Elijah the Tishbite
by W. W. Fereday
1 Kings 17-20
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The God of Resurrection
After some time a dark cloud gathered over the home in Zarephath
where God's goodness was daily experienced. where His word was honoured. and
where doubtless the voice of prayer was daily heard. The only child of the
woman fell sick and died! It was not a sudden death, thus there were days
of deep anxiety for both the mother and her Prophet-guest. Remarkably, it
was the only Son of a widow whom the Lord Jesus raised at the gate of Nain
( Luke 7: 12); it was an only child whom He raised in the house of Jairus
( Luke 8: 42); and it was an only brother whom He called out of the tomb in
Bethany (John 11). This character of visitation. which seems to empty the
home of its choicest, is always particularly painful; but while we remain
here sickness and death are never very far away from God's saints as well
as from others. When the Lord Jesus returns, everything will be changed. Martha
was quite right when she said, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother
had not died" (John 11: 21). Death cannot subsist in His presence. He is death's
master. How blessed is the Christian's hope! "Behold, I show you a mystery." says the Apostle in 1 Cor. 15: 51. This means that he was about to tell his
readers something which had never been told before. "We shall not all sleep,
but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the
last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible
and we shall be changed." Then "death will be swallowed up in victory," and
in the light of this hope, we can send forth the double challenge: "O death,
where is thy sting! O death (not "O grave"), where is thy victory?"
The Lord Jesus set before Martha the power that resides in
His person: "I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in Me,
though he were dead, yet shall he live: and he that liveth and believeth in
Me, shall never die"(John 11: 25, 26 Whether the sorrowing woman to whom He
addressed Himself understood Him or not, in the light of such a revelation
as that in 1 Cor. 15. His meaning is blessedly clear. As the Resurrection,
He will raise all His sleeping saints at His descent into the air: and as
the Life, He will change the Mortal and corruptible bodies of His living ones,
and will make them like His own body of glory (Phil. 3: 22). These latter
will never die at all. Rom. 8: 11 speaks of those whom the Lord will find
at His return waiting for His coming: "if the Spirit of Him that raised up
Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall
also quicken your mortal bodies because of His Spirit that dwelleth in you." From this wonderful passage we learn that one reason why believers will be
changed at the Lord's coming is that our mortal bodies are the very habitation
of the Holy Spirit. Thus they have a sacred character in the eyes of God.
Death should not be an object of dread to the Christian; but it wore a different
aspect to the saints who lived prior to our Lord's great victory. "Through
fear of death they were all their lifetime subject to"(Heb. 2: 15). Our position
differs from theirs in that we are able to look back at the empty sepulchre
of the Son of God, and then look up to the throne, and behold Him seated there,
crowned with glory and honour. To John in Patmos, the Lord said, with His
right hand laid upon His trembling servant: "Fear not; I am the First and
the Last and the living One: and I became dead; and behold, I am living to
the ages of ages, and have the keys of death and Hades" (Rev. 1: 17-18-Darby's
Translation). Having to do with such a One, we are consciously on the side
of victory. "Death is yours," wrote the Apostle exultingly to the Corinthians
(1 Cor. 3: 22); and to the Romans he wrote that nothing can separate us from
the love of God, not even death! (Rom. 8: 38).
The home in Zarephath was probably quiet and peaceful for
many weeks. There was sufficiency there, and a sense of Jehovah's special
interest and care. Then suddenly the cloud arose. Sickness entered the home
which terminated in the death of the widow's only child. How many homes of
believers in the Lord Jesus have had the same painful experience! How often
have we said at the throne of grace, "Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is
sick"; then perhaps later we have been constrained to say through our tears,
"Lord, if Thou hadst been here . . . !"
Sickness and death are frequently used by the Lord in a disciplinary
way: and perhaps these things have more frequently this character than our
dull hearts realize. Certainly. some of the Corinthian saints experienced
this; their careless ways brought down the hand of the Lord upon them. "For
this cause many are weak and sickly among you. and many sleep"(1 Cor. 11:
30). These things being true we need spiritual discernment in praying for
a sick fellow-Christian. "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not
unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give life for them that sin not unto
death. There is sin unto death: I do not say that he should pray for it. All
unrighteousness is sin; and there is sin not unto death" (1 John 5: 16-17).
Sometimes perplexed souls ask, "what is the particular sin that is unto death?"
No particular sin at all. Two brethren possibly may err in the same way, yet
the Lord, taking into account all the circumstances, may lay one upon a sick
bed, and take the other out of the world. There is no question of the salvation
of the soul in these dealings; it is divine chastening. But "if we would judge
ourselves. we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened
of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11: 31-32).
The latter would be eternal damnation, which can never be the portion of even
the most faulty believer in the Lord Jesus.
We need to exercise ourselves more than perhaps we do with
reference to sickness. We are too ready when trouble comes, to send for the
physician; and also when a fellow- Christian falls sick, to ask the Lord to
heal him. Should we not, first, exercise our hearts and consciences before
God, and enquire of Him why these things have come about? There are sometimes
moral reasons why we or our loved ones are laid low. The affliction may be
preventive in character, as in the case of Job, or it may be corrective. In
any case, exercise of heart and conscience before God is good and cannot fail
to yield blessed results. Another has said: so
This exactly describes what happened at Zarephath. The stricken
mother seemed to recognise at once that the hand of God was in the sickness
and death of her child. "She said unto Elijah, what have I to do with thee,
O thou man of God? Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and
to slay my son?" (1 King 17-18). Zarephath means "smelting furnace"; the woman
was now experiencing its heat: but, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
who only got rid of encumbrances (bands) in the fire, this woman emerged from
the affliction a happier soul, and with a fuller knowledge of God. There was
evidently something in her past life, or in her innermost soul at that very
moment which she was seeking to cover. but God in His goodness to her brought
it out into the light in His own way.
"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace,
all-sufficient, shall be thy supply: The flame shall not hurt thee: I only
design Thy dross to consume. and thy gold to refine." G. Keith.
Elijah felt the position. He realized that his coming into
the house had something to do with this blow. He said to the mother, "Give
my thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into an upper
chamber, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed." There is a suggestion
of tender feeling in his prayer to God. This stern man who could face an angry
king and a wicked nation, and pronounce sentence of judgement felt deeply
for this poor woman whom he had come to know, and whose heart was now very
sore. The prophet spoke to Jehovah twice. In his first utterance, in which
we think we discern tenderness, he said: "O Jehovah my God, hast Thou also
brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, in slaying her son?" Then
he stretched himself upon the child three times, as if he would acknowledge
that in himself he was as weak as he who was dead; then he spoke to Jehovah
a second time, and we note that both in verses 20 and 21 the Holy Spirit says
"he cried unto Jehovah." This word "cried" should never be lightly passed
over in our reading of Scripture, for it expresses intense longing. Thus our
Lord, at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, "stood and cried, saying,
If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink"( John 7: 37). How He yearned
over needy souls!
Such a prayer as Elijah uttered over the dead child, had probably
never ascended to heaven before: "O Jehovah my God. I pray Thee. let this
child's soul come into him again." Wonderful! There is no previous record
in Scripture of any person, Jew or Gentile. old or young, ever having returned
from the dead. Yet the prophet prayed thus! His faith was in advance of Abraham's
on Mount Moriah. when he laid Isaac upon the altar "accounting that God was
able to raise him up from the dead: from whence also he received him in a
figure" (Heb. 11: 19). Both Abraham and Elijah believed that nothing was impossible
with God, and that even death would present no difficulty to Him; but it was
one thing for Abraham to reckon that God could raise a lad from the dead,
and quite another for Elijah to ask definitely that this great miracle might
Be it observed that Elijah's prayer was brief and definite.
Shall we not learn a lesson from this? Do we go to our prayer meetings with
something definite before our minds? Or do we attend from mere force of habit
(a good habit, admittedly), with minds unexercised and unprepared? If it be
so, need we wonder that the dreary round of words to which we sometimes have
to listen have no set purpose; and, in consequence lead nowhere? Prayer is
sorely needed. shall we not seek to learn how to pray?
Jehovah heard and answered Elijah's brief prayer, "and the
soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." With calm dignity
the prophet led the lad down from the upper chamber, and said to the mother,
"See, thy son liveth." The woman's reply is arresting: "Now by this I know
that thou art a man of God, and that the word of Jehovah in thy mouth is truth."
We cannot but compare this with what the Shunammite woman said (to her husband)
concerning Elisha: "Behold, now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God
which passeth by us continually" (2 Kings 4: 9). Elisha had sometimes, in
the course of his travels, called at their home for a meal, and his deportment
suggested the woman's remarks. But the Shunammite was on higher ground spiritually
than the Zidonian in that she discerned in her visitor a man of God before
any miracle was wrought; the Zidonian needed a miracle to lead her to that
conclusion. But both women are included in God's gallery of witnesses in the
words. "through faith ... .women received their dead raised to life again"(Heb.
We must not leave this subject without reminding ourselves
that me know God specifically as the God of resurrection. He has brought back
from amongst the dead our Lord Jesus, "who was delivered for our offences,
and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4: 25). This secures every
blessing for those who believe, and it reminds us also that our blessings
lie outside this world altogether. We do not know "Christ after the flesh"
( 2 Cor. 5: 18): we know Him as risen and exalted to the right hand of God.
God views us as risen with Christ, and would have us set our minds on things
above, and not on things on the earth (Col. 3: 1, 2). Paul the Apostle was
so deeply impressed with this that he longed to know "the power of His resurrection"
(Phil. 3: 10). Probably no one ever knew this more than Paul; still, he longed
to get a firmer grip of where the resurrection of Christ had set him that
he might be wholly influenced by it day by day.
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Elijah's long rest at Zarephath was ended by a call from Jehovah
to show himself to Ahab. because He was about to send rain upon the earth
(1 Kings 18: 1). When the prophet told the king that there should be neither
dew nor rain but according to his word, he knew not how long the drought would
continue. That was in the hands of Jehovah. Rut the drought was long, "for
it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months" ( James
5: 17). When the rain at last came, it was in answer to Elijah's prayer, as
in 1 Kings 18: 42.
But matters were now to be brought to an issue. Jehovah was
about to display His power, to the confusion of Ahab and all his idolatrous
prophets. Such striking miracles, as the calling down fire from heaven upon
the sacrifice on Mount Carmel, and later upon the captains and their fifties
(2 Kings 1) were not wrought in the kingdom of Judah. There Jehovah was still
acknowledged, although some of the Kings were evil men, and led the people
astray; but the prophets who witnessed there could at least appeal to the
'Word of God. In the Northern Kingdom another line was necessary. The people
were in open apostasy; Jehovah was no longer acknowledged as the God of Israel.
This being so, God who was still interested in His erring people ("how shall
I give thee up, Ephraim?" Hosea 11: 8) sometimes put forth His power, thus
bringing home to the people that He is God, and mightier than all the deities
of the heathen. Jehovah was now about to assert Himself on Mount Carmel, on
an occasion that will be memorable as long as the earth remaineth.
When Elijah set out to find Ahab (no more fearing the wrath
of the king than Moses before him (Heb. 11: 27), he first met Obadiah who
was governor of the palace. The Holy Spirit records that "Obadiah feared Jehovah
greatly." It is happy to note that this is stated before the story of Obadiah
is unfolded. In like manner, the Lord Jesus commended all the good that He
could see in the assemblies in Asia before rebuking that which was grievous
in His sight (Rev. 2: 3). Along this line we are frequently terribly lacking
in our dealings with one another. That which is evil, or at least unsatisfactory,
becomes so large in our eyes that we quite overlook that which is good in
those who displease us. Of Barnabas it is written years after his failures
as in Gal. 2: 13 and Acts 15: 37: "he was a good man, and full of the Holy
Spirit and of faith" (Acts 11: 24).
It is written of Obadiah, that he "feared Jehovah greatly."
"The word" greatly must not escape us; for God always notes degrees in the
piety or activity of His saints. In Rom. 16: 12 we read of Tryphena and Tryphosa
who laboured in the Lord, and also of the beloved Persis who laboured much
in the Lord. In the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem after the return from
the captivity, it is recorded of some that they "earnestly' repaired," and
of some that they undertook a second piece of work (Neh. 3: 20-24). It is
encouraging to us to be reminded of these things, and we shall doubtless hear
more about them at the Judgement seat of Christ.
There are some important lessons to be learned from the story
of Obadiah; but first it may be well to compare him with some of his contemporaries.
Elijah and Obadiah were both saints of God; so also were Micaiah the son of
Imlah and Jehoshaphat King of Judah. We shall meet them all in the glory of
God ere long, like ourselves, sinners saved by grace. These four men fall
into two pairs, thus:-Elijah and Micaiah; Obadiah and Jehoshaphat. The first
two were bold and Unflinching in their testimony. Ahab called Elijah "mine
enemy"(1 Kings 21: 20). and of Micaiah he said, "I hate him"( 1 Kings 22:
8). It is really a compliment to be disliked by the wicked. "Woe unto you,
when all men speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets"
(Luke 6: 26). Obadiah and Jehoshaphat were the opposite of Elijah and Micaiah.
They were not bold and unflinching, but weak, and given to compromise for
the sake of advantage. Ahab hated neither of these. for they were useful to
him. The Lord Jesus once said to His Own unbelieving brethren, "the world
cannot hate you: but Me it hateth. because I testify of it that its works
are evil" (John 7: 7). The Lord in His prayer to the Father in John 17 spoke
of His disciples as loved by the Father, but hated by the world. The comfort
of the one strengthens us to endure the painfulness of the other.
Obadiah had never learned the importance of separation from
the world. Have we learned it? Are we true to our baptism? Do we regard ourselves
as dead to sin and the world by the death of Christ? Have we really taken
up our cross in. order to follow in the footsteps of the One whom the world
cast out and crucified! Have we indeed gone forth "to Him without the camp,
bearing His reproach!" (Luke 11: 23; Heb 13: 13). There was much in Obadiah
that was excellent. and the inspired historian tells us of it. When Ahab sought
to destroy all the prophets of Jehovah. and thus stamp all divine testimony
out of his dominions. Obadiah took a hundred of them, "and hid them by fifty
in a cave, and fed them with bread and water." He feared Jehovah, but was
too timorous to confess Him. He sympathised with the hunted prophets, but
lacked faith to identify himself with them in their sufferings. His kindness
will doubtless be rewarded in the day of Christ: but God would have been better
pleased had he stood with His servants instead of being content to patronise
them. Moses forsook the honours and comforts of the king's palace, "choosing
rather to suffer affliction with the people of God"(Heb. 11: 24-25). Obadiah
chose to remain in the palace. and benefit the persecuted from thence. All
the professing saints in Asia turned away from Paul when he fell into disgrace
with the authorities for Christ's sake (2 Tim. 1: 15). How should we stand
in days of peril? In 2 Cor. 6 we are definitely charged not to be unequally
yoked together with unbelievers, but to come out from among them and be separate;
and in Eph. 5: 11 we are instructed to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful
works of darkness, but rather reprove them." Are we willing to take up a
stand which may cost us something?
When Obadiah crossed the path of Elijah, he was not occupied
with business for God. The land was doubtless full of stricken hearts; mothers
knowing not how to nourish their children; and all in a condition of despair.
What precious words of consolation he should have been able to take to them
from the heart of God! Instead. he was searching the land for food for animals
in order to preserve the royal stud! Ahab said to Obadiah: "Go through the
land, to all the fountains of water and to all the torrents, perhaps we may
find grass to save the horses and mules alive. so that we may not have to
destroy some of our beasts" (1 Kings 18: 5, Darby). Sorry words from the lips
of Israel's king; paltry business for a God-fearing man to engage in! The
divine ideal for a king is described in the Spirit- filled words of Asaph
in Ps. 78: 70-72: "He chose David His servant. and took him from the sheepfolds:
from following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob His
people. and Israel His inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity
of his heart, and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands." God's ideal
king is thus neither selfish nor tyrannical; but a wise shepherd of the people,
serving in the consciousness that the people belong to God, and that he, the
king is just God's honoured servant in rule. In this spirit David prayed for
the people when pestilence was raging. He pleaded with Jehovah to spare the
sheep. and punish him instead (2 Sam. 24: 17). None but the Lord Jesus have
been perfect in shepherd-rule and of Him it is written: "He shall stand. and
feed [His flock] in the strength of Jehovah, in the majesty of the name of
Jehovah His God; and they shall abide: for now shall He be great unto the
ends of the earth" (Micah 5: 4).
There is not a hint that Ahab cared for the suffering people,
but he was troubled lest he should lose his horses and mules. So he arranged
that he would go in one direction, and Obadiah in another. and find grass
somewhere, if possible. The position was serious indeed when the king himself
undertook the foraging!
In the pursuit of this humiliating business, Obadiah met Elijah.
Using modern terms, the two men were brethren; but there was no cordial greeting,
as when Moses met Aaron and kissed him (Ex. 4: 27). Obadiah was troubled,
and Elijah was cold and reserved. Although the one was an exalted Government
official. and the other a humble villager, Obadiah trembled before Elijah;
and indeed he fell upon his face, saying, "Is it indeed thou, my lord Elijah?" Communion with God, and obedience to His will imparts moral dignity to anyone. We see this in Stephen when confronting the Jewish Sanhedrim: and in Paul
when standing before royalty and political and military leaders in Caesarea
(Acts 7: 26 In each case the prisoner took full command of the situation!
Obadiah lacked this. With all his honours and high salary, he felt that the
man who stood before him in hairy clothing was his superior. Else, why should
he address Elijah as "my lord?"
When the prophet bade him go and tell his master, "Behold,
Elijah is here," he was terrified. He feared his very life would be in danger.
He poured out a veritable torrent of words to the prophet. First, he spoke
of the danger to himself; then he told how Ahab had enquired of every known
kingdom and nation concerning Elijah, determined to slay him if he could get
hold of him. To mention the hated name to the furious king would stir his
devilry to its depths. So Obadiah feared; and, as if begging to be excused
carrying such a message, he pleaded his kindness to the prophets. "Was it
not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of Jehovah, how
I hid a hundred of Jehovah's prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with
bread and water" It is suggestive of a low spiritual condition when any servant
of God makes much of his own work. Paul says a good deal about his own labours
and sufferings in 2 Cor. 11: It was the bad condition of things at Corinth
that made it necessary, but he calls it "folly," nevertheless. But how wonderfully
God works! We should never have known how varied and severe were the sufferings
of the apostle, had not the story been wrung from him by the ill-behaved Corinthians.
It does one good to read 2 Cor. 11 it is a holy stimulus to our souls; but
Paul and every other true-hearted labourer would infinitely rather speak of
Christ- the glories of His person the perfection of His sacrifice, and the
greatness of His triumph-than speak of his own work. and thus seem to be magnifying
Going along with the world is injurious to the soul at all
times. Thus Obadiah feared the wicked Ahab, Elijah did not: he humiliated
himself before Elijah instead of greeting him warmly as a valuable witness
for God and His truth; and, worse than all. he even hinted that the Holy Spirit
might act unworthily! "It shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee,
that the Spirit of Jehovah shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when
I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy
servant fear Jehovah from my youth." Elijah was perfectly straight forward
in the path that he was pursuing; he was charged by Jehovah to see Ahab. and
he intended to do so. The Holy Spirit. who delights to guide the servants
of God, would never lead him to be false to a divine commission.
Elijah's answer to Obadiah sounds like a rebuke. "As Jehovah
liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself unto him today." Whatever
Jehovah might be to Obadiah. He was a living God to the proscribed prophet;
and he was standing-i.e. speaking and acting-in the consciousness of His presence.
Obadiah must have been far removed from Elijah's spirit to
have been tolerated, and even honoured, for years in the royal circle. He
must have kept his lips close sealed concerning his God, or the blood-thirsty
Jezebel would have treated him as she treated the prophets. Obadiah could
scarcely have said:-
"I'm not ashamed to own my Lord
Or to defend His cause."
In Isa. 59: 15 we read: "Truth faileth, and he that departeth
from evil maketh himself a prey." Obadiah was not quite willing to be a prey.
In Jer. 15: 19 he who would separate himself from the evil around is assured
by God, "thou shalt stand before Me; and if thou know how to take forth the
precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth." This is exceedingly precious:-nearness
to God, and ability to give utterance to His mind to others. Obadiah, alas,
knew nothing of this. What do we know of it?
Obadiah comes upon us in the Scriptures as abruptly as Elijah;
but while the one passes off the sacred page abruptly (sixteen verses. and
no more!) the other lingers in the mind of the sacred historians, and his
service and testimony continue right onward to the great day of the Lord!
"God of all grace, mercifully preserve both writer and reader
from becoming Obadiahs! The rather help us to become Elijahs. not indeed in
fiery judgement, but in holy zeal for Thy Glory, and in stern separation from
everything contrary to Thy will. Amen."
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Prophet and King
When Ahab learned that Elijah was in the neighbourhood, he
did not hasten towards him with a "firing squad" (or whatever was the equivalent
in those days); on the contrary, he approached him with a measure of deference.
The wicked king had some sense of the greatness of God whose irresistible
power His servant could wield. The whole country was suffering severely under
the sentence pronounced by Elijah's lips. The people were proving that it
is "an evil thing and bitter" to forsake Jehovah and worship other gods (Jer.
2: 19). Ahab's son Ahaziah lacked even the measure of respect and dread that
his father had for Elijah. He ventured to defy him and the power of God that
was with him (2 Kings 1). But the results were very serious!
Ahab's greeting is very suggestive. "Is it thou, thou troubler
of Israel!" ( 1 Kings 18: 17 R.V.). We have here a clear illustration of how
Satan beclouds the minds and perverts the judgement of men who believe not.
There certainly was trouble in Israel; but apparently it did not occur to
Ahab's mind to trace it to the idolatry which had spread everywhere. Temples,
altars, prophets, and priests of an evil character covered the land. There
was no disposition either in king or people to get down before Jehovah, and
acknowledge the wickedness of all this, with the determination to put it all
away. Accordingly, Ahab blamed the servant of God for the widespread distress.
Had Satan not blinded his eyes he would have perceived that the fault lay
with the king, not with the prophet.
When Paul and Silas went to Philippi there was insurrection
against them, and it was said. "these men do exceedingly trouble our city"
(Acts 16: 20). But "these men" had carried into Philippi the Gospel of the
Grace of God; they were telling men and women who were living in the darkness
of Heathenism, and who were hastening to perdition, of the Saviour who died
for the ungodly. They were putting immense blessings in the way of the people,
all "without money and without price." They were proclaiming the true and
only remedy for all creature ills. Those who received their words would become
supremely happy, even as Paul himself was when he wrote his Epistle to the
Philippians a few years later. No truer friends of the people ever visited
the city, yet the preachers were charged before the magistrates with being
troublers, and were forthwith flogged, and cast into prison!
At every period faithful witnesses for God and His truth are
regarded as troublers. Men and women who are all wrong with God do not care
to have facts set before them. They prefer to live undisturbed in a dreamland
of their own. He who presses upon their attention the gravity of sin, and
the reality of God's judgement of sin is a troubler. He disturbs their false
peace and spoils their pleasures. Felix cut short his conversation with Paul
when his words became very pointed (Acts 24: 25). Yet no true preacher would
speak only of sin and judgement; he would delight to go further, and tell
of the one Mediator between God and men, who gave Himself a ransom for all
(1 Tim. 2: 5-6).
Elijah, with divine bluntness, put the truth before the king.
"I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye
have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and thou hast followed Baalim."
Men who are willing to rebuke sin in high places are scarce. Nathan dealt
faithfully with David (2 Sam. 12); and John the Baptist, every time he found
himself in Herod's presence, put his finger upon the fatal spot saying. "It
is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife" (Mark 4: 18 ). It is said
of the British king Charles II,-as vile a king as ever disgraced a throne
that he was once offended with a Chaplain for his plain preaching. "I will
thank you." said he, "to alter your manner of preaching." "So I will your
Majesty," replied the Chaplain, "if you will alter your manner of living."
This was as it should be. If in our own day there were religious leaders faithful
enough to rebuke Dictators and others who are leading millions to ruin how
good it would be. It is alas! too frequently the habit of professional clergy
to accommodate their words to the wishes of the ruling powers. They thus become
instruments in their hands for deceiving the people. Solemn thought!
The real trouble in Israel was not Elijah, but Ahab, and Ahab's
own conscience must have felt that it was true. The prophet now made a proposal
to the king. "Send and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel and the prophets
of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred
which eat at Jezebel's table" (2 Kings 18: 19). Amazing, when we consider
the relative position of the two men. Ahab-a powerful despot, with all the
military resources of the kingdom at his disposal, backed too by a resolute
and ruthless wife; now being virtually commanded by a feeble and friendless
individual to convene a meeting of the nation! We have already remarked upon
the moral dignity which communion with God imparts; we see it here again in
Elijah the Tishbite. The condition of things throughout the country was desperate;
it could not continue indefinitely; hence the king consented to Elijah's proposal
for a meeting, the outcome of which he could not imagine, but he hoped there
would soon be rain!
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Prophet and People
So the great meeting was arranged. "Ahab sent unto all the
children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel"
(1 Kings 18: 20). The omission of any mention of Jezebel at this critical
juncture is remarkable. We can only think of one gathering in the Holy Land
more momentous in its results than that on Mount Carmel. All four Evangelists
record a multitude gathered outside Pilate's palace in Jerusalem, led by the
highest ecclesiastics of the nation. A great decision had to be made. Barabbas
the robber, and the blessed Son of God, Israel's Messiah, were set before
the people for their choice. "Not this man, but Barabbas," was their united
cry. Yet that multitude were not Baal worshippers as those with whom Elijah
had to do; they were the professed worshippers of Jehovah, and they regarded
with abhorrence the idolatries of their fathers! Yet they would not have Jehovah's
Christ; a robber was more to their taste! Fatal decision, from which the blinded
nation is suffering to this day. "His blood be on us, and on our children,"
said they (Matt. 27: 25); and the God of righteousness has held them to their
We borrow the words of another concerning the meeting on Mount
Carmel. "There are few more sublime stories in history than this. On the
one hand the solitary servant. of Jehovah, accompanied by his one attendant;
with his wild shaggy hair, his scanty garb, and sheepskin cloak, but with
calm dignity of demeanour and the minutest regularity of procedure, repairing
the ruined altar of Jehovah with twelve stones,-on the other hand the eight
hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and Ashtaroth, doubtless in all the splendour
of their vestments, with the wild din of their vain repetitions and the maddened
fury of their disappointed hopes, and the silent people surrounding all" (Dr.
W. Smith). It is not quite certain that the prophets of Ashtaroth were present,
possibly Jezebel was able to protect her own protégés, although the feeling
amongst the people was too strong to allow her to prohibit the gathering altogether.
Elijah wished the two hosts of misleaders to attend, but mention is only made
of Baal's four hundred and fifty (1 Kings 18: 19, 22, 40).
Elijah addressed himself to the people direct. When rulers
transgress against God, and bring down His chastening hand, it is always the
poor who suffer most. Probably Ahab and Jezebel had not been short of wine
and meat during the famine; and false prophets can always be trusted to look
well after themselves. So Elijah came unto all the people, and said, "How long
halt ye between two opinions! If Jehovah be God, follow Him; but if Baal,
then follow him" (1 Kings 18: 21). This day must be a day of decision, and
the people doubtless felt the reasonableness of what Elijah said. The nation
was at that time divided into three classes:-there were hordes of evil religious
leaders; there were at least a few thousand who were still true in heart to
Jehovah (although did not seem to be aware of their existence): and there
was the mass of the people who were apparently indifferent to what form religion
might take, but they wanted rain! These three classes are represented today
in the nations of Christendom. There are religious misleaders, some of whom,
pompously describe themselves as "Higher Critics," who would destroy all
faith in God and His Word; and others, ritualistically inclined, would. enslave
the multitudes to the Italian clique in the Vatican. These two groups are
largely responsible for the terrible disasters of our time. In contrast with
these, God has in every land a pious remnant who love His Word, although perhaps
they are not as outspoken in testimony as they should be. There then are the
masses, who care nothing for religion. Christianity, Judaism, Mohammedanism,
etc. are much alike to them; but they do not wish to be disturbed, and they
cannot see why God should punish the nations for this condition of things.
These people need to be brought to the point of decision. Is there a God;
why not obey Him? Is there a Saviour; why not trust Him! To which of these
three classes does the reader belong? Reader, is your mind. made up that the
God of Heaven is the only true God: that the Lord Jesus, His beloved Son,
is the only possible Saviour; and that His precious blood can alone cleanse
from sin, and give you a title to eternal bliss!
Elijah spoke a second time to the people, again ignoring both
king and prophets, and also any officials who may have been in attendance
upon the king. His proposal was very simple: two bullocks were to be provided,
one for Baal's four hundred and fifty prophets, and one for himself- Jehovah's
solitary witness that day. (Where was Obadiah!). Each bullock was to be cut
in pieces and laid on wood. with no fire under, and the prophets of Baal were
to call upon the name of their god. and Elijah would call upon the name of
Jehovah; and the God that answered by fire was to be Israel's God. The people,
well knowing that Baal was the reputed god of fire, said. "It is well spoken."
To Elijah's appeal. "How long halt ye between two opinions?" they answered
not a word; but the proposal to submit the great question to a trial by fire
was so reasonable that "all the people answered and said. it is well spoken."
Elijah then turned to the prophets of Baal, and said, "Choose
you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first: for ye are many; and call
on the name Of your gods, but put no fire under" (1 Kings 18: 3-5). It was
important to stress the last clause when dealing with unprincipled villains.
Priestly "miracles" have a bad reputation for imposture. In the calmness of
faith. Elijah could afford to allow the emissaries of Satan to move first,
knowing quite well that the god they served had no power.
What a day it was! From morning until noon the prophets cried.
"O Baal, answer us!" realising that for them everything was at stake. The
silence of their deity threw them into a frenzy, and they leaped about the
altar they had made "The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work
of men's hands They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they
see not, they have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in
their mouths They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that
trusteth in them" (Ps. 135: 15-18).
With the multitudes looking on, when noon came E1ijah mocked
the unhappy prophets. He suggested that they were not crying loudly enough;
perhaps their god was occupied with other business. and could not attend to
them; possibly he was away from home; or he might be asleep! Goaded by these
taunts, the false prophets gashed themselves with swords and spears until
their bodies streamed with blood! This unholy farce on the part of men made
in the image of God was suffered to continue three hours longer.
At "the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice" Elijah
judged that his opportunity had come. It was 3 p.m., and the evening lamb
was being placed on the altar of Jehovah in Jerusalem, with its accompanying
Meal offering and Drink offering, all speaking to God of Christ whose death
at Calvary took place at that hour (Ex. 29: 41; Matt. 27: 46). It was the
hour of divine blessing: compare Ezra 9: 5; Dan. 9: 21 The hour had struck
for Elijah's sacrifice to be offered, and for the blessing which followed.
"Come near unto me." said Elijah to the people. so long led
astray like foolish sheep. There is a sound of tenderness in the prophet's
words. reminiscent of Joseph's invitation to his guilty and trembling brethren
in Gen. 45: 4. Elijah would soon now lead the poor misguided people back to
their long-suffering: and faithful God. In their presence he repaired the
long-dishonoured altar of Jehovah. He would teach them the true way of approach
to God. If blessing was ever again to be enjoyed in Israel, it must be in
virtue of the divinely accepted sacrifice. When the remnant returned from
Babylon with Zerubbabel "they set the altar upon his bases for fear was upon
them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings
thereon unto Jehovah, even built offerings morning and evening" (Ezra 3: 2-3).
In their weakness they felt the altar would be a better protection than walls
and weapons. They were right, for the altar and sacrifices spoke to God of
Christ, and God always responses to faith of that character.
Elijah built his altar of twelve stones "according to the
number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of Jehovah came,
saying, Israel shall be thy name. " This act is proof of the prophet's spiritual
perception. The twelve tribes were no longer walking in unity: their unity
has not been restored to this day, nor will it be until the kingdom of the
Lord Jesus (Ezek. 37: 21-23). Elijah was standing on ten tribe ground: but
his twelve stones tell us that he entered into God's thoughts about His people.
The people were still one in His mind. Although the temple in Jerusalem was
now only recognised by two tribes, the High Priest still bore the names of
all the children of Israel on his breast plate before Jehovah, and twelve
loaves were still placed on the table of shewbread in the holy place (Ex.
28: 29: Lev. 24: 5-8). Two centuries after the great gathering on Mount Carmel,
Hezekiah, king of Judah, at the Passover that he held in Jerusalem commanded
that atonement should be made for all Israel (2 Chron. 29: 24). Yet only two
tribes acknowledged his sway, and the deportation of the Northern tribes had
already begun! After the return from Babylon "the children of those that has
been carried away, which were come out of the captivity, offered burnt offerings
unto the God of Israel, twelve bullocks for all Israel" (Ezra 8: 35) Six centuries
later still. James addressed an epistle "to the twelve tribes which are scattered
abroad, greeting." All this was very precious to God. as showing that Elijah,
Hezekiah Ezra, and James entered into His thoughts concerning His faulty people.
Are we as spiritually intelligent today? As we look around us, we see Christ's
members, not in two parts as Israel in the days of the kings, but in division
almost innumerable. Do we sorrow about this before our God. and do we seek
to contemplate His saints (however faulty they may be) as He contemplates
them? Do we refuse to sanction this unholy confusion? Are we able to say in
faith "there is one body and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope
of our calling!" (Eph. 4: 4).
Elijah having built his altar. made a trench around it; and
when he had laid his burnt sacrifice upon it, he commanded to pour four barrels
of water over it. He repeated this three times. until the bullock and the
wood were drenched, and the trench became a moat! He would thus appear to
put every possible difficulty in the way that the impending miracle might
be the more convincing. The prophets of Baal did not venture to use water
thus, but Elijah used it freely. He then drew near and offered his simple
prayer: "Jehovah. God of Abraham. Isaac. and of Israel. let it be known this
day that Thou art God in Israel. and that I am Thy servant. and that I have
done all things at Thy word. Hear me. O Jehovah. hear me, that the people
may know that Thou art the Lord God (Jehovah Elohim). and that Thou hast turned
their heart back again" (1 Kings 18: 36-37). It should be observed that the
prophet sought no honour for himself (unlike Simon of Samaria who gave out
that himself was some great one Acts 8: 9): he kept his true place as a mere
servant acting at the Word of his God. Like Paul, he would have said, "I am
nothing" (2 Cor. 12: 11; 1 Cor. 3: 7). Do not miss the lesson, good reader!
Elijah proved the truth of Isa. 65: 24: "it shall come to
pass. that before they call, I will answer and while they are speaking, I
will hear." Israel must wait for this blessed experience until the glorious
age when-" the wolf and the lamb shall feed together." Elijah had it while
facing a whole pack of wolves with teeth undrawn! It is good to have to do
with God. His answer to the lonely man's prayer was prompt and decisive. "Then
the fire of Jehovah fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood,
and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench."
Let not the reader miss a word of this remarkable verse. The
fire-the emblem of the righteous judgement of God might well have fallen upon
the disobedient nation, or, passing by the nation, it might have fallen upon
Ahab and his hundreds of idolatrous prophets-all servants of the Devil; but
it did nothing of the kind. The fire fell upon the unoffending bullock which
Elijah had placed upon the altar! What a picture of the great sacrifice of
Calvary! where the righteous judgement of God fell, not upon the wicked masses
of men, nor even upon the unprincipled leaders who were primarily responsible
for that cross being set up; the judgement of God in all its terrible severity
fell upon the Holy One who hung there, so that He was constrained to cry.
"My God. My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" ( Matt. 27: 46). That stupendous
sacrifice. the full value of which is only known to God. has made blessing
possible for sinners everywhere; and the first preachers of the Gospel were
even commanded. to begin at Jerusalem with their proclamation of repentance
and remission of sins in the Saviour's Name! (Luke 24: 47). Faith sees Him
now risen and glorified at God's right hand, clear proof that for Him, and
for all who trust Him, the judgement of God is past for ever. The effect of
the fire from heaven at Carmel was marvellous. "When all the people saw it.
they fell on their faces: and they said, Jehovah, He is the God; Jehovah,
He is the God." The great decision was made; and God, who is compassionate
for nations as well as for individual sinners, could now grant blessing. The
rain would soon descend!
But what about the prophets of Baal! They were not destroyed
by the fire of God; there was thus, for a brief moment, a door open for repentance.
Their exhausted and bleeding bodies were sufficient proof that Baal was worthless.
He could do nothing for his most ardent votaries in their hour of peril. They
stood publicly convicted of having practised fraud upon the people. Why did
they not immediately fall upon their faces, and confess their-great sin before
God and the nation! They did nothing of the kind; sullen and defiant, they
stood upon the mountain in the presence of the people they had cruelly deceived
for many years; and even the king's partiality for them could not now save
them from destruction. In obedience to Deut. 13: 1-5 (which meant nothing
to Ahab), Elijah commanded that all the prophets were to be arrested. Willing
hands obeyed, and the whole ghastly host, four hundred and fifty in number,
were led down to the brook Kishon, and slain. Have we learned to distinguish
between the ways of God in different dispensations, from Moses until Christ
was the age of law. Among other righteous enactments, death was the penalty
for false teaching. It is otherwise in this day of grace. Those who would
mislead souls concerning the fundamentals of the faith must be sternly rejected;
even a widow and her children were admonished by John in his Second Epistle
not to show such persons even the courtesies of life; but beyond this we have
no authority to go. Rome has judged otherwise in her ignorance of divine grace,
and blind disregard of the Word of God. Many a choice servant of Christ has
been cruelly slaughtered under the pretence of getting rid of "dangerous
heretics." When the servants in the parable of the tares in the wheat field
enquired if they should gather up the tares, the Lord replied: "Nay: lest
while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both
grow together until the harvest" etc. (Matt. 13: 29, 30). Perhaps no words
from our Lord's lips have been more generally misunderstood than these. They
have frequently been quoted as a plea for retaining unsound persons in Church
fellowship. But the Church is not in view in the parable of the wheat and
the tares; indeed the Church had never been spoken of up to that time. The
parable is found in Matt. 13; but the Lord's first mention of the Church is
in Chap. 16. "Grow together" does not mean "fellowship together"; impossible
that He who is Holy and True should appear to sanction such confession (Rev.
3: 7). The wheat and the tares are to grow together in the field, and the
Lord Himself has taught us that "the field is the world" (Matt. 13: 38). In
other words, those who are true to Christ and love His truth must not put
to death false teachers, even if they had power to do so. Such delicate work
as weeding God's wheat field could not be entrusted to fallible men: terrible
miscarriages of justice would inevitably follow.
If any would inquire as to what is meant by the "destruction
of the flesh" in 1 Cor. 5: 5, it is not the body that is referred to, but
the evil moral principle that is connected with the body in us all. "Delivering
unto Satan," as in 1 Cor. 5: 5 and 1 Tim. 1: 20 is apostolic action; in the
first case operating in conjunction with the assembly and in the second apart
from the assembly altogether. The evil persons in question, having failed
to learn their lessons in God's gracious school, had to be broken and humbled
by Satan's cruel instrumentality. Divine discipline in all its forms is a
deeply serious matter, but always with ultimate blessing in view, "that the
spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
Our duty is to "put away" from amongst ourselves wicked persons.
Further we must not go.
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The Prophet and His God
The people having given their decision, and the idolatrous
prophets having been slain, Elijah knew that rain was near. Accordingly he
said to Ahab "Get thee up eat and drink. for there is a sound of abundance
of rain"(1 Kings 18: 41). Let us observe that the welcome rain did not begin
to fall immediately the people shouted, "Jehovah, He is the God." In the divine
ordering, Elijah must first pray for it. He was, so to speak, God's administrator
towards Israel at that crisis. His lips pronounced the judgement; and his
lips must announce the blessing; but both blessing and judgement were preceded
by prayer. Thus we have the prophet going up to the top of Carmel to speak
to God. Ahab, in his selfishness, prepared to go home; not to pray, but to
feast. He had the feeling that the long- continued drought was ending. That
was all that mattered: there would soon be food again for his horses and mules!
Meantime, a banquet was more to his liking than a prayer-meeting.
But where was Obadiah? The Lord has taught us in Matt. 18:
19 the preciousness of two praying together; but the two must be in harmony;
they must both be alike in separation to God. and walking in His ways for
their prayers to be effectual. Alas there was no bond of sympathy between
Elijah and Obadiah. although both were men born of the Spirit! Obadiah did
not stand by Elijah when he confronted the foe nor did he bow the knee with
him when he made supplication to God. How much Obadiah missed by pandering
to the world accepting ease and honour in the midst of the ungodly! Also how
much Jonathan missed by not separating himself from the divinely rejected
Saul-order of things to go outside with David! He could never have written
David's psalms! "Ye are honourable," wrote the Apostle to the ease-loving
Corinthians "but we are despised" (1 Cor. 4: 10 But Paul was more happy than
they. Nevertheless, to stand apart from the world system is admittedly loss,
as men judge; but the spiritual gain in communion with God is immense.
Surely Elijah needed to eat and drink as well as Ahab! The
events of the day were exhausting. and the servants of God get hungry and
tired as well as other men. Even the Son Of God sat in weariness on the well
of Sychar while His disciples went into the town to buy food. But the spiritual
rises above the physical. The immediate needs of the body are forgotten when
powerful spiritual interests are operating. When the disciples returned, and
begged the Lord to eat, He replied, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of."
His spirit had been deeply refreshed by His conversation with the Samaritan
woman (John 4). In like manner Elijah rose above his bodily needs, and gave
himself to prayer.
The knowledge that God means to give does not make prayer
unnecessary. Thus in Ezek. 36-37 Jehovah, after having declared in a very
full way His purposes of grace concerning Israel, said, "I will yet for this
be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them. " Elijah bowed himself
upon the earth. and put his face between his knees. A becoming attitude surely!
He who stood bold and erect before king, prophets. and people now takes the
lowest possible place before God. His success had not elated him. His name
would become famous when the report of Carmel got abroad throughout Israel,
Judah, and other lands, but the prophet was not seeking glory for himself.
He was just Jehovah's servant, and had acted according to His word. Having
fulfilled his commission, he got down low at the feet of Him who sent him.
Brethren. prayer is no light matter. It is a wonderful thing
to enter into the presence of the Divine Majesty! His greatness and our littleness
should be remembered; but oh the privilege in this day of being able to draw
near to the Father in the name of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit!
The prophet who three and a half years previously, prayed
"withhold the rain." now prays "Send the rain." But even so (and doubtless
Elijah had with Jehovah about the matter before the great gathering took place),
the answer to his prayer was not immediate. He said to his servant ( was it
the widow's son whom he had raised from the dead?) "Go up now look toward
the sea." He returned saying, "There is nothing." It frequently pleases God
to test the faith of His people; but He encourages us to "continue in prayer,
and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Col. 4: 2); also to "pray always
with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph. 6: 18). The widow of
Luke 18: 2-5 was probably not a mere parabolic character, but an actual person
whom the Lord had observed. Her perseverance attracted Him. She had a grievance,
and she took it to the judge; but he was not disposed to burden himself with
the matter. But the woman persevered. Morning after morning When the doors
of the Court were opened, in walked that widow! Let no reader misunderstand
the application. God is not indifferent, and unwilling to bless; and certainly
He would not despise a suppliant because she was poor and a widow; it is the
woman's perseverance that He bids us remember and emulate. One wonders what
would happen if some person accosted us when coming away from a prayer-meeting,
and were to ask what we have prayed for? Could we always give a coherent answer!
The widow could have given a very plain reason why she attended the Court.
Elijah said to his servant. "Go again seven times." Seven
is God's number of perfection. The seventh time the young man said. "Behold,
there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand." The Lord
Jesus said to the people in His day, "when ye see a cloud rise out of the
west (and Elijah's servant was looking towards the west) straightway Ye say.
there cometh a shower; and so it is" (Luke 12: 54). The "man's hand" is suggestive.
Belshazzar saw the fingers of a man's hand writing upon the plaster of the
wall of his palace, and it pronounced his doom (Dan. 5: 5). There is a Man
into whose hand God has committed both judgement and blessing for men; judgement
bye-and-bye, blessing now (Acts 17: 31). Israel having become repentant, and
having judged the evil that was amongst them, blessing was now to be granted.
The little cloud was enough for Elijah. He sent a message
to Ahab, who apparently had not yet left the mountain: "Prepare thy chariot,
and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not." The longed-for rain fell
heavily. "It came to pass in the meanwhile, that the heavens were black with
clouds and wind and there was a great rain." Elijah was so overjoyed that
he did a remarkable thing. "The hand of Jehovah was on Elijah: and he girded
up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel" (Kings 19: 46).
He must have been both tired and hungry. and he was probably a man advanced
in years; yet he made himself the king's footman in the joy of his heart.
Things seemed to be getting right again amongst the people of God; and that
was everything to the man who loved Jehovah and His people. In like spirit
David danced before Jehovah with all his might when the ark of the covenant
was carried up into Zion (2 Sam. 6: 14). Neither prophet nor king thought
of dignity on those great occasions! The Lord has told us there is joy in
the presence of God over one sinner that repenteth; and John writing to his
friend Gaius says. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk
in the truth" (3 John 4). These are pure joys of which this unhappy world,
in its estrangement from God knows nothing; but unless we, God's saints, are
walking in communion with Him, such joys will not appeal to our hearts as
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We may perhaps wonder that Elijah, a man so morally superior
to Ahab, should run before his chariot from Carmel to Jezreel-no mean journey.
He would "honour the king," as we are exhorted to do in 1 Peter 3: 17. This
is always the becoming attitude of God's saints towards the supreme ruler,
irrespective of what his personal character may be. The ruler, whoever he
may be at any time or in any land is God's representative. He may be too ungodly
to understand this himself; but faith understands it and acts accordingly.
We picture the prophet arriving in the city drenched with
mire, very hungry and very tired; but should he have gone there at all? He
doubtless meant well even as Paul in his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 21).
The express word of Jehovah took Elijah to Cherith, to Zarephath, and twice
into Ahab's presence; but the word of Jehovah is not mentioned in connection
with his run to Jezreel. Had he forgotten Jezebel? That violent woman was
a force to be reckoned with, but not at all to be feared by a man of faith
conscious that God was directing his steps. The Lord taught His disciples
to pray, "lead us not into temptation" (Matt. 6: 13); for we do not realize
how weak we are until we are tested. If it be urged that "the hand of Jehovah
was on Elijah," thus giving him strength for the journey, that does not prove
that Jehovah was sending him. For an angel was sent from heaven to provide
a meal for him when he was fleeing to Horeb, n journey which was most certainly
not undertaken by the word of Jehovah.
Poor weak Ahab, on his return from Carmel, told Jezebel all
that had taken place there, and particularly the destruction of the prophets.
In her fury, Jezebel sent a message to Elijah: "So let the gods do to me,
and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow
about this time" (1 Kings 19: 2). This appears to have followed quickly, and
thus the messengers would find, the prophet at a low ebb physically. He seemed
unable to view the threat calmly, or even to spread it out before Jehovah.
A little reflection would have suggested to him that the threat was practically
empty, for why should Jezebel give him a day's notice of her intention to
kill him! Her messenger could easily have slain him at once, as Herod's executioner
beheaded John the Baptist (Mark 6: 27). It rather looks as if Jezebel's real
aim was to drive Elijah out of the country, lest his influence became too
strong to suit her evil purposes. Public opinion was in favour of the prophet
at this juncture, and it might not be polite to murder him! It is said of
Chrysostom of Constantinople that when the Empress Eudoxia sent him a threatening
message, he replied, "Go, tell her Majesty that I fear nothing but sin." But
nothing of this seemed possible for Elijah at this critical moment. It has
been truly said that faith in us is never more feeble than immediately after
a great victory. We see this in David. He gained a moral triumph over himself
in 1 Sam. 26., when he had Saul in his power, and refused to hurt him; the
next thing we read is: "David said in his heart, I shall perish one day by
the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily
escape into the land of the Philistines" (1 Sam. 27: 1). What a collapse of
faith! God had carried David safely through many perils; now confidence seemed
at an end! So with Elijah in 1 Kings 19. With calm courage he had confronted
multitudes on Mount Carmel; now he is terror-stricken by the voice of a woman!
Peter was bold enough in the garden in the presence of soldiers; but became
an abject coward when amongst the servant-maids! Real danger he faced boldly;
where no danger appears to have been, he feared the worst! What poor creatures
we are! King, prophet, and apostles thus broke down! Are we better than they?
Let us watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation (Matt. 26: 41). Certain
Pharisees approached the Lord Jesus one day saying: "Get Thee out, and depart
hence: for Herod will kill Thee." God's perfect Servant saw through the move,
Herod himself had inspired that message. He wished to get rid of Jesus out
of his borders; but he had no wish to repeat the crime of murder, for the
death of John the Baptist still troubled his conscience. But the Lord refused
to be deflected from the path of duty (Luke 13: 31-33). When the last evening
arrived. He went, as He was wont, to the mount of Olives, well knowing what
awaited Him there (Luke 22: 39).
Jezebel's threat overwhelmed Elijah, "When he saw that, he
went for his life." Unlike Paul, who said: "None of these things move me,
neither count I my life dear unto myself" (Acts 20: 24). "I am ready to die
at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21: 13).
"When he saw that!" Everything depends upon what our eyes
see whether we are strong or weak. The sight of the glorified Christ strengthened
Stephen to suffer and die: and Paul to suffer and live (Col. 1: 11). Elijah
was no longer able to say, "As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth, before whom
I stand. " For the time being, his eyes were not upon God His departure from
Jezreel was no mere retirement, as when our Lord went into the country in
John 11: 54; it was panic! It did not even occur to him to seek shelter in
the dominions of pious King Jehoshaphat. He rushed through the kingdom to
Beersheba in the far south. There he left his servant, and went still further,
right outside God's land altogether!
Let us not miss the lesson of this. It is always possible
for a man's personal faith to be unequal to the greatness of his testimony.
In that case, the pressure of painful circumstances will cause a break-down
sooner or later. Do we really mean all that we say! Is God indeed to our souls
all that our preaching would suggest? These are serious- questions, which
every witness for God should face. We must watch and pray lest circumstances
arise which would reveal that we are not the men of faith we seem to be.
Elijah having gone a day's journey into the wilderness sat
down under a juniper tree and spoke to God, probably his first word of prayer
since he left Jezreel. "He requested for himself that he might die." Unbelief
is always unreasonable and inconsistent. If the prophet really wished to die,
why did he flee from Jezebel? Why not die a martyr's death in the midst of
the people of God! Jehovah was no longer uppermost in his thoughts. The divine
glory was not before his mind, but some fancied advantage for himself. Life
was now a disappointment! His work in Israel had gone all wrong! How gracious
of our God not to take His poor perverse servants always at their word! It
was His intention that Elijah should not die at all; that he should have an
exit from the world such as no-one ever had before, or has had since! Paul
in Phil. 1 took a totally different line from Elijah. His work also had gone
wrong (as men would judge), and he was in prison, with martyrdom threatening.
Calmly in the presence of God he considered the situation. He was in a great
"strait." If he put his own interest first, he would desire to depart and
be with Christ, which would be happier for him than the happiest experiences
here. But he thought of the need of the saints; therefore he desired to remain
on earth a little longer: but in any case his one ambition was that Christ
should be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death.
Elijah's prayer was brief and pointed as his manner was, "It
is enough; now, O Jehovah, take away my life: for I am not better than my,
fathers." In the concluding words perhaps is contained the secret of his failure.
Who ever said that he was better than his fathers? Possibly his success on
Mount Carmel had inflated him. All alone he had accomplished great things
for God. Did this really make him feel somewhat important and even indispensable!
This is a condition of mind which can easily develop in any of us; but it
is fatal to our usefulness. Many years ago, the writer called to say farewell
to an aged servant of Christ just passing into the presence of his Lord. As
we clasped hands at parting he said: "Goodbye, beloved brother; remember,
few men are important, and none are necessary." Wholesome words, not to be
lightly forgotten! It is an unspeakable honour for the great God to make use
of any of us in His work; but let us never imagine that He cannot do without
Elijah fell asleep. Well we might, for surely he was badly
over-wrought. After some time (not too soon, we may be sure) an angel touched
him, saying, "Arise and eat." Looking around, he saw a cake baken on hot stones
and a cruse of water; having refreshed himself, he slept again. Here we have
a truly wonderful manifestation of the kindness of God. An angel sent from
heaven to provide a meal for a faulty servant who had forsaken an important
post of duty, and who was now completely outside the path of God's leading!
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!
When we compare this angelic ministration with the prophet's
experience at Cherith the conclusion is this:-when he was right with God,
it was simply the need of his stomach which had to be considered, and the
ravens sufficed for that service; but when he was all wrong with God, something
more serious than his stomach was in question; God would reach his heart.
The attentions of the angel would be a definite assurance to Elijah that Jehovah
loved and cared for him still spite of his deep failure. Elijah should have
learned from this. God's feelings towards His erring people Israel. The prophet's
complaints at Horeb will tell us that he did not feel towards the people as
God did. A second time the angel awoke him, saying, "Arise and eat; because
the journey is too great for thee." A journey that he should never have undertaken!
John 21 furnishes with another instance of a meal provided
by divine love for disobedient servants. It was not an angel but the Lord
Jesus Himself, who prepared that fish breakfast. Cold, wet, and hungry, the
seven disciples who went fishing in self-will instead of waiting patiently
for their expected Lord were warmed and fed with no word of censure from His
It is a precious thought that God never gives up His saints,
however faulty they may be. At a Bible Reading long ago where it was being
taught that the believer in Jesus stands in the eternal sunshine of God's
favour, the question was asked, "But what if I turn my back upon Him." The
reply was given "He will shine on your back!" God knew that His poor servant
Elijah was physically over-wrought, and He handled him in suitability to his
condition. Our contemptible foe delights to attack the children of God at
such times, and too often he gains an advantage. The Lord Jesus had been forty
days without food when Satan approached Him in the wilderness and suggested
to Him to make stones into bread. but he had no success with God's Holy One.
Whether full or hungry, He refused to act in the smallest matters without
a word from God (Matt. 4: 4).
These pages are being written during times of greater stress
than men have known since the world's foundation. Many beloved children of
God are over- wrought. Frequent alarms; destruction of property; loss of loved
ones; combined with lack of help in the duties of daily life, are telling
their tale. With lowered physical vitality, the temptations of the Devil are
serious; faith can only be maintained at its true level by moment by moment
dependence upon God. No circumstances are too serious for His abounding grace.
Back To Contents
At the Mount of God
Strengthened by the food so wonderfully provided, Elijah proceeded
further into the wilderness. John the Baptist chose the wilderness for its
possibilities of quiet communion with God (Luke 1: 80): there is no evidence
that Elijah went there with anything so commendable in his mind. For the time
being, he had practically forgotten God. Terrible possibility for any of us
in times of discouragement! After forty days the prophet reached Horeb, the
mount of God- a place of peculiar interest. There Jehovah had dealings with
Moses, forty years after his premature attempt to deliver His people. At Horeb
Moses learned precious lessons which fitted him for his future service in
Israel (Ex. 3). In the same neighbourhood was Mount Sinai, where Jehovah had
dealings with the nation. and set before them His holy law (Ex. 20). It is
significant that Elijah in his indignation against the people should have
gone there. It was as if he desired judgement upon them for their unfaithfulness.
The Holy Spirit in Rom. 2: 2 says "he pleaded with God against Israel."
The prophet took shelter in a cave, and soon he heard the
voice of Jehovah. He had heard the kindly words of the angel, but he had been
out of touch with Jehovah for some time. The divine voice was a challenge:
"What doest thou here, Elijah!" This reminds us of the Creator's call to disobedient
Adam in the garden, "Where art thou!" (Gen. 3: 9), and also of His challenge
to Cain, "What hast thou done!" (Gen. 4: 10). Elijah heard no divine challenge
either at Cherith or at Zarephath; for he went to both places by the Word
of Jehovah. But his presence at Horeb was a different matter. Jehovah did
not send him there; but, being there he was taught lessons of the deepest
possible importance and the record of them has been preserved for our instruction
We note the word "doest." "What doest thou here?" Great stirrings
were taking place in the land of Israel; for the mighty events on. Mount Carmel
must have made a deep impression upon the minds of the people. Jehovah was
now the confessed God of Israel, and no longer Baal. How useful Elijah might
have been as a worker and instructor amongst the masses at such a time; and
there was indeed no-one else who could have done the work. But here is Elijah
far away from the habitations of men. and sheltering in the quietness of a
cave! When the Lord says to His servants, "Come ye apart and rest awhile,"
it is the right thing to cease labour and retire (Mark 4: 31); but no such
words had been addressed to Elijah. He was an absentee from an important post
of duty at one of the most critical moments in his nation's history. Philip
left Samaria when the tide of blessing was in full flow, and went down to
a desert road; but the angel of the Lord directed him there, and he went unhesitatingly.
although he probably wondered why (Acts 8: 26).
Brethren, let us seek to be subject at all times to the controlling
hand of God. Let us never move without His guidance and when we get it, let
us go forward, like Paul and his friends in Acts 16: 9-10, when they crossed
the sea from Troas into Macedonia. One of the vital principles of Christianity
is the presence on earth of the Holy Spirit in testimony to the absent Christ.
He employs as instruments whomsoever He will, and He is the true Director
of all the operations. If we go where we should not, either for service or
for pleasure, we may hear the divine challenge. "What doest thou here?" and
what can we say in reply!
Elijah's reply was deplorable. "I have been very jealous for
Jehovah the God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant,
thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword: and I, even
I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away." Thus the disgruntled
prophet spoke well of himself, and ill of God's people, and virtually called
upon God to judge them. He had got a long way from God in his soul in expressing
himself thus. The contrast with Moses after the people's worship of the golden
calf is startling. When Jehovah proposed to wipe out the stiff-necked people,
and make a fresh start with Moses. Moses would not hear of it. He pleaded
the honour of Jehovah's great name; he entreated Him to remember Abraham,
Isaac, and Israel; and even prayed God to blot him out of the book of life,
if thereby the people might be forgiven! (Ex. 32). It was music to Jehovah
to hear His servant pleading thus in the spirit of self-sacrifice for His
erring people. What an anticipation of Christ! Moses never shone more brightly
than on that day of matchless intercession. Would that we could catch the
spirit of it!
God spoke again to Elijah. "Go forth, and stand upon the mount
before Jehovah." Great manifestations of divine power followed. "Jehovah passed
by, and a great strong wind rent the mountains. and brake in pieces the rocks
before Jehovah; but Jehovah was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake:
but Jehovah was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire; but
Jehovah was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice" (1 Kings
19: 11, 12). Manifestations of power are from God, but they must not be confounded
with God himself. Elijah had witnessed His power at Carmel; but because he
no longer beheld such displays, it seemed difficult for him to realize that
God was working at all. But he presently learned that a quiet gracious work
was proceeding in many hearts in Israel of which he was unaware. God had use
for the whirlwind, for out of it He spoke in majesty to Job and his friends
(Job 38: 1; Job 40: 6) and Nahum tells us "Jehovah hath His way in the whirlwind
and in the storm." He has use "for the earthquake": What blessed results followed
the shaking at the midnight hour in Philippi (Acts 16). An earthquake was
one of God's witnesses to His Son at the moment of His death (Matt 27: 51).
He has also use for the fire, as the people of Israel had so recently proved
on Mount Carmel. But although Elijah witnessed at Horeb the great and strong
wind. the earthquake. and the fire. it was the still small voice which made
him feel that he was having to do with God.
It is possible for us today to get discouraged if the work
of God in our hands does not move in striking ways. Persons of energetic disposition,
such as Elijah certainly was, are more likely than others to feel thus. Where
there are no visible manifestations we are apt to conclude that nothing is
doing at all! The Book of the Acts is instructive in this connection. God
used the violence of an earthquake to arouse the Philippian jailer, He opened
the very heavens to reach and lay low Saul of Tarsus; but Timotheus and Lydia
were reached by the quiet influence of the Word of God with nothing notable
connected with their conversion. A prominent London business man in the last
century, who was a lover of the Gospel (as we all should be) threw himself
very zealously into the great inter-denominational campaigns of his day, but
in the evening of life he said to me: "If I had my time over again, I would
let all such movements alone. Enormous expenses were incurred, and I do not
feel sure of the results. Upon mature reflection I think perhaps the best
work is done in the constant plodding in modest halls." I replied "I told
you that years ago." Those who want great things and who are filled with Elijah's
zeal and energy, would do well to remember what the London merchant said.
Too often the great things involve the use of worldly methods, and also the
sacrifice of divine principles which we profess to hold dear. These remarks
are not intended to discourage enterprise for God. Far from it. If there are
no signs of blessing in connection with the work we are doing. let us get
down before God about it, and ask Him why our labour appears to be in vain.
But the comparatively few souls that we can show as the result of quiet Scriptural
preaching may be worth more in the long run than the crowds who are registered
as converts because they have signed "decision cards." or have shaken hands
with the preacher! Some of these souls may possibly be injured for life by
such flippant handling.
There were no great things to show in Jerusalem after the
return from the captivity; but real solid work was wrought which delighted
the heart of God. By the hand of Zechariah the prophet Jehovah sent this encouraging
message to the leader of the people. "This is the word of Jehovah to Zerubbabel:
not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith Jehovah of hosts" (Zech.
4: 6). Again we say it was the still small voice which made Elijah feel that
he was having to do with God. It is the same today. God speaks now to consciences
and hearts in the written Word. The band, the choir, the solo. and other forms
of religious excitement are unlikely to lay bare the conscience, and create
in the hearer a horror of sin and its eternal consequences; such unapostolic
methods would rather tend to hinder the voice of God reaching the inner man
Jehovah's manner of approach to His fugitive servant was very
gracious. He did not address him angrily in tones of thunder. The "soft gentle
voice" ( J.N.D.) did not terrify Elijah. It drew him to the mouth of the cave
with his face reverently wrapt in his mantle. Servant and Master were now
as it were, face to face. A second time He who alone should control the movements
of His servants put the question, "What doest thou here Elijah?" The poor
prophet repeated word for word what he said when first challenged. The children
of Israel were so evil, they had forsaken Jehovah's covenant, thrown down
His altars, and slain His prophets. Elijah alone remained; and he also they
sought to kill! Such words were very grievous to Him who loved His people
with everlasting love (Jer. 31: 3). Since Elijah's day they have murdered
the Son of God; even so, we are told in Rom. 11: 28 they are still "beloved
for the fathers' sake." Let us tread softly when we examine the failures of
the servants of God. Elijah at Horeb, and Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 21) were
out of the path of divine leading. The story of their faults is written for
our warning. We do not feel worthy to stand alongside such devoted servants
of God, but we must face the fact that they were not perfect. The Lord Jesus
could have said all that Elijah said concerning rebellious Israel, and more!
Was He not tasting the bitterness of malignant rejection? Yet not a word of
complaint passed His lips, not a word that pleaded for judgement upon His
enemies. Instead, He wept over them; and even when on the way to Calvary.
He said "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do" (Luke 23: 34).
Centuries before His coming the Spirit of prophecy put these words into His
lips: "I have laboured in vain; I have spent My strength for nought, and in
vain" (Isa. 49: 4). But His labour was acceptable to the One Who sent Him,
and there His heart rested. Although treated by the people of Israel worse
than Elijah. He did not flee away. We have seen already that when a hint was
sent to Him to depart hence; or Herod would kill Him. He refused to do so.
because His work was not finished. At the same moment He spoke of the people
(of Jerusalem particularly) as having killed the prophets, but He said it
in grief, not In anger (Luke 13: 31-35). Ps. 16: 8 explains the difference
between the Lord Jesus and Elijah: "I have set Jehovah always before ME; because
He is at My right hand, I shall not be moved. " "Always" was not true of our
prophet. When Jehovah was indeed before him, he was bold as a lion: but when
he lost sight of Jehovah, and got Jezebel before him, be collapsed utterly.
Truly, God has only had one perfect Servant. Let us follow Him!
Jehovah's reply to Elijah's complaint is deeply solemn in
all its parts. " Go return!" Every false step with any of us must be retraced.
Abram should not have gone down into Egypt, and he enjoyed no more communion
with God until he returned "unto the place of the altar which he had made
there at the first; and there Abram called on the name of Jehovah" (Gen. 13:
4). But false steps and careless walking involve loss of time; so we are taught
in the law of the Nazarite (Num. 6: 12). Life is too short to allow of wasted
time! Life on earth is our great preparation for ETERNITY!
To proceed with Jehovah's words to Elijah. "Go return on thy
way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to
be king over Syria, and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king
over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-Meholah shalt thou anoint
to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth
the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword
of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have left Me seven thousand in Israel, all
the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed
him." The judgements which Elijah seemed to feel were necessary should be
executed. The forsaken covenant the desecrated altars, and the murdered prophets,
should all be avenged; the circumstances of the judgements should be analogous
to the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire. A ruthless destroyer from
without and a fierce reformer within. should be let loose upon the guilty
Elijah was now to go to Abel-Meholah (in Naphtali) to anoint
Elisha to be prophet in his room. He probably did not expect anything quite
as serious as all this when "he made intercession to God against Israel" (Rom.
11: 2- 5). The principal lesson that he learned at Horeb was that Jehovah
had seven thousand in Israel that were still true to Him, and refused Baal.
Elijah had seen the terrible evils which covered the land, but somehow he
had over-looked the good that was there. Had he known that Jehovah still had
thousands of true hearts in Ahab's dominions, he would scarcely have said:
"I, even I only am left!" Self-occupation is a spiritually ruinous thing,
whatever form it may take; but it is highly objectionable when it leads any
servant of God to imagine that he is the last true man upon earth! The testimony
of God has never yet depended upon the slender thread of a human life, and
it never will. God Himself will take care of the testimony; and in His own
infinite wisdom He always knows where to find instruments through whom He
can speak to the consciences and hearts of the people. The prophet said nothing
in response to the solemn words of Jehovah. What could he say!
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God's Seven Thousand
Elijah left Horeb, and started on his long journey Northward
with the words of Jehovah ringing in his ears (and we may hope in his heart
also): " I have left Me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have
not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him." God has always
had a loyal remnant, even in the darkest days of Israel and of Christendom.
In Thyatira, where blasphemy and wickedness prevailed there were those who
had not "this doctrine," and had not known the depths of Satan (Rev. 2: 24).
To the angel of the Church in dead Sardis the Lord said: "Thou hast a few
names which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in
white; for they are worthy" (Rev. 3: 4). When the tide of evil is flowing
strongly, some timid souls fear to declare themselves. Joseph of Arimathea
believed in Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews. Nicodemus was somewhat
like him; but the appalling wickedness of the crucifixion gave these men courage,
and brought them out into the light (John 19: 38-42). Our Lord's chosen disciples
who had professed loyalty to Him, one of them being particularly strong in
his protestations, were all missing at the critical hour. One of the twelve-Matthew
records that when John the Baptist was murdered "his disciples came, and took
up the body, and buried it" (Matt. 14: 12). Surely Matthew's heart smote him
as he penned those words! He and his fellow-disciples did not do for the Lord
Jesus what the disciples of John did for their teacher. It is undisputably
the will of God that those who revere His name and value His truth should
stand forth boldly in testimony, whatever the danger may be: but if in their
timidity any lack courage for this, God does not despise the true faith which
reigns in their hearts.
Now here is an interesting thing:-no sooner had Jehovah told
Elijah of the loyal seven thousand than He began to bring some of them out
into prominence. Elijah, of course knew of Obadiah, and of the prophets whom
he had befriended; now Elijah was sent to seek out Elisha the son of Shaphat.
Here then is one of the seven thousand. In the following chapter-1 Kings 20-we
read of three more although their names are not given (vv. 13, 28, 35). Then
in 1 Kings 21 we find faithful Naboth: and in 1 Kings 22 we have Micaiah the
son of Imlah, whom Ahab hated for his outspokenness, and kept in prison. These
are a few samples of the true hearted minority living in the midst of apostate
It was a peaceful scene at Abel-Meholah. The rain for which
Elijah had prayed had done its work, and the land was ready for ploughing.
The man to whom he was sent was thus engaged. The fact that twelve yoke of
oxen were in use indicates that Elisha's father was a farmer in a large way.
Elisha thus turned his back on good prospects when he accepted the call to
follow Elijah. This is what God loves to see in those who serve Him. There
are many in our day say they are "out in the work." This means that they no
longer evangelise after office hours, but now devote their whole time to the
service. Certainly if their ambition is to go from door to door and from town
to town in search for souls, it is well that they should be free from everything
else. But, my brethren, what has the step cost you? Have you surrendered something
substantial (as men speak) in order to serve the interests of Christ in a
needy world! Many years ago a brother in an English town wrote me confidentially
for advice. He could not make his shop pay, and he wondered whether the Lord
would have him close it, and go forth to preach. What did I think? I replied
that the Lord has no use for ne'er-do-wells. A poor grocer would not be likely
to make a good preacher. If his business were at the height of prosperity,
and he felt the urge of the Gospel, the Lord would be delighted with the sacrifice.
A different case was that of a young Englishman who held a good post with
fine prospects who had China upon his heart. Just as he was posting his letter
of resignation, a notification came from his employer that he was to be promoted
to higher work with a considerable increase of salary! He hesitated not, but
posted his letter and in due course sailed for China. What God wants is men
who are ready to tread the path of His beloved Son who "sold all that He had."
Elisha had nothing to gain as far as this world is concerned
by following Elijah. The prophet was a proscribed man, and his life in continual
peril. The Lord Jesus warned those who would follow Him that it might involve
the loss of everything. Foxes had holes and birds had nests, but the Son of
man hath nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8: 20). Men called Him Beelzebub;
what could His followers expect to be called (Matt. 10: 25). He was going
onward to a cross; were His disciples willing to carry one? (Mark 8: 34).
Paul rejoiced to be treated as the filth of the world, and as the off- scouring
of all things for Christ's sake (1 Cor. 4: 13). Do we seek ease and honour
in the scene of our Lord's rejection?
It has been said that Elijah was now to be superseded by Elisha.
This seems hardly correct. Jehovah still had use for him as subsequent chapters
show. But meantime He would teach His servant that the testimony was in no
real peril, and He granted him the honour of training the man who should continue
it. In the days (or perhaps years) that followed, Elijah had the comfort of
Godly companionship. His sense of loneliness had been too much for him, and'
had bred unbecoming thoughts in his mind. It is written of Elisha that "he
poured water on the hands of Elijah" (2 Kings 3: 11). Simple imagery, telling
us how the younger man refreshed the elder. Paul experienced something of
this in the loving ministrations of his son Timothy (Phil. 2: 19-22).
We must not leave the subject of God's seven thousand without
making, its application to ourselves in these closing days of the Christian
era. Some who will read these pages have taken a definite stand in separation
from the growing evils of Christendom. Popery, religious infidelity ("Higher
Criticism"), and other forms of disobedience to the Word of God are marching
on ; and these separated ones abhor them all. This is good. Beware lest you
allow discouragement, or anything else, to weaken the stand. you have taken.
But also beware how you speak of your brethren who ( unaccountably to your
minds) remain where they are. God knows their hearts; you do not. They are
His saints; dear to Him for Jesus' sake. They cost Him more than you will
ever fully understand, and in His own time He will cause them to shine forth
in all the divine perfections of His Beloved Son. Speak no ill of them ; judge
them not. Some of their works, wrought amidst difficulties, are doubtless
precious in His sight. It was so even in corrupt Thyatira (Rev. 2: 19). It
may he that the inconsistencies of some professedly separated ones have stumbled
them-a most serious confederation which should cause the deepest heart-searching
Elijah blundered in speaking ill of God's people. Terrible
words; "he maketh intercession to God against Israel" (Rom. 11: 2). God will
never tolerate this in any one. Love them; pray for them, and instruct them
in meekness as God may give opportunity (2 Tim. 2: 25). A censorious attitude
may lead some to say: "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die
with you" (Job 12: 2). The spirit that is characteristic of Philadelphia is
delightful to God; let us cultivate it. But a suppositious Philadelphia may
easily degenerate into a very real Laodicea!
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Solomon says in Ecc. 2: 4: "I made me great works; I builded
houses; and I planted vineyards." Ahab could have said the same; but what
blessing did he get out of it all? The humble prophet Elijah, whom he persecuted,
is in Heaven; but Ahab, alas! is not there. His father Omri built Samaria,
and made it the capital of his kingdom, not being satisfied with Tirzah. Ahab
also built new cities, but he seems to have preferred Jezreel as a place of
residence. In 1 Kings 22: 39 we read of "the ivory house which he built,"
which was probably in Jezreel. He cast eyes upon the vineyard of a neighbour,
Naboth by name, and demanded it; offering to give him a better vineyard in
exchange, or money if he wished. Naboth brought Jehovah's name into the matter.
It was not Ahab's custom to think of Jehovah, still less to seek His guidance
about his doings. Naboth said: "Jehovah forbid it me that I should give the
inheritance of my fathers unto thee" (1 Kings 21: 3 ). Let us be quite clear
what was involved in this reply. Our God would not wish His servants to be
disobliging and un-neighbourly, but it was not such sentiments as these that
guided Naboth in his refusal of the King's demand. The land of Israel was
unique in the earth. It was Jehovah's land in a very special sense (had He
not a house there!), so much so that in Jer. 12: 14 Jehovah speaks of the
nations round about as" My evil neighbours. " The land had been distributed
amongst the tribes by His direction, and every individual Israelite was responsible
to regard himself as a tenant under his God. He was thus not at liberty to
alienate his portion. If he became poor, he might sell it until the Jubilee.
"The land shall not be sold for ever, for the land is Mine for Ye are strangers
and sojourners with Me. And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant
a redemption for the land" (Lev. 25: 23, 24). Moreover, we gather from Num.
36 that even such a temporary sale must take place within the limits of the
tribe, so that Jehovah's original distribution might not be disturbed. Ahab
had no fear of God before his eyes; the Word of God had no place in his heart;
and the year of Jubilee meant nothing to him. Had Naboth yielded to the king,
it is not at all likely that the property would ever be returned. Also, Ahab
probably belonged to a different tribe. In Ezek. 47: 18 it is enacted that
the prince who will rule for God in the holy land during the Millennial era
must not take of the people's inheritance by oppression, "that My people be
not scattered every man from his possession."
Naboth was thus a man of faith. His father valued what Jehovah
had given him, and Naboth valued it also. He would die rather than surrender
what really belonged to God. The Naboth spirit seems rare in our time. Divine
principles which our fathers prized, and for which many suffered the loss
of everything, are very lightly regarded by their children. The worthies of
past years are even regarded as over-scrupulous. A little of the accommodating
spirit of the Twentieth Century would have been to their advantage! To be
spoken of as a "Puritan" is considered a great reproach today!
In the early days of the Nineteenth Century holy men with
hearts aflame to learn the will of God, recovered for us priceless treasures
of truth which ecclesiasticism had long obscured. Once more God's saints (or
at least a remnant of them) realized their union with Christ risen and glorified,
and became detached in heart from things here. The blessed hope of His coming
for His Heavenly saints was disentangled from the judgements of God Church
re-appeared to their soul's vision in its true relationships. It is Christ's
body, to be in intimate association with Him in His glories. but meantime
it is a vessel for the manifestation of His perfections here amongst men.
It is God's house. the temple of the Holy Spirit in which He graciously dwells,
and where He delights to work sovereignly for the blessing of the members
of Christ. Dr. C. I. Scofield. in the introduction to his well known Bible,
refers with appreciation to the "intensity and breadth of interest in Bible
study unprecedented in the history of the Christian Church." Thus our "fathers"
have handed down to us a priceless heritage: but do we value it, Have we sought
to develop it further? Do we pore over the sacred page individually? Is it
to us more to be desired than gold, and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb?
(Ps. 19: 10). Also do we delight to read it collectively; or have we sunk
so low that we need to be entertained? Conferences. Rallies. Lantern lectures.
and Solos are poor substitutes for the quiet. reverent. conversational Bible
Readings in which our" fathers" delighted. ..and from which they drew their
strength. Have we in contrast with Naboth, sold our inheritance for "a better
vineyard." or for money? Brethren, where are we? Have we really gone forth
to Christ "without the camp. bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13: 13); or have
we merely exchanged a "Church" for a "Hall?"
Ahab returned home sulky after his talk with Naboth and refused
to eat. When Jezebel learned the cause, she moved promptly. She wrote letters
to the Town Council. using the king's name and the royal seal. Her orders
were peculiarly diabolical. The elders and nobles were to proclaim a fast,
set Naboth at the head of the gathering, and bring in two sons of Belial (
i.e.. sons of worthlessness) to charge him with having cursed God and the
king. We understand this to mean that they were to imagine some divine displeasure
against their city: at the fast the cause was to be inquired into, with Naboth
presiding; he whom they thus professed to honour was to be denounced as the
"Achan" of the place, and hurried off to execution ( Joshua 7: 25). The whole
business seems too horrible for belief; yet such was the moral degradation
of Israel that all this was done by queen and elders in God's Name! (Baal
had for the time being gone into the shade). It will be remembered that two
wicked men were hired by the religious chiefs of Jerusalem to falsely accuse
the Lord Jesus. that they might have some appearance of justification for
putting Him to death (Matt. 27: 60).
Jezebel's action in the case of Naboth was a dark foreshadowing
of what Christendom's Jezebel has frequently been guilty of. Time-serving
rulers and governors have been all too willing to put to a cruel death choice
saints of God at the bidding of the so-called "Church." But God will remember
all that has been done in Israel and in Christendom in the coming day of recompense.
Innocent blood will yet be avenged (Rev. 18: 24). "Thou hast seen it, for
Thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with Thy hand" (Ps. 10: 14).
Not only was Naboth murdered, but his sons with him (2 Kings
9: 26). The wicked elders would make certain that no heirs should arise to
challenge what they had done.
When Ahab was told by Jezebel that Naboth was dead, he went
to the vineyard to take possession of it. Jehovah acted swiftly. He bade Elijah
go and confront him in the blood-stained plot. The wicked king quailed before
the messenger of God. " Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?
And he answered, I have found thee; because thou hast sold thyself to work
evil in the sight of Jehovah" (1 Kings 21: 20). Ahab then had to listen to
as fearful a sentence as was ever passed upon a sinner. It was in three parts.
(1)" Behold, I will bring evil upon thee. " He personally must suffer. He
came to a miserable end, as we know. (2) His whole family was to be destroyed,
like the families of his evil predecessors Jeroboam and Baasha. He had wiped
out Naboth's family: God would wipe out his. (3) Jezebel was to be eaten by
dogs. The fearful sentence concluded thus: "Him that dieth of Ahab in the
city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of
the air eat." Hardened sinner though he was, Ahab was overwhelmed as he listened,
and he rent his clothes, put sackcloth upon his flesh, and went softly. He
knew that there was power in the words of God as uttered by Elijah. The God
of all grace responded to Ahab's humiliation, and the greater part of the
sentence was postponed in its execution. Jehovah said to Elijah: "Seest thou
how Ahab humbleth himself before Me? Because he humbleth himself before Me,
I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring
evil upon his house." God took into account the evil influence under which
he lived-"whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." But he should never have married
the woman, and he must be held accountable for her iniquities (ver. 19); for
the man is the divinely appointed head of the woman, whatever kind of woman
she may be (1: Cor. 11: 3). Let none of us overlook this!
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Ahaziah and His Captains
Men should learn lessons from the past. but do they? Particularly
where God's dealings are involved men should profit; but the mind of man is
very obtuse in all things relating to God. Belshazzar was quite aware of how
Jehovah had humbled Nebuchadnezzar; he knew also how Jehovah took up the challenge
when the proud king presumed to cast three of His servants into the burning
fiery furnace, Yet he openly defied the God of Israel. Ahaziah knew quite
well when he began his reign of the great drought which an indignant God had
inflicted upon the nation because of its idolatry. He knew also of the solemn
event on Mount Carmel, when Baal's prophets were publicly confounded, and
then slain; yet his short reign of two years was marked by defiance of Jehovah.
1 Kings 22: 52 records that "he did evil in the sight of Jehovah, and walked
in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother" for Jezebel still
lived, and was still influential in the land). He copied Jeroboam's sins,
and "served Baal, and worshipped him." Various events which followed one another
quickly should have spoken to his conscience:-first, the tragic death of his
father; second, the revolt of Moab after 150 years subjection to Israel; and
third, his own accident. Wisdom would have taught him to enquire of God "is
there not a cause?"
Finding himself a sick man through his fall out of a window,
Ahaziah sent messengers to enquire of Baal-zebub. the god of Ekron whether
he should recover (2 Kings 1). This was flagrant, for the recognition of Baal
had been discouraged in the land, and Jehovah was (at least nominally) Israel's
God. When Ahab's false prophets encouraged him to go to war with the Syrians.
it was not Baal's name that they used. but the name of Jehovah (1 Kings 22:
6). Baal-zebub means "lord of flies." The belief that flies carried disease
led blind heathen to turn to this particular god for help: but Ahaziah should
have known better. To enquire at Ekron was really to enquire of demons. Idols
are nothing in themselves, but there are demons behind them, as 1 Cor. 10
teaches us. Traffic with demons is painfully common in our day. Men call it
Spiritualism; "demonism" would be a more correct name for this great sin.
This is unpardonable where Bibles abound, and where the Gospel of Christ is
freely proclaimed. The moral and spiritual consequences of this unholy traffic
are very serious.
An angel of Jehovah bade Elijah meet the messengers of the
"king of Samaria" (he disdained to call such a man "King of Israel"). and
ask then whether there was no longer a God in Israel that they must needs
go to Ekron. They were to go back to their master, and tell him he would not
recover, but would surely die. The messengers apparently awestruck, but without
knowing that it was Elijah who had spoken to them, went back to the king with
the message. When Ahaziah enquired what kind of man it was who had thus intercepted
them, they said it was "a man in a hairy garment, with a girdle of leather
about his loins." The King at once recognised his father's dread monitor,
he said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite!"
Not ashamed of his impiety, and in no wise humbled, Ahaziah
ordered the arrest of the prophet. But why send a captain with fifty men (presumably
armed) against a helpless old man! Conscience told the king that there was
a mysterious power connected with Elijah which must be reckoned with. But
what could soldiers do against the power of God! The captain found Elijah
sitting on top of a hill. He said to him: "Thou man of God. the king hath
said. come down." The prophet replied: "If I be a man of God, let fire come
down from heaven and consume thee and thy fifty." The terrible thing took
place forthwith. Such a disaster should have warned both the king and his
officers that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living
God" (Heb. 10: 31). But a second company was sent, as numerous as the first.
The second captain was irritable. "O man of God, the king hath said come down
quickly." Military discipline is doubtless important. Officers and men, generally
speaking, must obey their superiors; but every man, in every land, whether
soldier or civilian. is first of all a servant of God and he should on no
account surrender his conscience. It will be no answer in the day of judgement
that the king or government commanded this or that. "We ought to obey God
rather than man" (Acts 5: 29). The fact that both captains addressed Elijah
as "man of God" proves that they had some idea that they were contending with
God. It was no secret to any in Israel that at Elijah's word rain was withheld
and fire descended: in other words, this humble man wielded the judgements
of God. It was one thing to reject his testimony; it was quite another to
attempt to destroy the man himself. God's name having been brought into the
matter, He must needs take up the challenge. Ahaziah's father once benefited
by the folly of the Syrians in this respect. The Syrians having said that
Israel's God was God of the hills but not of the valleys, Jehovah asserted
Himself, and granted Ahab a great victory, wicked man though he was (1 Kings
20: 28). Thus, in the controversy between Ahaziah and Elijah, Jehovah again
asserted Himself, and made the king and his people feel the might of His hand.
The second captain was less excusable than the first. Knowing of the destruction
of his predecessor, he impiously attempted the same thing, with the same fatal
What a contrast between Mount Carmel and the unnamed hill!
At the one the fire of God consumed the sacrifice, but spared the people;
at the other there was no sacrifice and the fire consumed the ungodly. The
sacrifice of the Lord Jesus is a safe shelter for sinners, apart from that
sacrifice, nothing but judgement is possible for any of us. Our Lord's disciples
once referred to the destruction of Ahaziah's men. They were in the neighbourhood
of that disaster; and they were indignant because the Samaritan people refused
a welcome to the Lord. He was on His way to Jerusalem a city of which they
were jealous, "Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven;
and consume them as Elias did!" ( Luke 9: 51-56). The Lord rebuked their mistaken
zeal. God had not at that time sent Him to judge the world, but that the world
through Him might be saved (John 3: 17). At His second coming, "He shall smite
the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall
He slay the wicked" (Isa. 11: 4).
The poor human heart is slow to understand grace. Both Peter
and Paul possessed miraculous powers, they could even raise the dead, but
never once did either call down judgement upon his persecutors. With meekness
they accepted all that came upon them for Jesus' sake, assured that in the
wisdom of God everything would turn out to the furtherance of the Gospel.
The cross of Jesus explains this. That blessed One could easily have smitten
His foes; the fact that His captors fell to the ground at the sound of His
voice was a warning to them as to this (John 18: 6). When Peter became violent
in the garden, He told him that a word of prayer to the Father would bring
twelve legions of angels to His aid. But such a prayer He would not offer
(Matt. 26: 53).
The cross of Jesus was a necessity in the ways of God. Only
on the ground of that great sacrifice could He give effect to His eternal
counsels of grace. Righteousness having had it's way, grace flows freely,
yea. "the exceeding riches of His Grace" (Eph 2: 7). The cross will yet be
divinely avenged; but until the solemn day when God will change His attitude
towards men, those who Serve Him must be content to suffer. We cannot too
frequently remind ourselves that we are followers of a rejected Christ. When
He gets His vindication, we shall get ours also.
A third captain was sent against Elijah. He-wise man-fell
upon his knees, and pleaded for his life and for the lives of his men. He
realized that it was vain to contend with God. In David's day three companies
of men were sent by Saul to take him. and all three were equally willing for
their evil work. But God had His own way of turning their efforts to folly
(1 Sam. 19: 21). Ahaziah's third captain took very humble ground with the
man of God. "I pray thee. let my life, and the lives of these fifty thy servants,
be precious in thy sight." (2 Kings 1: 13). Submission to God, represented
by Elijah, saved those fifty one men. "Thy servants"; note the words addressed
by a military officer to a humble Gileadite peasant. In like manner, no sinner
need perish if he will but humble himself under the mighty hand of God (1
Peter 5: 6).
The honour of the God of Israel having been fully vindicated,
Elijah was told by the angel to go with the captain, fearing nothing. Behold
then the prophet with his rough hairy mantle going with his considerable military
escort to the royal palace! To his face he told the wicked king that there
would be no recovery for him; he would surely die. "Thus saith Jehovah." unmolested
the prophet walked out!
Note the sequel:-"So he died according to the word of Jehovah
which Elijah had spoken" (2 Kings 1: 17). "And Elijah went up by a whirlwind
into heaven" (2 Kings 2: 11). Tremendous contrast!
In the world's last crisis, after the removal of the heavenly
saints, heavy judgements will reappear at the call of the servants of God.
In Rev. 11 we read of witnesses in Jerusalem who will perform the same terrible
miracles as Moses and Elijah in the past. Also, the martyrs of that period
will pray for judgement upon their persecutors (Rev. 6: 10). But that period
is not Christianity.
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The Holy Spirit delights to tell us in Heb. 11 that the worthies
of old time preferred Heaven to Earth. Heavenly counsels had not yet been
revealed, nor could they be until after the death and resurrection of Christ
and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Old Testament saints were partakers of
an earthly calling; but they were so deeply sensible of the ruin of everything
re as the fruit of sin, and of the impossibility of flesh ever repairing the
mischief it has wrought, that their hearts rose up to Heaven. God was their
hope, and their affections were set where He dwells. They "confessed that
they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" they desired "a better country.
that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God:
for He hath prepared for them a city" (Heb. 11: 13-16). In that city we shall
meet them all ere long.
The manner of Elijah's departure from this scene of toil and
strife is noteworthy. We recall a moment when he sat under a juniper tree
disappointed and depressed, and requested for himself that he might die. Yet
the God of all grace had purposed for him a departure from this world such
as no other has ever had. the blessed Son of God alone excepted. " Enoch was
translated that he should not see death; and he was not, for God took him
"(Heb. 11: 5: Gen. 5: 24); but nothing spectacular is suggested in the Holy
Spirit's brief record. We-God's present saints-are expecting something far
more wonderful than either Enoch or Elijah experienced. Not individually.
but in a countless throng we shall be caught up. For this the Lord will come
in person (1 Thess. 4: 16-17). Oh, the unspeakable blessedness of " the coming
of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him!" (2 Thess.
2: 1). What an end to all the anxieties and sufferings of earth!
Elijah's removal was known in advance by many persons. At
least fifty-one men were interested in the great event, but only one witnessed
it (Elisha); and he only, so far as we can gather, got a blessing out of it.
The sons of the prophets were very sceptical about the miracle; and although
they were discouraged by Elisha. they sought diligently to find Elijah's body.
Why are men so dubious of divine miracles? Why should they doubt the power
of God! Alas, the fifty young men who searched for Elijah's body were all
"candidates for the ministry!" What a foreshadow of what has become very common
in our day.
Elijah's translation must be regarded as a mark of Jehovah's
approval of His servant who witnessed for Him so bravely in a very evil time.
His dealings with Elijah at Horeb, when for a moment his faith broke down,
were private. The record of what passed there was afterwards written for the
instruction of others who might come after.
The prophet's last journey requires careful examination. It
commenced from Gilgal. Elisha. accompanying him. Jehovah could easily have
taken up, His servant from Gilgal itself; instead, He led him about; first
to Bethel; next to Jericho, and then across Jordan. It was a kind of retracement
of Israel's steps in the days of Joshua. God would in this way present vividly
to Elijah's mind the hopeless evil of the people he had served so well. and
who had caused him so much grief and disappointment. Gilgal was Israel's first
camping ground after they crossed the Jordan. There they signified their dependence
upon God by circumcising themselves in the very presence of the foe (Joshua
5). The place was now one of Israel's chief centres of idolatry. "All their
wickedness is in Gilgal" (Hosea 9: 15). " At Gilgal multiply transgressions"
(Amos 4: 4). BETHEL had sacred associations as the place where Jehovah made
himself known to Jacob in His faithful love. He said: "this is the house of
God. and this is the gate of heaven " (Gen. 28: 17). Now one or Jeroboam's
calves stood there in public defiance of Jacob's God! JERICHO witnessed the
power of God at the beginning: its rebuilding was glaring evidence of the
people's infidelity ( 1 Kings 16: 34 Thence Elijah crossed the Jordan; and
from outside the limits of the land he was rapt by divine power to heaven.
His years of testimony. with striking miracles accompanying were a warning
to the nation; the conduct of Ahaziah and his officers was a solemn proof
that the warning was unheeded. But God delights in long-suffering. He is never
hasty in judgement. He even granted respite to wicked Ahab when He saw him
lying low in sackcloth after the murder of Naboth; and even now, although
He was withdrawing Elijah from the scene of testimony. He gave His wilful
people another opportunity in the gracious ministry of Elisha. But it was
all of no avail; and in due course the blow fell. The kingdom was destroyed;
and the people were swept out of their land into captivity. The terrible "Lo-Ammi"
sentence has not yet been recalled; nor will it be until the appearing of
the Lord Jesus.
There was not only a voice to Elijah in the steps of his last
journey; there was also a voice to Elisha, who was to witness for God in the
land after Elijah's departure. Elisha had an impression that there was a meaning-a
meaning of spiritual value-in the movements of that day. Thus he kept close
to the departing one, not permitting himself to be deflected, either by the
words of the prophet, or by the remarks of the sons of the prophets. Three
times Elijah said, "Tarry, here. I pray thee": but Elisha replied each time
with holy fervour: "As Jehovah liveth. and as thy soul liveth, I will not
leave thee. " It was not that Elijah wished to get rid of his friend; but
he would test his constancy. Barnabas counselled the converts in Antioch to
cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart (Acts 11: 23). Blessed counsel; may
we all heed it! Both joy and power depart when we allow anything to come in
between our souls and the Lord. Paul walked once from Troas to Assos-about
25 miles alone. sending his companions round by sea (Acts 20: 13). He had
his own reasons for avoiding conversations just then. With Elijah and Elisha
it was different. so (2 Kings 2: 11). Elisha
was bent on getting the full blessing of that wonderful day. Like Paul later,
he would have said: " This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are
behind . . ." (Phil. 3: 13).
GILGAL, as we have seen, was the starting point. There the
men of Israel used sharp knives upon themselves after they had crossed the
Jordan. This was God's way of teaching them that He can give no recognition
to the flesh; it is evil in His sight beyond repair. Have we in spirit crossed
the Jordan? Have we definitely accepted the death of Christ as our own, so
that we can intelligently hear the apostle saying to us, "If ye then be risen
with Christ, seek the things which are above where Christ sitteth on the right
hand of God" (Col. 3: 1). As surely as Elisha was appointed to represent the
prophet who had gone up to heaven, so we have been divinely set to represent
the glorified Christ. But in order that this may be we must be severe with
all the workings of the flesh. hence the words in Col. 3: 5. "Mortify your
members which are upon the earth." After the men of Israel had circumcised
themselves, Jehovah said: "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt
from off you" (Joshua 5: 9). Gilgal means "rolling." Everything that is suggestive
of the world; everything reminiscent of our ways when we were in and of the
world is a reproach to us. Let us never forget this.
BETHEL was the next halting-place. What a lesson of God's
faithfulness could be learnt there! When Jacob was in flight from home because
of his lying and deception, Jehovah appeared to him by night, and assured
him of His continued interest and care. He spoke of the land; his seed; and
his own personal needs (Gen. 28). Thus if we learn at Gilgal that flesh is
always evil, we learn at Bethel that God is always good. The late J. B. Stoney
once said: "I know enough of flesh to mistrust it utterly; I know enough of
the blessed God to trust Him fully." It gives strength to any witness for
God to be able to speak thus.
From Bethel the two prophets went to JERICHO. When Joshua
led the hosts of Israel into the land Jericho was a key city, strongly fortified.
They could not by-pass it; but they had no need of military machinery for
its destruction. Jehovah manifested His power by causing the walls to fall
down flat. Hiel the Bethelite rebuilt it in Ahab's day. In like manner men
are frequently seeking to rebuild that which has crashed as the fruit of their
sins (Isa 9: 9-10). But all the wit of man could not lift the curse which
lay upon Jericho. The situation of the city was pleasant; but the residents
were obliged to confess "the water is bad. and the ground barren " (2 Kings
2: 19). God is the great restorer; oh, that men could understand it!
After Jericho, Elijah and his friend reached the Jordan, and
by the power of God they passed through the river dryshod. Jordan being a
type of death, Elijah and Elisha typically passed through death that day on
to resurrection ground. The lessons of all these places should be grasped
by our souls if we are to be efficient witnesses for the absent Christ. The
badness of the flesh which calls for the knife continually (Gilgal); the faithfulness
of God (Bethel); the power of God over all the might of the enemy (Jericho);
and the great lesson of death and resurrection with Christ as taught in Col.
2 and 3.
On the eastern side of Jordan Elijah said to Elisha " Ask
what I shall do for thee before I be taken away from thee. " A test question,
assuredly, reminding us of Jehovah's word to Solomon in 1 Kings 3: 5. Elisha's
reply was prompt and decisive: "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit
be upon me. " Elijah spoke with authority. At this point he typifies the risen
Christ who has boundless blessings to bestow upon His own. Elisha could have
what he desired on one condition; he must see Elijah when taken from him.
Faith now sees Christ risen and glorified. Had we known Christ after the flesh,
i.e. as a living Messiah, we know Him as such no longer ( 2 Cor. 5: 16). He
has "gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God " ( 1 Peter 3: 22).
We are "in Him" there. This makes us heavenly as He is heavenly (1 Cor. 15:
48). Elisha did see his master taken up, and received his mantle as it came
down upon him. The risen Christ has sent down to us the Holy Spirit (John
16: 7). We thus have the same power for life and testimony as the man Christ
Jesus had when here amongst men.
What a sight E1isha beheld! "There appeared a chariot of fire
and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder: and Elijah went up by a
whirlwind into heaven." The one who was left exclaimed-"My father, my father,
the chariot of Israel. and the horsemen thereof!" He felt that the people
of God had lost their surest defence, although the people themselves were
too blind to understand it. In like manner the saints are today the world's
most precious asset, whether men perceive it or not. Having received Elijah's
mantle, E1isha rent his own clothes in two pieces. If we, God's present saints
are truly conscious of our union with the risen Christ, we will desire that
nothing of ourselves shall again be seen. Our whole deportment should speak
to men of Christ.
Elisha recrossed Jordan in order to begin his great work in
Israel. Smiting the waters with the mantle, he cried: "Where is Jehovah. the
God of Elijah?" and the waters parted before him. The honoured servant had
gone but God remained. This is always true. Men fill their little day. and
pass from us; their memory is precious; but God ever remains with His people.
Elisha enjoyed angelic ministry as well as Elijah; for when the Syrians besieged
Dothan with a view to taking him prisoner, the mountain was full of horses
and chariots of fire round about him (2 Kings 6: 17).
The sons of the prophets said of Elisha when they saw him,
"the spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha, " and they bowed low, respectfully
before him. May it be ours to be respected, not for our learning or wealth,
or social dignity, but for the power of the Spirit of Christ manifested in
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On the Holy Mount.
Very few men have been sent back to earth after having left
it. Three are noted in Scripture: -Samuel was sent (not in response to the
call of the witch) to pronounce the doom of Saul (1 Sam. 28); and Moses and
Elijah were sent to greet the Father's well-beloved Son on the Mount of Transfiguration.
A great honour for them. and full of meaning for us.
There was a general feeling in Israel that Elijah would come
back. Mal. 4: 5 was ample authority for this expectation. Among the questions
put to John the Baptist was. "Art thou Elias! And he saith, I am not" (John
1: 21 ). When the Lord Jesus challenged His disciples as to what the people
were saying about Him, they replied, so (Matt. 16:
13- 14). When He cried out in anguish upon the cross, the bystanders said
"He calleth for Elias... let us see whether Elias will come to save Him" (Matt.
Well-Elias (Elijah) did come to our blessed Lord, not to Calvary
to save Him, but to the holy mount to honour Him. That wonderful outshining
of glory was witnessed by three of His disciples for the strengthening of
their faith: for they were perplexed by His lowly bearing amongst men, and
also by His references to a cross, all so contrary to what they looked for
in the promised Messiah. Peter, when referring at a later date to the great
scene on the mount, said, so(2 Peter
1: 19 J.N.D.)
Several days before the Lord took Peter and John and James
to the mountain top He sought to prepare His disciples for a life of self-denial
and daily cross-bearing. For their encouragement He spoke also of a day of
recompense when He will come in glory, and then added, "Verily I say unto
you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death. till they
see the Son of man coming in His kingdom" (Matt 16: 24-28). These words give
us the key to the great vision of glory. It is a picture in advance of the
Millennial kingdom, presented more particularly in its heavenly aspect. Matthew
and Mark say "after six days"; Luke says "about eight days after." Six is
man's number; it speaks of his week of labour; it is refreshing to know that
after all man's toil and travail there will be an era of rest and glory. Eight
is the number of resurrection; the risen Christ will bring the blessing in,
and make it divinely secure. Matthew, says "and His face did shine as the
sun." How suited to the Kingdom Gospel! For God's King, when He appears, will
be "as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, a morning without clouds"
(2 Sam. 23: 4). To the God-fearing remnant of that day He will "arise as the
Sun of righteousness, with healing in His wings" (Mal. 4: 2). Mark and Luke
dwell upon our Lord's clothing. Mark tells us that "his raiment became shining,
exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them." Mark and
Luke present our Lord in His lowly character as Man and Servant; hence the
emphasis on that which suggests His perfect purity. John-the only one of the
four Evangelists who witnessed the glory on the holy mount-omits all reference
to it; for it was to him given by the Spirit of inspiration to set forth,
not our Lord's conferred glory, but the glory of His divine person.
To the astonishment of the three disciples, Moses and Elijah
appeared, and entered into conversation with the Lord. These prophets could
enter more than many into the feelings of the rejected Christ; for both suffered
severely from those to whose service they devoted their lives. Luke says the
theme of conversation was His "decease (exodus) which He was about to accomplish
at Jerusalem." Here we have the only basis of blessing. Moses brought down
from God the law to a people to whom he was obliged to say at the close of
his life: "Ye have been rebellious against Jehovah from the day that I knew
you" (Deut. 9: 24). Elijah appeared amongst the people at a critical time and
sought to lead them back into the path of obedience. Both Moses and Elijah
failed, for flesh is an evil thing. But the One who was about to give His
life for sinners could not fail. A Saviour who has passed through death and
risen again is the only hope of ruined men. Blessed be His holy name!
Peter was so delighted to see Moses and Elijah in the company
of his Lord that he proposed to make three tabernacles, "one for Thee, and
one for Moses, and one for Elias"; for he would fain prolong this wonderful
meeting. Peter meant well; but in his thoughtless outburst he really dishonoured
the Lord. He was almost putting Him on a level with Moses and Elijah! Yet
not long before in contrast with the gossiping multitude who thought that
Jesus might be Elijah or one of the old prophets risen again, Peter said fervently,
"Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God " ( Matt. 16: 13-16). It was
true that the three disciples fell asleep when they reached the mountain-top;
waking up, they saw the Lord in His glory- the glory of the promised kingdom.
As Peter spoke, the bright Shekinah cloud enveloped them all, and the voice
of the Father was heard, saying, " This is My beloved Son in whom I am well
pleased-hear ye Him." It was right to hearken to Moses and Elijah in their
day, for they spake from God: but One who was infinitely greater than all
the prophets had now come. All others must stand aside, and HE must be heard.
Remarkably, when Peter wrote his second epistle, and described. the vision
on the holy mount, he made no mention of Moses and Elijah being present! He
had learned his lesson. God was not exalting mere prophets that day. it was
upon His beloved Son, despised and rejected by men, He would put "honour and
glory ." "We were eye-witnesses of His majesty," says Peter enthusiastically,
" and the voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with Him in the
The outstanding elements of the glory of the coming kingdom
were present that day. Jesus was seen in His majesty; with Him were two men,
Moses representing the saints who have fallen asleep and who will be raised
at the Lord's coming: and Elijah representing those who will be caught up
without passing through death at all. A brilliant host of glorified saints
will shine forth with the Lord Jesus when He shows Himself once more to the
world. The heavenly saints are seen in Moses and Elijah: and the earthly in
Peter, James and John. In mortal bodies they beheld the glory of God. The
believing remnant of Israel, when they gaze upward at the opened heavens,
will say, "Lo, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us:
this is Jehovah: we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His
salvation" (Isa. 25: 9).
While glory was being displayed on the holy mount, a painful
scene was being enacted below. A poor child writhing in agony possessed with
a demon and the poor father bowed down with grief. The coming down of the
Lord Jesus changed everything. Satans powers were overthrown, and tears gave
place to thanksgiving and joy. Even so will it be in the great day for which
we wait, and for which the whole creation groans (Luke 9: 37-42; Rom. 8: 17-22).
Farewell, Elijah! In our meditations we have followed thee
through storm and calm up to the rest and peace of the home of God. It was
a great day when thou wast carried upwards in the whirlwind; it was a great
day when thou wast sent back to earth for a moment to greet the Son of God:
it will be a still greater day when in a mighty throng we shall all surround
the throne of God and the Lamb, and fall prostrate before the Lamb, and pour
forth the new song that will never grow old: "Thou art worthy..for Thou wast
slain. and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and
tribe, and people, and nation" (Rev. 5: 9). No more moments of depression
and discouragement; no more peevish longings to die; no more self-occupation;
all hearts concentrated upon Him who was the centre of the glory on the holy
hill, and who will be the centre of still higher glory for ever. AMEN!