“Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” –Elbert Green Hubbard
Elijah was depressed. This prophet and preacher for the Lord had a classic case of what is known today as “clinical depression.” His story is found in 1 Kings 19:1-10.
Doctors who study this passage suggest that Elijah had clinical depression that was brought on by several considerations: environmental circumstances, emotional choices and perspective, and physical tiredness.
Elijah was tired. He literally and spiritually had a mountaintop experience. On Mount Carmel, he called on God, and God sent fire from Heaven to prove that He was the One, True God. 1 Kings 18 is an amazing chapter of the confrontation of the 450 prophets of Baal with the Prophet Elijah and the Lord. Elijah was facing the religious leaders, the political leaders (Ahab and Jezebel), and the entire population of Israel.
The top of Mount Carmel is somewhat rounded, and as I walked around there, I imagined hundreds of people circling around the pinnacle watching to see what was going to happen.
Baal is the false god in the Bible that originated with the Babylonians at the tower of Babel. His name means “master or lord.” Baal was known as Bel, and the sun by the Canaanites, Molech by the Ammonites, and Jupiter by the Greeks and Romans. (American Tract Society Dictionary)
Those worshipping him would often offer children as sacrifices. It is believed that when this god was fabricated out of metal, he would be in the shape of an owl. They would offer burnt sacrifices by starting a fire below the idol. The children offered to him were placed in the blazing hot wings of this idol. What a sad religious practice to this pagan god. I have read that “The Grove” in California includes sacrifices to an image of an owl in our times. (Thomas Horn, Saboteurs)
Baal did not answer. The false prophets had been shouting, offering sacrifices, even mutilating their bodies in an attempt to get Baal to answer them. Nothing happened.
The land of Israel had been experiencing the judgement of God for 3 years to this point by drought and thus a famine. People were desperate. They had turned their back on the one true God, and God sent judgment. There is a natural spring of water near the top of Mount Carmel. Perhaps this is where they found the water to drench the sacrifice Elijah offers. The Mediterranean Sea is about 5 miles away.
Elijah offered a simple prayer to God after having the altar, wood, and sacrifice drenched in water. 4 barrels of water soaked the wood 3 times! Elijah’s prayer is found in Vs. 36-37.
Then God showed up. Fire fell. Like a lightning bolt, the flash of light and heat of fire swallowed up the sacrifice, the wood, and the entire altar. The people of Israel saw the awesomeness of God on display.
It was intense. It was emotionally and spiritually draining. Elijah was spent. He was tired. Standing up to the Satanic forces of the false god Baal and the false prophets was a real challenge. While the enemy numbered many and the day was long, God came through and answered the prayer of Elijah.
Then revival. The people bowed down to the ground and worshipped God. They pledged allegiance to the Lord Whom they had previously forsaken. (See Vs. 39). After this, Elijah told the people they needed to get rid of the occultist false prophets. False prophets, witchcraft, and wizardry was punishable by death in the civil law of Israel. Moses gave them that law years before. (Deuteronomy 13:5, Leviticus 20:27).
Then the rain came! (18:41-44) After 3 years of no rain, the Lord answered Elijah’s pray. They could see and hear the rain off in the distance.
Then chapter 19 reveals the emotional struggles that Elijah was having. Even though the false god that Jezebel worshipped proved to not be real, Elijah was afraid. Jezebel was the wicked wife of King Ahab. She put out a death sentence on Elijah. And Elijah was afraid. Even after all the people pledged allegiance to God, Elijah was fearful of this conniving, hateful woman.
We can be fearful of people and circumstances that are not worthy of our fear. Jezebel’s party was coming to a close. Her influence and power were about to be snuffed out. Yet, Elijah talked himself into fearing her and this death warrant.
He had been in more dangerous situations before, but in this tired moment, his negative thoughts got the best of Him. He started to let his circumstances dictate his thinking. Beware – we do not control our circumstances, but we can control how we think about them. Circumstances should not control your thinking!
Elijah started to believe lies. Lies about God. Lies about himself. Lies about his situation. This caused great fear, intimidation, and trepidation in his mind. James 1:6 encourages us, But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
When we “waver” in our minds between faith and falsehoods, faith and fear, or faith and failure, we become unstable emotionally. We are “driven with the wind” or circumstances. But this does not have to happen.
Believing that Jezebel was more powerful than God, fearing for his life, thinking that he was alone, Elijah runs.
Name several lies that have hurt you in life.
What action steps have you tried to overcome the lies?
Elijah takes a 70-mile hike. That is about the distance from the city of Jezreel to the town of Beersheba. Are you tired after driving a car for 70 miles? Imagine walking 70 miles all at once! After he arrived at Beersheba, he walked another day’s journey “into the wilderness,” sits under a juniper tree (a bitter shrub-like bush) and asks God to kill him. What? He did. He was in so much despair in these tender moments.
Have you ever been in such despair that it did not matter to you if you lived or died?
It’s OK. You are in the company of many good people if you have ever felt like that. Keep in mind, it is only a feeling. Feelings can and do lie at times. Elijah was not thinking accurately, Biblically, or truthfully in this moment of depression.
1 Kings 19:1-4. Elijah took another 40 days to walk to the top of Mount Horeb, which is also known as Mount Sinai. This is the same place where God met with Moses and gave the 10 commandments. From Beersheba to Horeb is only 270 miles. With normal walking at 3 mph this distance could be covered in 3-4 days of walking. It tells us he walked day and night. 40 days is plenty of time to get there. Why did it take so long? Perhaps it took Elijah 40 days to get there because he was in “secret agent mode”, trying to evade Jezebel’s officers.
The pinnacle of Mount Horeb is 7,363 feet high. I understand that depending on where you are starting from, you can hike to the top of Horeb in as little as 5 hours. Vs. 5-8.
Add all the fresh rain to the parched earth, and all the paths, trails and roads were either flooded or muddy. Those are not good traveling conditions.
More probably, it took so long, because he was in a depressed state of mind. Life is now slow. The bright lights and tumultuous action of confronting the false prophets is gone. He feels alone. He is forcing himself to take each next step. He is having trouble finding a reason why to go to Horeb. His motivation is gone.
Even great Christians can deal with trauma and crisis in unhealthy ways and can result in severe depression.
Drs. Tim Clinton and Ron Hawkins, of whom I read much, write in their book Biblical Counseling the following descriptions of types of depression.
- Clinical/Major Depression is distinct in that symptoms are so severe that they disrupt one’s daily routines.
- Dysthymic disorder is a low-grade depression.
- Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a type of mood disorder with severe changes in affect. A person may have periods of euphoric elatedness contrasted with periods of severe major depression.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a severe onset of “winter blues” when one experiences depression, most often believed to be due to the lack of sunlight (vitamin D).”
- Endogenous Depression is “rooted in the biological.” That is, it is caused by biological factors alone.
Perhaps most depression begins with what is known as “Reactive Depression.” Dr. Clinton and Dr. Hawkins write: “Depression can be caused by many life issues, including anger; failure or rejection; family issues, such as divorce or abuse; fear; feelings of futility, lacking control over one’s life grief and loss; guilt or shame, loneliness or isolation; negative thinking; destructive misbeliefs; and stress.”
I believe the source of most cases of depression is Reactive Depression. Drs. Clinton and Hawkins continue: “Persistent reactive depression will change one’s chemical balances and may compound depression.” That is something that I propose happened in Elijah’s life.
Of course, the chemicals in the mind may have genetic, chromosomal, and other biological factors impacting and triggering depression. Nutrition, vitamins, and health conditions also affect brain function. Certainly, those who have abused drugs have an exponential increase in the rate of depression because of the manipulation that the drugs have induced on the brain.
What should a person do? Is there any hope once a person is in the depths of depression?
God gives 4 clues to healing from depression by giving us this account in Elijah’s life. Medicine is available today and could be taken (only as recommended by your doctor), but with the brain capable of making the same chemicals that are found in synthetic drugs, these clues God gives could cause your mind and body to heal itself.
- The Physical. (5-9) Following exercise, be sure to stay hydrated; eat healthy, wholesome food; and get plenty of sleep.
- The Spiritual. (15-17) Keep doing the will of God. God has given us special revelation, and when we obey the Lord, it helps us!
- The Psychological. (18) Begin to believe truth. Lies abound in depression. Turn the page. Open the door. Flip on the light. See the truth. Embrace God’s reality.
- The Relational. (19-21) Don’t isolate yourself. Find a helper. Make a friend. You do not need to live alone in life. We are created to be social creatures.
While Elijah’s life was in danger, he was not in immediate danger. His heart was not in the cross hairs of a long bow. No arrows or spears were aggressively pointed his way. While he was a wanted man – there was no impending danger.
Yet this thinking urgently instead of accurately became part of the cause of his depression. Most of our mental and emotional problems occur when we do not think truth!
Most depression can be resolved when a person chooses to change his thinking. Like Philippians 4:8 teaches, Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are ______, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are ______, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, __________ on these things.
Elijah got back in the game. It appears that he served the Lord another 10 years! The Lord did an incredible thing with Elijah. Chariots of fire swooped down and whisked Elijah away into Heaven without him experiencing death. God was pleased with Elijah – even after the severe depression.
Good news! God will be pleased with you too! Several hundred years later, Elijah has another mountaintop experience (several hundred years after his earthly lifetime). Elijah has the privilege of being on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus Himself as found in Mark 9:2-4.
Have Faith in God. Change your mind to have the thinking of God. Depression can be overcome.
If you are experiencing the type of depression that changes your routines and has affected daily choices and motivation, please set up a meeting with a Christian counselor. They can help you!