This week’s Torah reading is Pinchas, Numbers 25.10 to 30.1. The adjoining Haftarah is 1 Kings 18.46 to 19.21. Interestingly, just last week Hashem asked Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19.9). [i] The Creator surely knew the answer to this question, but apparently wanted Elijah to think about it.
Let’s quickly review how Elijah got to the cave in which he was hiding. Last week’s Haftarah, I Kings 18.20 – 40, records Elijah’s challenge and sound defeat of the priests of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel. This week’s Haftarah begins with Elijah being divinely empowered to run ahead of King Ahab’s chariots all the way from Mt. Carmel to the entrance of the Jezreel Valley, depending on the exact location probably a distance of fifteen or more miles, twenty-four or more kilometers (I Kings 18.46). This was quite a victory run after the encounter with the prophets of Ba’al and the proclamation of the soon, coming drought breaking rain. Sadly, the victory was short-lived as almost immediately the narrative continues with Elijah running in fear from Queen Jezebel who was apparently a bit miffed at the loss of her idolatress prophets. “Frightened, he got up and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom bush. He prayed that he might die.” (I Kings 19.3 – 4) From the heights of victory to the depths of defeat in a very minimal amount of time. Instead of responding to Jezebel in the power of the LORD, for some reason Elijah’s resolve failed. His dependence on the power of the LORD waned and seems to have become suicidal when trusting in his own strength. It has been noted that “Elijah experienced the depths of fatigue and discouragement just after his two great spiritual victories: the defeat of the prophets of Baal and the answered prayer for rain. Often discouragement sets in after great spiritual experiences, especially those requiring physical effort or involving great emotion.”[ii] It is important to note that the above description begins by acknowledging Elijah’s fatigue; he was tired, which in turn clouded his thoughts and directed his actions, and was ready to just give up. Equally noteworthy is the LORD’s immediate response, he allowed Elijah to sleep— for two days— awaking him only to provide nourishment. Then, instead of chastising Elijah, he sent him on a mission – to go to Horeb where the LORD had spoken to Moshe and Bnei Israel.
Now let’s return to the question, “what are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah appears to be having a bit of a pity party, “poor me, I’m alone, everybody is wrong but me!” (v. 10). Instead of answering Elijah’s complaint, the LORD sent him on another mission, to anoint two new kings as well as his eventual replacement. Only then did the LORD inform Elijah that he was in fact wrong, that he was not alone and that the LORD had at least seven thousand “in Israel whose knees had not bowed to Baal and whose mouths had not kissed him (worshipped him)” (I Kings 19. 18).
For all that can be said concerning this reading, I believe it is most important to remember our need to rest in the LORD, as well as to maintain the physical rest then we need. Being tired clouds one’s judgement and hampers one’s ability to accurately hear the direction of the LORD. In Mark six, between the news of the death of John and the feeding of the five thousand, Yeshua encouraged his disciples to “Come away by yourselves to an isolated place and rest awhile” (Mark 6.32). Furthermore, while leading Bnei Israel, the LORD told Moshe, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33.14). Elijah recognized the presence of the LORD on Mt. Carmel, he was empowered to run ahead of the chariots to Jezreel, but then in his weariness he faltered and ran in fear. Instead of depending on the LORD, he fell back on his own strength. We too can (and probably have) walked the same path that Elijah trod. From glorious victory to crashing defeat in mere seconds. Shaul, possibly considering the words of the prophet Isaiah, offered these words of encouragement to the believers in Philippi, and they remain a promise for each of us today.
And the shalom of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua. (Philippians 4.7)
You keep in perfect peace one whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26.3)
This trust, this shalom comes from resting in the LORD, both spiritually and physically.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] Study notes from Life Application Study Bible. Copyright © 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.