Down in the hole
1 Kings 19: 1-8
1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
“When you walk through the garden
You gotta watch your back
Well I beg your pardon
Walk the straight and narrow track
When you walk with Jesus
He's gonna save your soul
You got to keep the devil
You gotta keep him
Down in the hole”
So sings Tom Waits in his edgy, swaggering toe tapper ‘Way Down in the Hole’. Anyone familiar with the TV series The Wire (about drug crime in Baltimore) was probably singing those words above in their head. Each of the 5 seasons used a different version of the song for the opening credits. It was the second series that used Tom Waits’ original. In the first series it was sung in bombastic, memorable glory by The Blind Boys of Alabama. Each cover brings out something new in the song. I really enjoy it when a cover is a real departure from the original that takes the song in a new direction.
In the reading today Elijah, like several characters in The Wire, finds himself on the run, hunted and haunted, in fear for his life, in the wilderness. The reading reminded me of the gothic language of Waits’ song where he persuades us to “keep the devil down in the hole”, urging us not to be complacent. Elijah has given up. He has broken down, unable to “walk the straight and narrow track”. But an angel gives him something to eat and he gets the resolve to continue - to keep the devil down in the hole.
Like cover versions, that are both the same and subtly different, we will all have our own experiences like this, of giving up or failing and then finding the resolve somehow to continue - to experience blessing, to walk with Jesus. And like a cover version - our experiences will echo that of Elijah but also bring new insights.
Give us strength when our strength is failing
give us the chutzpah to get up when everything points to staying down as the best option.
And help us to add to the rich tapestry of human experience
by learning from, and sharing from our failures and disappointments.