The Elijah cycle of stories begins with the prophet announcing a drought in the northern kingdom of Israel, ruled by Ahab from the capital city of Samaria. Elijah’s prophecy in 1 Kings 17.1 that Israel will have no rain unless God says so makes him persona non grata in the kingdom. He flees Israel to live with a widow and her son near Sidon. Ravens feed him on the way to her house.
After three years, God sends Elijah back to Israel, where he learns Queen Jezebel has killed all of God’s prophets. He is the only remaining prophet of God in Israel.
When Ahab sees Elijah, he calls him the troubler of Israel. Elijah maintains that Ahab and his royal house are the real troublers of Israel because they do not keep the commandments of the covenant. He arranges a duel between himself and the prophets of Baal, the Canaanite god whom Jezebel has brought to Samaria, to see whose God will bring rain.
Elijah wins the duel, and God sends rain. But the prophet must run for his life to escape the vengeance of Jezebel. Sunday’s first reading finds Elijah in despair. He has gone as far as he can go. God tenderly cares for him when he can no longer carry on God’s work.
The food the angel of God brings to Elijah strengthens him to travel from northern Israel to Mount Sinai on the point of the Sinai Peninsula. There the despairing Elijah meets God in the silence after wind, rain, lightning, and storm and ultimately returns to the north as God’s conscience.
Angels feed Elijah.
Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die. “It is enough, now, O God; take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.
The angel of the Holy One came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
Elijah got up, ate, and drank. Then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
1 Kings 19.4-8
- When have you, like Elijah, felt exhausted by God’s work and despairing of its lasting worth?
- What nourishes your faith and work to carry on Jesus’ mission?