“What Are You Doing Here?”
Text: I KINGS 19:1-15
By: David D. McDonald
June 21, 2020
NRSV Psalm 42
1As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
3My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
"Where is your God?"
4These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help 6and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
8By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
9I say to God, my rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?"
10As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
"Where is your God?"
11Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
NRSV 1 Kings 19:1-15
19 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.
NRSV LUKE 8:22-25, MASTER OVER STORMS
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, 23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
Psalm 42 asks twice, “Where is your God?”
The Lord asks Elijah twice, “What are you doing here?”
That’s an interesting difference in perspective, isn’t it?” In moments of great upheaval, when we are caught up in wars, earthquakes, raging wildfires, Covid-19 Pandemics, and all kinds of social unrest that point to a world in chaos; we want to know “Where is our God?”
The Lord; on the other hand, asks in the midst of chaos, “What are you doing here?”
Think about it! Do we pause long enough in moments of great anxiety to ask the question, “Where is God pointing us?” When he answers with tornadoes, earthquakes and raging wildfires, and so forth, we want to know, “Where is our God?” When God’s power is revealed we may go into hiding rather then ask, “What should I be doing?” Even the great prophets of the Old Testament were so inclined.
Elijah was supposed to go outside and stand on the mountain of God. He didn’t venture past the mouth of the cave until the silence came. Was this prudence or was it disobedience to the command of God? God had other things for Elijah to do and he needed Elijah out of the cave!
When I was in elementary school we lived for awhile in Camden, SC. My parents were part of the installation team for the atomic weapons Savannah River Facility and after that was completed my Dad took a position with the synthetic fibers DuPont Plant in Camden. My grandmother was from Portland, Maine. Yes, she was one of those Northerners. My brother and I rode the bus to school. It so happened one cold January day that it began to snow on the way to school which was a very rare event. By the time we arrived at school there was one inch or less of snow on the ground and school was canceled and they sent the buses back without even letting us off the bus. My brother and I walked through the door and my grandmother greeted us,
“You boys playing hooky? You should be at school!”
“ Grammy!” we said together. They canceled snow because of the snow. Isn’t that great?”
“Oh phooey!” she said, “You boys wait right there while I call the school.”
She called the school and came back shaking her head, “Goodness, gracious! When I was your age we walked to school in snow shoes and looked down at the street cars. We had to go even when the snow was up to the roof tops!”
“Go play outside and I’ll bake some cookies. I’m glad you’re home. We’ll have some fun. She was our kitchen wonder chef who could turn even a can of tomato soup into cupcakes.”
When Elijah was on the run, fearing for his life, zealous in his religious beliefs and actions, he darts into a cave to escape from it all. He has run from the wrath of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab only to be caught up in a great tornado, followed by an earthquake, and then a raging wildfire. In fleeing for his life he has put it in even greater danger. Elijah’s guardian angels must have been working double time trying to keep the prophet alive long enough to get him back on the right path.
Or, perhaps God was taking him exactly where God wanted him to be. Israel needed a prophet! Albeit, Elijah was a reluctant prophet or at least a doubting Thomas, kind of prophet. The wonder of God’s presence is seen in the Bible through such stories.
Clearly, Elijah is in crisis mode. This prophet who seems to have had such a firm conviction that the Lord was beside him when he was embattled with the prophets of Baal has lost that sense of confidence according to this passage.
I came across this story which might give one perspective on Elijah:
A little girl asked her father if he was afraid of the dark. H told her he was not. She asked if he was afraid of snakes. He said he was not. The little girl asked if he was afraid of long slimy worms. Her father again told her he was not afraid—• even of long, slimy worms. The girl thought for a moment and then concluded, "Then the only thing you're afraid of is grandmother!" (Hodgin, p. 134)
Of all the things that Elijah might have been afraid of, it was Queen Jezebel who caused the prophets knees to shake and run for the hills.
In these 15 verses from I Kings 19 we find political intrigue, angel visitations, an earthquake, a raging fire on the mountain, and a horrendous wind storm. The reader may well ask, “What next?” This portion of the Elijah story is extremely fascinating. We have contrasted in Elijah both the greatness of God's prophet and the prophet’s human frailty. Fresh from the great confrontation with the 450 prophets of Baal where God reveals himself in the fire that consumes the wood soaked with water and the sacrificial bull, Elijah is confronted with the wrath of the royal household. Nowhere is that wrath more concentrated than in the queen, Jezebel. She threatens to slay him at the earliest possible occasion. Elijah has not only dispensed with the priests of her beloved religion, but also thrown embarrassment upon the worship of Baal in general. He has deliberately confronted the wishes and sensibilities of the queen. Elijah has swept Mt. Carmel clean of Baal worship. The religious purge also brought the rains, which had long been needed in a time of great drought religiously and meteorologically. Moreover, Elijah was at the very pinnacle of prophetic success. He had in the most profound way demonstrated that the Lord, the God of Israel, was the one true God. Elijah was poised to become the Spiritual father of Israel. He had made it clear that Israel was the Lord's possession and that her future was in the hands of God who made her. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was alive and present and would not let them go. Though they had strayed and wandered like lost sheep, God abided with them still. God still abided with Elijah, too!
Once upon a time, Elijah had seen -the great vision of Israel as the people of God. The stars of Abraham, which could not be numbered, had illumined the sky scape of Elijah as he spoke to and served the people. He had seen the vision and pointed the people to it. They had heard and seen the power of the Lord who had parted the Red Sea for Moses and given the land into the hand of Joshua. They had seen evidence of the God who had made the sun stand still in time till all that the Lord would have accomplished was indeed accomplished in the days of Joshua’s conquest of the land of Canaan. But one is never more at risk than at the mountaintop. It is there, when the victory seems won that the greatest danger lurks. The threat of revenge by Jezebel for some reason completely disorients Elijah. This great prophet who had scoffed at 450 prophets of Baal, had relied upon ravens to feed him, had run miles ahead of Ahab’s chariot from Jezreel to Mt. Carmel (approx. 22.5 miles), was suddenly disheartened in the face of the queen's wrath. She had made a threat on his life and he fled. Like a dog licked in a fight he turned tail and ran for his life. He left the country and his servant. He fled to a place where he thought he could not be found. He whimpers in the’ wilderness in the shade of a broom tree, reminiscent of Jonah sitting under a gourd tree outside Nineveh, these words:
"It is enough; now, 0 Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers."
Shocking! Absolutely shocking! Elijah has given up the challenge. He has failed the test of nerves. Jezebel has won the battle it seems with mere words! She didn't even have to raise her little finger much less unsheathe her dagger. Elijah has been swept out of the country by the threat of the queen.
He blurts out that he is no better then his ancestral fathers. Well might you or I have done the same! The threat of Jezebel was done with malice. Her intent was clear. Elijah was sure that she would act upon her promise. It is certain that she had the ear of the king and the royal household. Surely, anyone would have been scared to death of her. This surely would have sent us into hiding too!
In Elijah we see human fear and faithful prophet in grave tension!
We know God was with Elijah all along and had acted and intervened in Elijah’s behalf to demonstrate the power of the God to the people of God. Israel had survived the attack of the Egyptians, the Philistines and a whole host of enemies whose names are at least as awesome as their warriors. Still, there is always the present moment. We all have moments of doubt and fear – even the great prophets like Elijah.
In our Gospel reading from Luke, we find veteran fishermen afraid of a storm. The boat is being swamped and they need all hands on deck including Jesus. I remember being in a boat anchored near shore when a wave came over the stern. The bilge pump failed and the boat was full of water. We bailed forever it seemed! The water was only knee deep so I jumped out to lighten the load and my son and his girlfriend helped bail out the boat.
Recently, I saw a video clip of a sled dog team running across a sheet of ice covered with a couple of inches of water. It looked like they were running on water!
When Elijah and Moses stand on the mountain with Jesus; we know all too well that Jesus will descend to a confrontation with the authorities. In the garden, Jesus will pray for the cup to pass, but nevertheless, the Father’s will be done. In that moment we see both the human and divine nature of Jesus. When such pain is coming, who would not tremble?
The great nation of today may falter in the next. Even great prophets whimper at the prospect of the shedding of their own blood. The enemies that have lined up against us always temper the Faith of our Fathers.
The Faith of our Fathers always remains a second hand faith until, we make it our own.
The victory of the Lord always remains His victory until we can claim it as a victory on our behalf.
Elijah was in the midst of a crisis of faith. Appropriately, he was sitting in the wilderness, under the shade of a broom tree. Now, broom trees do not provide a great deal of shade. They are somewhat scrubby in nature.
They survive in -the wilderness, but they cannot be expected to be a source of real comfort in the glaring heat of the desert sun. Their straw is bound together to make brooms for sweeping.
Did you catch the irony of this master story teller? Isn’t it ironical that Elijah sits under a broom tree when he has swept away the prophets of Baal and now he has been swept out of the land of his Fathers by the threat of the queen?
It has come time for him to rest and clean house, set his priorities in order and prepare for the next stage of his journey. Elijah seems to be a broken man. He is a burned out prophet alone with his fears. He is a disheartened man running from success. He has revived the faith of the people in the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and he has lost, for the moment his own confidence.
Like Abraham who once feared Pharaoh more than the power of God to sustain Him; Elijah considers himself no better than the scouts of Moses, who entered the promise land and saw the giants who inhabited the land and reported to Israel that they could not win the battle, so for 40 years they wandered in the wilderness. Elijah, here, is in that experience of wandering on the edge of success. Having won the battle he does not claim the victory because his faith has wavered.
Enter grace. Elijah’s doubt and fear was turned into victory. Elijah cannot seem to imagine that the Lord will reclaim the nation through his all too human efforts. He sees himself as an obstacle to the way of God and not as an instrument of His hand. Elijah believes that he is no better than his Fathers, which is to say that he envisions himself as having all the poor qualities of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and none of their strengths. Elijah has a poor vision of himself. He lacks confidence in who he is, who he can become, and the power of God to make a difference in his life.
Elijah sees himself as a pigmy in the faith.
Thank goodness, God is tireless. Generation after generation God is diligently sweeping away the apostasy of the people and saving them in spite of themselves. They will falter and doubt the faith of their fathers. It is amazing that even in the heights of chaos, the depths of doubt, and the agony of despair; God brings mercy and forgiveness.
Rather then running helter-skelter from whatever fears we may have; it may be in our best interests to reflect on the question, “Where am I going?” No doubt we all stand in the need of prayer. God stands ready and has already spoken an answer to the questions we fear most. On this Fathers’ Day let us affirm the faith of our Fathers. Let us pause to pray and listen for God!