The Challenges of Leadership
“But as for himself, he went a day’s journey into the wilderness; he came, sat under a rosem-bush, and requested his soul to die; and he said, ‘It is enough! Now, God, take my soul, for I am no better than my forefathers’ (I Kings 19:4).”
We posited that Elijah went on his journey “for himself,” or, as we read in the previous verse, “el nafsho.” This, consistent with the Abravanel and the Malbim, would explain Elijah’s choice to go, as did Moshe, “into the wilderness.” However, “he came,” implies that his journey ended. He was where he wanted to be, and, as will happen to Jonah, sat under a bush that does not offer shade, and, “requested his soul to die (See too Jonah 4:8).” I don’t believe that either prophet requested death because of the heat and hunger. But the bush, which naturally takes us back to Moshe’s first trip alone into the wilderness where he too met a bush; the Burning Bush. A rosem-bush has numerous tall branches, but tiny leaves, and offers no shade; a powerful analogy to Elijah’s experience of the ultimate benefit of all his efforts. Lots of stuff happened, but nothing seems to last.
Whatever Elijah would achieve on this quest, it will be his alone, “as for himself,” not for the people, whom he feels he has failed, ‘It is enough! Now, God, take my soul, for I am no better than my forefathers.’ Even the request echoes Moshe, who complaining of the burden of the people, says, “And if this is how You deal with me, then kill me now, if I have found favor in Your eyes, and let me not see my evil (Numbers 11:11-15).” [Please note the phrase, “if I have found favor in Your eyes,” which is the same phrase Moshe uses to make his most dramatic request: “And now, if I have indeed found favor in Your eyes, make Your way known to me, so that I may comprehend Your ‘you have found favor in My eyes’ (Exodus 33:13).” – Moshe and Elijah are confronting the frustrations of leadership, measuring their impact and influence, something that leads to a request to die!]
Jezebel’s assassin has followed Elijah into the wilderness and hovers over his spiritual quest: “I haven’t made any difference!”
Three years of drought to prove that God keeps His promises: wasted.
The elaborate contest on Mount Carmel: wasted.
Executing the false prophets: wasted.
The miraculous arrival of rain: wasted.
The impact on Ahab: wasted.
“I am no better than my forefathers.” I thought I had achieved what previous leaders had not, but Jezebel is correct, nothing will last; I am not better than my predecessors.
The rest of the Haftarah is God’s response to Elijah’s internal suffering, and to all of us who wonder about the meaning of our lives.
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