So I've been thinking off and on about a curious line in Hebrews that declares the saints "men of whom the world was not worthy." With this in mind, a verse from James came to mind: "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours" (James 5:17).
And when Elijah runs, Elijah runs. A hundred and twenty miles south, from NW Sidon (or close by) to somewhere in Judah. Then an angel patches him up, and Elijah finally takes off another 250 miles to Sinai/Horeb.
My ESV study Bible notes can be a bit harsh to the individuals in Scripture, I think. This time, they assume Elijah's halfheartedness. Did I mention Elijah's cross-country marathon, though?
Anyway, so Elijah pops out of nowhere, declares a drought "until God decides to end it," basically, and gets fed by birds. He winds up a stone's throw from Jezebel's hometown in Sidon, where he meets up with the widow of Zarephath.
What's a bit intriguing is that Scripture stops and contrasts these two women - something you don't see much of. Both women are from the same region. Both are Gentiles. Both come in contact with the God of Israel.
Jezebel is a vile wench who slaughters Israel's real prophets (Exception: Obadiah hid 100 in a cave. Interestingly, Obadiah's faith from his youth and his defiance in hiding the prophets appear to be known facts, but he serves in Ahab's house still.) and has 400 priests of her Baals who 'eat at her table.' That's a long buffet line, btw. (I doubt they literally ate with her; but it's a bit like saying this woman controls all these men - a shrew that will not be tamed. But whether they did or didn't, she is clearly running the show.)
Meanwhile, this little widow gathering sticks at the city gate is getting ready to die with her son, and, apparently, is waiting on Elijah by order of God. We don't know much about her other than that she had some form of relationship with God, and the events surrounding her, Elijah, and the kid. Jesus will later point out that despite the many widows in Israel, this Syrio-Phoenician woman is the one Elijah's sent to provide for. He's discussing salvation, so I think there's a point here.
Remember, too: Jezebel is a vile woman who knocks off people who cross her. She manhandles Ahab, too, which is interesting, and it's Jezebel Ahab goes to for counsel in the later matter of a vineyard he's whining about.
The widow, however, asks for nothing. She brings Elijah into her house, lets him stay, and gives him everything she has. She is, then, blessed, and her food does not run out until the end of the drought where she'll be able to find more food again. The death and resurrection of her son, apparently, is part of this. It's not recorded, but whatever the widow needed to know about God was evidently revealed to her through these events.
Anyway. So Elijah takes off and summons Ahab to Mt. Carmel, where we run into Obadiah (who also thinks the prophet is going to punish him; the widow thought the same thing, so evidently prophets had a severe reputation). Weirdly, Ahab shows up. Eventually, God owns, and Elijah orders the 400 priests of Baal (the ones bizarrely close to a queen) executed. Rain comes.
I told you, 120 miles - but that was 120 miles from Jezreel. First, Elijah outruns Ahab's chariot all the way from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel. He drops, after a taxing day watching 400 priests make fools of themselves, soaking an altar and praying to God (who sends a fire that consumes the sacrifice, altar - rocks, man - water, and everything around it), then overseeing the executions of the 400 priests. He then tells Ahab to eat while he prays again, and the rains finally head from the direction of the Mediterranean toward Mt. Carmel. Ahab packs and rides off; and then Elijah gets a boost of something from God and outruns the guy. On foot, mind you.
I didn't see the exact distance, but from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel is no short walk. And Jezebel, our little Sidonian assassin-princess, informs Elijah she's putting a hit out on him. Logically, she probably didn't have to send a messenger to him. She could have just done it. But she's wench enough, and arrogant enough, to play the psychological card first. Torture him mentally, then capture and kill him. Probably slowly.
So Elijah, after going from Syria to Mt Carmel, then Mt Carmel to Jezreel (which is pretty far inland, and my map shows Mt Carmel fairly close to the east coast and a good bit north of Jezreel), packs and runs 120 miles. He stops once, to drop off his servant, and heads into the wilderness and tells God to kill him.
Please note it's a six-day sprint he just took - maybe a little faster since he's running. Elijah is done. On top of that, the "high" of Mt Carmel has plunged to the shocking low of Jezebel's threat. I honestly think it was the last straw. Maybe the bit he didn't think about; or maybe his guard was completely down. Whatever reason, I don't think his reaction was that far-fetched.
It's just that the guy ran 120 miles. Didn't Jonah try that?
But unlike my ESV, I don't think that Elijah lost heart completely, or went without the Lord's leading, or failed to remain 'wholehearted' after this.
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.
And the thing is, God had plenty of time to rebuke Elijah. He let his prophet get 120 miles south, well into Judah. Then lets him sleep. Then feeds him, and puts him back to sleep. Then feeds him and puts him back to sleep again.
Now, the ESV will note that, as in his initial flight, there's no true mandate to get up and move again. But look where Elijah goes next. Rested, fed and nourished by the Father, he gets up and heads another 250 miles south: To Mt. Sinai.
And that's the reason I don't think Elijah's totally off the deep end. I read a book recently where one of the characters has been badly wounded, survives it, but his psychological and physical state has him completely vulnerable: he's terrified, disoriented, and can't defend himself. He's completely helpless. And in a moment of crazed disorientation he overpowers his friends and runs...straight to his father's room. He fled to the one thing he could count on to never change, to never abuse him, to never harm him: his father.
And that, I think, is what Elijah does here: He ran to his Father. He ran to the Lord of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from apostate Israel under a wicked king and ruthless queen.
So I don't think God had to tell him where to go. Elijah knew where to run.
Elijah was a man, just like us, with a nature like ours.
And he finally runs out of steam, and collapses in a cave. It says he 'dwelt there,' so I think a few more days had gone by. (Please note, again, God never rebukes Elijah for running; and Elijah's flight is markedly south: his first stop in Judah where the Davidic Dynasty reigns, his second in Sinai which is where Israel made an oath with God.)
And then, now that he's done, now that he's taken food and rest so that he can finish this long flight of his...
Now that he's made it to God's bedroom, God comes to him.
Elijah was a man, with a nature like ours.