The king saw Elijah eliminate the prophets of Baal. He experienced the heavy rain that Elijah told him was coming. But, when Ahab reported all this to Jezebel, she didn't back down at all. Instead she sent threats to him, "So let what happened to those prophets happen to me if I don't kill you first."
Elijah, unlike Jezebel, knew when the situation was scary. When he heard the threat, he fled for his life.
Leaving his servant behind, Elijah went a day's journey into the wilderness. Sitting alone under a solitary broom tree, he prayed to the Lord to take his life.
I'm trying to imagine what changed for him--he had been willing to take on a challenge against the priests of Baal, then he had been willing to try to run away from the queen's threat, and how he has given up. Did he think that the Lord had accomplished all possible? Did he think that Jezebel was so much stronger than all the prophets put together that she could win a contest with the Lord? Or, was he just tired of running, of being in conflict? [1-5]
Whatever the reason he had for giving up, the Lord wasn't ready for him to die. An angel came to Elijah, showed him food and water. The refreshments did not refresh him enough to get him back on his journey. The angel returned to him and gave him more encouragement.
Elijah was able to journey for forty days and forty nights coming to Mount Horeb where he spent the night in a cave.
Fear. Despair. Lethargy. Renewed energy. Wilderness trek. Sleep.
Then the word of the Lord came to him asking him what he was doing there.
His response sounds rather confrontational to me, "I've supported you, but nobody else is. They're trying to kill me."
Elijah feels very alone. He is still afraid.
But, now, Elijah is in despair. He had done everything that God wanted; yet, his enemies want to kill him. He ready to give up, to die.
God comes to him in his despair.
Comes to him in an unexpected way. Comes to him in silence.
The commentary in The New Interpreter's Study Bible points out what a contrast this is from earlier theophanies which were accompanied by fire, wind, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes, such as in Judges 5:4-5; Psalms 18:7-15; 68:7-8; Habakkuk 3:15.
In an unexpected way, but Elijah is able to recognize God's voice anyway. [6-12]
When Elijah heard God's voice, he listened. And he did something else. He spoke. He spoke of his discontent. "I've done everything you told me to do, and the result is that they want to kill me. I'm the only one left."
What did Elijah expect God to say? What response do we expect when we lay our lamentations out? Remember, he's not just making this up--he really has been obedient, and people really are out to get him.
God tells him to anoint new kings for Aram and Israel and to anoint a new prophet, Elisha, to succeed him.
God is telling him, "I've haven't abandoned you, but you aren't to abandon your mission, either." Here's how Allen & Williamson put it in Preaching the Old Testament:
Responding to the call and claim of God is a risky busines, and defeat and despondency are often the companions of those who do so. We should not wallow in such feelings, although Elijah did just that, but be open to the God who ever call us forward as Elijah, in spite of himself, was called. God's adamant love gets us through the hard times. [13-18]