Patting Ourselves on the Back

I’m preparing to substitute teach a Sunday school class this week. The lesson is from 1 Kings 18 and 19. You may or may not know this story, and I’ll admit it isn’t one that I learned as a child. It is a great biblical story with a profound lesson, nonetheless.

Elijah was a prophet and one of God’s favorites. He, apparently, was also highly revered by the Israelites throughout their long history. Elijah was the topic of conversation many years later in the Old Testament and in New Testament times. Some even thought that Jesus was Elijah coming down from heaven. And Elijah actually showed up in a heavenly body at the Transfiguration—he and Moses joining Jesus on the mountain.

In the time of the kings in ancient Israel, many had started worshipping a pagan god—Baal. Elijah is incensed by this and sets out to prove that Yahweh is the one true God. He instructs the prophets of Baal to build an altar to their god and offer a burnt sacrifice without benefit of external fire. The idolaters cannot get Baal to light their altar, no matter how hard they beg, and therefore the demonstration succeeds in showing that Baal is not the Living God. When Elijah offers the same kind of sacrifice to Yahweh, he douses it with water and God sends down fire from heaven, consuming the sacrifice, the water on it and around it to prove that He is in control. It was quite the show-down. What a spectacle that must have been! Many Israelites switched teams in that moment—going back to worshipping the One True God. Mission accomplished.

However, after this incredible display of God’s power and Elijah’s faith, Queen Jezebel (a faithful worshipper of Baal) vows to kill Elijah because the prophet has not only made a mockery of Baal’s power, but has the prophets of this false god slaughtered. Interestingly, Elijah fears this woman so much that he runs and hides. It’s like a huge Rottweiler cowering to a chihuahua. Elijah whines that he’s the only one left in Israel who is faithful (which isn’t true), and he wants to give up.

What happened? From revered representative of God to a scaredy cat? The story ends well, but only when God challenges Elijah to listen for His still, small voice.

So, the biblical prophet Elijah was not a doubter, but he was a pouter. What can we learn from him and his story? After a victory, the “highs,” are often followed with “lows.” Why do you think? Perhaps, in Elijah’s case, success had fostered a sense of pride in him, and he began to take his importance and his power too seriously. Perhaps he was looking for another “high” and when it didn’t happen, he sank so low that he even asked God to let him die.

Success can sometimes be more damaging to our lives than our failures. King Solomon found that out the hard way.  He writes in Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Let’s be careful to recognize that our successes are from God’s providence and power.

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