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Elijah, the Zealous Introvert

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Elijah, the Zealous Introvert

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Elijah, the Zealous Introvert

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Elijah was a great prophet, zealous for God, and used powerfully by Him during his life and in prophecies afterward. He was also a loner and introvert who suffered from depression.

Transcript

It is easy for us to read about the apostles and prophets and think of them as totally different from us. But these men were more similar to us than we often give them credit for, and examining their life with that in mind can be very instructive.

Jas 5:17  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

We will get to the rain in a bit, but it’s the first part of the verse I’m focusing on just now. The NLT says “Elijah was as human as we are”. And the Amplified Bible suggests this means he was a man with the same physical, mental, and spiritual limitations and shortcomings”.

Elijah was not some super human. He had a nature like ours. Now when I say this, I don’t mean he was like all of us. We are all different, and in similar situations, we may individually think and act differently. We think of the differences between men and women. Together, we make a whole, but separately we can think and behave in different ways. Perhaps some of the things Elijah did our women might find a bit strange. Maybe he behaved like a typical man. But there are other aspects of our natures that are different as well. When I was attending Ambassador College, I was given distinct vibes that those being called, especially into the ministry, were expected to be extroverted people persons. And that being extroverted was better than being more introverted. Extroverted people love to be with others, and talk and get recharged by this interaction. Introverted people tend to get recharged by being alone or in small groups. To perhaps think things through alone, instead of talking it out.

Today I would like to look at the life of Elijah, and lay out the case that not only was he human in his emotions and behavior, but perhaps he was an introvert. And I’ll get into that more as we go along.

The story begins in 1 Kings 17:                                                                                                       

1 ¶  And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” 2  Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 3  “Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. 4  “And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5  So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. 6  The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. 7  And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.

As we see the story unfold, we discover that Elijah was very much a loner. Or at least he was forced into being one. I personally don’t think God would have chosen someone for this job who thrived on human interaction and force him to spend over 3 years in isolation. And to a large extent he exhibited the characteristics of an introvert—someone who functions better without a lot of people around. Someone who derives energy by quiet reflection, rather than gregarious attention. I would guess that he was very comfortable out in the wilderness with just the ravens. We don’t know how long he was there, but eventually the brook dried up. So God sends him to a widow in a Gentile-inhabited town north of the land of Israel, between Tyre and Sidon.

I’m going to guess that not only was Elijah a loner, this widow was too. She lived only with her son, and didn’t seem to have people visiting. It makes sense that God would choose someone like this for Elijah to interact with, one who would most likely keep to herself, and who would not have others around to spread the word about Elijah’s whereabouts. Afterall, we are told in chapter 18 that Ahab had searched everywhere for him: “10 As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, ‘He is not here,’ he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you.”

8 ¶  Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9  “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” 10  So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” [no response, just action] 11  And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12  So she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” [no indication she was reaching out to anyone for help] 13  And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. 14  “For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’ ” 15  So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah [showing her faith, or perhaps her resignation that they weren’t going to be much worse off than if she didn’t obey]; and she and he and her household ate for many days. 16  The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah.

Many days. He had been at the brook for “a while”. This whole time period was over 3 years folks. Sometimes the Bible can be very understated.

17 Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. 18 So she said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?” 19 And he said to her, “Give me your son.” So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?” [Elijah was not afraid to plead with God. And to stick with it] 21 And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” 22 Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. 23 And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives!” 24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.”

As we come to chapter 18, the 3 ½ years are coming to a close. 1 ¶  And it came to pass after many days [there is that understated many days again], that the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.” 2  So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab; and there was a severe famine in Samaria. 3  And Ahab had called Obadiah, who was in charge of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly. 4  For so it was, while Jezebel massacred the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water.)

5  And Ahab had said to Obadiah, “Go into the land to all the springs of water and to all the brooks; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, so that we will not have to kill any livestock. 6  So they divided the land between them to explore it; Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself. 7  Now as Obadiah was on his way, suddenly Elijah met him; and he recognized him, and fell on his face, and said, “Is that you, my lord Elijah?” 8  And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’ ” 9  So he said, “How have I sinned, that you are delivering your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? 10  “As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, ‘He is not here,’ he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you. 11  “And now you say, ‘Go, tell your master, “Elijah is here”’! 12  “And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of the LORD will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me. But I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth. 13  “Was it not reported to my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, how I hid one hundred men of the LORD’S prophets, fifty to a cave, and fed them with bread and water? [Note that if Elijah did not know this before, he does now]

14  “And now you say, ‘Go, tell your master, “Elijah is here.”’ He will kill me!” 15  Then Elijah said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely present myself to him today.” 16  So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.

Elijah may be a loner, but he isn’t shy. He’s a firebrand when needed, and he tells Ahab off, ordering him to assemble the prophets of his beloved Baal at Mt Carmel, by the coast.

21 ¶  And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word. 22  Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. [He had recently been told there were others that Obadiah had rescued, but perhaps he was expressing the fact that he was standing alone on this mountain. Note that being an introvert doesn’t mean shy. It means drawing energy from time spent alone, instead of interacting with people. Unlike extroverts, people interactions, while often necessary and carried out well, can be draining. I say this not only from what I’ve read, but from experience.]

So Elijah sets out his challenge: Build an altar, cut a bull into pieces, place it on the altar, and pray for fire from heaven. For some reason I have never understood, these prophets actually agreed to this.

26  So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon [basically they started at the time of the morning sacrifice at 9am and continued for 3 hours], saying, “O Baal, hear us!” But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made. 27  And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy [euphemism], or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” [As I said, he may have been a loner, but he wasn’t shy. And they responded by getting into it even more]

28  So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. 29  And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.

Then Elijah built a stone altar, added wood, the bull for the sacrifice and flooded the whole thing with water. Hey, this was a drought. Where did they get the water? Well, this was on the coast. The Mediterranean may not have offered water to drink, but it was plenty wet.

36  And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice [3pm], that Elijah the prophet came near and said, “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. 37  “Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”

38  Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.

Elijah was not above pleading with God, but that wasn’t required here. The contrast with the prophets of Baal assured that God answered immediately and dramatically. The people acknowledged God, seized the prophets of Baal, and Elijah had them all executed. Pretty grizzly.

41 ¶  Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.” 42  So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, 43  and said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” And seven times he said, “Go again.” [As we read in James, Elijah prayed earnestly. James says he did so to stop the rain. I don’t know where he got that, but he certainly prayed earnestly for the widow’s son, and now he does so here, until finally the boy returns with a different answer.]

44  Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” So he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.’ ” 45  Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab rode away and went to Jezreel. 46  Then the hand of the LORD came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

This was an amazing miracle. Jezreel was essentially the distance of a marathon away. Ahab took a chariot, and probably drove the horses pretty fast. And Elijah, on foot, beat him to the entrance of Jezreel. Elijah was drained mentally from his encounter with the prophets, and his earnest prayer, and now physically from what was probably a marathon record before the marathon had been created. As soon as he gets there,

19:1 ¶  And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2  Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “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.”

Maybe Elijah was an introvert, but the 3 year isolation could have had an effect. The encounter on Mt Carmel may have drained him. And the run to Jezreel was probably exhausting. Elijah had had it.

3  And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”

What causes depression and discouragement? There are so many varied reasons, and they often don’t make sense. Elijah had just come off what to us seems like a tremendous victory, with fire coming down from heaven, followed by rain falling from heaven, and then his miraculous run to Jezreel. Perhaps he had expected more of a reward, or acknowledgement of this achievement, not threats of violence. But how often have we seen or heard of very successful people admitting they suffer from depression. Perhaps those going through it might understand it. I suspect even they don’t know why. But it is a human condition that one of God’s major prophets suffered from. He just wanted God to kill him. As he lay there sleeping under the tree, an angel appeared twice to give him food and water which miraculously sustained him for forty days and nights as he continued to the mountain of God, where Moses had received the 10 commandments and other instructions directly from God. And after spending the night in a cave, we have this remarkable exchange:

(9) behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10  So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

All of this may have been true, but God had used him to start correcting that.

11  Then He [the voice or Angel that spoke to him] said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12  and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. [It appears that before Elijah could even leave the cave, God demonstrated His mighty power with three remarkable signs that probably scared the daylights out of him. Followed by a gentle voice that probably beckoned him to come out.] 13  So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle [perhaps not sure if God would appear to him face to face] and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” {the same question. And the same response.] 14  And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

15  Then the LORD said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16  “Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17  “It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. 18  “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

God didn’t argue with Elijah’s characterization of the people. They had indeed forsaken God’s covenant, torn down His altars, and killed His prophets with the sword. God did let him know, though, what he should have known all along. He wasn’t the only one left. He’d been told about the 100 prophets at least. But God let him know there were others. He wasn’t alone. And one of those 7000 he was supposed to anoint to take his place. But I can’t help think this may have been the only thing he really heard. “YES! Someone else can take my place.” You see, that’s the only thing Elijah did.

19 ¶  So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. [and as it says in verse 21, Elisha] became his servant.

But anointing Hazael as king of Syria and Jehu king of Israel? That he never did. Elisha took care of that sometime after Elijah was finally relieved of his duties. For about 6 years, we hear nothing of Elijah. Perhaps he did many things not recorded, but he may also have quietly withdrawn. But the existing kings of Israel and Syria are at war, and

20:13  Suddenly a prophet approached Ahab king of Israel, saying, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’ ”

Another of those 7000, apparently filling in for Elijah. Ahab was indeed victorious, but the prophet returned:

22 ¶  And the prophet came to the king of Israel and said to him, “Go, strengthen yourself; take note, and see what you should do, for in the spring of the year the king of Syria will come up against you.”

Sure enough, Syria returns in the spring, and then someone else comes to Ahab:

28  Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys,” therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’ ”

Again, the battle takes place with Ahab being victorious. But then the Syrians sue for mercy and Ahab makes a treaty with him.

35  Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his neighbor by the word of the LORD, “Strike me, please.” And the man refused to strike him.

Now we not only hear of yet another prophet, but a group called the sons of the prophets. Elijah was definitely not alone. But at this point he doesn’t appear to be very active either. And these prophets weren’t unknown either. This prophet disguised himself to confront Ahab, who pronounced his own death sentence.

41  And he hastened to take the bandage away from his eyes; and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets.

In chapter 21, we have the story of Naboth, who owned a vineyard next to the palace. Ahab wanted it. Naboth wouldn’t sell this property that had been owned by his family for generations. Jezebel engineered his death, and Ahab took possession of the stolen vineyard. Finally Elijah himself is told by God to deal with this latest transgression. Does he perform a miracle? No, he confronts Ahab and tells him off, pronouncing a horrible end to both him and Jezebel, and their descendants. And that’s the last interaction Elijah has with this king. An absolutely fascinating and amusing story is recorded in chapter 22, before Ahab’s final battle, involving yet another prophet, Micaiah. I’d read it, but this message is about Elijah who, as I’ve noted, is absent again, while one of the other prophets he had forgotten about takes care of the interactions with Ahab.

Ahab’s son reigned a short time before fatally injuring himself. Elijah is again asked by God to do something. He is to intercept the messengers the king sent out to inquire of the priests of a false god whether he would recover, and assure him he would not. The king responds by sending soldiers to fetch Elijah, who performs the only recorded miracle we have since he returned from Horeb and anointing Elisha, in again calling fire down from heaven.

Finally, God allows Elijah to fully retire and turn any remaining responsibilities over to Elisha, including those other two anointings he was supposed to perform, when the fiery chariot takes him away to some other location. We hear from Elijah one more time when he sends a letter to the king of Judah telling him he is as bad as the kings of Israel he had denounced. 

God uses all types of people. We usually think of the extroverts who love interacting with people and who seem to be the natural choices for preaching the gospel and interacting with potential converts and church members. But Elijah wasn’t like that. He was a loner, he suffered from depression, but he was passionate in his zeal for God. He is mentioned throughout the scriptures as a great prophet. Neither personality trait is superior to the other, nor is it one or the other, but we can behave somewhere on a spectrum. God can and does use all types of people. And Elijah is an inspiration to the statistically expected 50% of us who might be a bit quieter and prefer our fellowship to be one-on-one or at least in small numbers.