When I think of Elijah my mind usually jumps straight to his confrontation with the prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel.
There the prophet of God stood alone against 450 sworn enemies! As they attempted to call down fire from heaven by the power of their false god, Baal, they danced, chanted, and cut themselves, hoping that their effort and shedding of human blood would draw out Baal to help.
By contrast, Elijah quietly prays, once, and fire falls from heaven immediately. Shortly after, the prophets of Baal are put to death.
As we have studied Elijah’s life I expected many things, but what I did not expect was a lesson on gentleness. Elijah? Fire from Heaven Elijah? Dressed and looking like a wild man Elijah Teaching me to be gentle?
Before Mount Carmel, we find Elijah in Zarephath. He stayed there with a widow woman and her son.
When they first met Elijah had just traveled 100 miles across hostile territory from the Brook Cherith. As Elijah approaches the town he witnesses a woman gathering some sticks for a fire. As they exchange greetings she explains those sticks will light one last fire, for one last meal, and then she and her son will die of starvation.
Elijah assures her, gently, that if she gives him a meal first, then God will ensure she never runs out of oil or flour. The flame of his faith kindles hers, and she does as he requests.
But he never demanded based upon his position or office, but he simply, gently requests her help.
Later, maybe a year or more, the son of the widow gets sick, and dies. Understandably the widow is distraught. She blames Elijah, and she blames herself. No doubt through tears and anger she shouts at Elijah,
“What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?”
She acknowledges some sin of her own, but she ultimately blames Elijah.
How does this man of the wild country respond? Does he tell her the son would have died months ago if it had not been for him? Does he challenge her about the admission of some sin she thinks has returned to haunt her? Does he deny any wrongdoing? Does he even try to explain that sometimes bad things happen?
No. None of that.
He quietly, gently, takes the anger on board. He responds with these words,
“Give me thy son…”
And then he goes with the body of the lifeless boy to pray.
Elijah had broad shoulders and a tender spirit.
He knew when to call down fire from heaven and when to allow the distraught mourning of a mother to flow uninterrupted.
He was a gentle, prophet of God.
We read in Galatians 5 that one element of the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. In 2 Timothy 2:24 we read that the servant of the Lord must be gentle.
While we focus on other worthy characteristics, I wonder if this attribute of gentleness gets the attention it deserves.
When we are gentle we
- Demonstrate patience
- Love the unlovable
- We suffer silently under some accusations
- We let God take vengeance, and not ourselves
- We show compassion to others
Many want to be the prophet that calls down fire from heaven, and there is a time for that, but more often than not there is a greater need for us to be gentle.