In 1 Kings 18, Elijah boldly defies the priests of Baal, discrediting them before all the people and King Ahab, and then utterly destroying each of the priests. Elijah prevailed with God and pled for fire and rain from heaven. Crisis looms just around the corner in the form of Jezebel in 1 Kings 19:1-4.
Hell’s fury is unleashed against Elijah as King Ahab relays what has happened upon Mt. Carmel to Queen Jezebel. Jezebel immediately sends out a servant to find Elijah and she swears by her gods that what happened to the priests of Baal would happen to Elijah the very next day (1 Kings 19:2). Jezebel acts in blind rage as an instrument of the devil. The devil has met defeat at the hand of God as the battle is played out between the wicked and false priests of Baal and the prophet of the LORD, Elijah.
What does Elijah do in response to Queen Jezebel? He fled for his life (1 Kings 19:3). There was no longer a safe haven for Elijah and it seems futile to remain where there is such hostility to God. Triumph quickly ends in tragedy. God’s mercy is spurned by Jezebel’s murderous heart. Elijah’s confrontation with Baal turns into conflict with the Baal worshipper Jezebel. Bravery turns into banishment.
We cannot fault Elijah for what he did, can we? There are some people who would and try to explain Elijah’s behavior in this way – Elijah is depressed because he is cowardly. He fails to stand up to Jezebel and flees to save his own skin. Elijah is simply going on a pity party out into the desert and thus forsakes his ministry in the land of Israel. Depression is for the cowardly.
But another, more biblical explanation is this – Elijah is depressed because he is courageous. He is at the forefront of the battle for the LORD. Emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, Elijah has come down from Mt. Carmel. Elijah has exerted himself to show that God is the LORD. He has faced four hundred prophets of Baal and fully expects a revival in the nation of Israel from the leadership downwards. When this expectation is met with rebellion, hardness and death threats, Elijah flees for his life, thinking that his efforts are futile. The prophet is depressed and does not need confrontation but comfort – he has hit rock-bottom. This is clear from how the LORD deals with him from beginning to end in order to restore him. If the LORD had rebuked Elijah at this point, he would have been utterly broken.
Here we see that the people of God are often faced with frontal attacks from Satan when they are on the front lines of the battle and doing mighty deeds for the LORD. Their perspective of themselves, of others and of God is skewed. It is like taking a photograph in dark conditions. The objects are all there but they are darkened. A child of God undergoes depression for a variety of causes, but it is usually not because they are being cowardly. Yes, Elijah’s faith is at low ebb, but it is that way because his faith has been at high tide on Carmel. Is this not true of God’s people today as well? When you’ve been on the heights of Carmel, defeating the enemies of sin, Satan and self in your life and just when it seems victory has been achieved, the devil slips in one more arrow and you plunge into the depths, losing all perspective and things become dark and grim and you cry out to God. God will hear and comfort.