When the Lord asked Elijah what he was doing at Mount Sinai, 300 miles south of Jerusalem, it was not because God did not know the answer to the question. He knew well that Elijah was on the run from the death threat of Queen Jezebel, whose palace was in Jezreel, located around 60 miles north of Jerusalem. God wanted to hear Elijah speak the reason for himself.
Elijah answered the Lord, sharing with us what was in his heart:
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.” 1 Kings 19:14 (NKJV)
God was well aware of the situation with the children of Israel and the murder of His prophets by Jezebel. He also understood the tremendous stress, fatigue, and fear that Elijah was experiencing, having sent an angel to comfort, feed, and restore him with fresh-baked heavenly cake. Then the Lord even visited Elijah, outside of a cave on Mount Sinai, but Elijah remained emotionally drained and still feeling at the end of his rope. He had previously asked the Lord to take his life, and apparently, still felt the same way about it.
The Lord responded to Elijah by sending him on a mission to Syria, which was even further north than Jezreel. God had some divine anointing for him to perform: 1) anoint Hazael as the new king over Syria, 2) anoint Jehu as new king over Israel’s Northern Kingdom, replacing Ahab, and 3) anoint Elisha as the new prophet over Israel, replacing…Elijah.
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. 1 Kings 19:16 (NKJV)
Honoring Elijah’s wishes to “retire”, God then picked Elisha as prophet to replace him. The old would anoint the new while on his way to Syria.
God had answered Elijah’s prayers many times before – bringing on a three-and-a-half-year drought, miraculously feeding him and the widow of Sidon during the drought, raising the widow’s sick son from the dead, bringing fire down from heaven in a heavenly contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and ending the terrible drought once this battle was won and the hearts of the people had returned to the Lord. Now, God was answering Elijah’s prayer one more time – to end his time here on earth, although it would not happen in a conventional way. Elisha will take over the place of Elijah as God’s faithful prophet once Elijah’s work for the Lord is done.
God then informed Elijah that, although he might have felt like the only God-worshiper left in Israel, he actually was not.
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.” 1 Kings 19:18 (NKJV)
Granted, for all the millions of people that lived in Israel’s Northern Kingdom at the time, 7,000 faithful worshipers is not a huge number, but it was a lot more than Elijah was aware of.
Many of us have known Elijah’s feeling of being mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted – just “done”. Sometimes, after we have given it all we have, there is just nothing left to give. Stress and strain are cumulative in a person, and when we hit that wall, we are simply finished. This is where Elijah found himself, and the Lord did not condemn him for it.
There will eventually come a right time to surrender our duties, responsibilities, and authority, and to hand them over to someone else. Difficult as it may be, it is best to admit it when we have finally reached this point, but to have an honest talk with the Lord about it before taking any further action. With His superior knowledge, He may or may not agree with our timing – there could be something real good coming just down the road.
When we do finally reach the time and place of “anointing our replacement”, there is often a bittersweet feeling to accompany it. Here it is very natural to wonder, “Am I doing the right thing? Is this truly God’s will for me?” We may not be so sure at the time. But if we have been honest in our conversations with God about it and He permits us to move ahead, we move forward. If, over time, peace and relief exceed any regret, it was probably the right thing for us to do. All will become more apparent with time. Right or wrong, God will likely place us somewhere else for a season to continue our service to Him. And like Elijah, the Lord will always bless us as we act in good faith, seeking to follow His will.
Have you been in a position of responsibility or authority that you were compelled to give up because of excessive stress, strain, or fatigue? Perhaps you are in such a situation right now, one that is testing your limits.
The best thing to do in such a case is to take it before the Lord. We are open and honest, and ask Him if He wants us to press on. Often He does want us to stay, relying all the more upon His divine help to see us through. But other times, our particular season of service has ended, and He has new roads ready for us to pursue.
Lord, we lay our current responsibilities before You, especially the ones that are taking a heavy toll upon us. Show us where You want us to stay, depending upon Your strength and power to carry us through. Or show us the ones that are no longer in the center of Your will for us. If this be the case, provide a good “prophet in our place” to carry on that work for the sake of the kingdom, and to benefit those we are serving. Grant us Your wisdom and heart in these decisions. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.