This question appears twice in 1 Kings 19, and is addressed to Elijah, who was in a wrong place having fled from Jezebel. Sadly, he sought to justify his position.
I believe it is necessary for all of us to take stock sometimes of why we are where we are. This may involve where we are geographically, but primarily where are we spiritually, in the testimony. In the garments of the high priest, the names of the children of Israel according to their birth were inscribed upon the two onyx stones which were put upon the shoulders of the high priest, but upon the breastplate their names where inscribed according to the place God allocated them sovereignly.
I believe we all have a place in the testimony that is according to the mind of God, and it is necessary that by study of His word, and dependent prayer, we each seek to be where the Lord would have us to be. This place may be brought about by circumstances, such as where I was born and brought up, like Timothy, but there comes a time when I must make sure that I am now in such a place by faith and conviction. We read in Hebrews 11:24–26, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter: choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season: esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.”
Great man that Moses was, yet he failed just once, and we can ask him the question as to why, in Deuteronomy 3:27 he is on the top of Pisgah having been told, “Thou also shall not go in thither.” So, he besought the Lord, and says in chapter 3:25, “I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon,” and the answer that he received was, “Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter.”
How difficult it was for Moses, having led the people all through the wilderness for forty years, to consider where he was, and the reason why he was there, yet he accepted the word of the Lord, “let it suffice thee.” There may be some very grave lessons that we must learn in seeking to be where the Lord would have us to be.
Let us consider the apostle Paul in prison at Rome, why indeed was he there? But in Philippians 1:12, he writes, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which have happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” Having served the Lord so faithfully for so many years, he now finds himself in a Roman prison and yet is able to see the benefits of his position. There was a divine reason why he was where he was. How much has come down to us from that prison: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, in the which he unfolds the truth of the mystery, which had been hid from all ages, whereof he had been made a minister, “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.”
Likewise, what great lessons he had to learn. Having been caught up into paradise and hearing unspeakable words, which it was not lawful for him to utter, and then because of it, “lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given unto me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure,” and then, like Moses, “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
As to what this “thorn in the flesh” was, we are not told but W.E. Vine’s comments on it are helpful: Paul’s “language indicates that it was physical, painful, humiliating; it was also the effect of Divinely permitted Satanic antagonism; the verbs rendered ‘that I should not be exalted overmuch’ and ‘to buffet’ are in the present tense, signifying recurrent action, indicating a constantly repeated attack.” So greatly was he affected by this that he “besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9).
His request, as that of Moses, was not granted, but instead he got something that was greater and was thus able to accept the wisdom that saw what was necessary and to prove “My strength” despite his own weakness.
How difficult it is for us when circumstances and afflictions, that never go away, and constantly cause us pain, suffering, anxiety, and exercise, come into our lives, to accept that there is a divine reason behind these things and that there is a divine resource available, through grace, to overcome and to continue in the path of faith.
Let us ask the question, “What doest thou here?” to John, on the Isle of Patmos in Revelation 1:9–10: “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”
He does not refer to himself as an apostle, but as a brother, and was sharing the tribulation that others were enduring and which were perfectly in keeping with the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ: “tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3). There was, again, a divine reason why he was in such isolated and restricted circumstances which, in a lesser degree, many saints of God are in today “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” He was where he was because of the word of God and this is a reason that we all have to understand, but also that there is a testimony that we in our day have to maintain, as he was.
“In the Spirit” and “the Lord’s day” are very vital and practical truths. I can only understand where I am in the testimony by being led by the Spirit and the word of God, submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and by practically answering to these truths.
Finally, let us reverently apply our question to the Lord Jesus. In John 12:27–28, we read, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify Thy name.” Why, at the end of a perfect life, in which God had been glorified, has He to consider what lay before Him and which caused His soul to be stirred and agitated, and to request that He be saved from “this hour.” He answers Himself and recognizes that there was a divine cause involved, a cause that we can never enter fully into now, but will eternally enjoy, all that that cause had planned. “Father, glorify thy name.” His request could not be answered if the purpose of Divine love was to be brought about, so in perfect submission and obedience, He moved forward and endured what that hour involved, and because of it, the Father’s name will be eternally glorified.