Following the amazing events of a resurrected child and the defeat of the prophets of Baal, Elijah has a totally different experience. He is exhausted and thoroughly drained from his victories. He has no energy left to confront the wicked Jezebel. (I Kings 19:1-4) when she threatens him. Due to his exhaustion the prophet flees to the sacred grounds of Horeb and pleads with God to take his life. He can take no more, good or bad. It is here that God speaks to Elijah in a gentle whisper and prepares him to recruit an assistant. (I Kings 19:15-21)1
In I Kings 19 Elijah is pictured as a “broken and disappointed man.” moping under a solitary small tree.
This biblical narrative shows some deep insight in describing depression that sometimes results from stress. In this case the stress is created by fear coupled with the stress brought on by victorious success. Anxiety can easily be produced by the good and the bad. The human brain does not know the difference.
Successful ministry can be stressful. It is a mistake to think that crisis and hardship are the only factors that wear on the body and spirit. Elijah had just had one of the greatest victories of his life when he called upon the Lord to take his life. The ministry of the Kingdom of God is a shared ministry. Elijah had to come to a point of exhaustion and depression before he discovered God’s plan and design.
In three short verses the attitude of Elijah soars from an attitude as extreme exhilaration relating to his victory over the prophets of Baal to a depression so deep he wishes to die. In these moments the prophet transforms from a mighty man of God to whimpering, cowering, refugee. This short story is a perfect example of what can happen to those who work in ministry alone. The need to have assistance is real and must never be doubted by the believer.
The prophet’s distress is so extreme that as he flees from his victory he engages in acts of a loser. He dismisses his servant in Beersheba (I Kings 19:3) as if he would not need his services any longer. His journey south past Judah may also show signs that the prophet had given up and was laying aside his ministry all together. It seems that Elijah was developing the character of a man who would not find peace or rest any longer.
After a day’s journey into the desert an exhausted Elijah says he wants to die which ironically is the opposite desire to what he expressed by fleeing into the desert in the first place.
Elijah interprets Jezebel’s attacks on him as the end of it all. Defeat is certain. The events in chapter 19 seem to be irrational. The actions of the prophet make no sense. Irrational behavior seems to be common among those who attempt to work alone in the Kingdom of God. Attempts to work alone and without the assistance of others is the making of trouble.