We often love and appreciate heroes. We look up to them and admire them for their courage and accomplishments. We want heroes to win. We don’t want them to fail, and we often have the tendency to look up to heroes while overlooking their weaknesses.
Humanly speaking, Elijah is a hero of the Old Testament. At a time when many in Israel turned away from God, Elijah stayed faithful, striving to serve God and lead others back to God. Elijah, along with Moses, are the ones who appear with Christ at the Transfiguration. Malachi predicted one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. In 1 Kings 18, we have the pinnacle of Elijah’s ministry when he faces 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. For years the people of Israel vacillated back and forth between worshipping the Lord and worshipping Baal and other false idols. So in the confrontation on Mt. Carmel, Elijah called the people to commit to the Lord once and for all. 1 Kings 18:21 says, “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.” Elijah called on the people of Israel to commit once and for all to either the Lord or idols. In order to motivate them to make this choice, the challenge of the sacrifices was set up. The prophets of Baal were to pray that Baal would send fire on their sacrifice, and Elijah would pray that the Lord would send fire on his sacrifice. The prophets of Baal received no answer. But in answer to Elijah’s prayer, the Lord sent miraculous fire that consumed the sacrifice and everything around it. The people on Mt. Carmel responded by acknowledging that the Lord is the one and only true God, and the prophets of Baal are defeated. As far as heroes and heroic endings go, if the account of Elijah ended in 1 Kings 18, we would be happy and content.
But the account continues into 1 Kings 19, and after Elijah’s great victory, we see his great defeat. When Queen Jezebel hears of the events on Mt. Carmel, she responds by threatening to kill Elijah. Instead of trusting the Lord (which he had done through remarkable difficulties), Elijah took his focus off of the Lord and ran away. He ran all the way to Mt. Sinai, far south of Israel. Despite the great victories that he had seen, he also suffered great failure and defeat.
The failure of Elijah teaches us two things. For one, it teaches that we are in constant dependence on God. Even the greatest person, humanly speaking, will fail if he takes his focus off of God and looks at the circumstances around him. We see our need for God most clearly in His provision of salvation, but the reality is that we need Him in every part of our lives. If we try to get through life without God then we will fail.
But secondly, the failure of Elijah reminds us of the integrity of Scripture. When we consider the source of the Bible, we have two choices: either it came from God through man, or it was written by men. We have clear evidences that it is from God (and thereby accurate and reliable), such as 2 Timothy 3:16, which clearly and unequivocally states that the Bible is from God. But accounts such as this account of Elijah also show us the integrity and divine source of Scripture. As John Whitcomb and John Davis said, “Surprising though it may seem, this is one of the clearest evidences of the divine inspiration of this history. For if mere men had composed the account, they could hardly have resisted the temptation to omit or at least modify the record of their hero’s spiritual failure.” We have the tendency to emphasize the strengths of our heroes and downplay their weaknesses. Elijah is clearly the human hero of 1 Kings 18 (the Lord being the ultimate hero). If this account were simply written by man without divine authority, then the writer would have the natural tendency to downplay the failure of Elijah or ignore it all together. The temptation would be to present Elijah in the most positive light possible.
But if the Bible is divinely inspired as it claims to be, then God would give an unbiased account of the facts. The faithfulness and successes of Elijah are clearly recorded (successes stemming from his trust in God). But his failures are recorded just as clearly. In the end, they remind us of the first point of application that we made: we as people are frail and insecure, and we need God. The clear, unbiased teaching of the Bible reminds us that it was not written by mere men who had an agenda to promote their heroes or their point of view. Instead, it reminds us that the Bible is divinely inspired by God. Elijah’s failure reminds us of the integrity of God’s Word. He has revealed His truth to us, and now He expects us to accept it and live by it.