Elijah had just had a “mountaintop experience” in defeating the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Fire had descended from heaven, the people of Israel acknowledged the Lord, and the false prophets were all put to death. But that experience was followed by an episode of fear and failure in Elijah’s life: the prophet was afraid and ran for his life from Queen Jezebel. The reason is made clear in 1 Kings 19:1–2: “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then 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.’”
This death threat caused Elijah to flee a day’s journey into the wilderness (1 Kings 19:4). At one point Elijah was so discouraged that he desired to die: “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’” (verse 4).
In response, the Lord sent an angel to bring the prophet food and drink both before and after he slept. After the rest and nourishment, Elijah took a forty-day journey to Mount Horeb to meet with the Lord (1 Kings 19:6–8). There, the Lord asked Elijah why he had fled to such a remote location. Elijah’s answer is telling: “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (verse 10). Elijah saw himself as the lone defender of God’s name in Israel. Jezebel seemed to be winning the fight, and Elijah had fled.
During his conversation with God at Horeb, the Lord gave Elijah three important tasks. First, Elijah was to anoint Hazael as king over Syria (1 Kings 19:15). Second, he was to anoint Jehu as king of Israel (verse 16). Third, he was to anoint Elisha as the prophet to take his place (verse 16).
These leaders would help turn Israel away from the evil of idol worship and would facilitate the total destruction of the wicked line of Ahab and Jezebel: “And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death” (1 Kings 19:17). Elijah had dealt a death-blow to Baal-worship in Israel, and the three men Elijah would anoint would remove the remaining vestiges of that particular form of idolatry.
In addition, God offered one important word of comfort to Elijah. During this time when the prophet felt so alone, God said, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18). Elijah had thought he was the only one faithful to the Lord, and he took great comfort in the knowledge that thousands of others had never bowed to Baal.