Apologies for getting this to you guys so late. I didn’t do this with my morning Bible study and then completely forgot about it until really late. I’m sorry for letting you down.
(NIV1984) 1 Kings 19:3b-5a – “When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.”
On this link (http://www.strictlygenteel.co.uk/sanctified/sanctifiedimages/p137.jpg) is a map of Israel and Judah in the days of Elijah and Elisha. You can see the dot where Jezreel is, and you can also see where Beersheba is – so keep these things in mind.
First of all – Beersheba is deep in Judah’s territory, possibly a multi-day journey. Searching for approximately how many miles a person can walk in a day – you end up with anywhere from 20-60 miles, depending on how many hours the person is walking (but take this with a grain of salt, as I’m going by google search answers here). Looking at that map, Jezreel is at least 60 miles away from Beersheba.
Google maps says it would take 38 hours and 182 kilometers (that’s about 113.09 miles) to get from the modern-day Jezreel Valley to Beersheba. That’s about as far away as Quincy, IL is from Ottumwa, IA and about 13.09 miles longer than the distance from Provo, UT to Brigham City, UT.
All this is to say – Elijah didn’t just cross the border to escape Jezebel; he got into about the middle of Judah. He didn’t just run a little bit away. He didn’t go to Samaria or Bethel. He went into the neighboring country of Judah. And he didn’t just go to Jerusalem or Bethlehem. He went to Beersheba. He ran away. He fled.
Perhaps here he felt he would be safe – Judah was generally overall more religious than Israel in that it tended to follow God better and more often, and the king at the time – either it was the last year of Asa’s reign or possibly during the early years of Jehoshaphat’s (depending on when exactly God stopped the rain) – followed the ways of the LORD and most likely would not have considered sending a prophet of the LORD to his death as acceptable. Although so far, Elijah hasn’t called himself a prophet – only a servant. Interesting. (Were other prophets like that?)
Anyway – he went to Beersheba and left his servant there before going on even further into the desert. Now Elijah really is truly alone, other than God. And what does he do at the end of the day? Sit under a broom tree and beg to die. Why? Because he failed and he knew it. (Kind of like how I failed at getting this to you guys on time…only I’m not begging to die because of it.)
Well – two reasons: 1. He’s had enough – so he’s basically trying to give up – and 2. He is no better than his ancestors, which means that he failed. This also implies that, for a time, Elijah did think he was better. And why wouldn’t he? He’d followed precisely in the ways of the LORD without questioning it, like Abraham and Moses did, and without stuttering like Moses. He had not, up to this moment, acted out of fear at all – his trust appeared to be complete.
But now he had.
A part of me says that if he really wanted to die, he should have gone back to Jezebel and Israel and handed himself over to death. But he didn’t – either because he was too afraid or because God isn’t leading him back yet. Elijah is pious and won’t take his own life. He’s tired of being afraid and alone (-ish) and his fear has finally caused him to run away, he’s finally failed by giving in, and he wants God to kill him. He wants to die so he doesn’t have to deal with his life anymore.
This is the very humbling cry of a man who has reached the end of his rope and can go no further.
So God gives him another rope.