For most of my Christian life I have always seen Elijah as this stalwart of the Christian faith. He stood against the ungodly, heralded truth when it was unpopular, and lived much of his life alone because of his work ministering to an idolatrous people. He certainly was a man who loved God and wanted God's people to love him too. Even his life ended in a spectacular scene with chariots of fire coming down from heaven whisking him away to glory (2 Kings 2:11-12).
Elijah was not your ordinary man.
Or was he?
Even though I have read of his life on a number of occasions, this morning I was struck by how his ministry ended. While I recognize that his life ended in a far more eventful way than I will ever witness in my lifetime (unless Jesus comes back), he didn't exactly model resolute trust in God up until his final breath.
Elijah had a hard road ahead of him. After dealing with the prophets of Baal he was a wanted man. Jezebel wanted him dead (1 Kings 19:1-3). The Israelites were not too fond of him. And as far as the book of Kings goes, he was pretty much alone. Being a prophet of the living God was a high and lonely task. So we find him hiding from it all (1 Kings 19:4-18). And who can blame him? Even after God confronts him in the cave Elijah never seems to fully recover the days of grandeur even though he continues ministering God's word. In a lot of ways that time in the cave was a pivotal moment in his ministry. It signaled the ending of his ministry and the beginning of Elisha's. When God called Elisha to follow Elijah, Elisha's enthusiasm stands in stark contrast to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of Elijah (1 Kings 19:19-21).
We aren't given the information behind his demeanor. He had spent a lot of time alone. He was persecuted for his ministry. And even when God was providing a companion and successor for him it was surely hard to see it. When Elisha came along he was at a very low point in his ministry.
I find this particularly comforting. Here is Elijah, a man who was given the task of bringing God's word to people, and he struggles to trust the very God he proclaims. He had seen God work in mighty ways, yet when the pressure of his life began closing in he believed the circumstances rather than the character of his God.
How often am I like that?
Now you could say that I have not seen God work like Elijah did, but as I've pondered Elijah's life I've begun to realize that I've actually seen him work in far more abundant ways. I live on the opposite side of the Cross. Elijah only had the hope that God would one day defeat his enemies through a promised Messiah. I have been changed by this Messiah. Elijah only had the hope that God would keep his promises to his people. I know because of Christ that every word God has ever spoken finds it's "yes" and "amen" in this Christ.
I have more reason to hope and trust because Christ has come.
But what moves me even more about Elijah's story is the abundant mercy of God. Elijah didn't deserve a successor. Elijah didn't deserve a response from God. And Elijah certainly didn't deserve such an amazing departure from his earthly life. But God did it anyway. I am faithless just like Elijah, and yet God does not repay me according to my unbelief. Instead he gives me more reason to believe that he is a good and trustworthy Savior.
Some might think that the imperfect men in the Bible discredit these precious words, when in fact they actually do the very opposite. They give truth to these words. The steady thread throughout the entire Scriptures is that we serve a merciful and gracious God. Salvation belongs to him alone. Put that truth next to fallen human beings like Elijah, Abraham, and even me, and God gets so much more glory because of it. I'm thankful for men like Elijah, not only because of the work they did for God's name, but also for the testimony they serve for people like me even after all these years.