I Am: The Only One Left

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“Behold, the Word of the Lord came to [Elijah], and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away’” (1 Kings 19:9b-10).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The words can be some of the most intimidating ever heard: “What are you doing?” Then add another word, here—“What are you doing here?” and it just ramps up the tension. “What are you doing here? You said you would be home right after work!” “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at church?” “What are you doing here? You know it’s going to get you in trouble.” “What are you doing here? I told you to stay out of Dad’s tools unless you’ve asked first!”

Then think how much worse it would be if it is the voice of the Lord you are hearing! “What are you doing here, Elijah!”

Elijah, of all people, should know better. He has just experienced firsthand at least three significant demonstrations of the Lord’s power. Elijah had been privy to the unending oil and flour of the widow at Zarephath and the resurrection of her son, whereupon she announced, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the Word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24). He had witnessed the Lord’s power when He vanquished the prophets of Baal atop Mount Carmel with the fire that “consumed the burnt offering and the wood and stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38), so that “when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, He is God, the Lord, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39). And yet, despite this firsthand demonstration of the Lord’s power, we see Elijah cowering before Jezebel and her threats.

Fortunately, Elijah is brought back to reality by the Lord Himself: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Now, one would think, given all that had transpired, that Elijah would relish the reminder that the Lord Almighty is talking to him and calling him by his name. One would think that Elijah should be feeling confident about his future. But it is not so. In truth, Elijah’s response is a sniveling kind of self-indulgence, because the text tells us he replies, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10).

Elijah’s response to the Lord lets us see into his heart and mind. That he starts out talking about himself, and ends that way, is telling. Elijah indeed has been very jealous for the Lord, but the prophet has started to focus too much on himself. He has moved from thinking, “See how the Lord is using me” and “See what God has done” to “Look how jealous I have been for the Lord” and “Look what I have done for God,” from “It all depends on God” to “It all depends on me.” Viewing what he judges to be disappointing results, Elijah thinks, “I have failed. I did not get the results that I worked for and that I hoped for.”

There can be little doubt but that Elijah, at this point, is so weak and filled with despair because he has distanced himself unknowingly, from the foundation of his strength, the Lord God of Israel. Elijah has moved from trusting totally in the Lord and His might more toward depending on himself and his own zeal and spiritual strength. This means also that Elijah has separated himself from Scripture, the Word of God. All that he can remember that is positive is his own prophetic authority: “I am the only one left.”

Depressed, Elijah has fallen into feeling sorry for himself and into a way of thinking which is skewed or not completely accurate. The situation is not as dire as Elijah envisions. Not everyone in the kingdom has abandoned the covenant, is guilty of tearing down the Lord’s altars, of killing His prophets, or are seeking to take Elijah’s life. True, most of the people have forsaken the covenant, but not the entire population. And as far as one can tell from the biblical text, Jezebel is the only one wanting to execute Elijah, and she is not a real threat to accomplish that.

Further, Elijah is not the only true prophet of the Lord left in the Northern Kingdom. Obadiah has recently told him about the one hundred prophets of the Lord he has hidden in a cave (1 Kings 18:13). While Elijah, in the context of the public setting on Mount Carmel, could say, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord” (1 Kings 18:22), he is not the last surviving true prophet in the entire realm.

Given what Elijah has experienced of the Lord’s power, we are amazed at his lack of confidence in the Lord’s calling. But what is even more astounding is the Lord’s patience with Elijah and his complaint—and with us as well. The Lord could justifiably give up on Elijah, but He doesn’t. In fact, the Lord goes to great lengths to “resurrect” Elijah and his faith, not in power only, but quiet strength.

The Lord tells Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” In having Elijah hide in the cleft of the rock as the Lord parades His glory before Elijah, the Lord grants Elijah the knowledge that his calling is on the same level as Moses. Then the Lord, the Savior-God, shows him three tremendous displays of natural forces—a powerful wind, an earthquake, and a fire.

Will God use those natural forces to send revenge on his enemies? God had done that before. He had used a mighty wind to separate the waters of the Red Sea and had then drowned the Egyptians soldiers. When Korah led a rebellion against Moses, God had opened the earth to swallow him up. And the Lord had sent fire that consumed the 250 men who offered incense (Numbers 16).

No, God will not yet deal with His people according to the Law. Instead, God comes to speak to Elijah in a gentle whisper.

It’s at this point that the Lord repeats His original question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah repeats his previous reply: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14).

How pitiful Elijah’s “I am” assertion is when contrasted to God’s answer  when Moses had asked His name on this same Mount Horeb: “I AM THAT I AM… Say this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). How different is Elijah’s “Only I am left” when compared to Jesus’ declaration to His contemporaries, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Elijah’s “I am” is an “I am” of frailty and helplessness. Our Lord’s “I AM” is the “I AM” of power and salvation: “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life,” “I am the Vine,” “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the world.”  

Elijah is thinking about himself. “I have been very jealous for the Lord… I am the only one left.” In truth, it is not dependent upon Elijah at all, but the Lord, who is leading and guiding His fearful prophet even in midst of a crisis of faith. Elijah’s statement is only true if uttered describing the Lord: I AM: the only one left. Yahweh, I AM Himself, is there. And that’s all any of us need.

Seven hundred years earlier, I AM had appeared on this same mount with fire, smoke, and an earthquake. When God gave the Ten Commandments, His voice was like thunder (Exodus 19:18-20). Now God comes to Elijah not with threats and anger but with patience and love, with gentleness and mercy. Through a quiet voice, God gives spiritual strength to Elijah. Through that same quiet Word, God continues to save sinners and to restore the souls of His troubled people.

The truth be told, Elijah’s ministry has not been a failure. The God who sees into our hearts and who “knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19) still has seven thousand faithful followers in Israel.

To encourage Elijah, God also gives Him a threefold assignment. He is to head north and anoint the next king of Aram, who will be God’s scourge on Israel. He is also to anoint a new king over Israel, who will wipe out the dynasty of Ahab and destroy Baal worship in Israel. Finally, Elijah is to anoint the man who will succeed him as prophet. The mission of Elijah is to be continued in Elisha.

The Lord gives comfort, encouragement, and added wisdom to His servant. The Lord shows that He has and maintains control over nations and history. He brings dynasties to an end and sets up new ones. God also assures the prophet (and us) that He will deal with wicked people who reject the truth and persecute those who genuinely believe in and serve Him. He will do so according to His will, method, and timetable. Hazael and Jehu will not become kings for several years. God gives ample time for the ministry of the Word, carried on by the prophets, to have a salutary effect. But this time of patience will not last indefinitely.

The Lord’s response to Elijah also assures us that the preaching and teaching of the Word of God always has results; God’s purposes are accomplished. These results might or might not be seen by the ministers of the Word or be what they initially hope for, but His Word will achieve His purposes. Since God’s Word will continually stand, there will continually be a group of believers on earth which God preserves through His Word, because of His grace. Those written in the book of life will be saved. God uses Elijah to accomplish this in part, and He will so use future ministers of the Word, including Elisha.

The Lord allows Elijah to go through trauma as a cathartic experience. Elijah emerges as a humbler man and a spiritually wiser and stronger servant of the Lord. God brings him out of his depression, so that he leaves Horeb rejuvenated, with renewed zeal for the Lord. The Lord has more work for him to do, which Elijah is now determined to carry out, in the strength of the Lord, emboldened and empowered through the Word the Lord has spoken to him.

The surprise in this text is the way God exercises His lordship and accomplishes His saving will. Elijah looks for the omnipotent God in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Instead, he finds Him in a “low whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). This is still the methodology of our great God. While He is an awesome God who works wonders and does mighty deeds, He ordinarily comes to us through ordinary items such as water, bread, wine, and words.

In Christ, God comes not as the all-powerful Creator who could blow us to kingdom come as easily as He can blow apart the rocks. He comes as a gentle, humble man, veiling His glory just as He did from Moses and Elijah. He stands silently, not even whispering, before a judge and jury of His own creatures. He appears on a “mount,” yes, but the “mount” turns out to be Mount Calvary. Then, in anything but power, in seeming helplessness, He lets those same sinful creatures kill Him. All to extend His care to us in our helplessness, our weakness. All to forgive our sinfulness. All to enable us to stand before His unveiled glory for all eternity. So that you might have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

So, what are you doing here? Go out into the world where you have been called to various vocations. Tell the Good News of our Savior Jesus Christ, the great I AM, who has not left us alone. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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