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, around 60 miles north of Jerusalem. God wanted to hear Elijah speak for himself.
Elijah answered the Lord, revealing what was on 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 and fear that Elijah was feeling, and sent an angel to comfort him and feed him with heavenly cake. Then the Lord visited Elijah personally outside of a cave on Mount Sinai. Yet, Elijah remained emotionally drained and 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 by sending Elijah 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) 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 picked Elisha as the 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 the three-and-a-half-year drought, miraculously feeding him and the widow of Sidon for three years, raising the widow’s sick son from the dead, bringing fire down from heaven in the 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 apparently answering Elijah’s prayers one more time – to end his time here on earth, although it would not happen in a conventional way. Elisha will then take the place of Elijah as 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 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 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.
I know that feeling of being exhausted and just “done”. Sometimes, after we have given it all we have, there is nothing left to give. Stress and strain are cumulative in a person, and when we hit the wall with these, we are simply finished. That is where Elijah found himself, and the Lord did not condemn him for it.
There will come a time to surrender our responsibilities and authority and to hand the reins over to someone else. It is best to admit it when we have finally reached this point, and to have an honest talk with the Lord about it before taking further action.
When we finally do come to the time and place of “anointing our replacement”, there is often a bittersweet feeling. Have we done the right thing? Is this truly God’s will for us? We may not be so sure at the time. But if we have been honest with God about our feelings and He gives us the go-ahead, if the relief exceeds the regret, it was probably the right thing to do. That will all become more apparent with time. And like Elijah, God will bless us either way as long as we have acted in good faith, seeking 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 more upon His divine help to see us through. But other times, this particular season of service has ended, and He has new roads 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 the ones where You want us to stay and to depend upon Your strength and power to carry us through. Show us the ones that are no longer in the center of Your will for us. 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.