Subtle clues in the text: The word of the LORD in 1 Kings 17-19

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah comes exhausted to God. You would think that a prophet, especially one like Elijah who had done so much for God, wouldn’t need to be reminded of how much he needs God’s power and strength. Yet, if you look closely at the text, you’ll see how it subtly suggests that Elijah has been trying to do things for God on his own strength instead of doing things with God.

If you look back at 1 Kings 17 and 18 where we are introduced to Elijah, you’ll notice how often the word of the Lord comes to Elijah.

The word of the Lord came to Elijah to tell Ahab there was a drought, then to go to the wadi, then to travel to a foreign land where the LORD had commanded a widow to take care of him. And the word of the LORD comes to Elijah to tell Ahab that the drought will end.

On the way to Ahab, Elijah meets Obadiah and scorns how Obadiah has been serving God. And then there is the contest between Baal’s prophets and the LORD.

When the text has mentioned the word of the LORD in directing almost everything Elijah does, it is noticeable that in these last two interactions – with the other prophet, Obadiah, and with the contest between Baal’s prophets and the LORD, the word of the LORD is not mentioned.

God still shows up and sets the altar on fire, because God can still work despite us. But there’s something off with the story and the story ends in a strange way – with Elijah killing all the prophets of Baal. And while there are more times in the Old Testament where God commands people to be killed in God’s name, that command is noticeably absent at this point in this text – instead, there are subtle allusions in the texts to other killings – like that of Moses who killed the Egyptian and then also fled into the desert, fearing for his life. (Thomas Brodie, The Crucial Bridge, 12, footnote 18.)

These subtle clues in the text are confirmed with God’s response to Elijah. God does not directly tell Elijah that he is wrong, so much as Elijah is redirected and reminded that he is not alone, nor does he need to do things alone on his own strength. God provides a helper for Elijah in Elisha. God promises Elijah a new king, who will punish all those deserving of God’s judgment. Last of all, God reminds Elijah that he has never been alone – there are seven thousand in Israel who have not bowed down to Baal.

While our own stories are not yet fully written, may we still have the courage to look back at our own stories to wonder what subtle clues might be inviting us to imagine anew how God might work in and through us.