Depression can be the result of fatigue, either mental or physical. From the experience of Elijah as recorded in 1 Kings 19, this article shows how such a fatigue can lead to depression.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2004. 5 pages.

Lonely and Miserable

In this article we will return to the history recorded in 1 Kings 19. We should be grateful to the Lord that He has caused the circumstances preceding Elijah’s depression to be recorded. Since everything in the Bible has been recorded for our instruction, it will be to our benefit to pay close attention to every detail and to examine it within the total context of what has been revealed to us in God’s Word. Especially the latter we may not forget to do, since we could then readily be guilty of extracting something from the text that the Lord has not put in it. This will also safeguard us against thinking that a given passage of Scripture is applicable only to a given person and/or his circumstances — then reasoning that since I am not that person, it is not applicable to me. By such reasoning we will deprive ourselves of much that could be to our benefit. How often this occurs, especially with people who are suffering from depression! Since their mental condition is such that their mental capacities do not function normally, they respond inappropriately to everything they are called upon to believe. They neither can nor dare to believe what both God and people are saying to them, even though they would very much desire to.

There is a significant and essential difference between the unbelief of someone who is mentally strong and healthy, and that of people who for vari­ous reasons are mentally weak or ill. Whoever loses sight of this will be inconsiderate in his judgment of himself and others. The Lord will not judge us in such a fashion; His justice is not the justice of a judge who, void of feeling, has no regard for the circumstances at hand. The Lord judges and punishes righteously — that is, in proportion to the measure in which a person can be held accountable for his actions and reactions.

Those who divorce Elijah’s flight from Jezreel, after having received Jezebel’s message, from all that pre­ceded this (as explained earlier) will misjudge his flight and what followed. We have seen that the misjudgment of someone’s circumstances can have serious conse­quences for the person himself as well as for others.

Misjudgment can greatly aggravate the depression of one who is “fleeing” one who is “afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted” (Isa. 54:11) — along with all the wretched consequences. When verbiage such as “exaggeration,” “acting like a child,” and “this is your own fault” is used in response to genuine phobias, the depression will only become worse.

When someone suffers from serious fatigue (either mentally or physically), he will process things very differently from when he is not fatigued. This is entirely normal. However, a state of excessive fatigue can lead to total exhaustion. When a situation arises in which he is both mentally and physically exhausted (as was true for Elijah), he can then readily be over­come with a sense of panic when dramatic events take place. This can happen even when rather insignificant events occur.

When Jezebel swore that she would see to it that the next day would be his last, Elijah did not respond by saying, “The Lord is God; my times are in His hands.” Instead, Elijah flees — apparently without having asked, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Only shortly before, his strong faith in his God had prompted him to speak and act boldly. None of this was exhibited now. Elijah, who we would have thought feared no one when he confronted Ahab and slew the very priests of Baal who had been honored and preserved by Ahab and his wife — now fled for fear of Jezebel’s revenge. The man whose heart only shortly before had been over­flowing with a goodly theme and who with an eager tongue and joyful song had praised the King divine (Psalter 124:1), was now filled with anxiety and fear after receiving Jezebel’s message. The spiritual eye of Elijah that had been fixed so steadfastly upon the invis­ible God when he carried out his task could now only see Jezebel and death. Elijah did not say what, centuries later, the godly Elector Frederick III of the Paltz said when one tried to prevent him from attending the Diet of Augsburg in 1566 where he had to appear in connection with the publication of the Heidelberg Catechism. The Elector said that if they wanted to take his life, they would only shorten the time before he would enter eternal glory!

The conduct of the Elector shows us what is possi­bly by the grace of God. This was also evident in Elijah’s conduct prior to his flight. The fact that Elijah fled, and the manner in which did so, confirm that he remained a man of like passions as we are. The confession, “The Lord is with me; I shall not fear” and being filled with fear can be in such close proximity to each other­ even in the life of those who are most exercised and advanced in grace!

To be able to believe, one not only needs the grace of the Holy Spirit, but also God-given mental capacities to respond in faith to whatever befalls us. To properly handle a message such as Jezebel’s, one needs a significant measure of mental fortitude. Elijah evidently did not have this when he received her message.

One might ask, “Why did not the Lord give Elijah the mental fortitude he so very much needed?” My response is, “Who can stay his hand, or say unto him, ‘What doest thou?’” (Dan. 4:35). God’s ways are higher than our ways. It must obviously have been for Elijah’s edification and salvation — and that of many others — and thus to God’s honor that he experienced the things recorded for us in the Bible. “All things work together for good to those that love God” (Rom. 8:28). Only afterwards will this be acknowledged by all whom the Lord called according to His purpose and exercised in the most holy faith. By God’s goodness and grace, many who thought that something strange befell them have been encouraged by Elijah’s experi­ence. For Elijah, this experience also proceeded from the fatherly hands of God. Those hands will not spare flesh and blood when we must learn lessons that will be subservient to God’s honor, our salvation, and the salvation of others.

As can be deduced from 1 Kings 18 and 19, Elijah’s request to die and his lying down beneath the juniper tree were preceded by a period of great anxiety, unset­tledness, and restlessness.

Upon consulting the map of the land of Palestine, one will discover that the distance between Jezreel and Beersheba is rather significant for someone who must travel on foot. Jezreel is located in the northern part of the country, whereas Beersheba is located in the south. We are not told how long it took Elijah to travel from Jezreel to Beersheba. We can readily imagine that Elijah did not rest very often as he was fleeing. When we feel threatened by danger, it is not easy to find a place to rest or even find the time to rest. When we are no longer in control of our situation, whatever the reason may be, stopping what we are doing is simply no longer possible, regardless of how tired or exhausted we may be. The strength is lacking to keep our thoughts and heart from racing. In some situations, sedatives can then be helpful in regaining one’s com­posure. However, when more than composure is needed to process everything normally, such means will not have the desired effect.

Perilous Solitude🔗

During his flight from Jezreel to Beersheba, Elijah was accompanied by his helper. In Beersheba, Elijah communicated to this young man that he should stay there. Elijah wanted to travel alone; the company of the boy was too much for him. Elijah may have been of the opinion that solitude would be better for him. In reality, however, his separation from his helper — the last of Elijah’s confidantes — became a contributing factor in Elijah’s descent into the abyss from which he cried out, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

People whose depression becomes serious often begin to withdraw themselves from everything and everyone. They insist on being alone as they dwell on their problems, reflecting on ways and means which could lead to deliverance from their anxiety and problems. The conversation of others, even of those with whom they have enjoyed the most friendly and intimate relationships, is a burden to them. Since they are so preoccupied with themselves, everything and every­one else lose their significance. By isolating themselves they cause much grief to those who are nearest to them and render themselves a great disservice. To withdraw from family during a period of mental exhaustion and despondency is perilous indeed! Solomon said that “two are better than one” (Eccl. 4:9).

Elijah’s helper — a young man who undoubtedly perceived that Elijah was in great straits, wanted to do everything he could to assist his master, and yet knew that there was nothing he could do for Elijah! This young man was in a position where his only option was to let Elijah continue without him, however troubling this must have been to him.

We must do everything in our power to prevent depressed individuals from withdrawing themselves into isolation. When confronted with such a situation, we should simply refuse to grant them their wish. At that moment the person who wishes to be left alone will not appreciate this.

It is in the best interest of the depressed person that he is surrounded by people who know him. I know all too well from experience that I did not want to interact with anybody when I suffered from depression, which I have written about in A Helping Hand. I am now grateful to those who refused to leave me alone. Their presence and commitment were of greater ben­efit to me than I recognized at that time. It is painful for spouses, children, or friends when they notice that their presence is not appreciated by those who are depressed. However, this will also turn for the better once recovery takes place.

At times it simply cannot be prevented that depressed persons go into the “wilderness.” That will leave us with but one option: To pray to God to whom belong the issues of death (Ps. 68:20). At such times faith in a God who hears and answers prayer will be greatly tested. These are times when not only in the heart of the depressed person but also in the heart of all who prayerfully seek to assist and guide, the “voice” will be heard, “Where is thy God?” (Ps. 42:10). What fearful nights depressed people then have to endure, as well as those who desire nothing less than their recovery! We read in Psalm 145:18, “The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him” — and this is indeed true. Countless people have found this to be true. There are, however, also countless people who concur with the poet of Psalm 73, “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped” (v. 2).

The Lord was also near to a lonely Elijah traveling into the wilderness — an Elijah who was tossed with tempest. Had that not been true, Elijah would have perished in the wilderness.

The faithful covenant-keeping Jehovah will not leave such souls to fend for themselves who in their “better” days feared Him, called upon His Name, sub­mitted to His rule, and looked to Him for help. The praying High Priest in heaven also prays for them dur­ing seasons when they are neither able nor dare to pray — and who, due to their circumstances for a sea­son do not even want to pray. How important it therefore is to remember the Lord Jehovah before the evil days come!

The Lord will show His mercy toward those for whom such evil days are the first occasion of humbling themselves under the mighty hand of God until He would also be merciful to them for Jesus’ sake. For His Name and covenant’s sake, the Lord will also be gracious to those who, in their sins and misery, turn to Him for deliverance. “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer” (Ps. 102:17).

Wrong Notions🔗

In his book An Answer to Depression, Norman Wright states: “Elijah is a classic example of a man who suf­fered as a result of depression. As a result of his despair he wanted to die. He entertained wrong notions about himself, others, and God.” I wish to pursue this a bit further.

Elijah’s statement, “I am no better than my fathers,” can be interpreted in various ways. When we consider this statement in light of Elijah’s circumstances, then I believe that Norman Wright is correct that Elijah entertained wrong notions concerning himself.

It is well-known that depressed persons entertain very low thoughts of themselves and the work they have accomplished during their lifetimes. It can be a fruit of God’s grace when we have low thoughts of ourselves and our work. Humility is a fruit of the Spirit, and the more humble a person is, the better. However, we must neither confuse nor equate the humility which is a fruit of the Spirit with the opinion a depressed person has of himself and his accomplishments.

A depressed person will think and say, “I am an utterly worthless individual; I have never accomplished anything. I am a failure and good-for-nothing; I occupy an utterly useless place upon this globe. I am a misfit, and I don’t know how to do anything right.” Respect and confidence for God’s gifts have both vanished and have been replaced by self-denunciation.

Sometimes such a depressed state of mind is caused by people. If all we ever hear is how we have failed and come short, we will begin to feel inferior about our­selves, and such feelings can readily culminate in depression.

Sometimes we ourselves are to be blamed for being very despondent by constantly downgrading ourselves and our accomplishments. Instead of accepting our­selves with our limitations, including the fact that we are and will remain sinners who must seek our right­eousness outside of ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will bombard ourselves with all manner of self-denunciation. This is not good!

Sparrows and Nightingales🔗

In the world of birds, God has created both sparrows and nightingales. In comparison to the small number of nightingales, there are many sparrows. Is that a deficiency in God’s creation? I do not believe so. Likewise, if we belong to the many “sparrows” God has created among the children of men, preserving them as such, do we then not shortchange God and ourselves if we consider only the “nightingales” to be people of worth, and thus consider ourselves of little or no worth? It is a form of pride when we cannot accept ourselves as a “sparrow” and are dissatisfied with the fact that we are not a “nightingale,” wishing to be, or to appear to be, more than we are. We thereby grieve the Lord and make ourselves miserable. God does not require a sparrow to sing like a nightingale. Let us therefore not demand of ourselves what we see others accomplish but cannot accomplish ourselves due to the fact that we are simply not like them.

Acceptance of God’s gifts leads to self-respect, self-confidence, and gratitude. Self-acceptance is therefore God-glorifying and pleasing to Him. It yields rest and joy in being engaged in the task committed and entrusted to us, even though we may not excel beyond others in certain accomplishments.

It is wrong to pat ourselves on the back when something has been accomplished as a result of our initiative. It is equally wrong, however, to focus on what we have not accomplished. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 we have a clear example of humility accompanied with a healthy opinion of one’s accomplishments: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Paul knew very well that he daily offended in many things (James 3:2; cf. Rom. 7; Phil. 3:12), and yet he did not go so far as to cast out all his accomplishments. I do not believe that this is God’s will. In contrast to sin­ful forms of self-confidence and self-respect, there are also those that are good, necessary, and useful. With­out a healthy sense of these, human beings cannot function well. We may pray for an appropriate sense of self-confidence and self-respect, clothed in true humility, and we must oppose everything that impedes a healthy development of these things (be it in ourselves or others) with the Word of God. True humility will manifest itself when the Holy Spirit applies the Word of God to our hearts.

Insufficient Lighting🔗

In situations such as Elijah’s, Satan, the murderer from the beginning, is often very active. He knows where, when, and how we have failed. He will take advantage of this to increase our despondency — and, if possible, lead us to despair. He will point to our “filthy gar­ments” (Zech. 3:4) without directing us to the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, which cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:7).

Quite possibly, Satan also assaulted Elijah during his flight with questions such as, “Where is your faith that God reigns? The fact that you are fleeing proves that you believe that Jezebel reigns! Are you not the greatest hypocrite that ever lived? There is no har­mony between your words and your deeds. Your walk of life does not agree with your profession. Should you not have remained in Jezreel? Should you not have remained with those who need your help so much?”

In everyone’s life there are things which will press down our shoulders and cause us to cast down our eyes when reminded of them. When we are conscious of our sins and failures without this being countered by what we read in Zechariah 3:2, “The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee,” then nothing will remain for us but to agree with those voices within. When I have no rebuttal for my accusers and must agree that I am a deserter, that I have come short in everything, that I am a failure, that I have ruined everything — this will make me choose death above life.

From the world of photography we know that if there is insufficient lighting when an object is photographed, the photograph will look much darker than reality. One of Satan’s tactics with depressed people is to present things in such a fashion that everything appears to be much darker than it is in reality. What a blessed fact that the Son of God has been manifested to destroy the works of the devil. Satan can do much, but he cannot do everything.

To be delivered from depression, Elijah not only needed a fresh supply of physical and mental energy, but he also needed instruction. Instruction not only cured his wrong notions regarding himself, but he also had to be cured of his wrong notions regarding the fruit of his work among his people and the ways of the Lord. By His light, the Lord will cause us to see things the way they really are. How good and upright is the LORD in teaching sinners in the way, guiding them in judgment and teaching them His way (Ps. 25:8-9)!

Elijah’s opinion that he was not better than his fathers was not the fruit of Spirit-wrought self-knowledge. This view of himself was a distortion, resulting from physical and mental exhaustion, as well as his brooding during his fleeing from Jezebel.

Elijah’s petition to be allowed to die did not proceed from the Spirit either, but rather, from his flesh. He was battle-weary, and weary of life itself.

The Lord neither granted Elijah his request nor caused him to perish in his misery. By His providential arrangement and instruction, He delivered Elijah from all his difficulties and gave him new courage and desire to live. This has been recorded for our instruction, so that we too, in the midst of all our difficulties, would continue to flee to the throne of grace for help in time of need. The Lord will chastise us, but never commensurate to our sins. At His time and in His way, the Lord will heal the broken-hearted for the sake of His Son and His Name.

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