fbpx

Downtown

Ministries:

Community Groups
Care Ministries
Outreach Partners
Men’s
Women’s
Children

208 W. 19th Street, KCMO
Services @ 9:00 & 10:45 AM

ABOUT

SERMONS

EVENTS / CLASSES

GIVE

The Forgetful Prophet

Written By Brooks Nesse

One of my favorite things to do in Kansas City is visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Every time I visit I am drawn to a particular painting that depicts God sending an angel to encourage the prophet Elijah. This is one of my favorite stories in Scripture and the more I have studied the passage, the more I realize that I identify with Elijah. But that identification is not with the positive aspects of Elijah’s character but rather the unfortunate deformation that is taking place in his ministry.  

 

Elijah’s Encounter with God

Before God sends his angel to Elijah in 1 Kings 19, the wicked king Ahab and his wife Jezebel have led Israel into apostasy through the worship of false gods. In the chapter just prior to the encouragement of Elijah, God had shown his glory through the defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. In that scene both Elijah and the prophets of Baal had prepared a sacrifice for their respective god and they were going to see whose responded. Listen to the prayer of Elijah at that moment:

 Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” 

There are three things to notice about this prayer. First, notice Elijah’s remembrance. He calls on God’s personal name, Yahweh (anytime you see the name translated Lord, it is referring to God’s covenant name), and refers to him as the God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (or Jacob). This title brings all sorts of images and memories of the prior work of God to mind in the story of the Torah. Second, notice his humility. His desire is that people would know Yahweh is Lord and that Elijah is his servant. There is no self-commendation, there is a servant who has only done as his God has commanded. And finally, his ultimate desire is to see the glory of God displayed and have it recognized as such. 

God answers this prayer and sends a fire to consume the sacrifice and the prophets of Baal are defeated and destroyed and there seems to be a glimmer of hope for a nation that had abandoned its God. Keep this prayer in mind as we fast forward one chapter and we see a very different interaction between God and his servant Elijah.  

 

Elijah’s Spiritual Amnesia

In chapter 19 we are told that Jezebel, after hearing about the defeat of the prophets at Mount Carmel, orders the death of Elijah. We are told that the prophet “became afraid and immediately ran for his life.” Our prophet who just watched Yahweh show his power at Mount Carmel is now asking that the Lord would take his life (1 Kings 19:4). In Elijah’s next words to God note the change of tone from his last prayer: 

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of armies, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10). 

God responds by asking him to stand on Mount Sinai so that God might speak with him in a soft whisper (19:12) but when Elijah hears the voice it says “he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” 

Did you notice the changes? Instead of remembering the character of Yahweh when Jezebel threatens him, he gives into fear and despair. Instead of humbly submitting himself to God, he questions why God has not honored his zeal. Instead of seeking the glory of God, he covers his face to keep from seeing it. What happened? How could there be such deformation in such a short time frame? 

 

Deformative Forgetfulness 

Since Genesis 3, the serpent has sought to lead God’s image bearers into deforming forgetfulness. Curt Thompson says in his book Anatomy of the Soul that “being tricked always involves the subtle or blatant manipulation of fear, memory, and shame.” I believe this is what we see taking place in Elijah’s life. The deformation of fear has allowed him to see Jezebel as a threat beyond God’s control. The deformation of his memory has led him to forget the superiority of the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, demonstrated on Mount Carmel. The deformation of shame has led him to cover himself from the glorious presence of God, much the way Adam and Eve covered themselves in the garden. But similar to the garden, the Lord responds in surprising grace toward this deformed prophet. 

The Lord responds to Elijah in several ways. After the prophet put himself under a tree to die we are told the angel tells him to eat and sleep (twice!). Then God calls him to Mount Sinai, the mountain where Yahweh made his covenant with Israel. God brought him to a physical location where he would feel secure and would encourage him to remember the God who cared for the likes of Abarahm and Moses would also take care of him. Once Elijah arrives at the mountain, the Lord asks him two times: “What are you doing here, Elijah? It reminds me of God asking Adam and Eve in the garden after they ate the fruit, “Where are you?” God is gently inviting his weak servant to see the waywardness of his ways. God does not lash out at his prophet, but instead speaks to him in a whisper and he reminds him he is not alone. There are in fact seven thousand prophets who have not bowed to Baal and God’s plans have not been thwarted. Even so, we see a disturbed prophet who, until the Lord takes him to heaven in a chariot of fire, seems to only reluctantly and begrudgingly listen to his God (2 Kings 2). 

 

Grace to Remember 

So why do I identify with this prophet? Perhaps you can relate: I often allow my circumstances to be much larger than my God. This leads to a forgetfulness of God’s prior work and a “woe is me” mentality. My fear leads to a forgetfulness that I am ashamed to admit. So how can we combat such deformation? 

What is your pace in life? Do you ever find it fascinating that the first thing God has this weary prophet do is eat and sleep? I know that my greatest vulnerability to deforming practices is when I am tired, hungry, and alone. God treats each of these in his interaction with Elijah. Reflect on the rhythms you are setting. Are they for your flourishing? 

Who or what are you paying attention to? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “The devil doesn’t fill us with hatred for God, but with forgetfulness of God.” Are there ways you live like God is absent? What are some practical reminders and rhythms to keep you mindful of God?  

I believe that today the prophet Elijah is able to look upon the face of his Savior despite his previous desire to cover his face before the glory of God. What a patient God we worship! I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my spiritual amnesia, that even the prophets of old had moments of weakness. But I take even greater comfort in knowing that we worship a God who beckons us back to himself. Even in a soft whisper. 

RELATED POSTS

Recent Posts

Equally Revering Work and Rest

Equally Revering Work and Rest

God is the first worker, and he created us to image him in that way. Jesus, too, knew how to work hard and engage with fullness. But look closely at Scripture and you’ll also see not just divine work, but also divine rest.

read more
God’s Presence in Suffering

God’s Presence in Suffering

The call came on a rainy, chilly afternoon when I was preparing for oral surgery the following day. A woman who had mothered me as a young adult and continued to love me generously and steadfastly collapsed suddenly and was on life support.

read more

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.