Recovering from a spiritual ambush

One of the most outstanding characters in the whole of the Bible is Elijah. The man who called down fire from heaven. The prophet who raised the dead. Elijah never died, instead he was caught up into heaven in a whirlwind. And of course he appeared to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration along with Moses.

No-one could ever doubt Elijah’s godliness, his courage or his faith. But in the words of the King James version of James 5.17, “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are”. Behind the towering faith and stellar spirituality of this prophetic giant lay the same humanity that is common to us all, the kind of humanity which is vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy.

1 Kings 19 records an event in Elijah’s life when the weakness of his flesh was painfully exposed. In the previous chapter the prophet had confronted and eventually killed four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, called down fire from heaven and brought an end to drought by praying until it rained on Israel. Yet it is just after these events that we find him running scared of queen Jezebel.

Elijah had been ambushed. The whole story of 1 Kings 19 is totally unexpected after Elijah’s great victory over the pagan religion that had begun to prevail in Israel. You would never expect Elijah to run away from anyone or anything. But he did. Elijah was ambushed. It was that element of surprise that perhaps sent him into what we might call a depression. When he had expected a complete turn around in the nation and perhaps even a different stance from the palace, he found his life at greater risk than ever.

Satan is the master of surprise. He is the master of the spiritual ambush. Small wonder he is characterised in the Bible as a snake. He attacks often when least expected and sometimes in the immediate aftermath of a great spiritual triumph or experience: Jesus was tempted by Satan immediately after His baptism.

One of the things that emerges from even a cursory reading of 1 Kings 19 is that Satan hits Elijah at an emotional level, and this ends up affecting him physically as well. Fear causes him to run away and he ends up emotionally and physically exhausted in Beersheba and then latterly in Horeb. An enemy attack hits us emotionally and can affect us physically too.

How can we recover? How can we help others to find their way again after they’ve been ambushed? How did Elijah recover?

Look at how God helped Elijah to find his way again after his ambush.

Firstly, notice that God treats Elijah throughout this episode with great gentleness. Even His question “What are you doing here?” (9, 11) is designed to help Elijah articulate what is going on in his heart rather than merely a rhetorical question with an implicit hint of criticism.

Secondly, He sent an angel to provide food and water and allowed him to rest (9). Addressing basic physical needs can be the first step towards recovery. Sometimes we are too quick to try to address spiritual needs when there are more basic needs that require attention. God cares about our basic needs as much as our spiritual needs.

Thirdly, God reasons with Elijah and helps to correct his perspective (11-17). Elijah is not the only good man left. There are seven thousand who have remained loyal to God.

Someone who has been ambushed spiritually, has usually lost perspective. And they often end up isolating themselves. Elijah had done just that. God helps us regain perspective.

Finally, God gives Elijah a new commission. He doesn’t pick over the past. He doesn’t even mention Jezebel (15-18).

Someone who has been the victim of one of the devil’s ambushes can find it hard to believe that God has any sort of future purpose for them.They can waste a lot of time and nervous energy revisiting the past in their own minds and trying to make sense of it all. God does not call us to reshape the past, He calls us to shape the future.

Despite his pain, despite all that had happened, Elijah still had a big part to play in the future of Israel. A stealth attack from Satan did not change the plans God had for Elijah. And if we handle them properly, stealth attacks from Satan are not enough to alter God’s plans for us or for His people today.

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