In 1 Kings 18 is one of the most spectacular accounts of God displaying His power in all of Scripture. I remember learning this story in Sunday School on a felt board with a cut-out character of Elijah. At that time this was kind of a smack-down, "my-dad-could-beat-your-dad-up" story…but it was what occurred after the show-down on Mount Carmel that I had missed until just this past week.
King Ahab and his wife Jezebel were the rulers over Israel at the time that God called Elijah as a prophet. They were evil. They adamantly opposed God, they made a sport of killing the prophets of the Lord, and they worshiped false gods, Baal in particular.
So, God stages the show-down on Mount Carmel. In order to end a draught that has plagued the land of Israel, He instructs Elijah to ask King Ahab to meet him on top of the mountain with hundreds of the prophets of Baal. Both parties (the Baal-worshipers and Elijah because he's the only prophet of the Lord that Ahab and Jezebel haven't killed yet) bring animals to sacrifice to their gods. Elijah basically says, 'The god who sends fire from heaven to consume the animal sacrifice is the one, true God.' So all day long the Baal-worshipers dance around the altar and call out to Baal and cut themselves and tear their clothes off and do all sorts of other disgusting things, but as 1 Kings 18:29 says, "...there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention."
Then it's Elijah's turn. (Can't you just hear the background music? I loved this part in Sunday School.) Before Elijah calls out to the Lord to send fire, he drenches the altar and the wood with gallons and gallons of water. Then Elijah prays this prayer: "Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." And immediately fire falls from heaven and incinerates the entire, soaking wet sacrifice. The Baal-worshipers immediately fall to their knees in recognition that Elijah's God is the true and living God. Elijah then seizes and slaughters the prophets of Baal. And the draught ends with a heavy rain.
Now, the best part...this part wasn't on the felt board in Sunday School. :-)
So, Ahab goes back to the palace and tells Jezebel everything that happened on Mount Carmel. Jezebel becomes infuriated, and she threatens Elijah's life.
And, guess what Elijah does? He's just seen one of the most spectacular displays of God's power...God showed up when Elijah called His name in faith. And then, because of the threat of a ticked-off, middle-aged woman, Elijah acts like a complete wimp. He freaks out and runs for his life into the desert. He even asks God to end his life.
If you ask me, Elijah deserves a big spanking from the Lord...or at least a really stern talking-to. He so quickly forgot how big God is...how awesome He is...how the Lord listens to the cries of His people and responds.
But, instead of some harsh punishment, do you know what God does? He sends an angel to Elijah out in the middle of desert...as his faith in the almighty God is faltering and he's despairing his own life...and the angel brings him a picnic lunch. No rebuke. No ridicule of Elijah's cowardly behavior. Just some food. Just some grace for a weary servant.
And I started thinking about all the times that I've deserved that spanking from the Lord. All the times when He's provided a miracle and the next day I'm wondering whether or not He really knows what He's doing when it comes to my life. All the times I have doubted how big He is. All the times I have acted or spoken without any wisdom or consideration whatsoever. And, so many times when I've deserved discipline, He's given me gifts of pure grace instead. I have received SO MANY picnic lunches from the Lord! Because God doesn't want lip service. He's not just interested in fear-driven, rule-following obedience. He desires relationship. Why? Why would He want a relationship with a young woman whose faith falters? A young woman who spends an awful lot of time in the desert?
Because He is a God of incredible, unexpected grace.