What was the question that God asked Elijah?
In 1 Kings 19.9 God asks Elijah an odd question:
Elijah went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the Word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
There are 5 options for us to choose to understand the real question…depending on where we think the emphasis was in the question:
1. What are you doing here, Elijah?
2. What are you doing here, Elijah?
3. What are you doing here, Elijah?
4. What are you doing here, Elijah?
5. What are you doing here, Elijah?
There are several clues in the following 9 verses that provide the answer to our question:
Clue 1. Why did God asks the same question again in verse 13?:
Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
Answer: Because Elijah had given the wrong answer to the first question
Clue 2. Why did Elijah answer both questions with the same answer in verse 10 and verse 14:
‘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.’
Answer: Because Elijah was consumed by fear and insecurity following Jezebel’s threat in 1Kings 19.1-2:
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 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."
Elijah had lost his trust in God
Clue 3. How did God respond to Elijah’s answer in verse 10?:
Then He 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; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
Answer: God showed Elijah Who He was; the Creator of the universe….and so much greater than any threat by a puny human being like Jezebel
Clue 4. How did God respond to Elijah’s identical answer in verse 14?:
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.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. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill.Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’
Answer: God retired Elijah early because of Elijah’s probable nervous breakdown, and He gave Elijah his final tasks….pointing out to him, gently, that his complaint that I alone am left was very mistaken since God had reserved seven thousand in Israel
Clue 5. Why did God respond differently in Clue 3 and Clue 4?:
Answer: Because God, in His mercy and compassion, was more concerned with Elijah’s healing, restoration, and peace…..in his relationship with God Himself….than He was in using Elijah as His standard bearer in continuing conflicts with pagan opposition.
So, What was the real question from the 5 options listed?:
Probably, the answer is Option 4: What are you doing here, Elijah?
And there is an unspoken addition: Because you should be confronting Jezebel’s threat with the power of God…as Daniel was to do in response to Nebuchadnezzar’s threat in Daniel 6.16:
King Nebuchadnezzar gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, "Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you."
What lessons can we learn from Elijah’s discussion with God in 1Kings19?:
1. When God asks us a question twice don’t give the same answers, because the first answer was clearly wrong!
2. Trust in God however great the pressure seems to be.
3. Enjoy the fact that, if Elijah can fail and be restored and healed by God, we should accept our weakness and trust in His strength:
Habakkuk 3:19 The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.
2Corinthians 12:9 The LORD said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."