God’s question to Elijah at Horeb, the mountain of God, is a question for all of us as we approach God. “What are you doing here?” Elijah seemed to have no other objective than to run as far from trouble as he could and deliver a resignation speech to God. He was done. But there are higher reasons to pursue God’s presence.
It is strange how even success can fail to invigorate us. Elijah had just come from Mount Carmel and a showdown with four hundred and fifty pagan prophets. Ba’al had ignored their invocations; God had answered Elijah with fire. Then Elijah had slaughtered the prophets of Ba’al. Jezebel was livid. She swore to destroy Elijah. Even his victory on Carmel did not instill enough confidence in Elijah for him to persevere.
Elijah ran a day past the southern border. He slumped under a tree and groaned, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4) Presumably Elijah expected God to take him in his sleep—much better than the slow, painful death that vicious Jezebel had in mind for him. Strengthened by an angel, Elijah went forty more days to a cave on Mount Horeb where God asked His question.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:9-10)
Powerful earthquake, wind, and fire blasted the mountain. The rocks shattered at the force. But it was a gentle silence that got Elijah’s attention so that he moved to the cave entrance. The Lord’s voice repeated the question. Elijah gave exactly the same answer. In essence: “In spite of my zeal I feel I am still losing the battle.”
What other answer could there be? Elijah faced fearsome opposition. He felt intense loneliness (though he did rather exaggerate his isolation).1 He was exhausted. Nothing seemed different. Elijah saw only one exit—resignation.
But didn’t Elijah miss a note of invitation in God’s question, “What do you want to happen here?” Our times with God have many possibilities. Do we use them to vent, or demand, or argue, or beg, or to struggle as though we might then qualify for something? Or do we bask in potent, God-filled silence? In the presence of God, things change. Earthquake, wind, and fire have the power to rearrange rocks; the gentle voice of God has the power to rearrange perceptions and situations. That’s why true worship is so doubly powerful. Its essence is surrender. That gives God permission to change whatever He wants—including us. In worship we focus on the glory and sovereignty of God and not on our circumstances or our inability to deal with them.
I wonder how Elijah’s story could have ended. If he had spent time in praise and thanks for that amazing demonstration of God’s power on Mount Carmel and the elimination of hundreds of pagan prophets perhaps he would have had the strength to face Jezebel. Perhaps he would have ended her evil influence over King Ahab and Israel. I wonder how our lives would progress if we made a wise decision now about what we will seek in the presence of God from here on.
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- 1 Kings 18:4, 13; 19:18. [↩]