Elijah has been very zealous for the Lord of Hosts. The reading for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity is part of a larger section beginning in 1 Kings 16:29. “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him” (1 Kings 16:30-31). Ahab is deliberately wicked, and Elijah is sent to proclaim the Word of the Lord to him.
Elijah therefore proclaims a drought upon the land. He does not predict that one will come, but rather that it will not rain “except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1). This is the first of several signs in this conflict, all with the same ultimate end. Elijah is provided bread and water for a time by the ravens by the brook Cherith, because it is the Lord who provides (1 Kings 17:2-7). The widow at Zarephath receives the miraculous jar of flour and jug of oil “until the day that the Lord sends rain,” because all things come from His mighty hand (1 Kings 17:8-16). Her son is raised from death, because the Lord is the Lord of life and death, and His Word is in Elijah’s mouth (1 Kings 17:17-24). The altar of Elijah is burned up in the sight of all, because “the Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39)! Finally, the Lord sends rain again upon the land (1 Kings 18:41-46). All of these signs point to the same thing: the Most Holy Trinity is the Lord of heaven and earth, and beside Him, there is no other. “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).
But Elijah doesn’t yet understand this. Jezebel threatens to kill him because he put the prophets of Baal to death, and Elijah flees. He has seen the hand of the Lord again and again throughout his life, and especially throughout the time of the drought. But he is now afraid of the threat of a woman. As Jesus says: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). But Elijah fears for his life.
A few notes about the passage itself. Elijah strives to present his fear as zeal, as if he was the only one left who was faithful in Israel. He has apparently forgotten the widow and Obadiah who hid the prophets in his fear, among others. He is convinced that there is no future, because he thinks that the Lord’s Church will die out with him. Yet the Lord reminds him that He will leave seven thousand in Israel (1 Kings 19:18). Not seven thousand who have chosen to remain faithful or even a count of those still faithful at the moment. The Lord declares “I will leave seven thousand in Israel,” because it is His Church. The Church does not continue because of men, but because of the will of God.
The end of this chapter should not be excluded in this consideration. Elisha’s call follows right on the heels of Elijah’s experience at Horeb. God still sends men to proclaim His Word from generation to generation. His Church will continue her mission in this age until Christ brings it to a close. But this should remind us, as it probably did for Elijah, that the Church does not depend on us. There will not be a “hole” when our time is ended. Our talents, our gifts, our zeal, our ability are useful for the time in which God wills to use them for His purposes. But the time allotted to each will come to an end, and the work of the harvest will pass to others. We should not think of ourselves too highly and imagine that God will lack something when we are gone. It is His Church, and He will never fail to provide for her.