Before we dive into I Kings 19, let’s remember what we just saw in the previous chapter. Elijah scored a huge victory over the prophets of Baal. God showed up in a miraculous way. People’s hearts were turned back to God. Justice was meted out against those hostile to God. Rain fell on a parched land as God had promised. And all this took place as Elijah walked in faith with God. This actually leads to our first observation: When we walk through the valley, it is often after a mountaintop experience. Logic tells us that you can only go down from a mountaintop, so it is natural to expect something of a “letdown.” But often, the valley in which we find ourselves is not a mere alpine meadow, but a deep ravine with slopes so high and steep the sun can’t penetrate. Having just been on the mountaintop, literally and figuratively, that’s where Elijah finds himself as chapter 19 begins:
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness.
Elijah is so distraught that he pleads with God to take his life, to let him die, and then he lies down and falls asleep. Ever been there, so tired, so worn out from life, that the only escape is sleep? It may serve as a small measure of comfort to know that what you are experiencing is not atypical, whether in backcountry trekking, the everyday ebb and flow of life, or your spiritual walk. It may also serve as something of a reminder when you are on the mountaintop—not to sully the moment or create fear about what lies ahead—but to keep a sense of perspective and an honest recognition that you probably aren’t on a never-ending mesa.
While you may be able to relate to Elijah’s despair, I’m guessing you cannot relate—at least not in methodology—to what happens next. Our second observation is that when we walk through the valley, God sustains us. I’m not talking spiritual sustainment here. Look at verses 5-7. An angel came, provided food and drink for Elijah (similar to God’s provision in I Kings 17:2-6), and told him to rest again. This isn’t to say Christ followers never struggle to put food on the table or pay the rent. But I have heard numerous stories of Christians who didn’t know where their next meal or that rent check were coming from and, somehow, God provided. Furthermore, and this is the point I really want to hit on, when your valley is spiritual, don’t overlook the fact that God sustains you physically. That shows us that God has not forsaken us, even if He isn’t responding as quickly or in the way we’d like to our particular problem.
Now, this third observation is where things get a little unpleasant. Because we’d like to see that after providing for Elijah’s pressing physical needs, God makes all his problems go away. Instead, the angel tells him, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” In the next verse, we’re told that journey lasts 40 days and 40 nights. We’ll see the relevance of that number a little later on, but for now our observation is that when we walk through the valley, sometimes God calls us to keep walking. He doesn’t fix our problems; He doesn’t ease our suffering; He doesn’t necessarily even address our need. This is where it becomes essential to remember God’s provision and trust in His character and His word and His past examples, lest we lose faith. The old saying is that “it always gets darkest just before the dawn.” But Elijah—and oft times you and I—can better relate to the adaption made by “Hannibal” on The A-Team: “It's always darkest just before it goes totally black.” But the story isn’t over.
We’re told that Elijah spent the night in a cave in Horeb, the mountain of God. Then “the word of Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Our fourth observation is that when we walk through the valley, God lets us speak. Read through the Psalms. David cries out to God, pouring out his soul. Here we see Elijah doing the same thing. Often times, I think Christians feel we dare not show emotion in front of God, dare not be honest with Him. We shouldn’t take it to the extreme and lose respect or reverence for God, either. But He already knows us intimately and infinitely. Scripture tells us He is our “Abba” or Daddy. One of the great privileges of sonship is that, through Jesus, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Sometimes that includes a confession of absolute exhaustion, of being at our wit’s end, as is Elijah: “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.”
As is often the case, biblical authors tell us what happens next with the barest of details (whereas other authors—ahem, ahem—might be a little more descriptive): Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. The fifth observation is this: When we walk through the valley, God doesn’t always show up the way we want or expect. We think He should be the conquering hero, but He is the lowly servant. We sometimes want Him to come riding in on a white stallion but he plods in on a donkey. We expect special effects of, well, biblical proportion, but we get a “still small voice.” We want dramatic resolution, but get something of a process.
I also find it interesting that God whispers. A whisper has two purposes. One is secrecy. Elijah and God are, by all accounts, alone on the mountain. There is no need to whisper and no need for secrecy. The second purpose of a whisper is tenderness, an expression of love. God has clearly shown His power to Elijah, both in previous chapters and in the “special effects” on the mountain, but now He wraps his arms around the prophet. Note too that Elijah does not recoil from the whisper, but rather approaches the mouth of the cave—albeit with the cloak over his face, recognizing that “no one may see [God’s face] and live.” This tender expression from God has drawn Elijah to Him, and now we see the resolution begin to take shape.
God repeats His earlier question, verbatim, and Elijah repeats his answer, verbatim. This leads to our final two observations. First, when we walk through the valley, sometimes God assigns us more work. “Go back the way you came,” God tells Elijah by way of answer, “and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Mehola to succeed you as prophet.” Once again, this is not the answer we might expect or want. It at first appears that God is somewhat callous, responding to Elijah’s concerns with a taskmaster’s “get back to work” sort of response. But see what God says next: “Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.” And we see one particular aspect of this judgment play out in II Kings 9:30-37, where Jehu has Jezebel thrown down from a window and killed. Remember her, the woman who drove Elijah to his despair? We also see a bit earlier in Scripture that the word of God came to Elijah about her fate. So we see that God is not being dismissive in sending Elijah back to work, but is orchestrating His divine judgment and deliverance. And this segues to our last observation, which is this: Even when we walk through the valley, God is in control. Note how this section ends, in verse 18: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” This is a direct response to Elijah’s assertion that he was the only one left loyal to God. And God gives him the reassurance—perhaps just enough reassurance—that He is still sovereign and that there is a remnant—a remarkably common theme of Scripture—“chosen by grace.”
Before we conclude, I want briefly to note a couple parallels to this story. I’ve said that God isn’t bound by formulas, but He does often employ patterns. Consider the Israelites, whom God delivered from centuries of bondage in Egypt, passing them through the Red Sea in miraculous fashion (a mountaintop experience). When hard times beset them, they grumbled and turned away from God and found themselves wandering in the wilderness for 40 years (a real valley). Or look at Jesus. After His baptism, a “mountaintop” act of surrender that prompted the Father to say, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” Scripture tells us that Jesus was led into the desert where he was tempted by the devil for 40 days. We won’t take the time to examine specific consistencies in great detail, but we do see that with the Israelites, with Elijah, and with Jesus Himself, a valley follows a mountaintop, but also that God is faithful to bring deliverance. In the case of the Israelites, God was faithful to fulfil His promise and brought them to a “land flowing with milk and honey.” In Jesus’ case, after He had resisted the devil, angels came and attended Him and He continued on with his Father-honoring mission. And we see that Elijah was, to some extent, an instrument of his own deliverance from the problem of Jezebel, and that God provided a successor in his ministry so that Elijah might eventually have rest.
To quickly summarize, when we walk through the valley: It is not uncommon but actually a typical part of life; we find that God sustains us; we see that God often calls us to keep walking; God allows us to express our feelings to Him; He doesn’t always show up as we expect or want; He often assigns us more work; and He is faithful to ultimately deliver us because He is in control.
 I Kings 19:4
 I Kings 19:1-4
 I Kings 19:7
 The A-Team. “The Rabbit Who Ate Last Vegas.” Season 1, Episode 6. Directed by Bruce Kessler. Written by Frank Lupo. National Broadcasting Company, March 1, 1983.
 I Kings 19:9
 See Psalm 139:1-5; Hebrews 4:13
 See Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6
 Hebrews 4:16
 I Kings 19:10
 I Kings 19:11-12
 Exodus 33:20
 I Kings 19:15-16
 I Kings 19:17
 See I Kings 21:23
 Romans 11:5 (and see verses 1-4)
 Matthew 3:17
 Exodus 3:8, et al