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In 1 Kings 18, verse 16 onwards we read that Elijah performed a miracle.
He prays to God and brings fire down from heaven to consume the sacrifice.
He is shown as a courageous prophet who is not afraid of King Ahab or the followers of Baal.

But in the following chapter, we read that he runs away after Jezebel sends him a death warning.

Was he insecure or unsure that God who performed miracle through him, would also save him from Jezebel?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Was he insecure or unsure that God who performed miracle through him, would also save him from Jezebel?

We aren't told explicitly of course, but we do know that he was afraid Jezebel would kill him:

2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.ESV

But he was apparently not afraid of death itself:

4But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”ESV

Elijah seems to have had great confidence that God will judge the Baal-worshipers, but very little confidence that God would not also allow all his prophets to be killed by the sword:

10He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”ESV

And God answers Elijah by promising that though yet more evil will afflict Israel, all those who remain faithful will escape:

18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”ESV

Assuming this speaks to the fear Elijah had, we can reason that Elijah was despairing that God's judgement would allow none to escape—indeed Paul quotes this verse in Romans 11 to support his argument that God has not utterly rejected his people Israel:

1I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3“Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.ESV

Elijah's fear that God would not save Israel and would destroy all without mercy was perhaps more rational than fearing that God could not save him from Jezabel (as your question asks if I understand it correctly)—though perhaps he should have know better and been confident that God would always preserve a portion of Israel as His inheritance. But then again, Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, so perhaps it is not surprising that he did not.

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Yeah, I agree with your last sentence. It is said, "Even the gods have feet of clay." How much more do mere mortals like us expect to be free of the occasional doubt, fear, anxiety, depression, discouragement, and so on and so on. Don – rhetorician Jul 30 '14 at 14:49

All of the comments relating to Elijah running away from Jezebel ignores one thing. Ahab was still king and Jezebel was his wife. Just like David would not touch Saul because he was still God's anointed as King. I believe Elijah would not touch Jezebel because of her being the wife of the king. Elijah did not loose his commission because of this. As pointed out by someone else, he still mentored Elisha. More importantly, he did not die the usual human death. He was taken in a whirlwind. That is would not be the fate of someone that lost his commission or standing with God.

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I like where you're going with this. Please try to cite some sources and include rational thought that would provide some historical foundation for this assertion. That you believe it is self-evident in the response and not necessary. – swasheck Jan 3 '14 at 22:12
@ModupeOdusanya I agree with this answer, it can use some support however, it may get more response if you 'fix' it. – Tau Aug 1 '14 at 7:40

That depends on how you translate the phrase

ויּרא ויּקם ויּלך אל נפשו

  1. And he saw and arose and he went - for (the sake of) his life.

  2. And he was afraid and arose and fled for his life.

There is an ambiguity in the word


I am thinking we should accept translation #1. I am sure there is something somewhere among the annals of Confucius that says the wise would avoid confrontation and the Sun Tze's art of war recommends avoiding a battle is the best way to win a battle.

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Agreed, The first translation is used in KJV bible. But if we read subsequent verses we can find that he was running away for his life. – Jeril Nadar Oct 14 '12 at 17:22

There is a simpler answer to this. We find numerous instances throughout scripture where God humbles His servants. Abraham prostitutes his wife to save his life, Samson and Delilah, David and Bersheba. Peter and the cock to name the most prominent. Is it not plausible that god took His grace away, in order to teach Elijah a lesson He continually teaches us, that without Him we are nothing and when we reach the cave we expect Judgement for our sin, the howling wind, the storm, but what do we find, the gentle whisper of mercy and kindness. Whatever the fear that motivated Elijah to run, the point is not the reason but the fear which is mistrust and unfaithfulness. Perfect love casts out fear and Elijah had stepped of that road. There was no justification for his fear, but Elijah found mercy in a Faithful God. A lesson well learned many times in our lives. A thorn in the flesh humbles the arrogant old man, for because of the surpassing greatness of the revelation given to me says Paul. It was the late Dr martin Lloyd Jones of the Westminster chapel who said 'after a victory it is often the case that we experience a terrible backsliding' or something to that effect. After Moses spoke with God face to face, he smashed the gift of the law before the elect of Israel. Peter in all his conviction declares he will never deny Jesus and then..? Gods method of humbling us is often in the way of relieving us of grace..! Elijah certainly saw that when he got to the cave...Knowing what we are in ourselves is very humbling. 'When Israel became fat he kicked' God aims to keep His people lean, in this World. It was a cry for help on the part of Elisha, but not the cry that God desires. The question What are you doing here Elijah? was a direct but gentle in the Lord and do not despair...! He saw his mission as pointless...he wanted to die....!

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I do not think that Elijah was afraid more than he was discouraged as the great display of the power of God had still left him thinking that there was no one who worshiped the LORD in Israel (the ten Northern tribes) except himself. He felt his ministry was accomplishing nothing. The LORD let him know that there were 7,000 others that had not bowed the knee to Baal.

Still it was a prayer after which the LORD had him mentor Elisha to take his place. One thing the LORD let me understand in my own ministry was that the great deeds like what Elijah did require many prayers of the saints and that until the last prayer was in place the great deeds of victory are in waiting. The LORD uses every prayer that is in line with His will, every prayer.

Yes, Elijah departed in order to save his own life, but awareness of danger is not the same thing as fear. The King James Version does not translate it as fear.

1 Kings 19:3 (King James Version with Strong's numbers)

And when he saw 7200 [that], he arose 6965, and went 3212 for his life 5315, and came 935 to Beersheba 884, which [belongeth] to Judah 3063, and left 3240 his servant 5288 there.

  • saw or perceived
  • arose or stood against
  • went or to go, to walk

    In other words Elijah resisted Jezebel and did that which prohibited her from carrying out her statement of revenge.


Blue Letter Bible. "Book of 1 Kings 19 - (KJV - King James Version)." Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2013. 10 Jul 2013. < >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for ra'ah (Strong's 7200)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2013. 10 Jul 2013. < http:// Strongs=H7200&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for quwm (Strong's 6965)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2013. 10 Jul 2013. < >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for yalak (Strong's 3212)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2013. 10 Jul 2013. < >

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It amazes me how many sermons I've heard and articles I've read that describe the showdown on Mount Carmel as a triumph for God in such terms that the audience would cry out a resounding "hurrah!" at the fate of unrepentant sinners, and how this should inspire us to be uncompromisingly single-minded in the pursuit of forcefully reminding the unchurched that they're in the wrong. Elijah's does God's will, right? And the bad priests get slaughtered and everyone worships God, right? With an example like this, we can declare boldly how God resorts to violently coercing sinners to repent, and Christians will be proved right in the end.

You'll be surprised how many articles and sermons there are whose main throughline follows this argument. This, in my opinion, the result of a shallow and immature theology, in which the "faithful" sees himself as morally superior.

We ought to pay attention to both the Bible states and omits.

God didn't instruct Elijah to have a spiritual contest with the priests of Baal. [1 Kings 18:1,2]. God didn't even tell him to argue the case for holiness or righteousness, just that he should meet with Ahab and rain would be returned. But Elijah sees himself as the last one - the final hero - in spite of being told otherwise [1 Kings 18:22, 1 Kings 18: 12-14]. In his mind, he's the man of the hour, and he's going to put things right. He commands Ahab to summon the Baalites and Asherahites [1 Kings 18:19]. Elijah is convicted of his own self-righteousness [1 Kings 18:27]. Elijah's gospel is a violent one and ends in the death of the idolatrous priests [1 Kings 18:40]. Then Elijah does something unusual. Instead of praying for the rain to return or simply trusting the Lord to do what He said, Elijah takes up a mystical position and keeps it until clouds form [1 Kings 18:42-44]. Let me ask you: since when did God require mystical positions? Who did Elijah actually think was responsible for bringing back the rain - him or God? After all these victories, Elijah was pumped up with triumph, and took the vanguard of Ahab's caravan all the way back to the royal capital. Why did he head toward the royal city rather than go back to the Shunnamite woman or return to the desert? What did he expect at the royal household? No doubt this showdown and reversal of events had changed everything, and put him in a prominent position. Perhaps Elijah believed he was going to be Ahab's spiritual advisor, the arch-bishop of Israel, and God would be worshipped with his oversight. Then Jezebel happened...

We know from previous stories in the Bible that God allows the anointing of supernatural power to be exercised, even when the heart-condition of the person exercising them isn't pure or in tune with God's will. Abraham and Ishmael. Joseph. Moses striking the rock. Balaam. Samson. God doesn't take away His anointing or their powers, but He allows them to reap the consequences of their misuse.

Is Elijah - the "only righteous man of God", who calls fire from heaven and is fed by ravens (or Arabs!), raises children from the dead, and supplies never-ending grain-meal to a poor widow - terrified by an angry queen's death-threats? Or is there more to this threat than meets the eye?

I propose that Elijah sees in the threat of Jezebel the menace of the evil forces lurking behind her. Such a revelation would cause him to recognize he's a much smaller fish in a bigger pond. As in the Lord of the Rings, anyone who puts on the ring can see evil and evil can see them, Elijah picks a fight with the devil and reaps the consequences. Until Jezebel, Elijah never had to confront spiritual evil. This is juxtaposed by Jesus' desert experience.

If so, this would explain why Elijah was overwhelmed and crushed and fled, relinquishing all that he hoped to accomplish.

I tend to feel that rather than being encouraged, Elijah lost something in the cave at Mount Horeb. God's demonstrations of empty power must've baffled someone who invested so much value and importance into exercising spiritual power. I tend to believe that God's gentle whispering voice was a deliberate act to bring something more than the words to Elijah's attention. We don't know if Elijah comprehends this - as with so much else in the OT, the protagonist's internal dialogue isn't made clear.

God blows up his delusions of grandeur [1 Kings 19:15-18]. God strips Elijah, not of his power, but of his status by ordering him to pass on his anointing to others and to take a disciple. Later, Elijah will go on to burn soldiers with fire from heaven. He's still severe.

It's interesting to note, that on his way to carry out his second prophetic assignment, Elisha (who was Elijah's disciple and "son") responds to taunting with the same fiery indignation that Elijah did, and bears maul 42 insolent youths to death. But Elisha never again cursed anyone from his own lips unless it was uttered by God first and uses his powers to bring about relief and rescue in one form or another. Elisha demonstrated more responsiveness than Elijah to Israel's needs. Could it be that Elisha recognized that with great power comes great responsibility, and great servanthood?

Elijah's violent spirituality released a spirit of Yahwism, which resulted in an age of tyranny and genocide spearheaded by King Jehu, and in the weakening of his kingdom's military influence. Like Elijah, Jehu reacts angrily to those who are insolent [2 Kings 9:33] and bloodily exterminates Ahab's legacy, which no doubt served his political and religious ambitions. It would seem that God wasn't impressed nor accepted it as a tribute [Hosea 1:4].

The story of Elijah up to God's re-commissioning in the cave could be seen as a cautionary tale where outward religious/spiritual success is juxtaposed by inward ambition/vanity with the purpose of counselling us to develop the character to match or exceed the gifts and calling awarded to us by God. Like Samson, Elijah's supernatural power isn't earned or deserved - but he has to earn the wisdom to use it properly. Being awarded spiritual power isn't a sign of God's approval.

A further point which is worth noting is that the Bible describes the 'spirit of Elijah' not as a whirlwind of divinely-appointed destruction of the wicked, but rather a manifestation of the Holy Spirit bearing witness of the divine nature of the family [Malachi 4:6] and an archetypal person who heralds God's coming and sets in motion widespread repentance. This raises the question of just what God had in mind for Elijah to do.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Hello and welcome. Can you perhaps add some citations to sources who agree with you? Or is this solely your own speculation? – Bruce James Jul 30 '14 at 17:56
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Very little of this answer is on-topic. That is, it consists almost entirely of thought on related matters which do not contribute to answering the actual question of why Elijah was afraid. – ThaddeusB Jan 15 at 17:29

Yup, Elijah was able to do "small stuff", cruets of oil, bringing kids back from recent death, even making water burn on the Carmel, but he wasn't able to stand up to a wholly wicked person, Jezebel, directly. This is the text's way of telling us why he lost his commission. The supertext includes a celebration of the miracles but the subtext brings a criticism of Elijah and the miracle working traditions.

The supertext is the combination of the cycle of miracle stories with the flight from Jezebel and the transfer of the commission to Elisha after the admission of failure. The subtext is what the narrator intended us to make of this jarring juxtaposition. It looks like deadly criticism.

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Didn't quite get what you are referring has supertext and subtext. Can you please elaborate on that. – Jeril Nadar Oct 14 '12 at 17:23
Got to vote this down. Clearly Eli you have never been in the position of having your life threatened by a person of power. Elijah is reckoned as one of the greatest of the prophets, and to call him a 'failure' is a gross misunderstanding. Yes he was not a superhuman, utterly without flaw and immune to fear, but I challenge you to find any one of God's servants who did not act imperfectly at some time (with one signular exception of course). We do the whole of Christianity a vast disservice when we promulgate the idea that anyone who is not superhumanly perfect is a failure in God's eyes. – DJClayworth Oct 16 '12 at 16:50
You should also note that Elijah's commission is not removed from him at this stage. In fact he is made the mentor of Elisha - it is specifically said that Elisha becomes Elijah's disciple. Nobody assigns a failure to be the mentor of a new recruit. – DJClayworth Oct 16 '12 at 16:54

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