A Panera Bread in the wilderness

Published 11:00 am Saturday, August 26, 2023

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By R.A. Tea Mathews


The man fled for what amounted to treason. He had turned on Israel, and the nation would suffer terribly in the ensuing years.

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Israel’s King Ahab searched the world for him, confronting every nation, demanding an oath that the fugitive wasn’t there.

For three years, the man hid, first in the wilderness, and then taking a room with a widow in a nearby country. 

Who was this famous person?

  • John the Baptist
  • Moses
  • David
  • Elijah

I’ll give you a hint. What was the act of treason? The man had said words that led to famine and hunger. Lock in your answer and here’s the passage:

“Now Elijah … said to (King) Ahab, ‘As the Lord … lives, before whom I stand, there shall certainly be neither dew nor rain during these years, except by my word.’” (1 Kings 17:1)

The correct answer is No. 4, Elijah. 

God then told the prophet to flee. First to the wilderness, for a marginal existence. “You shall drink from the brook and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” (1 Kings 17:4)

When the brook dried up, God gave him a home with a widow.

At the end of three years, God sent Elijah back to Israel. The Lord was angry with his people for worshiping idols. The drought got their attention. 

Elijah performed a great miracle and King Ahab raced to tell his wife.

But the evil queen had made it her mission to wipe God from the face of Israel, killing all of His prophets. Queen Jezebel sent word to Elijah that he would be dead by tomorrow. (1 Kings 18:1-19:2)

The prophet fled on his own this time. Afraid and exhausted, he said, “Lord, take my life.”

What happened?

  • God chastised Elijah
  • God afflicted Elijah with boils
  • God sent an angel
  • God sent Elijah to wash in the Jordan

Lock in your answer.

This is a tender moment in Scripture: “…an angel touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat.’” (1 Kings 19:5)

The correct answer is No. 3, “God sent an angel.”

God did not grab Elijah by his bootstraps and pull him up. Our Lord didn’t scold him. God’s angel gently cared for him with fresh baked bread. The Panera of the wilderness.

God did it twice. Here’s the passage:

“(Elijah) went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down … and said,  ‘…Lord, take my life.’” (1 Kings 19:4)

The prophet felt like a failure.

“Then (Elijah) lay down and fell asleep … but behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, ‘Arise, eat!’ And he looked, and (saw) a round loaf of bread baked on hot coals, and a pitcher of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. But the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him, and said, ‘Arise, eat…’ … and (then Elijah) journeyed … forty days … to Horeb, the mountain of God.” (1 Kings 19:5-8)

Pay attention. Mt. Horeb is where God spoke to Moses some 500 years earlier. The Lord had decided that Elijah needed a holy place—the mountain of God.

The prophet found a cave there where he could stay. And the Lord told Elijah to go to the mouth of the cave, but apparently the prophet didn’t do that. 

Then three big things happened: a tornado, an earthquake, and a blazing fire. None of that drama moved the spent prophet. 

Scripture says Elijah then heard a thin silence or gentle whisper. That’s when he stepped from the cave. Here’s the striking passage:

“…(Elijah) came to a cave and … (God) … said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he … went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him…” (Kings 19:9-13, ESV)

The voice of God.

Have you ever felt like Elijah, exhausted and overwhelmed by life? Look at Scripture and behold your God!

He took Elijah to a holy place and came to him in silence. It brings to mind a favorite verse. 

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

If life has turned out differently than you had hoped, go to a holy place and be with Him. Let Him speak in quietness and restore your soul. 

Whatever you’re facing—disappointment, grief, or despair—know that God is with you.

The Rev. Mathews, BA, MDiv, JD, is a newspaper faith columnist and the author of “Emerald Coast.” Contact her at Hello@RAMathews.com

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