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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Elijah and Depression


Ahab told his wife Jezebel what Elijah had done and that he had killed the prophets. She sent a message to Elijah: "You killed my prophets. Now I'm going to kill you! I pray that the gods will punish me even more severely if I don't do it by this time tomorrow." Elijah was afraid when he got her message, and he ran to the town of Beersheba in Judah. He left his servant there, then walked another whole day into the desert. Finally, he came to a large bush and sat down in its shade. He begged the LORD, "I've had enough. Just let me die! I'm no better off than my ancestors." Then he lay down in the shade and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel woke him up and said, "Get up and eat." Elijah looked around, and by his head was a jar of water and some baked bread. He sat up, ate and drank, then lay down and went back to sleep. Soon the LORD's angel woke him again and said, "Get up and eat, or else you'll get too tired to travel." So Elijah sat up and ate and drank. The food and water made him strong enough to walk forty more days. At last, he reached Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, and he spent the night there in a cave. While Elijah was on Mount Sinai, the LORD asked, "Elijah, why are you here?" He answered, "LORD God All-Powerful, I've always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!" "Go out and stand on the mountain," the LORD replied. "I want you to see me when I pass by." All at once, a strong wind shook the mountain and shattered the rocks. But the LORD was not in the wind. Next, there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. Finally, there was a gentle breeze, and when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat. He went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. The LORD asked, "Elijah, why are you here?" Elijah answered, "LORD God All-Powerful, I've always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!" The LORD said: Elijah, you can go back to the desert near Damascus. And when you get there, appoint Hazael to be king of Syria. Then appoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat to take your place as my prophet. Hazael will start killing the people who worship Baal. Jehu will kill those who escape from Hazael, and Elisha will kill those who escape from Jehu. But seven thousand Israelites have refused to worship Baal, and they will live. Elijah left and found Elisha plowing a field with a pair of oxen. There were eleven other men in front of him, and each one was also plowing with a pair of oxen. Elijah went over and put his own coat on Elisha. Elisha stopped plowing and ran after him. "Let me kiss my parents good-by, then I'll go with you," he said. "You can go," Elijah said. "But remember what I've done for you." Elisha left and took his oxen with him. He killed them and boiled them over a fire he had made with the wood from his plow. He gave the meat to the people who were with him, and they ate it. Then he left with Elijah and became his assistant. (1 Kings 19:1-21)

This occurred just after a great victory for God. If you read the chapter before this one, Elijah had been used by God to show who the true living God really was. I will leave it to you to read that story and just set the scene for 1 Kings 19 by showing you the following verses:

Elijah stood in front of them and said, "How much longer will you try to have things both ways? If the LORD is God, worship him! But if Baal is God, worship him!" The people did not say a word. Then Elijah continued: I am the LORD's only prophet, but Baal has four hundred fifty prophets. Bring us two bulls. Baal's prophets can take one of them, kill it, and cut it into pieces. Then they can put the meat on the wood without lighting the fire. I will do the same thing with the other bull, and I won't light a fire under it either. The prophets of Baal will pray to their god, and I will pray to the LORD. The one who answers by starting the fire is God. "That's a good idea," everyone agreed. (1 Kings 18:21-24)

When the crowd saw what had happened, they all bowed down and shouted, "The LORD is God! The LORD is God!" Just then, Elijah said, "Grab the prophets of Baal! Don't let any of them get away." So the people captured the prophets and took them to Kishon River, where Elijah killed every one of them. (1 Kings 18:39-40)

King Ahab told Queen Jezebel all that Elijah had done, not as a testimony of God's power but to anger her. He didn't tell her what God had done, but what Elijah had done, as if he had performed some superior magic and not that the hand of the Lord had been in it. It was God who killed the prophets of Baal, not Elijah, but because of what King Ahab had told her, Queen Jezebel went gunning for Elijah.

You see, despite the unparalleled show of God's power, King Ahab's heart was hardened instead of softened. He refused to believe in God despite what he had just seen. That hardness of heart was passed on to Queen Jezebel when he told her what had happened. All she heard was that her Prophets of Baal had been killed. The whole story was about how God had prevailed and sent His demonstrative power and yet, all she heard was the Elijah had killed her 450 prophets. When your heart is cold and hard and hostile against God, there is very little that God can do to make you believe. If you don't want to believe, then no matter what miracles He shows you, you will remain steadfast in your unbelief. She hated Elijah because he was someone she could hate and persecute. She can't hate God because she can't hurt and persecute God, so she turns her anger and hate on Elijah who was only God's tool.

Over the centuries this missplaced anger and hatred has led to many martyrs' death. Because they can torment, persecute, torture and kill the followers of Jesus Christ, they go after them. God is who they really hate but He is beyond their control so they turn their anger on His People. And the persecution and killing of any of His Children is noted and will never be forgotten.


When the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of everyone who had been killed for speaking God's message and telling about their faith. They shouted, "Master, you are holy and faithful! How long will it be before you judge and punish the people of this earth who killed us?" (Revelation 6:9-10)

So Jezebel threatens Elijah.

After all that Elijah had just seen and experienced, you would have thought he would have stood his ground and said, "Right back at ya, sister!" But, surprisingly, he ran away and hid. Now, her raging, cursing and threats were empty because nothing could be done to Elijah unless the Lord allow it for His higher purposes. And she might just have been a little afraid of Elijah after what she had heard. She could have sent guards to take him right away instead of just sending him a message. But Elijah's reaction is the surprising thing. What was wrong with him? Why would he flee in terror in the middle of the night after what he had just experienced?

Elijah became severely, suicidally depressed and afraid. What could cause this Prophet, this great man of God to fall into such a state?

  • Elijah had just spent a day of intense spiritual warfare. He had watched the 450 Prophets of Baal prance around all morning, screaming and cutting themselves and begging their god to bring fire from heaven to consume their sacrifice. Then, when nothing happened, Elijah stepped up and had his sacrifice made on his altar, and even dug a trench around it and had so many buckets of water poured over the sacrifice and altar as to fill the trench. He made one plea to God and God sent fire from heaven that not only devoured the sacrifice but licked up the water.
  • Then Elijah had been involved in killing the 450 prophets of Baal.
  • Then he climbed Mt. Carmel.
  • Then he prayed for rain until rain came and ended the drought.
  • Then he actually ran down the mountain and all the way to Jezreel.
  • Then he recieves a threat against his life and he has to flee in the night.


When you consider all he had been through, it's really not so surprising that he had a breakdown. He had to be spiritually, mentally and physically exhausted. At some point he went from running on God to running on empty. He went from spirit to flesh and his flesh was letting him down. You can do what God asks and empowers you to do but you begin to fade when you move from His empowerment to your own flesh. There comes a pivotal point where you lose your balance and are no longer relying on God but are relying on yourself.

Elijah not only ran away but he ran the wrong way. He ran into the wilderness, into a desert. If he had run TO God instead of to the waste places of the desert, he would have been blessed and replenished, renewed, strengthened. I'm not saying he ran away from God, but rather, in fear, he ran to the worst possible earthly place. A place to guarantee further depression. He could have stayed right where he was at and got on his knees and run, in a spiritual sense, to God.

He and his servant fled to Beersheba but he left his servant there and went on alone into the desert. He has isolated himself. Those who suffer depression tend to isolate themselves. I've been there and done that! He removed himself from God, from people and now, even from his servant who was probably closer to him than any other human at this time. I'm sure he thought there was no reason to further push his servant. Elijah may have thought his servant deserved to rest rather than to go on out in the desert. But he also wanted to be alone. He wanted to cry and wail and despair all by himself. He prayed that he would die, that God would just let him die right then and there. He thinks that life is over, he has done all he can do and he's tired of the fight. All his exhausted mind can think is that he's failed, has no one who loves him, he's alone. God allows him to sleep. Physical exhaustion can cause depression so it is imperative that we get enough rest when we feel depressed.

God sends an angel to give him food and water. He tenderly provides for him despite Elijah's plummeting faith. Herein may lie another physical problem. How long has he gone without proper nourishment and nutrition? Someone who is so mentally distraught and depressed may go without properly eating and this can aggravate depression. When we feel depression coming on, it is time to be sure we eat right and take our vitamins. We must make ourselves take care of our body by resting and eating right.

Elijah is ministered to by angels who insure that he rests and eats and drinks! That is how much God loves him and takes care of him! But he was still depressed. God draws him on a 40 day hike to Mt. Sinai. This walk was to remind Elijah of the 40 years of wandering in the desert before the Israelites obeyed God and began to occupy the Promised Land. And during those 40 years, they did not suffer hunger or thirst, nor did their clothes wear out, but they also didn't hear from God. During this long walk, Elijah doesn't hear from God but God is taking care of him. Even though he doesn't eat, the food God provided for him through the angels, meant that Elijah did not suffer hunger or dehydration. Elijah needs some down time and some exercise to keep him from curling up in a ball. How many times, when you get depressed, have you wanted to curl in a ball and huddle under the blankets and not get up? I have. God made sure that Elijah got rest and food but then sent him on a hike for 40 days. A time for reflection.

When Elijah reaches Mt. Sinai, God speaks to him. He asks Elijah a question, "Why are you here?" God often asks us questions to get us to think, formulate and express our feelings. It's a way to direct and focus our thoughts. Elijah is ready now to confront his spiritual depression. God has taken care of him physically and mentally and now wants to confront his spiritual depression. God is asking him "Why? Why are you here? What made you run away when you knew I was in control? Why didn't you trust Me? Is this where a Prophet of the Living God should be? Hiding in a cave?" Elijah answers:

"He excuses his retreat, and desires it may not be imputed to his want of zeal for reformation, but to his despair of success. For God knew, and his own conscience witnessed for him, that as long as there was any hope of doing good he had been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts; but now that he had laboured in vain, and all his endeavours were to no purpose, he thought it was time to give up the cause, and mourn for what he could not mend...

"He complains of the people, their obstinacy in sin, and the height of impiety to which they had arrived: 'The children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, and that is the reason I have forsaken them; who can stay among them, to see every thing that is sacred ruined and run down?'" -Matthew Henry's Commentary

He thought his work was done and he had failed to turn the Israelites back to God. He thought that he alone knew and worshipped the one true God. He was disgusted and despairing that nothing had changed. He was angry with the people. He felt alone. He felt like a failure. Sounding a little self-righteous with a little spiritual pride. You know you have pride when you think God should be doing what you want Him to do. Who are we to think we have such high knowledge and wisdom that we can direct the Lord to do what we think is best? "If everybody would just listen to me and do what I say, the world would go around a lot better!" I have caught myself in those kind of thoughts before!

This shows how twisted the thinking gets in a depressed person. I know this intimately. You are not in your right mind when you are in a depressed state. Everything looks like the end of the world. Others may look at you and think you have the world on a string but all you can see is despair and loneliness. Satan twists your thinking and makes white seem black and black seem white. For some reason you are unable to see light at the end of the tunnel, all you see is darkness. It's why I think there is something organically/chemically misfiring because you can't see clearly, it's not logical. It goes against the will to live that God has implanted in us. God makes sure that Elijah's body is taken care of before He dialogues with Elijah. Now God is reaching out to Elijah by talking to him in the voice that Elijah had forgotten. He's asking him to think and express himself. Once we speak up and arouse our minds, we are able to converse with God about our situation in prayer. God understands our every thought and wants to draw us out even if it's to express some very un-Christlike feelings. Then God will begin to show us how very wrong we are and lead us to a proper perspective.

God manifested himself to Elijah. He caused powerful winds, an earthquake and a fire to occur. These were to prepare Elijah by instilling awe and respect for God. Elijah would gain humility and reverence by these manifestations. God is in control, even of the elements! But these were example of God's power and not His actual message. Elijah forgot himself in the midst of God's Presence. For God then spoke to Elijah with a still small voice which finally penetrated his heart. Elijah covered his face in humility and shame for having fled in fear and giving in to depression. He realized he had been a coward and had fled his duty. He stood at the entrance to the cave ready to hear what God had to say and to resume his active duty status. God asks him again, "Why are you here?" Elijah repeats his complaints albeit in a more humble spirit. His heart still holds some bitterness and pride. "I've always done my best to obey you." (Other translations use the words "jealous", "zealous" and "burning for the honor of the Lord.")

God then gives Elijah some orders. He is given work to do, called back into active duty. He is to anoint Hazael to be King of Syria and anoint Jehu to be King of Israel and to anoint Elisha to take the place of Elijah. (Elijah only succeeds in anointing Elisha and it is Elisha who anoints Hazael and Jehu.) Then God tells Elijah that he is not the only one in Israel who trusts and serves the only living God, there are 7,000 who have not given in and worshipped Baal.

“The design of the vision was to show to the fiery zeal of the prophet, who wanted to reform everything by means of the tempest, the gentle way which God pursues, and to proclaim the long-suffering and mildness of His nature, as the voice had already done to Moses on that very spot; hence the beautiful change in the divine appearance” -Herder, Geist der hebr. Poesie, 1788, ii. p. 52

There are times when God works His wrath in vivid color with the crash of the wind and the dividing of the seas. But there are times when God is working in mercy, grace, goodness, kindness, patience and longsuffering. It is not Elijah who decides those times and directs the Lord. It is up to the Lord to exercise His great wisdom and direct us. There is a time for mercy but a time for judgment and God is the one in control of these things.

Then he passed in front of Moses and called out, "I am the LORD God. I am merciful and very patient with my people. I show great love, and I can be trusted. I keep my promises to my people forever, but I also punish anyone who sins. When people sin, I punish them and their children, and also their grandchildren and great-grandchildren." (Exodus 34:6-7)

He instructs Elijah to anoint Hazael and Jehu so that they can be instruments of judgment so judgment is a-comin' to Jezebel and the rebellious people but, Ahab humbled himself when God threatened him with his sin and the judgments are withheld even during the life-time of Ahab and of his son. Jezebel was thrown out her window by her own servants and her body broken on the common street. Horses rode over her and the dogs ate her.

Elijah immediately leaves and finds Elisha and calls him to the ministry of prophesy. He mentors Elisha but Elijah goes into a rather quiet retirement while Elisha begins to take on the mantle of national prophet. Elijah appears a few more important times but his ministry is drawing to a close. Then after 10 years had passed since the depression incidence, Elijah goes to Elisha and tells him it's time for him to go be with the Lord. Elisha wouldn't leave him and it is while they are together that God sends a chariot and horses of fire to catch Elijah up and take him to heaven. It is also witnessed by no less than 50 other prophets. (2 Kings 2: 1-12)

Did this incidence of depression end his usefulness to God as His Prophet? Evidently not. He was used by God a few more important times. Then he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot instead of dying the way all the rest of us die. He was referred to by other later prophets so he was still well known. He was seen on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus by the 3 disciples. His name and ministry was used by the apostles in teaching and John the Baptist was called the Elijah that "must first come" to prepare the way of the Lord. It seems to me that Elijah may have gotten his nose seriously out of joint and it may have brought about his semi-retirement but he was still close to God, obedient to God, outspoken for God. God uses cracked pots all the time. We are none of us perfect and God very well knows this. It is important for us to learn from Elijah's depression experience.

Pastor Craig taught on this Word this morning and he said that we must learn:
A) Don't lose your focus! Our focus is to save souls and worship God. Sometimes we lose our focus, we start to think it is all about us. We become the center of our universe. Even those who are depressed are usually so self-absorbed with their misery that they have shifted their focus from God to "me". I know this because I've experienced it myself. If our every waking moment is consumed with thoughts about me, me, me even if it's "I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself", it's still selfish self absorption. Then there are those who get their focus on other people or other things. Elijah lost his focus on God. At some point he went from God empowered to self, or flesh, empowered and he began a free fall.

B) It's only through God. We are not in control, we don't have the power, we do not have the wisdom so we must rely on God. He and He alone can take care of stuff and we must learn to trust in Him and lean on Him. It is only ours to obey Him.

C) Don't let pride cause you to fall. Elijah was feeling self righteous and pride got to him. Pride is one of the easiest sins to fall into and I know that from experience too. It's God and God alone and He empowers us so to Him be the glory. We must keep ourselves humble.

For those who experience depression, here are the things that I recommend:
* Make sure you get enough rest.
* Eat good.
* Take vitamins.
* Take any medications your doctor has prescribed.
* Do an activity. It's too easy to lay in bed all day. Do something, one thing that makes you move around. Even if it's just to walk to the mailbox and back, or go to one store and walk through, or make one round on the trail in the park, or take your dog for a walk around the block.
* Take some time to get your mind off of the bad stuff. Watch a funny movie, read a book, watch some funny TV shows, talk to someone on the phone without mentioning your problems, etc.
* Most of all, spend time in prayer with God. He can take all the stuff you need to say. Then begin to praise Him for something. You may not feel like it but there is something. "I praise God because I am breathing. I thank God for the food and water I have today." Spend a moment in gratitude. Write down your thoughts, prayers and praises if that helps you.
* Do something for someone else. Give a hug, make an encouraging phone call, write a card, write a letter, take a meal to someone (even if it's just a bag of hamburgers and fries). Just reach out. You are still useful and needed but not if you are locked in your room and crying into your pillow.

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