Elijah had recently experienced one of the greatest victories of his life in defeating and executing Queen Jezebel’s 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:17-40). Afterward, he hoped that Jezebel would admit defeat and stop her attempts to convert all Israel to Baalism. Perhaps she might even surrender herself to him. At the very least, he probably figured that she would fear him enough to leave him alone as he went about his ministry.
Jezebel, however, provided a much different response. Rather than admit defeat, she dug in and became downright nasty. Rather than fear Elijah and leave him alone, she went gunning for him. Rather than go into hiding, she went on the offensive. When she got word that her 450 prophets had been executed, she sent a messenger to Elijah, who was in Jezreel at the time. The messenger carried the message: “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time” (1 Kings 19:1-2).
Okay, Elijah, the ball is in your court. What will you do? I’ll tell you what he did: He ran for his life! Not only did he flee, he took off dead south and didn’t stop until he got to Beersheba (1 Kings 19:3). That was a trip of about 100 miles. To understand the depths of his fear, you need to understand that Queen Jezebel and her king, Ahab, ruled over Israel’s northern kingdom (called Israel). Mount Carmel and Jezreel were located in that northern kingdom. Beersheba, on the other hand, was located far south, down in Israel’s southern kingdom (called Judah). As a matter of fact, Beersheba was about as far as Elijah could have gone and still been in Judah. The point is, he ran as far as he could in the complete opposite direction!
Upon Elijah’s arrival in Beersheba, he went another day’s journey into the surrounding wilderness and sat down under a tree. There he prayed and asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4). When God didn’t do that on cue, Elijah laid down and went to sleep under that tree. I’m sure the man was physically exhausted by that time.
Elijah awoke at the touch of an angel, and the angel said to him, “Arise and eat.” The angel had provided him with a cake of bread and a jar of water (1 Kings 19:5-6), and so the prophet ate and drank. Then he went back to sleep.
Later, the angel came back a second time and the whole process was repeated. Unfortunately, Elijah used the strength of that food and drink to continue his fleeing southward by embarking upon a journey of forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:7-8). Mount Horeb was another name for Mount Sinai, the mountain upon which Moses had received the 10 commandments (Deuteronomy 5:2).
Mount Horeb was located even further south, way down in the Sinai Peninsula region between Judah and Egypt. You see, Elijah was still trying to get as far away as he could from Jezebel in the north. Interestingly, though, it doesn’t take forty days and nights to make the 200 mile trip from Beersheba to Mount Horeb. Basically, Elijah’s trip took double the time it should have taken. But why?
The best answer seems to be that there was a spiritual component to the trip. Just as the Israelites had once experienced a spiritual failure and been sentenced to forty years of wandering in the wilderness before being allowed to claim their promised land of Canaan (Numbers 14:1-45), Elijah spent some time wandering around pointlessly in that same wilderness. It’s possible that his trip time was doubled because of his frequent hiding out, as he continued to duck and dodge a Jezebel who was infinitely more in his mind than that far south. That’s what becomes of us when we get out of God’s will and let fear dominate our lives. We wander around aimlessly as the wasted days imperceptibly turn into wasted weeks, months, years, and decades.
Finally, at last, Elijah arrived at Mount Horeb, where he spent the night in a cave. It was in that cave that God spoke to him with the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9). The story then continues on from there, but I won’t go any further into it because I’ve now reached the application point of this post. All I’ll say is that once God got Elijah back focused upon ministry, He commanded him to go to the Wilderness of Damascus and anoint Hazael as king over Syria (1 Kings 19:15). Not surprisingly, the Wilderness of Damascus was located in the north, up in the area of Jezebel’s kingdom. If we needed any further proof that every step Elijah had taken southward had been a step taken out of God’s will, that’s it.
In closing, though, I want to ask you: Where do you find yourself right now? Are you in God’s will for your life right where you sit? Or are you someplace south of it? Are you doing what He has called you to do? Or have you abandoned your calling and find yourself wandering around aimlessly in some wilderness somewhere? I hope that you currently have more in common with the Elijah of Mount Carmel than the Elijah of Beersheba and Mount Horeb, but if you’ve allowed some “Jezebel” to push you south of where you need to be, let me encourage you to take this post as a wake up call. God is asking you right now, “What are you doing here?” And the best answer that you can give Him in response is, “I’m out of your will, Lord, but I’m going to fix that starting right now.”