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1 Kings 19:4-8

There’s a phrase that is often thrown around in Christendom that really has no Biblical validation. Honestly it doesn’t even have much of a place in our Wesleyan-Arminian tradition. And yet, from time to time some well-meaning pastor or lay person will fill the need to let someone in the midst of a chaotic or tragic time know that, “God will not give you more than you can handle.” I’m sure in our passage from 1 Kings today that this is exactly what Elijah needed to here, “Don’t worry Eli, God will not give you more than you can handle.” But before we jump into how this is a Biblical misnomer, let’s set the stage a bit.

Elijah has just come off of an amazing spiritual/political victory at Mt. Carmel. He has challenged the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who sit at Jezebel’s table to a showdown. Not only that but he embarrassed them in what can only be conceived as the first documented case of trash-talk and then had the people of Israel help to put them to the sword. As if that weren’t enough he then ascends the mountain and announces the end of a three-year drought and sprints ahead of Ahab’s chariot just for kicks. All in all, a pretty incredible day for the prophet of YHWH. But then the threat comes. Jezebel, the pagan wife of the king of Israel, hears of what Elijah has done from her husband and makes the following threat in verse two, “Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah with this message: “May the gods do whatever they want to me if by this time tomorrow I haven’t made your life like the life of one of them.”[1]

This messenger or, mal’ak in Hebrew, and the tidings he brings cause Elijah to fear for his life and he takes off. He leaves the territory of Israel to the safety of Beer-sheba so he is safe from Jezebel’s wrath and then leaves his servant there. The text tells us he goes even further and then files this complaint before God, “It’s more than enough, Lord! Take my life because I’m no better than my ancestors.”[2] No better than your ancestors? Didn’t you just call a three-year drought into existence? Didn’t you just witness the greatest prophetic showdown in the history of prophetic showdowns? (For that matter it may be the only prophetic showdown in history) Didn’t you just put eight-hundred and fifty prophets to death in the Kidron valley? Didn’t you just witness the end to this drought and outsprint a chariot on the breath of God? And yet, “I’m no better than my ancestors.” It’s amazing what fear and anxiety can do to a person.

Our text continues with God’s provision. Elijah falls asleep under a bush and is suddenly awakened by a mal’ak, a heavenly messenger who has provided food and drink. Elijah gets up, eats, and then goes back to sleep. This happens a second time, but this time the address is a little different. I appreciate the NRSV translation at this point because the messenger says, ““Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”[3] This journey will be too much for you. Not, “don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle.” But this journey, this encounter you are about to have will be too much for you. So then, refreshed by the food Elijah journeys on for forty days and nights until he arrives at Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. What proceeds is one of my favorite theophanies in all of scripture but getting there is what concerns us today.

Elijah has come off of an amazing spiritual victory/encounter. He has been the hero of our story as he has clogged up the heavens, called fire down to earth and released the rain once again. Any of us would feel like a spiritual superhero after all of this. And yet, when the established powers that be threaten his life, he cries out to God, “Just end it! Just take my life as I’m no better than anyone who came before me.” But how often does this happen to us? How many times do we say that things are going great, but we are waiting for the other shoe to fall? It’s almost as if we live in a perpetual state of worry/fear/anxiety to see how our faith can stand/withstand the next onslaught. And yet we always try to tell ourselves, “God won’t give us more than we can handle” and then try to power through till the next wave hits us. But what if instead we look to Elijah and realize that maybe sometimes life is more than we can handle alone? What if instead of powering through we become honest with the impossibility of moving forward because of circumstances, fear or anxiety or whatever it might be?

This is the moment where we can choose to go it alone or realize our desperate need for God’s presence to make it even into the next moment. It’s no wonder that the hymn writer Annie Hawks once felt the need to pen these words, “I need thee, oh, I need thee; Ev’ry hour I need thee! Oh, bless me now, my Savior; I come to thee!”[4] It is an important and incredible thing for us to take the example of Elijah in this text and realize that regardless of what we have accomplished with God that it in no way diminishes our continued need for God’s presence. And God’s provision and faithfulness always becomes evident when we fall on grace and confess our own inability and vulnerability even if it sounds like Elijah’s plea for death to come. Perhaps this is why Jesus’ words should always be before us, “I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”[5] May we find ourselves admitting to that we can’t handle only to receive the grace we need for each new moment.


[1] Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

[2] 2011, CEB

[3] New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[4] Annie Sherwood Hawks | Robert Lowry © Words: Public Domain

[5] 2011, CEB


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