After the Victory . . . the Battle Begins (Part 2)


The view from Mount Carmel. Photo by Micah Camper.

Read Part 1.

Even God’s greatest servants may suffer extreme discouragement, as we are learning from a brief survey of the experience of the prophet Elijah. One of my seminary professors invented a name for his response to the threats he faced following his glorious victory on Mount Carmel—the Elijah Syndrome.*

I define the Elijah Syndrome as a combination of physical and spiritual fatigue, resulting in despair.

Elijah’s self-pity—which was really a devious form of pride—was most clearly expressed in 1 Kings 19:10 and 14, both times in response to the Lord’s gracious but direct question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9, 13). Elijah’s response contained an element of truth (cf. 1 Kings 18:22), now twisted out of context and misused (cf. 1 Kings 18:39). The Apostle Paul reminded us of this incident, and applied it more widely to the people of Israel, in Romans 11:2-5.

Although Elijah witnessed and benefited from several miracles of provision and protection in 1 Kings 19, he still allowed himself to descend further into the depths of fear, which was rooted in a faulty sense of self-importance (cf. 1 Kings 19:4b).

So, if you have ever wondered, wandered, worried, fretted or fled from God—even falling down from the heights of spiritual accomplishment—take heart. You are in good company—with Elijah himself. As you examine his life, you will find that ultimately you are “no better than” him, even as he was “no better than [his] fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). And yet, what an honor it would be to be numbered with him and the other “seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18).

‘A Man with a Nature Like Ours’

The circumstances that led to Elijah’s despair are part of our natural human experience.

I used to be surprised that times of great spiritual striving—even success—could be followed immediately by times of temptation—even days of depression. But I no longer am. Now I simply plan for them.

When we have exerted ourselves physically and spiritually, we may be at our most vulnerable point of temptation (e.g., Matt. 4:1-4). Furthermore, experiencing either victory or defeat may momentarily blind us from understanding our circumstances as they really are.

Yet, while his circumstances offered an occasion for temptation, Elijah’s response in 1 Kings 19 magnified his troubles. He might have averted spiritual breakdown if he had trusted more completely in the Lord, and given greater attention to his personal needs.

After the confrontation on Mount Carmel, Elijah was completely exhausted (1 Kings 19:5-8). As long as we remain “in the body” (2 Cor. 5:6), a healthy meal and restorative sleep will be major components in our spiritual recovery. Like a disciplined athlete, the believer must plan for a letdown after every buildup (e.g., Mark 6:31-32).

Yet the larger lessons here relate to our spirits, nor out bodies.

Even the greatest prophet—one who foreshadowed the Messiah (see Matt. 16:14)—knew what it was to plunge to the depths of spiritual defeat. Truly, as James stated, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (5:17).

That original word for nature is used elsewhere only in Acts 14:15. It is a compound word that relates to suffering comparable types of trials.

We can relate to Elijah, and he could have related to us. We can learn from his experience—and even seek to gain victory where he failed.

We can count on the fact that the high mountaintops in our lives will invariably be followed by excursions “into the wilderness” (1 Kings 19:4). At times we lengthen our stay there through our own willful choices.

Church-age saints, however, possess much greater resources than Elijah enjoyed. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us (see John 14:17). Furthermore, in the completed canon of the New Testament, we have an inspired record of all miracles—not just the ones that Elijah saw. And we also have the inspired commentary on their meaning, which offers further insights than one could gain even if he saw them happen.

The Apostle Paul teaches us that, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). That Word is even more clear and powerful than the “still small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:12).

May the Lord use His Word to increase our faith, to the end that we might fight the spiritual battle like Elijah—succeeding where he failed, even after the victory.

* Dr. John Hartog III, at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Ankeny, IA.

NKJV - Source

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


I agree with much of this article, but I scratch my head and wonder if this passage is about succeeding where he failed. Would not an Almighty God have struck down his response with a flurry of truths and admonishments just as he did with Moses.

I still contend that the focus of this passage is that we too live in bodies and possess minds ravaged by our sin nature and leveraged by the Accuser. It is not whether we can resist the failings and weaknesses of our flesh, but a question of when we will be physically overcome. Some of what Elijah is dealing with, is not different than being overcome with a cold, or fighting cancer. Was Elijah right in all of his action and responses? No. The contrast is not about "his glorious victory", it is about the fact that God so clearly showed His power before Elijah, and he was still overcome.

Every single one of us will face the feelings at some level that Elijah faced. It is such great comfort that God did not scold him in this moment. He knew Elijah's true heart and he knew the situation he faced, and He comforted him. The Psalms are filled with fear and despair and crying out. And while we should not fear and we should not despair, there is great comfort in the Psalms that we have a God who understands it and helps us in our struggles to overcome them, if we do as the Psalmist does and cry out to God in our need.