January 25, 2012

The God of Elijah's Mountains

I teach in a school surrounded by mountains where the view is simply unsurpassed. Maybe that’s why they named the school Mountain View College (Philippines). To the north is majestic Mount Kitanglad, which is the island’s second-highest peak. The excitement of ascending to its top is invigorating. There are other mountains around as well—all with biblical names: Mount Nebo to the west, Mount Pisgah, and Mount Carmel even farther west. I’ve been to all these mountains, but unlike Elijah, my experiences on these amazing peaks haven’t been as dramatic.
2012 1503 page31Let’s look back to Elijah on Mount Carmel. Few biblical narratives surpass this scene. Elijah stands alone, garbed in a scanty sheepskin cloak. He faces an overwhelming army of 850 prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth, doubtless in their splendid vestments (1 Kings 18:19). Jezebel’s whole ministerial association and cohorts dance in the din of their vain repetitions and sway in the fury of their disappointed hopes.
Mount Carmel is the place where God’s presence is felt and His person is near. We see Elijah at his best as God answers him with a display of firepower. The mountains quake as the enemies of God are slain and in unison the people declare: “The Lord—He is God!” (verse 39).
On Carmel, Elijah appears to be invincible. His faith shines as an unflickering candle. But in a few hours at another mountain, everything changes.
At Mount Horeb the brave prophet is scurrying away in panic to save himself from a despotic queen. He cowers and hides as one who is defeated and spent. On top of Mount Horeb we see Elijah in a very bad place. But he is never truly alone, because God is still near him whispering hope and assurance.
Elijah’s two mountain experiences show him at his best and at his worst. But above and beyond Elijah’s human frailty, these mountains portray the kind of God Elijah serves. He is God when we’re up, and He is God when we’re down. What a reassuring thought!
On Carmel’s brow Elijah’s faith was at its finest. On Horeb’s slopes his faith shrank to its smallest. But in victory and in despondency Elijah’s God is still the same. Lord, I thank You for the assurance that You will be there with me not only on the heights of my victory but also on the slopes of my despondency.
Don Leo Garilva is Dean of Theology at Mountain View College in the Philippines. This article was published January 26, 2012.