Dear Readers,

1 Kings 19

Do you feel discouraged in your service? This can happen to any of the saints as he labours for the Lord. You have been serving faithfully for many years in God’s appointed ministry and strived to please God and not man, but all you received these years are discouragement, criticisms, slanders and persecutions from others. It seems that the whole world does not care! Even pastors are not immune from discouragement. A survey of Reformed and Evangelical pastors in the United States of America revealed that a whopping 71% of participants felt burned out and battled depression beyond fatigue on a weekly or even daily basis!

The prophet Elijah was one example of a saint who was discouraged in service. He had wrought a great victory at Mount Carmel by calling fire from heaven to engulf the drenched sacrifice. The 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of the groves were proven to be false prophets and were killed. The people witnessing the stupendous miracle fell on their faces and cried, “The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God”, proclaiming Jehovah to be none other than the one living and true God (1 Kings 18:39). However, after Jezebel declared her burning desire to take Elijah’s life, many soon turned against him (c.f. 1 Kings 19:10). Elijah felt so useless, alone and forsaken that he fled from Carmel to Beersheba in one day. That was a distance of at least 150 kilometres, or 3 full-scale marathons! Having left his servant at Beersheba, he then proceeded on a further day’s journey into the desolated and deserted wilderness. His depression led him to live in isolation.

But the LORD had not forgotten Elijah, and was extremely merciful and gracious to the prophet. He showed Elijah through two marvellous events that there was no reason for him to be discouraged or depressed in the service of the LORD.

Provision is in God’s Hands

After Elijah journeyed a day into the wilderness, he sat under a juniper tree and wallowed in self-pity. He prayed to the LORD to take away his life for he felt he had served enough. He surmised that he was not of any greater strength than his fathers before him, and hence could no longer continue with the burden that was laid upon him.

Instead of taking away his life, the LORD marvellously sustained the life of Elijah. Even though the area was destitute of both men and food, God sent an angel to provide him with food and water – not just once but twice. This would surely trigger Elijah’s memory of the three years of drought, where God sent ravens to provide him with food while he was hiding at the brook Cherith.

God’s message to Elijah is this – is it not true that I have provided for all your needs throughout the ministry? Will I not continue to provide? It is true that the strength of man is small, and the strength of Elijah is certainly not greater than any of his fathers, for he is a man just like his fathers. Man by his own strength can never accomplish the work of God, but God will grant grace to His children to fulfil His will in their lives. Their strength is weak, but God’s grace is always sufficient (c.f. 2 Corinthians 12:9). All they needed was to trust and depend on God.

Results are in God’s Hands

Sadly, despite this encouragement from God, Elijah continued to wallow in depression. He continued his journey, sustained by the LORD’s provision, for another forty days and forty nights to mount Horeb. He then hid in a prominent cave on the mountain. Yet Elijah was seemingly oblivious to God’s sustaining grace throughout his journey. When the LORD asked Elijah what he was doing, the answer of Elijah revealed his continued self-pity, as seen in his use of the first personal pronoun. “And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:10)

God’s reply to Elijah was to command him to stand upon the mount before Him. The LORD then caused three stupendous acts of nature to appear before Elijah. The first was a wind so strong it caused the rocks of the mountains to be broken and rent apart like cloth. The second was a mighty earthquake. And the third was a fire. Yet somehow the LORD was “not there” in those three events. Finally, the LORD spoke to Elijah in a still small voice. This “still small” voice is literally nothing more than a fine whisper. Yet the presence and glory of God was so manifested in this tiny whisper that Elijah was moved to wrap his face in the mantle in deep reverence.

The message behind the sequence is this – oftentimes, people look to great and mighty works thinking that such works would move and convert people to a great love and obedience towards God. But as seen in history and in the case of Elijah, this is not always true. Did not the children of Israel see many great miracles during the time of the Exodus? Yet many of them rebelled against God. Similarly, Elijah wrought a great miracle at Carmel. It might have moved the people to an immediate profession of the LORD at that point of time, but the later events revealed the hardness of their hearts. What can change the hearts of men is the frequently quiet work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, convicting men of their sins and causing them to repent and turn towards the LORD. The results are in the hand of God, and the agent of those results is none other than the Holy Spirit.

Is this not true also for us? We sometimes expect great results after labouring much for the LORD. It may be a powerful sermon, a well thought-out lesson, or a well organised camp. But sometimes the results seem negligible. At these moments, we are sometimes tempted to wallow in self-pity and depression just like Elijah, forgetting that the one responsible for the results is none other than the LORD. It is God who must give the increase (c.f. 1 Corinthians 3:6), and this He will give according to His own time and decree.

Preservation of the Remnant is in God’s Hands

Alas, Elijah refused to accept God’s merciful and gracious reasoning and continue to wallow in his discouragement. His answer in 1 Kings 19:14 is exactly the same as what he had given earlier in verse 10. Nevertheless, God commanded Elijah to return to the ministry by anointing Hazael as king of Syria and Jehu to be the next king of Israel. As Elijah had repeatedly refused to accept God’s reasoning and desired to be taken out from the prophetic ministry, so God will now appoint Elisha to be the next lead prophet. It is worth noting that when Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, he was still strong enough to continue in the prophetic ministry. He could have many more years of profitable ministry to the glory of God. What a warning to those of us who refuse to come out of our depression!

Now God proceeds to answer Elijah’s assertion that only he alone is left who would stand for God. This was certainly not true, for there were still seven thousand left (not just Elisha) who had not worshipped Baal in any way. God will always preserve a faithful remnant who would earnestly contend for the faith. Elijah was certainly not alone. Similarly, this should comfort anyone of us who sometimes feel so lonely in the work of the Lord. We may be the minority, but there are others in the world who are also faithfully contending for the Word of God.

Spurgeon’s assessment of the situation is extremely insightful:

“Because the success of Carmel melted like the morning mist, he thought that his career had been a failure all along, and that he had brought no one to reverence Jehovah; but he was reading with the eyes of unbelief, and his imagination was leading him rather than the facts of the case. Here are seven thousand people scattered up and down the country to whom God has blessed Elijah’s testimony. If he had not blessed his big things as he had desired, yet his little things had prospered greatly. It was Elijah’s daily conduct rather than his miracles which had impressed these seven thousand and led them to hold fast their integrity.”


Is there any who are feeling depressed and encouraged in the service of the LORD? The solution is to look to God. Men will certainly disappoint because they are but sinners and are not infallible. Neither are we any better than them. Let us therefore encourage ourselves in God, who alone is the One who will grant us the wisdom, strength and comfort to accomplish our service for Him. Amen.

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew