When do you suppose you’re at your most vulnerable time, spiritually speaking? When you’re bummed out? No. When your world has blown up around you? No. How about when you’re experiencing persecution? That’s not it, either. There are many examples in the Scriptures of times when people blew it badly right after they’d had a major success.
Elijah ran afoul of this curious vulnerability. Things were going well for Elijah. He challenged 400 priests of Baal to show up and accept a challenge to see whose god was God. The contest was this: both sides built an altar and prepared a sacrifice, but didn’t light it with fire. Then each was to call upon their deity to claim the sacrifice. Elijah let the priests of Baal go first. It didn’t go well for them. Not surprisingly, they got no answer1. Elijah started to make fun of them. In fact, when Elijah suggests in verse 27, “he is pursuing,” that’s a euphemism for … uh … using the privy2.
After they had so spectacularly failed, Elijah had his turn, but he gave himself a handicap by having the whole thing doused with way too much water. Then he called upon God, and fire from heaven took the sacrifice. After this huge demonstration of God’s power, Elijah kills the prophets of Baal3.
Pretty nifty, huh? Look at what happens in the next chapter. Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life, and all his courage fled. He even started praying for death. He took off and traveled all the way to the mountain where Moses received the Law. That’s quite a road trip4.
What’s going on here? Elijah had been granted a huge success only to find himself feeling very lonely while on the run from a highly annoyed queen. What had happened to that confidence that had carried him through the challenge against the prophets of Baal?
Elijah did what we so often do when we enjoy a major success. He took his eyes off God5.
Consider God’s response in 1 Kings 19:11-18. God encourages Elijah with a revelation and an assurance that Elijah is not the only follower of God. Then God give Elijah a job to do.
We are often vulnerable after a success because we don’t keep our focus on the source of our success.
King Saul is another one who suffered from this sort of failure, but for him the cause is different. Saul was king of Israel. That’ll strike you funny if you remember that Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin6, because the tribe of Judah is supposed to be in charge7. Don’t forget, though, that making Saul king was a concession from God at the people’s request8. The idea of a king reigning over Israel was not a knee-jerk reaction from God to Israel’s request. Remember that weird toast/prophecy at the end of Ruth. Further, in the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, there are instructions for kings9. Saul was just king long enough for David to become old enough to take over.
Saul, however, erred greatly. He was supposed to wait for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice to God before going to battle, but Samuel didn’t come according to Saul’s schedule, so Saul made the sacrifice himself. He’s not allowed to do that. Only priests can do that, so he lost the kingdom10.
What was Saul’s error? In his impatience, he disobeyed God. Sometimes we can have what appears to be success by the world’s standards, but we ultimately lose because we have failed to be obedient to God or wait for his timing.
Peter also had this problem of failure after success. For his adventure, see Matthew 16 or Mark 8. Jesus asked who people think he is. The disciples answered John the Baptist, one of the prophets, or Elijah. Then Peter added gave the correct answer, “Thou art the Christ,” and received kudos. Not two verses later, Peter blundered by rebuking Jesus for predicting the crucifixion. Jesus let him have it with, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Ouch.
Peter’s mistake? He valued what the world values instead of seeing with eternal eyes, then tried to explain things more clearly to God. Don’t be too hard on Peter. How many of us do the same thing?
Why do we so often fail after being successful? We are often like Elijah, who took his eyes off God, or like Saul, who became impatient and presumed to do a job he was forbidden to do, or like Peter, who tried giving God advice instead of paying attention to what God tried to teach him.
1 1 Kings 18:20-26
2 Missler, Chuck. The Book of 1 Kings: A Commentary. Koinonia House.
3 1 Kings 18:30-40
4 1 Kings 19:1-10
5 1 Kings 19:3
6 1 Samuel 9:21
7 Genesis 49:8
8 1 Samuel 8
9 Deuteronomy 17:14-17
10 1 Samuel 13