My Soul Is Exceedingly Sorrowful, Even Unto Death

Almost a decade ago, I was a member of a chamber orchestra at a local junior college that was in need of a violist across Tampa Bay from my home at the time.  Every Monday night from 6 to 10 PM during the fall and spring semesters the dozen or so musicians among us would practice symphonies by Mozart, Haydn, and other classical composers [1], and in order to get there from work, which ended at 5 PM, I would have to rush across the Howard Franklin Bridge after work, unable to stop to eat dinner along the way.  By the time practice was done, in the grip of a period of major depression after the death of my father that lasted for years, I was entirely spent, and had to make a lengthy drive back across the Howard Franklin Bridge hungry, spent and exhausted, and terribly lonely, finding myself having to consciously resist the pull toward self-destruction off of the bridge along the way home [2].  My soul was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death, from the combination of my existing despair along with the crushing loss of fellowship with a brave band of musicians, and the hunger that comes from having gone half a day since one’s last meal, much of that time spent in strenuous practice.  I do not know how many of you can relate to being forced to consciously resist utter despair, nor would I wish to ask for a show of hands, but rather as we prepare for the Passover I would like to contrast two examples of servants of God who were sorrowful unto death, and examine what lessons we can learn about our reflection in this season.

Our first case study in godly despair is the prophet Elijah.  While Elijah had been glorious in serving God and in pointing out to Israel the power of God and the total impotence of Baal and Ashtoreth, despite being outnumbered by the false prophets 850 to 1, the dramatic scene at Mount Carmel did not lead to any national repentance, and so we see a despondent Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1-4.  In 1 Kings 19:1-4, we see that “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword.  Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.”  And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree.  And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough!  Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”  After this, Elijah went to Horeb, where Moses had received the ten commandments written by the finger of God, and he himself receives, in verses 15 through 18 a set of marching orders for people who were to be anointed to put into practice a judgment of Israel by God, for “then the Lord said to him:  “Go, return your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria.  Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel.  And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.  It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill.  Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”  Elijah then went and continued to serve God as he had previously done.  What are we to learn from this example of momentary despair?

Before we answer that question, let us go to our second example, so that we may contrast the two instances and gain insights from them.  Let us turn to Matthew 26:36-39, a familiar passage in our studies this time of year.  Matthew 26:36-39 tells us that “then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.  There He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch with Me.”  He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.””  We know that it was not possible for the cup to pass from Him, that the disciples could not stay awake while he poured out His sorrowful soul in earnest prayer before God, and that He would shortly be taken on a complicated series of illegal trials before he would be sacrificed for the sins of the world the following day in the brutal death of crucifixion.  Despite his own sorrow and distress, Jesus Christ was loyal and obedient to the will of His Father until the end.

What lessons can we draw from the comparison and contrast of these two passages.  For one, we can see that Elijah was in despair largely for what he did not know.  He thought he was alone serving God and that he had been abandoned by the nation, and God brought to his attention that there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed their knee to Baal.  This is not a large amount of people, to be sure, not in a nation that likely had more than a million citizens, but it was a solid start on a godly remnant, at least.  In contrast to this, Jesus Christ was sorrowful and in distress because of what He knew.  He knew the death he would suffer, for it had been prophesied long before by divine inspiration.  He was in such distress that he was sweating blood through his forehead, which only happens when someone is under intense distress.  Yet just as important as the differences are the similarities in that both Elijah and Jesus Christ were obedient to the will of God to the end.  Despite their intense sorrow and grief and distress and even despair, they remained loyal and obedient servants.

What does that mean for us?  When we reflect on the melancholy course of our lives, on the brokenness that we have experienced, and on our own errors and blunders, it is easy to despair.  We despair both over what we know, and what we believe in error about our loneliness and isolation, both in that which is true and that which is false.  Yet even if the reflection and self-examination we go through is often painful and unpleasant, and if we may even struggle against despair at some points in our life, as I know I have on more than one occasion, let us remember that God is faithful to us even in the darkest moments, and that He will not abandon us to our grief, but rather He will accomplish His purpose in us, just as He did for Elijah and Jesus Christ, if we are able to persist in our godly service and obedience, whatever the darkness we struggle against in this or any other season.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/my-life-as-a-haydn-symphony/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/07/22/the-sad-fate-of-ignace-pleyel/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/i-am-no-better-than-my-fathers/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/triste-est-anima-mea-usque-ad-mortem/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings, Sermonettes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to My Soul Is Exceedingly Sorrowful, Even Unto Death

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