WHEN we read the Scriptures in our youth, it is difficult for us to understand why such a man as Elijah could be so dreadfully downcast. As we get older, and become more experienced, as trials multiply around us, and our inner life enters upon a sterner conflict, as the babe grows to manhood, and therefore is entrusted with heavier tasks, we can better understand why God allowed His ancient servants to be put into such peculiar positions, for we find ourselves in similar places, and we are relieved by discovering that we are walking along a path which others have traversed before us. When we get under the juniper ourselves, we are glad to recall the fact that Elijah once sat there; and when we are hiding away in the cave, it is a source of comfort to us to remember that such a man as this great prophet of Israel was there before us. The experience of one saint is instructive to others.
First, I am going to speak about ELIJAH S WEAKNESS. Well, he was a man of like passions with ourselves. He, too, could be impatient; he, too, could be petulant; he, too, could grow weary of his appointed service, and ask to be allowed to die. You have often heard me say that the best of men are but men at the best. I believe that, when a man is as good as he can be, he is still only a man; and as a man, while he is here, he is compassed with infirmities. Elias was not only a man of passions, but a man of like passions with ourselves; — a man who could suffer, and suffer intensely, one whose spirit could be depressed even to the very uttermost, just as the spirit of any one of us might be. He failed, as all God’s people have done; I scarcely know of any exception in all the biographies of the Old or New Testament.
Elijah failed in the very point at which he was strongest, and that is where most men fail. This was, I suppose, to show us that Elijah was not strong by nature, but only in the strength imparted to him by God; so that, when the Divine strength was gone, he was of no more account than anybody else. When grace is for a time withdrawn, the natural Elijah is as weak as any other natural man; it is only when supernatural power is working through him that he rises out of himself, and so the grace of God is glorified in him.
Nobody doubts that Elijah was a child of God; nobody questions the fact that God loved him even when he sat fainting under the juniper tree, for He manifested special love to him then. The Lord did not forsake Elias, and He will not forsake you if you trust in Him.
There was, probably, another reason for Elijah’s great depression, that is, he was very weary. I should suppose that he had gone a very long way, without resting at all; hot foot, in hasty flight from the cruel Jezebel, he had passed through a great part of the land both of Israel and Judah, and he had gone away alone into the wilderness, so he must have been very tired; and that, of itself, would tend to the lowering of his spirits.
GOD’S TENDERNESS TO ELIJAH IN THIS TIME OF WEAKNESS
The first thing that God did with Elijah was a very simple thing, He let him sleep. There is the poor prophet down in the dumps; he wants to die, but the Lord lets him sleep instead; and he slept soundly, too, for he needed an angel to wake him, and soon he fell asleep again, and a second time he had to be awakened. Rest was the one thing that he most needed. God gave His servant rest. Some people do not seem to think that the Lord’s servants need any rest; they want us to be always at work, fulfilling this engagement and that; but this is the way to bring us quickly to our graves. Yet we do not serve a hard Master; His Church is often thoughtless and unkind, but He never is, so He gave His servant Elijah the sleep that he most of all needed just then.
What was the next thing that God did? It seems a very small matter, yet it was the best thing He could do for Elijah; that is, the Lord fed him. When the angel awakened him, “he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.” Now, I am afraid that, if you and I had been there, we should have begun talking to Elijah, and have worried the poor man by telling him how wrongly he had been acting. Instead of doing that, the angel let him have a cake, and then let him go to sleep again. That was the best way of caring for him; and there is many a hungry and weary child of God who needs food and rest more than anything else. The spirit needs to be fed, and the body needs feeding also. Do not forget these matters. There is nothing that is really necessary or beneficial which God will not do for His children. If they serve Him so zealously that they get knocked up in His service, He will care for them, and bring them round again, for He knows how to do it; and very likely, like Elijah, they shall have their sleep first, and then their cake.
The next comfort that Elijah had was, blessed nursing. He had an angelic visitor to keep him company. The angel came to him. and delivered the Lord’s message, “Arise: eat.” He only uttered two words, but two words from an angel are better than a great many from some other persons. “Arise : eat.” That was God’s message to Elijah; and, beloved, it is very sweet when God lets His servants know that His angels are round about them, encompassing them, taking care of them so that they should not be left alone in the time of their trial.
The next thing that God did for Elijah, after He had allowed him to finish his journey, and get to Horeb, was that He permitted him to tell his grief. You may have noticed that he told the story twice; he knew what he was grieving about, so he stated it very definitely; and the Lord allowed him to tell it. It is often a wonderful relief to be able to tell out your grief, to pull up the sluices, and let the waters of sorrow run away. If no one but God shall hear it, if no human ear should listen to thy complaining, yet it is a very sweet thing to unburden your heart. At any rate, tell it to God, for He suffered His poor servant Elijah to pour out into His ear the sad tale of his woe.
This done, the Lord helped to restore His servant by revealing Himself, and revealing His ways to him. He made Elijah see that God is not so apparent in terrific agencies as in quieter forms, that He does not always accomplish His purposes by earthquake and fire. The Lord let him see that “a still small voice” was being heard throughout Israel, although the prophet thought that no good had come of his testimony; and thus he was cheered.
Next, the Lord gave him good news. He told Elijah that He still had seven thousand in Israel, who had not bowed the knee to Baal; and that revelation still further cheered the prophet’s heart. Then the Lord did what perhaps was best of all for Elijah, He gave him some more work to do. He sent him off about his Master’s business again; and I warrant you that, when Elijah went back over that road, it was with a very different step from that which brought him down to Beer-sheba. He had come along terrified and distressed; but now he goes back with the majesty that belongs to the Tishbite, he is afraid of no Jezebel now. He calls out Elisha to be his successor, and he denounces Ahab, and does it bravely and boldly, and no one hears of his wanting to hide away again. God had brought His servant up out of His depression, in the way I have described, and he never went back again to that sad condition.
How long you and I are to be here, is no concern of ours. After all, we are not our own masters; we are our Lord’s servants. If He thinks we can glorify Him better here than there, it must be our choice to remain here. So leave the matter alone, dear friend, and let the Lord do as He wills with you. Elijah wished to die, and prayed an unwise prayer; but our blessed Master said to His Father, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt;” and in all the throes of His death-agony, there was not a syllable of impatience, but a perfect resignation to the Will of God.
And you do not know, brother, how much there is for you yet to live for; and you, my sister, do not talk about dying, for you also have a great deal more to do before you get to heaven, service for your Saviour that will make heaven all the better when you get there. God has such blessings in store for some of you that, when they come to you, you will be like men that dream; and your mouth shall be filled with laughter, and your tongue with singing, and you will say, “The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.” Wherefore, be of good courage, and strengthen your hearts, and wait still upon the Lord until He cometh; and may His blessing be with you forever! Amen.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “Elijah Fainting” (1 Kings 19:4) by CH Spurgeon dated 1 July 1880. You are encouraged to read the full text of the sermon from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/elijah-fainting/#flipbook/