But [Elijah] went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 1 Kings 19:4
The dictionary defines a wilderness as uncultivated, uninhabited or undisturbed by human activity. A wilderness is also pathless. Metaphorically it is a bewildering situation. No doubt many of us have had our own wilderness experiences- or have that to look forward to. As it turns out, Scripture has a lot to say about the wilderness and what happens there. Last week we looked at God’s care for Israel while they wandered. Today, let’s look at Elijah’s time in the wilderness.
In 1 Kings chapter 18, Elijah experiences one of the greatest spiritual victories in Scripture when God sends down fire from heaven in response to Elijah’s prayer. Eight hundred fifty false prophets are eliminated and it seems the people finally recognize that Yahweh alone is God. Here in the very next chapter, he is under a death sentence and running for his life.
It is easy to look at Elijah and wonder how in the world he could be so discouraged after such an amazing experience. But that’s just it. Elijah was completely confused. He stood strong. He obeyed God. He faced down the opposition. And everything fell apart. That wasn’t how it was supposed to work.
Exhausted physically and emotionally. Alone. “I don’t know what’s going on anymore. Lord, I can’t keep doing this.” Maybe you can identify.
What Elijah didn’t know, couldn’t know until God told him was that the LORD was working behind the scenes, getting pieces in place for the next steps He would take. Elijah’s time in the wilderness was a season of preparation for the transitions that were coming. God was ready to clean house in Israel and Syria and He had a right-hand man chosen for Elijah. He spoke to Elijah in the still, small voice and gave him three tasks.
First transition task – And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 1 Kings 19:15
Hazael of Syria was having his own wilderness experience. However the sovereign LORD of Israel and Judah is also Lord over Syria. God showed Elijah that He was still in control of everything.
One of the key things to remember during a wilderness experience is that no matter what we feel – and our feelings may be 100 percent reasonable and justified – no matter what we feel, the reality is, God is in control. Things may be out of our control. Things are never out of God’s control.
Second transition task – And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel (1 Kings 19:16a).
God had not forgotten about the Baal worship in Israel and the corrupt leadership that perpetuated the ungodliness. Judgment was coming for Jezebel and the house of Ahab. It was a few years ahead, but God was getting the pieces positioned.
God does not ignore sin, ungodliness, and injustice, nor has He let it slide. Judgment is coming. It is coming at a time and in a way that glorifies God.
Third transition task – [A]nd Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place (1 Kings 19:16b).
God showed His compassion and grace for His prophet and answers his prayer. God allows Elijah to retire, but not before designating a successor. This gives Elijah the chance to pass on what he knew, what he had experienced to a younger man. Mentoring Elisha validated Elijah’s work. It renewed his commitment and his energy to keep going. It proved to Elijah that he was not alone in the service of God. When Elijah was called to heaven, it was a moment of triumph.
God sees and hears our frustrations and He knows how best to alleviate them. We have the freedom to be honest and open with God.
Elijah shows us the wilderness can be a place of transition. Maybe you are there now. Do you need a reminder that God is in control? Or perhaps a reassurance that Gods sees and knows and is at work? Do you need to know God hears you in the middle of your confusion? Is there someone God is ready to bring alongside you?
Times of transition get us on the same page with God. Learn to see them as a gift, a time of God revealing Himself.
The wilderness can also be an opportunity for restoration. Join me next week to see how.