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What are you doing here, Elijah?

So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God. And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” I Kings 19:8-9 ESV

In the writing of my recent doctoral thesis I spent a considerable amount of time studying Elijah’s encounter with God on Mount Horeb as described in I Kings chapter 19. I found this account to be encouraging and relevant in many ways. Elijah is despondent and critically depressed. He feels alone and is so frustrated by the apparent failure of his mission as a prophet that he begs God to die. After being revived by an angel and making a supernatural journey he arrives at Mount Horeb very possibly at the same cleft in the rock where God revealed himself to Moses nearly 700 years earlier.

God greets Elijah with a question. “What are you doing here Elijah?” It is easy to see this as a sharp rebuke of the Old Testament prophet, for surely he was far beyond the bounds of his post, and the narrative implies that he was looking for some sort of dramatic theophanic experience similar to that of Moses that would validate his role as a prophet of Israel.

Former president of Southwestern Seminary, Russel Dilday, sees great compassion in these words: “Though it contains the sting of a divine rebuke, it seems to have been God’s gracious way of inviting Elijah to pour out his heart. When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the Emmaus Road, they were depressed about the things that had happened in Jerusalem; and the Lord asked them, “What things?” Of course Jesus knew ‘what things.’ He had asked not for information, but to encourage them to unload the burden of their hearts. God did the same for Elijah.”

Many of us who like Elijah have journeyed to remote regions seeking a word from God have sensed this question in our hearts, “what are you doing here?” Maybe you have heard a similar questioning from God and received it as a stinging rebuke. What if there is more to our Father’s heart than we quickly perceive? What if the omniscient sovereign King of the universe is actually lovingly drawing us to pour out our hearts to Him and in return receive a deeper redemptive understanding of His plans and purposes for us?

During this unprecedented and confusing time as our world begins to slowly reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic, may you take comfort in knowing that God is aware of your frustrations and concerns. He is present and powerful. Perhaps in all the questions and uncertainties He is lovingly pointing you to a deeper redemptive understanding.


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