructed Elijah to meet Him on Mount Horeb, located about 200 miles away.
a. This is the same place Moses had talked with God.
b. It took Elijah 40 days to travel there.
c. Normally the trip didnít take that long; thus, Elijah must have wandered around in the wilderness for some time, sulking and disobeying Godís orders to go.
6. On Mount Horeb, God told the prophet, in effect, "Elijah, the whole problem is you have your eyes on people. You donít have your eyes on Me."
D. God looked within Elijah and saw a heart filled with unbelief, impatience, pride and self-pity.
1. He saw that Elijah was walking by sight, not by faith.
2. The prophet had his eyes on Jezebel, on the backsliders in Israel and on himself instead of on the Lord.
3. He needed a change of heart...not an end to his life.
III. God Looked Beyond Him.
A. He looked beyond him and saw what He had planned for him.
1. God had some very special things in store for Elijah.
2. If He had allowed him to die Elijah would have missed Godís wonderful plan for his life.
3. The Lord had planned that Elijah would never die.
4. Instead, a chariot of fire appeared, and Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (cf 2Kings 2:11).
B. Throughout history, Elijah has been remembered as one of Godís greatest prophets.
1. If God had answered Elijahís prayer, he would have died a defeated man.
2. But instead, the Lord looked ahead and told Elijah, "Donít give up! I have something even better planned for you. Trust Me, and I will give you glory and honor."
3. Even when we appear to be praying within the Lordís will, God often does not answer our prayers because He has something even better in mind for us.
IV. Godís Response to What He Saw.
A. He refreshed him. (1KI. 19:5-7)
1. While Elijah slept under a juniper tree, the Lord sent an angel to prepare a meal for the prophet.
2. When the angel awakened Elijah, he found a cake and a jar of water waiting for him.
3. Having slept and eaten twice, Elijah was physically refreshed and renewed.
4. This enabled him to have a more positive outlook on life.
B. He reminded him. (1Ki. 19:9-10)
1. After Elijah had been refreshed, God sent him to Mount Horeb.
2. On the mountain, the Lord appeared to the prophet.
3. He asked Elijah what he was doing there, and the prophet complained that he was the only person left who was following Him.
4. God then reminded Elijah of His great power and rebuked him for his lack of faith.
5. God told him., "Trust Me and My plan. Go back where you belong and start preaching My message."
6. "And, remember, you are not alone. I have 7000 people in Israel who are still true to Me."
C. He recommissioned him.
1. He sent the prophet back to the battlefield.
2. God made Elijah walk that 300-mile trip from Mount Horeb back to Beersheba and then to Jezreel.
3. Elijah had wandered away from Godís chosen path for him.
4. So he had to retrace his steps in order to get back to where the Lord wanted him.
When it appears that God is not answering your prayers, remember, He knows your heart. He knows what you have been through in the past and what lies ahead of you in the future. He knows what is best for you. Trust the Lord and wait patiently for His will to be revealed, realizing that He may have something even better planned for you than what you have requested of Him.