‘What are you doing here?’
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Read 1 Kings 19:9-11a
9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
We left Elijah having possibly had a sleepless night in a cave on Mount Horeb
What was he thinking? Well whatever it was, the Lord interrupted his thoughts: look at the second part of verse 9.
And again our attention is drawn to this. Behold – the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Could the Lord have asked a more perfect question?
Where did he put the emphasis? Get people to discuss – and explain what each emphasis might mean. Suggestions might include:
WHAT are you doing here? Did you think this was what I asked you to do?
What ARE you doing here? Surprised that Elijah has apparently deserted
What are YOU doing here? Why are you now afraid like Obadiah?
What are you DOING here? How can you work for me in a cave?
What are you doing HERE? I expected to find you in Jezreel.
Before we look at Elijah’s reply, it’s worth asking ourselves the same question, applying it to where we are in our Christian life, and with different emphasis on each word. Not now, but perhaps during this coming week:-
WHAT are you doing here?
What ARE you doing here?
What are YOU doing here?
What are you DOING here?
What are you doing HERE?
Now I believe that the time has come for Elijah to face the facts, and the tone God used was a stern one. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah’s reply was a politician’s one – rehearsed, full of detail, but not answering the question.
By asking the question “What are you doing here, Elijah?” it suggests that Elijah should have been doing something else, somewhere else.
He was God’s servant, chosen and trained to do his will. If ever he was needed it was now. The mood of the people had changed, they were ready to give up their old ways and return to the one true God. Effectively he asks: ‘Why have you deserted me now? Who gave you permission to come here?’
What should Elijah’s answer have been?
‘I’m sorry, please forgive me.’
If he had replied like that, what might have happened next?
The forgiveness and restoration of Elijah, his momentary failure overlooked, and the reformation continued.
When we are confronted with the facts that we have done wrong, there are always two ways that we can respond. One is to justify our actions, the other is to admit our error. (Often having admitted we are wrong, we still try to justify our actions!)
If we start drifting away from the Lord, missing our Bible reading, or prayer, or maybe skipping the odd Sunday service, we can always find justification for our actions. We can come up with any number of excuses which sound good to us but which would look very lame if we wrote them down and then took them to a fellow-Christian for a second opinion.
And Elijah was in no mood to repent. So he ignored God’s question and didn’t explain why he was there or what he was doing. Instead he tried to justify himself:
Verse 10 “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
Of course, God knew all that, and Elijah wouldn’t have bothered to mention it if he hadn’t found it so hard to explain his actions. He was full of zeal for the Lord God Almighty. He was deeply saddened that the people of Israel had turned their backs on God and had followed the Baals. He was isolated and felt desperately lonely.
But that didn’t explain why at that moment he was in a foreign land, hiding in a cave. And it didn’t answer the question ‘What are you doing here Elijah?’
How is God going to deal with his wayward servant? Will he send his angel again to minister to him until he is feeling more able to continue the battle? No – if he did that, Elijah might never have left the mountain. The trouble was that Elijah had taken his eyes off the one who was well able to solve all those problems, and not surprisingly found he couldn’t cope alone. He literally needed a fresh vision.
Verse 11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord”
If you take that literally it’s a simple command to obey, just a few steps was all that was asked. But we know how hard that can be when we are hiding in some dark cave when there is a problem or fear in our life as big as a mountain. But the solution is always the same: we must exercise our faith and stand on the very thing that looms frighteningly over us – and do it always ‘in the presence of the Lord’: Go out and stand on the mountain.
Romans 8:38-39 says:
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But Elijah didn’t move. So is that going to be a problem for God? No – not at all. What did David say in Psalm 139:7-12?
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
God needed to remind Elijah of his power, and hiding in a cave was as ineffective as a child putting it’s hands over it’s eyes and hoping it can’t be seen.
Verse 11 . . . for behold the Lord is about to pass by
Behold! We so easily gloss over these things – but it was a major event for the Lord God himself to visit the earth – let alone for the sake of one of his wayward children.
Where else in scripture do we specifically read that God visited the earth just to remind a servant of his power?
Adam & Eve - to Expel them from Eden; Noah - to tell him he was about to destroy the Earth; Abraham - birth of a nation; Moses - to remind the people of his holiness; many of the prophets to warn them of the impending doom facing the nation;
and of course Jesus!