Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 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.’ 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.
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.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ 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. 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.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. - 1 Kings 18:41-19:8
Ahab was in a mess. His land had been in a drought for several years, and, for those of us who live in the desert, and even those who live elsewhere, know how destructive a drought can be. Of course Ahab, like most human beings, looked for somebody to blame, and so he blamed the prophet Elijah.
Elijah warned him to feed himself and get out of town because the rain was coming and for once Ahab did what he was told. He had his chariot hitched up and raced for Jezreel while Elijah was almost superhuman (thanks to God's intervention) and raced ahead of the King's chariot the whole nineteen miles to the capital. When he arrived his queen, Jezebel, learned of Elijah's killing of their prophets and she swore that Elijah would meet the same fate within 24 hours.
Elijah, not being a dim bulb, hastily departed Jezreel, dropped his servant off at Beer-sheba, and went out into the wilderness. He sat down under the only tree for miles and began to wail that his life was over, he couldn't do anything, he was afraid, and didn't know what to do. He fell asleep and God, an angel, or God in the guise of an angel, woke him up, fed him with bread and water, and told him to eat all that he could because he is going to need it. That one meal lasted Elijah forty days and nights in the desert. Forty days in the wilderness, sound familiar?
Droughts are not trivial or just inconvenient. We see the results in Africa, and even in our own country, especially in the West where rainfall isn't all that common in many places. When even that little bit doesn't show up, it can be catastrophic: crops don't grow, livestock can't eat, and people are forced to limit their water use. Watering their lawns, filling their pools, and washing their cars is forbidden or severely curtailed, and restaurants may not give out glasses of water unless someone asks for it. The human toll, in our country anyway, may be inconvenience, but in other parts of the world it is like the wind is a death rattle blowing through the land.
It's so easy to see politics when reading stories like this one about Elijah. We see so many things that are pointed out in the biblical books that bears some resemblance to what we see around us every day. Take, for instance, global warming. Many have warned us that global warming is a catastrophe not waiting to happen but actually happening now. Alaskan villages are being flooded out because the water level in the Arctic is rising due to the ice melting. Massive calving of huge sheets of ice off the Antarctic shelf give us the same view. Excessive heat and drought in the west, freezing temperatures and floods in the east, all these are signs of a process that is a natural one but also to which we human beings have contributed greatly. We don't want to admit it, so of course it can't be our fault. We're just doing what God told us, being fruitful and multiplying, and increasing our houses and lands. Well, that's what the Bible told us to do, wasn't it? Some read it that way.
Elijah was right to fear for his future. Prophets often have to fear for their future. Somebody is always out to get them, either by discrediting them or outright eliminating them. The world dislikes prophets, unless those prophets tell them what they want to hear. And sometimes all they can do is run.
The trick is to pick out the prophet who is telling God's truth and not what somebody wants to hear. Martin Luther King Jr. was a prophet and it cost him his life. He prophesied in his last public speech that he might not get to the mountain with his people but that they should keep trying to reach the pinnacle of equality. In all the years since Martin Luther King's death, strides towards the equality for which Martin Luther urged them to fight have been made. They haven't gotten to the mountaintop yet, but neither has anybody else except those who have unlimited personal resources and unlimited drive. Being a prophet is a dangerous business, but is also God's business, therefore our business since we are God's children. We all need to help one another on the hard climb.
How to tell one of God's prophets from mere fortunetellers who want to tell us what the future is going to be? Listen. Are they telling us what we want to hear or something we don't? Often the message we don't want to hear is the one we need most. At least, that's how it seems to me. And it is what I get when I read through the Old Testament prophets and find their messages are valid today.
So am I going to be a Jezebel who wants to kill the prophet or am I to be somebody who listens to them? That's a good question. With all the sadness, sorrow, horror, war, pestilence, you name it, going on in the world right now, we need good news and we need it soon. But we are not going to get it until we do something to make it happen; we can't just leave it all up to God. So what we have to do is to listen to more prophets and then follow them, but only if they speak God's truth. Never mind that we don't like what they're saying, we have to look at it through different eyes, try to see the other side, really try, not just a halfhearted attempt. And not with the eye of negativity, a "That will never work," but rather, "I never thought of it that way."
Maybe I need to go out and be in Elijah. I may have to do some fast running, but I might also have a message from God that people need to hear. I guess I'd better get out of my chair and start practicing for a marathon.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 12, 2015 (with corrections).