Elijah was a prophet of God who liked to push the envelope and go beyond the edge.   you can read I Kings 17 through II Kings 2 for a full account of Elijah’s, courageous and outrageous prophetic ministry.  Some of the more notable aspects of Elijah’s courageous and outrageous ministry that led up to today’s scripture reading include the following:

  • Pronouncing there would be three years of drought caused by the God of Israel. (I Kings 17:1-7)
  • Restoring life to the son of a widow who fed him during the three-year drought (I Kings 17:17-24)
  • Encountering a fellow prophet of Israel named Obadiah and learning that Obadiah has provided shelter for 100 prophets of Israel (I Kings 18:7-17)
  • Confronting the prophets of the pagan god named Baal that was worshiped by Ahab, the 7th king of Israel and his wife Jezebel. In this confrontation, the prophets of Baal built an altar to their false god.  As the prophets of Baal built the altar, Elijah spoke to the Israelites and told them, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord” even though Obadiah had told him about the 100 prophets under his care.  From morning until noon, the prophets of Baal prayed for fire to be sent down by Baal to consume the altar.  After they had concluded their attempts, Elijah built an altar to the God of Israel, Yahweh, and ordered that it be drenched in water along with the wood Elijah placed on the altar.  Three times water was poured on the altar and wood.  Then Elijah prayed and fire came down consuming the altar, and the false prophets of Baal were slain. (I Kings 18:40)

Today’s scripture reading occurs following the contest between Elijah and the prophets of

Baal.  Jezebel pronounces a death sentence upon Elijah.  Elijah, in spite of all his self-confidence, is on the run.  It is in his flight from Jezebel that we find Elijah sitting alone in a cave.

For all of his strengths, there was one problem that Elijah had.  Actually, it was Elijah’s dilemma.  With all of his self-assured determination, Elijah tended to focus on himself rather than focusing upon God.  It is in Elijah’s dilemma that we find him isolated in a cave.  His focus upon himself has driven him from his victory over the false prophets of Baal to hiding in a cave.  His dilemma has come to light as Elijah tells God that “I alone am left.”

In response to Elijah’s dilemma, God taught Elijah about the power of God that was present with Elijah.  Demonstrating God’s power through the presence of wind, earthquake, and fire, Elijah experienced the true power of God’s presence in the sound of sheer silence as God asked Elijah a second time, “What are you doing here?”

As we hear the story of Elijah’s encounter with God on the mountain through wind, earthquake, fire, and the sheer silence of God’s presence, we may find ourselves in Elijah’s dilemma.  We may tend to feel as though we alone are left as we face the challenges of our lives.    We may forget to remember God’s presence rather than remember to confess who God is and who we are.

After encountering God on the mountain, Elijah still could not overcome his dilemma.  When God asked Elijah for a second time, “What are you doing here Elijah”, Elijah gave the same answer, “I alone am left.”  Remember this is not the first time Elijah had said that he alone was left.  He said the same thing when he confronted the prophets of Baal even though Obadiah had told Elijah about the 100 prophets of Israel for whom he was sheltering.

Even after encountering God on the mountain through the wind, earthquake, fire, and the sound of sheer silence, Elijah could not overcome his dilemma of focusing upon himself.  For all of Elijah’s courageous and outrageous strengths, Elijah could not overcome his dilemma of forgetting to remember God’s presence.  Elijah could not realize that he was not alone.  Elijah could not realize that his greatest strengths were his greatest challenges as he isolated himself in a cave.  In responding to Elijah’s dilemma, God did three things:

Response #1 – God reminded Elijah that he was not alone.  There were 7,000 prophets in Israel who had neither bowed to or kissed Baal.

Response #2 – God instructed Elijah to anoint a new king over Israel.

Response #3 – God made provision for God’s prophetic ministry in Israel to be continued through Elisha.

As we hear the story of God’s response to Elijah’s dilemma, there are lessons we can learn when we face the dilemmas of our lives.  Some of the lessons we can learn are:

Lesson #1 – Just as Elijah encountered God in the most desperate time of his life, we can encounter God in the most desperate times of our lives.

Lesson #2 –Just as Elijah heard God speaking in the sheer silence, we can hear God when we encounter times of sheer silence in our lives.

Lesson #3 – Just as God did not reject Elijah because of Elijah’s dilemma, God will not reject us because of our dilemmas.

Lesson #4 – Just as God used Elijah in spite of and through his dilemma, God can use us in spite of and through our dilemmas.

On November 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman gave a concert at Lincoln Center in New York City.  A master of the violin, he began to play when one of the strings of his violin broke.  You could hear the sound of the violin string breaking across the concert hall.  Those present wondered what he would do in the reality of this dilemma.  Perlman did not get another string.  Instead, he remained seated, closed his eyes, and then signaled the conductor to begin again as Perlman recomposed the entire piece in his head and played it on just three strings.  Persons present in the audience were transfigured in the moment as they saw him modulating, changing, rethinking the piece in his head, and playing it perfectly on the three strings he had left.  When he finished, there was the sound of sheer silence in the room.  Then people rose and cheered wildly.

Itzhak Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his violin bow to quiet the crowd, and said words to the effect: “Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

In reflecting on this performance by Itzhak Perlman, Jack Reimer wrote the following.

“Perhaps that is the way of life – not just for artists but for all of us.  Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden, in the middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings.  So, he makes music with three strings, and the music he made that night with just three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable, than any he had ever made before when he had four strings.  So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.”
Pp. 65-66, If God Has a Refrigerator, Your Picture Is on It, James W. Moore, Dimensions for Living, 2003

Elijah thought everything had reached a dead end in that cave as he told God that he alone was left.  Elijah was wrong.  He alone was not the only prophet of the God of Israel.  There were 7,000 prophets of Israel who remained faithful to God.  God had called Elisha to follow Elijah.  The music was going to continue even in the reality of Elijah’s dilemma.

So, what can we learn from Elijah’s dilemma as we face our dilemmas?  We can learn that there are no dead ends as we hear God’s voice even in the midst of sheer silence.  We can learn that we are not alone in our dilemmas.  We can learn that the music is going to continue even in the midst of our dilemmas.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Elijah’s Dilemma
by Pastor Marc Brown
August 8, 2021

Accompanying Scriptures: I Kings 19:9-21
(full online service video below)

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