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ELIJAH DEJECTED, REPROVED, AND ENCOURAGED
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 19:2. So let the gods do to me—The pl. אֱלֹהִימ is used commonly for GOD, Jehovah; but here appears for Jezebel’s idols. The Sept. prefixes to this oath the words, Εί σν εἶ Ἠλιοὺ καὶ ἐγὼ Ἰεζάβελ.—“If thou art Elias, and I Jezebel.”
1 Kings 19:3. And when he saw that—וַיַּרְא may be future of רָאָה, he saw, or יָרֵא, he feared. Accordingly the Sept., Vulg., and Peshito read, “And he was afraid.” But the former is preferable; for would Elijah be likely, after facing the Carmel ordeal, to take fright at this miserable threat of Jezebel?
1 Kings 19:4. Juniper tree—Broom plant, “the most longed for and most welcome bush of the desert” (Robinson). It is enough—“I have already endured tribulation enough” (Keil). “I have now lived long enough” (Lange).
1 Kings 19:6. Cake baken on the coals—On hot stones among ashes and coals (Genesis 18:6).
1 Kings 19:8. Went in the strength of that meat, &c.—This does not state that he occupied forty days and forty nights in the journey to Horeb, distant only forty geographical miles from Beershebs, but that he went in the strength of that meat during that prolonged period; was supernaturally sustained by that supernaturally provided meal.
1 Kings 19:9. What doest thou here?—Not a reproach, but an interrogation, designed to call out the depressed cry of his soul, that God might correct and alleviate his despondency.
1 Kings 19:11. Go forth, and stand upon the mount—Go forth to-morrow (so Sept., but without any authority). “To the complaint of the prophet, the Lord answers, first, by the manifestation of His nature in deeds (1 Kings 19:11-11.19.14); and then by the declaration of His will in words (1 Kings 19:15-11.19.18)” Keil. Great and strong wind—earthquake—fire—Natural phenomena, calculated to impress the mind with Jehovah’s power, and indicate the Divine resources for destruction of His enemies.
1 Kings 19:12. Still small voice—דַקָּח קוֹל דְּמָמָה, lit., sound of a soft blowing. This gentle phenomenon suggested, in contrast, the tenderness and compassionateness of God towards His people.
1 Kings 19:13. Wrapped his face in his mantle—As even the seraphim veil their faces in reverent awe.
1 Kings 19:18. Yet I have left me 7,000—To be taken as future: “I will leave in Israel.” In the judgments which Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha shall execute, that number would remain faithful to Jehovah.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 19:1-11.19.18
THE WEAK MOMENTS OF A GREAT MAN
I. Here we see a great man giving way to an unworthy fear (1 Kings 19:1-11.19.3).
1. Elijah quailed before the threat of an unscrupulous woman (1 Kings 19:2). The hero of Carmel is the coward of Jezreel. He who had overawed Ahab and the host of Baal worshippers found more than his match in Jezebel. He was not prepared for so sudden a collapse of the influence he had gained: he had expected that the bare rehearsal of the victory of Carmel would have subdued the idolatrous queen, and prepared her to listen with respect to the prophet, and to encourage the king in bringing about religious reform. On the contrary, all the wild, savage nature of the idol-enthusiast was aroused, and she swore a tremendous oath to be avenged for the slaughter of her priests by compassing the prophet’s death. Like the Lady Macbeth, of the great English dramatist, her spirit of revenge might be expressed in similar terms:—
Come, come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, and fill me
Top-full of direst cruelty!
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose.
Elijah was seized with fear to which he had hitherto been a stranger, and trembled before the threat of a Jezebel. And alas! he is not the only brave and noble spirit who, after performing the most heroic exploits in the cause of morality and religion, has succumbed before the scowl and scorn of a wicked and deceitful woman.
2. He deserted the post of duty from fear of death (1 Kings 19:3). For a lesser man to have run away might have been excused, but for Elijah to prove renegade was a calamitous blow to all trust in human greatness. The work of the prophet was so public and so important to the religious interests of the nation, that even the fear of death ought not to have prompted him to relinquish it: and had he been absolutely certain that God would not have interposed to protect him, and that to remain was death, how could he know but that the cause of Jehovah might be better promoted, and His name glorified, by his death than by his life? Of all men, we should have looked to Elijah for a display of the true martyr-spirit. But when faith in God is impaired, the loftiest fall and the bravest flee.
II. Here we see a great man giving way to querulousness and despair (1 Kings 19:4). The disappointment of his expectations, the failure of his mission following so closely on the heels of such signal success, his long abstinence from food, and great physical exhaustion arising from rapid and extended travelling, would all tend to prostrate his powers; and when he sank down under the sheltering broom tree, he gave utterance to the deep dejection of his mind in the querulous words, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” Strange contradiction! says Kitto. Here the man who was destined not to taste of death, flees from death on the one hand, and seeks it on the other. And who told him it was enough? God did not. He knew what was enough for Elijah to do and to suffer. God had more to teach him, and more work for him to do. It is an affecting sight to see a great, strong man sink into helplessness and despair; and yet in the hour of disappointment and defeat many a gallant spirit has cried out for the oblivion of death! Desertion of duty—a fleeing from the word of God—is sure to be followed by trouble, and often the deepest mental anguish.
III. Here we see a great man miraculously sustained in the moment of his greatest weakness (1 Kings 19:5-11.19.8). God granted Elijah not the oblivion of death, but the refreshing oblivion of sleep—riches to the poor, health to all; and while he was locked in the arms of forgetfulness, a repast was prepared for him by angel-hands, to which he was summoned by an angel’s touch. In the strength of that meat he went forty days and forty nights across the platform of the Sinaitic desert, till he came to Horeb, the mount of God. “The journey” was not simply a pilgrimage to Horeb, which was less than two hundred miles distant, and might have been reached in six or seven days; it was to be a wandering in the wilderness, not unlike that of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt, only it was to last forty days instead of forty years. It was not without significance that Elijah was directed to Horeb: amid its sacred solitudes he was to learn a lesson never to be forgotten. God is a wise physician—food first; instruction, rebuke, after. He comes to man in the moment of his greatest helplessness, restores and strengthens him, and then prepares him for future usefulness and more splendid triumphs.
IV. Here we see a great man Divinely instructed. (1 Kings 19:9-11.19.14). “What doest thou here?”—a question ever pertinent and timely. The answer of Elijah betrays in him what some have called “a spirit of pious fault-finding,” and also a disposition to exalt himself above measure. He does not accuse Jehovah, but his words imply that he himself was the only saint in Israel, and it was too bad that Divine power had allowed idolatry so far to triumph. Elijah’s notions of the Divine government were manifestly shaped too much by external displays of awful power, and he needed to learn a profounder lesson of the Divine nature. He is directed to “go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord” (1 Kings 19:11), and in rapid succession the most demonstrative symbols of Jehovah’s mighty power in storm, earthquake, and fire, pass before him. But not in these, but in the “still small voice,” the prophet detected the true grandeur and comfort of the Divine presence. Humbled at the revelation, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and listened for further instruction. The thoughts under this heading may be arranged and treated in the following order:—
1. The pointed expostulation (1 Kings 19:9).
2. The attempt at self-justification (1 Kings 19:10).
3. The power of Divine gentleness (1 Kings 19:11-11.19.13).
4. The influence of Divine gentleness not always immediately apparent (1 Kings 19:13-11.19.14). The question is now put again to the prophet by the Lord himself. Will he have taken to heart the lesson of the great parable which has been acted before him, and make a humbler and more gentle answer? No; he is satisfied with his own statement of his case, and does but repeat his former words! “He has been very jealous—he is left alone—his life is sought—he has done right, therefore, to quit an ungrateful country, and relinquish a thankless office.”
V. Here we see a great man encouraged to return to the work he had forsaken (1 Kings 19:15-11.19.18). The best remedy for dejection is work; absorbed in the duties of a lofty mission, man forgets his sorrow and regains his normal tone. Elijah is reminded that God did not overlook the sins of Israel, and he is instructed to anoint others who shall carry out His judgments against the house of Ahab. Again, Elijah had supposed he was alone in his witness for God. “It was a thought of anguish,” says Maurice,” and yet it was a thought of pride. He felt the misery of solitude, yet there was self-exaltation in it. “I alone am left, and they seek my life.” No; there are seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Is it so indeed? What, Elijah, the great prophet, after all, does not know more than a multitude beside! He is not more faithful than they are! God has called them as well as him. Who can tell whether Elijah could have borne that discovery a few hours before? The still small voice had made it the most blessed of all discoveries. That voice had taught him not to care whether he was better than his fathers, or better than his brethren; to desire only that God might be glorified in his strength and in his nothingness.” It is at once a humiliation and an encouragement to reflect that man is only one amid a host of seen or unseen workers for God!
1. Great men are liable to failure.
2. Great men often fail at the point where they are considered strongest—the fearless become cawardly, the pure immoral, the honourable dishonest, &c.
3. God restores the erring soul by a method which it best suited at once to humble and encourage.
If there were anything for which Elijah is remarkable, we should say it was superiority to human weakness. Like the Baptist, he dared to arraign and rebuke his sovereign; like the commander who cuts down the bridge behind him, leaving himself no alternative but death or victory, he taunted his adversaries, the priests of Baal, on Mount Carmel, making them gnash their teeth and cut themselves with knives, but at the same time ensuring for himself a terrible end, in case of failure, from his exasperated foes. Now it was this man—so stern, so iron, so independent, so above all human weakness—of whom it was recorded that in his trial hour he gave way to a fit of petulance and querulous despondency, to which there is scarcely found a parallel.
I. The causes of Elijah’s despondency.
1. Relaxation of physical strength. On the reception of Jezebel’s message, Elijah flies for his life, toils on the whole day, sits down under a juniper tree faint, hungry, and travel-worn, the gale of an Oriental evening, damp and heavy with languid sweetness, breathing on his face. The prophet and the man give way. He longs to die. You cannot mistake the presence of causes in part purely physical. We are fearfully and wonderfully made; of that constitution which, in our ignorance, we call union of soul and body, we know little respecting what is cause and what is effect. We would fain believe that the mind has power over the body, but it is just as true that the body rules the mind. Causes, apparently, the most trivial; a heated room, want of exercise, a sunless day, a northern aspect, will make all the difference between happiness and unhappiness, between faith and doubt, between courage and indecision. To our fancy there is something humiliating in being thus at the mercy of our animal organism. We would fain find nobler causes for our emotions. We talk of the hiding of God’s countenance, and the fiery darts of Satan. But the picture given here is true. The body is the channel of our noblest emotions, as well as well as our sublimest sorrows.
2. Want of sympathy. “I, even I only, am left.” Lay the stress on only. The loneliness of his position was shocking to Elijah. Surprising this: for Elijah wanted no sympathy in a far harder trial on Mount Carmel. It was in a tone of triumph that he proclaimed that he was the single, solitary prophet of the Lord, while Baal prophets were 450 men. Observe, however, the difference. There was in that case an opposition which could be grappled with; here there was nothing against which mere manhood was availing. The excitement was passed, the chivalrous look of the thing gone. To die as a martyr; yes, that were easy, in grand failure; but to die as a felon, to be hunted, caught, taken back to an ignominious death—flesh and blood recoiled from that. And Elijah began to feel that popularity is not love. The world will support you when you have constrained its votes by a manifestation of power, and shrink from you when power and greatness are no longer on your side. “I, even I only, am left.” What greater minds like Elijah’s have felt intensely, all we have felt in our own degree. Not one of us but what has felt his heart aching for want of sympathy. We have had our lonely hours, our days of disappointment, and our moments of hopelessness—times when our highest feelings have been misunderstood, and our purest met with ridicule—days when our heavy secret was lying unshared like ice upon the heart. And then the spirit gives way: we have wished that all were over; that we could lie down tired, and rest like the children, from life; that the hour was come when we could put down the extinguisher on the lamp, and feel the last grand rush of darkness on the spirit. Now the final cause of this capacity for depression—the reason for which it is granted us—is that it may make God necessary. In such moments it is felt that sympathy beyond human is needful. Alone, the world against him, Elijah turns to God: “It is enough, now, O Lord.”
3. Want of occupation. As long as Elijah had a prophet’s work to do—severe as that work was—all went on healthily; but his occupation was gone. To-morrow, and the day after, what has he left on earth to do? The misery of having nothing to do proceeds from causes voluntary or involuntary in their nature. Multitudes of our race, by circumstances over which they have no control, in single life or widowhood, in straightened circumstances, are compelled to endure lonely days, and still more lonely nights and evenings. They who have felt the hours hang so heavy can comprehend part of Elijah’s sadness. The law of life is, in the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread. No man can evade that law with impunity. Like all God’s laws, it is its own executioner. It has strange penalties annexed to it. Would you know them? Go to the park or the esplanade, or the solitude after the night of dissipation, and read the penalties of being useless in the sad, jaded, listless countenances—nay, in the very trifles which must be contrived to create excitement artificially. Yet these very eyes could, dull as they are, beam with intelligence; on many of those brows is stamped the mark of possible nobility. The fact is, that the capacity of ennui is one of the signatures of man’s immortality. It is his very greatness which makes inaction misery. If men with souls live only to eat and drink and be amused, is it any wonder if life be darkened with despondency?
4. Disappointment in the expectation of success. On Carmel the great object for which Elijah had lived seemed on the point of being realized. Baal’s prophets were slain—Jehovah acknowledged with one voice—false worship put down. Elijah’s life aim—the transformation of Israel into a kingdom of God—was all but accomplished. In a single day all this bright picture was annihilated. The tradesman sees the noble fortune for which he lived, every coin of which is the representative of so much time and labour spent, squandered by a spendthrift son. The purest statesmen find themselves at last neglected, and rewarded by defeat. Almost never can a man look back on life and say that its anticipations have been realized. For the most part life is disappointment, and the moments in which this is keenly realized are moments like this of Elijah’s.
II. God’s treatment of Elijah’s despondency.
1. First He recruited His servant’s exhausted strength. Miraculous meals are given—then Elijah sleeps, wakes, and eats; on the strength of that goes forty days’ journey. In other words, like a wise physician, God administers food, rest, and exercise, and then, and not till then, proceeds to expostulate; for before, Elijah’s mind was unfit for reasoning. Persons come to the ministers of God in seasons of despondency; they pervert with marvellous ingenuity all the consolation which is given them, turning wholesome food into poison. Then we begin to perceive the wisdom of God’s simple homely treatment of Elijah, and discover that there are spiritual cases which are cases for the physician rather than the divine.
2. Next Jehovah calmed his stormy mind by the healing influences of Nature. He commanded the hurricane to sweep the sky, and the earthquake to shake the ground. He lighted up the heavens till they were one mass of fire. All this expressed and reflected Elijah’s feelings. The mode in which nature soothes us is by finding meeter and nobler utterance for our feelings than we can find in words—by expressing and exalting them. In expression there is relief. Elijah’s spirit rose with the spirit of the storm. Stern, wild defiance, strange joy, all by turns were imaged there. Observe, God was not in the wind, nor in the fire, nor in the earthquake. It was Elijah’s stormy self reflected in the moods of the tempest, and giving them their character. Then came a calmer hour. Elijah rose in reverence, felt tenderer sensations in his bosom. He opened his heart to gentler influences, till at last, out of the manifold voices of nature, there seemed to speak, not the stormy passions of the man, but the “still small voice” of the harmony and the peace of God. There are some spirits which must go through a discipline analogous to that sustained by Elijah. The storm-struggle must precede the still small voice. There are minds which must be convulsed with doubt before they can repose in faith; there are hearts which must be broken with disappointment before they can rise into hope.
3. Besides, God made Elijah feel the earnestness of life. What doest thou here, Elijah? Life is for doing—a prophet’s life for nobler doing—and the prophet was not doing, but moaning. Such a voice repeats itself to all of us, rousing us from our lethargy, or our despondency, or our protracted leisure, “What doest thou here”—here in this short life? There is work to be done, evil put down, God’s church purified, good men encouraged, doubting men directed, a country to be saved, time going, life a dream, eternity long, one chance, and but one for ever. What doest thou here? Then he went on further: “Arise, go on thy way.” That speaks to us: on thy way. Be up and doing; fill up every hour, leaving no crevice or craving for a remorse or a repentance to creep through afterwards. Go! return on thy way, if thou art desponding—on thy way, health of spirit will return.
4. God completed the cure by the assurance of victory (1 Kings 19:18). So, then, Elijah’s life had been no failure after all. Seven thousand at least in Israel had been braced and encouraged by his example, and silently blessed him, perhaps, for the comage which they felt. In God’s world, for those that are in earnest, there is no failure. No work truly done, no word earnestly spoken, no sacrifice freely made, was ever made in vain. We turn naturally from this scene to a still darker hour and more august agony. If ever failure seemed to rest on a noble life, it was when the Son of man, deserted by his friends, heard the cry which proclaimed that the pharisees had successfully drawn the net around their Divine victim. Yet, from that very hour of defeat and death, there went forth the world’s life; from that very moment of apparent failure there proceedeth forth into the ages the spirit of the conquering Cross. Surely, if the Cross says anything, it says that apparent defeat is real victory, and that there is a heaven for those who have nobly and truly failed on earth. Distinguish, therefore, between the real and the apparent. Elijah’s apparent success was in the shouts of Mount Carmel. His real success was in the unostentatious, unsurmised obedience of the seven thousand who had taken his God for their God.
1. For all teachers who lay their heads down at night, sickening over their thankless task. Remember the power of indirect influences—those which distil from a life, not from a sudden brilliant effort. The former never fail: the latter often.
2. For ministers, again, what is ministerial success? Crowded churches, full aisles, attentive congregations, the approval of the religious world—much impression produced? Elijah thought so: and when he found out his mistake, and discovered that the applause on Mount Carmel subsided in hideous stillness, his heart well-nigh broke with disappointment. Ministerial success lies in altered lives and obedient, humble hearts: unseen work recognized in the Judgment Day.
3. Get below appearances, below glitter and show. Plant your foot upon reality; not in the jubilee of the myriads on Carmel, but in the humble silence of the hearts of the seven thousand, lay the proof that Elijah had not lived in vain.—F. W. Robertson.
THE SUBDUING POWER OF THE DIVINE WHISPER
Elijah hastened first to the court to find the queen overwhelmed with defeat and humiliation; but Jezebel, so far from being terrified into conviction by the appalling wonders of Carmel, was preparing to take his life. This was so heavy and sudden a blow to Elijah’s faith in the converting power of judgments, that courage and dignity forsook him for a time, and he fled like a frighted deer because a woman had threatened him! An angel of God found him in the wilderness of Beersheba, lying under a juniper tree, bitterly complaining of his lot, and praying the Lord to take his life. It was now that Jehovah explained to His servant, by the impressive signs described in these verses, that power might avenge and destroy, but could not win; that the silent intellectual process of instruction and spiritual influence can alone reach the heart, and change the man. The theatre of these signs was Horeb, celebrated of old for displays of the Divine terrors. Here Moses saw the flaming majesty of the I AM in the bush. Here was Sinai, the mount that might be touched, that burned with fire, and trembled when the trump of God gave forth the voice of words. Recalling these events, and impressed by these associations, Elijah, after a journey of forty days, drew near to this Horeb, the mount of God; and, entering a cave or grot hollowed out in one of its sides, he lodged there. There God found him. “What dost thou here, Elijah?” The prophet answered, in a distempered mood, that he had been jealous for the Lord of Hosts: that in spite of all he had done to reclaim Israel, the Divine covenants were yet broken, the altars profaned, the prophets slain, and himself, the sole remaining witness for the truth, they were seeking to destroy. Then the Lord commanded the melancholy and despairing seer to ascend to the top of the mount; and while he stood there, surrounded by bleak and barren hills, fit images of power and desolation, the Lord passed by in a succession of grand and suggestive phenomena. There were four signs; of which three were material, and the fourth intellectual.
1. A strong wind swept by, rending the imbedded cliffs of Horeb, and scattering them like stubble. The stormy soul of Elijah found a congenial element in this untamed and mighty agent; and he, perhaps, wished he could ride upon its wings, turn its head toward Samaria, and demolish the usurpation of Baal. But while he watched for some particular appearance to indicate the presence of Jehovah, some strange glory or voice, to show that the hurricane was a fit chariot for the career of God, the storm fell; and the prophet knew that the Lord was not in the wind.
2. Then followed another sign, more terrific than a tempest. Perhaps in all nature there is nothing which so nearly resembles what we should think to be the immediate interposition of God as an earthquake. “After the wind an earthquake.” As the prophet felt that ancient and lofty pile of hills, apparently immortal in their steadfastness, give way beneath his feet, writhing helplessly in the grasp of some unseen power, like a convulsed child, he must have thought, “Surely God is here! These fearful shakings and hurlings are the tokens of His dread presence;” and he might have repeated to himself the triumphant chant of a psalm he had often sung, “What ails ye, ye mountains, that ye skip like rams; and ye little hills like lambs? Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” But the Lord was not in the earthquake; the convulsions subsided without a sign.
3. The third wonder that passed before the eye of the now perplexed prophet was an element as destructive as an earthquake, but far more imposing. Shining above the brightness of the sun, roaring and consuming, a huge fire played about the rocks on which Elijah stood. And as he saw its nimble tongues of flame lick up the hard verdure of the ground, and split and melt the rocks with its devouring heat, he knew that this fierce brightness had been from the beginning a chosen vehicle of Jehovah. He remembered Sodom and Gomorrah; he remembered Sinai, part of the very hill that now blazed around him, when lightnings had accompanied the declaration of law, and he probably waited to receive from that fire another commandment for Israel. There stood the stern man in the midst of devastation. The wind had shaken, the earthquake had swallowed up, the fire had consumed; but God had not spoken! The prophet had been awed, but not instructed. He had gone to the mount doubtful, dissatisfied, perhaps, self-condemned; the material signs gave him no relief. They were splendid and dreadful, but there was no mind in them.
4. While he thus stood bewildered, debating with himself what this might mean, the last sign explained all: it was a still small voice. It was still, because no sound struck audibly on the ear; it was small, because no ostentatious medium conveyed it; it was the voice of mind whispering to mind. God spake to Elijah, and without any symbol there were thoughts interchanged that bowed the prophet’s soul to the dust. And it came to pass when Elijah heard it, or felt it, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and returned to his cave, standing in the entrance to hear the voice again, as if repeating the words of Samuel—“Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.”
I. My dear brethren, that which bows the mind, that which makes a man wrap his face in his mantle in silent and intelligent reverence, is not a sign that strikes upon the senses, but a thought understood and felt in the heart. Miracles have an historic value, but they have seldom produced in those who witnessed them a moral benefit; neither error nor vice can spring from a miracle, nor can either be rejected by a miracle: they arise from the connection of mind with mind, and must be destroyed by a new mental fellowship.
II. This will be manifest if we follow the course of the Divine revelation. The patriarchs transmitted a few simple and fixed beliefs; the Jewish economy dispensed miracles and types; the knowledge of God became more defined and enlarged; it was systematized in laws, but national and local in its application. When Christ came, He made the gospel the subject and instrument of teaching, fulfilling the prediction—And they shall be all taught of God. Divine knowledge, in coming down to us from the past, has become more and more a voice speaking to the heart, more and more free from material mediums. When Abraham embraced the knowledge of God, it was on its way to us; when Moses lodged it in the Jewish Tabernacle, it was purifying itself for us; when Christ found it there, and baptized it with the Holy Ghost and with fire, He sent it forth to us. It is now doing its greatest work, not by flood and fire, although there are cities in the world as wicked as Sodom; not by miracles, although there is as hard a scepticism as ever reigned in Judea or Rome; but by the still small voice of instruction, supported and carried out to gracious results by the silent communion of the Holy Ghost.
III. These are the last and crowning means of Christianity; everything else, by whatever name you call it, belongs to the three first signs. And what a fondness we have for these signs, the picturesque and the striking! But what do they gain who seek to embellish the church with a gorgeous architecture; who cultivate the sublimity of domes and capitals; who subdue by a solemn colouring the very light that falls upon the worshippers; who place in imposing situations the picture, the statue, the emblem; who burnish their altars with gold, and bring to the holy crucifix the homage of tapers and the genuflexions of surplice and mitre; who enter the assembly with the music of chanted litanies, and terrify the people by the thunder of anathemas? The Lord is not in the architecture, the picture, the music, the pomp; you see no more here than the three signs of the prophet. You must seek the Lord in the voice of the conscience; this is the sign of the gospel dispensation—the word, and not the picture; Christ, and not the crucifix; the Holy Ghost, and not the seven candles.
IV. If we stop with the three signs, we go no farther than the heathen. The negro falls down before the whirlwind and the earthquake, and cries, Lo! God is here! The Parsee worships the shining fire. But their impressions are sensuous and temporary; fading before the heart is touched, for the still small voice of instruction is wanting. Look at the people around us! We see whole nations prostrate before the three signs. To the Hindu the splendours of Hinduism are the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire; and his homage is fear and admiration. When I have seen an idol arrayed in traditionary terrors, and magnificently paraded through the streets of a large native town—and in the night too—and when ten thousand human beings have pressed near to worship amid the gleaming of innumerable torches of coloured lights, and rockets and candles of every device shooting up into the air, and when the priests have sung in solemn cadence, and the multitudes have shouted their acclamations, I have caught the prevailing awe. With all my better knowledge, I could not resist the terror and beauty of the spectacle; but the Lord was not there. The multitudes returned to the homes with an intoxicated sense, and a fevered imagination; but no silent voice to instruct and win them to God. But I have taken one of those Hindus whom the earthquake and the fire had dazzled, but not changed; I have drawn him away from the three signs, and invited him to await with me for the fourth; and while we listened a still small voice spoke in our hearts; and when he heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and cried, What must I do to be saved? And the effect of that voice was a new heart and a new life. It was the silent winning of Calvary, and not the fiery testimony of Carmel. It was not Moses or Elijah thundering forth the law upon the senses, but Jesus breathing truth and grace into the soul.
V. Have you ever bowed before this voice, and hidden your face in penitence? Perhaps, amid the clamour and discord of louder voices, the still accents of Jesus escaped you. We cannot catch the sound without profound listening. When we do hear it, speaking pardon from the Cross, speaking help from the right hand of God, speaking victory in the conflict—
’Tis music in the sinner’s ear,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.
For the comfort of those who have been terrified by the storm and fire of the law, I am commanded to promise that the blessed sign of a Saviour’s presence shall follow. You have been convinced of sin; have quaked beneath the threatenings of Horeb; a storm of distemper and doubt is rending your soul. But follow Elijah’s example; wait, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. The thick cloud of sin shall pass away before the still small voice of heavenly peace.—E. E. Jenkins’ Madras Sermons.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 19:1-11.19.8. Elijah under the juniper tree. How are the mighty fallen! He who stands before us in the preceding chapter as the fearless champion of the God of Israel, putting to shame the worshippers of Baal, and slaying his prophets, is presented to us in this chapter as being overcome with fear, the victim of cowardice and despondency. He who could boldly defy the king is now terrified by the threat of a vile and angry queen, and flees for his life, until the shade of a juniper tree in the wilderness affords shelter to his exhausted frame. I. His dejection. “He requested for himself that he might die.” This is the feeling which dejection generally awakens, the desire to be separated from the object of trial or annoyance. Whenever men’s hearts fail them in any work, their first wish is to get away from it. This will account for the frequent instances we hear of desertion from the post of duty. In this dejection of Elijah we have an instance of men breaking down in the strong point of their character. He was fearless, bold, and courageous, yet these were the points on which he failed—he was afraid of Jezebel. Moses was the meekest man, yet it was for impatience and anger that he was excluded from Canaan. Peter was fearless and impetuous, yet he denied his Lord. Men generally fear their weak points, their besetting sins; but they have need to fear as well those they think strong. What were the causes of his dejection?
1. Physical exhaustion. The anxiety and excitement of Carmel would be extremely exhausting to him. After such a strain there would come a reaction; the nerves unstrung—irritable; taking a gloomy view of things. This is the common experience of those who suffer from bodily exhaustion.
2. Disappointment. Elijah in all likelihood expected that after the scenes on Carmel the whole of Israel, including Ahab and the royal house, would be converted and restored to God. He would think that the evidence afforded would be irresistible in favour of Jehovah. But instead of Jezebel being converted, she was enraged, and her enmity increased. At this unexpected result, the prophet would be disappointed, and his heart would sink within him.
3. Eclipse of faith. The figure of Jezebel so appeared before him as to hide or obscure his vision of God. When he saw “that,” the threat, he arose, and went for his life. “The God before whom I stand,” were the words with which he confronted Ahab, and he was as bold as a lion. Now he saw nothing but Jezebel’s threat, and fear takes hold upon him. Men are strong and steadfast only as they see God. Let anything obscure this vision, and their strength is gone—in temptation, in work, in sorrow, in death.
II. His recovery. “And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.” There is no rebuke here. Men often notice the words most which are spoken in anger or irritation. But God passes over those which escaped Elijah’s lips in his time of depression. They represented his despondency, not his real self. Undeterred, therefore, by the prophet’s request for death, God provides him with food to refresh his exhausted frame. He also addressed to him words of kindness to comfort his mind: “The journey is too great for thee.” What a beautiful instance is this of the watchfulness and consideration with which God attends His servants. In their times of despondency and difficulty they may forget Him, and wander from His ways, but he does not forget them, or leave them to themselves.—The Study and the Pulpit.
1 Kings 19:2-11.19.3. The tyranny of fear.
1. May overpower the bravest spirit.
2. Is intensified when life is threatened with a cruel termination.
3. May be wielded by the most contemptible individual.
4. Drives the hitherto dauntless worker from the post of duty.
1 Kings 19:2. Neither scourges nor favours can work anything with the obstinately wicked. All evil hearts are not equally disaffected to good: Ahab and Jezebel were both bad enough, yet Ahab yields to that work of God which Jezebel stubbornly opposeth. Ahab melts with that water, with that fire, wherewith Jezebel is hardened; Ahab was bashfully, Jezebel audaciously, impious. The weaker sex is ever commonly stronger in passion, and more vehemently carried with the sway of their desires, whether to good or evil. She swears and stamps at those whereat she should have trembled; she swears by those gods of hers, which were not able to save their prophets, that she will kill the prophet of God, who had scorned her gods, and slain her prophets.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 19:3. Strange spectacle! The man at whose words, but yesterday, the fire of Jehovah miraculously fell, and five hundred and fifty false prophets were slain, now flies for his life before the threat of an idolatrous queen! Jehovah seems to have left him for a season to himself. Perhaps there was danger that, like the Apostle, he might become exalted above measure by the abundance of revelation and of power which were manifested through him, and it was needful to remind him by an impressive experience that he was still a man encompassed with human passions and infirmities. To many it may seem that a great opportunity to reform the worship of the kingdom was lost by Elijah’s flight. The people were convinced. Ahab was awed to reverent silence and submission. Only Jezebel and Asherah priests seem to have remained an obstacle in the way of reform; and how easily might they have been removed by the Divine power which had already wrought such wonders! So we might judge. But there is a point beyond which Divine power will not multiply miracles, and the turning point here was the instability of Ahab. He had the power, and ought to have shown the courage, to silence the ravings of his impious wife, and to command his household and the whole kingdom to keep the way of the Lord. But he was governed by his wife, became false to his deepest convictions of truth, and Jehovah would proceed no further at that time to magnify His name. But the moral lessons of the scene at Carmel have never been lost. Though failing to reform the king and the nation, they speak to every after age, and form a part of that Divine revelation which claims the admiration and reverence of all that desire to know and worship the true God.—Whedon.
—The fear and flight of Elijah are very remarkable. But yesterday he was a conqueror in the full glory of an unprecedented triumph, imposing his will as law on king and people. To-day he is an outcast, a fugitive, broken down in spirit, only anxious to place the greatest possible distance between himself and his enemies. What had produced the extraordinary change? Not, probably, Jezebel’s threat alone, but in part, perhaps, physical reaction from the over-excitement of the preceding day: in part, internal disquietude and doubt as to the wisdom of the course which he had adopted.—Speaker’s Comm.
1 Kings 19:4-11.19.13. The prophet’s hour of darkness. We learn more from example than from precept. The human weakness of Scripture characters, as well as their spiritual strength, is shown us. We are taught as much by the one as by the other. I. The human sorrow. After the prophet’s triumph came his time of depression.
1. When Elijah overcame the prophets of Baal it was his time of triumph. Then came the reaction. He heard of Jezebel’s threat, and fled into the kingdom of Judah. We can picture to ourselves the wearied old man resting under the shade of the juniper tree. He complained of the failure of his life, and desired to die. Then there fell upon him sleep, God’s gift to the wretched. Thus it is with us; after our time of triumph comes our time of reaction. In the day of joy we scarcely believe it, but it is so. It is very difficult to make the child who has never before seen the sea understand that in a few hours the waters will have ebbed from the bay, and left it covered with long stretches of brown-ribbed sand and jagged rocks.
2. It is so in the Christian life. We may have our hours of rapture, but they will be succeeded by our hours of depression. The glow of first love will not always last. Nor is it well that it should. It is beautiful, but not deep. The flowers must fall from the fruit tree, if the autumn store is to hang on its boughs. If it were not so, we should walk by sight, not by faith.
3. It is so with temptation. Our sins often seem to be trodden down; but unless we are careful, they will rise again. It may be painful to be told this, but it is true, and therefore it is well to know it.
4. Is, then, our religion a delusion? By no means. It is a discipline. Look at the Saviour’s hour of trial; it came after the glorious life, and before he was able to throw open the gates of immortality to all believers.
5. After trial, God sends sleep, or rest. “He giveth his beloved sleep.” II. The Divine consolation.
1. But the time of refreshment came: it was the darkness before the daybreak, not the darkness of death; yet the deliverance was not such as the prophet wished. He was a wanderer for forty days more before he saw the morning. Thus it is with us; our gloom lasts a long time, but not for ever. We do not understand Christ’s way of working. We want to arrange everything. Yet it were better to put a child to manage machinery than entrust us with the concerns of our own lives.
2. The prophet said all was dark, that there was no godliness left in the land. But the Lord showed him that it was not so evil as he feared—seven thousand had not bowed the knee to Baal.
3. After his journey of forty days, when he was at Horeb, the Lord commanded him to stand upon the Mount. First there came a whirlwind which rent the rocks, then an earthquake, and afterwards a fire. But God was not in these. With any of these forces He could have destroyed the guilty king and queen; but such was not His way of working. Last of all came a still small voice; and by this Jehovah spoke to His servant. Thus God comes to us, and speaks to us, not with a voice of desolation, but with a whisper of love. The wind, the earthquake, the fire, are the law: the still small voice is the Gospel. Christ thus addresses us, and by it assures us of returning peace.
1. Our day of triumph is not always our day of prosperity.
2. In the silence of the desert, and the solitude of own hearts, we have our deepest communion with God.
3. He speaks to us, not in a voice of terror, but by the quiet consolations of the Gospel of forgiveness and peace.—Pulpit Analyst.
1 Kings 19:4. Despondency.
1. The reaction from a state of high mental excitement.
2. Renders the victim indifferent to physical sustenance.
3. Indulges in excessive self-deprecation.
4. Seeks relief in personal oblivion.
1 Kings 19:5-11.19.8. The visit under the juniper tree. The guardianship of Divine grace becomes evident.
1. In the hearing vouchsafed to the prophet’s prayer.
2. In the appearance of an angel which the Lord sends to him.
3. In the wonderful nourishment which he experiences.
4. In the delightful prospect which God opens before him.
5. In a supernatural strengthening for his wandering through the wilderness.—Krummacher.
1. Is administered in extremity.
2. Is supplied by unexpected agencies.
3. Affords strength in a time of unusual but salutary trial.
—Oh! the never-ceasing care and providence of the Almighty; not to be barred by any place, by any condition! When means are wanting to us, when we are wanting to ourselves, when to God, even then doth He follow us with His mercy, and cast favour upon us, beyond, against expectation! What variety of purveyance doth He make for His servant! One while the ravens, then the Sareptan, now the angel shall be his caterer; none of them without a miracle; those other provided for him waking, this sleeping. Oh, God! the eye of Thy providence is not dimmer, the hand of Thy power is not shorter; only teach Thou us to serve Thee—to trust Thee.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 19:5. There have been in all ages faithful servants of God and Christ, who have been weakened and discouraged by the thought that it was all in vain, all their anxiety and labour were fruitless, nothing more could possibly be gained for the Lord, and no more work of any importance could be done by them for His cause and kingdom, and they have been on the point of finding joyous, spirited, zealous work in the service of the Lord—nay, even life itself—distasteful. But they have always found consolation from the Lord in His Word, and have been aroused and strengthened by His Spirit to new courage and to unremitted perseverance in their work for the truth. They have learned to think of Him who endured similar contradiction of sinners against Himself. The Lord Jesus Christ had taught them not to estimate the value of their labour according to the effect which they produced by it, nor according to the visible results perceptible to themselves, but with joy and confidence to persevere unweariedly, even though it should appear as though all they said was addressed to an uninhabited desert.—Menken.
1 Kings 19:8-11.19.18. Elijah on Mount Horeb.
1. The wonderful consolation which he enjoyed on his journey thither.
2. The exalted revelation which he there received.
3. The new duties and encouragements which were his lot even there.—Bender.
—The lessons Elijah learned at Horeb were full of instruction. The symbols of wind, earthquake, and fire, followed by the still small voice, have a wide and varied significance and application.
1. The central lesson of these symbols is, that there are mightier influences at work in human history than physical force. Men are ever prone to think otherwise, or, at least, to disregard this fact. That which is tangible to the outer senses, which blows, and shakes, and burns before the eyes of men; confounding and confusing, and, for the time, overwhelming and crushing all opposition—that is too apt to exhaust all our ideas of mightiness. We should, therefore, be reminded that in the silent workings of mind and heart there are often developed forces stronger than the whirlwind, mightier than the earthquake shock, and fiercer in their burnings than fires which many waters cannot quench. In this we may discover just the relation of miracles to the truth, which they have often served to introduce and confirm. We are in danger of esteeming the former above the latter, whereas the law and the prophets and Christ have taught a different lesson. The seven thousand devout hearts in Israel are a mightier power for good than even all the miracles of Elijah. So, too, Jesus taught his disciples that it is better to have one’s name written in heaven than to have power to work miracles (Luke 10:20), and that the true believer, led by the Spirit, shall do even greater works than the Messiah.
2. The immediate application of this lesson was to Elijah’s undue estimate of the miracles at Carmel. He seems to have supposed that the answer by fire that consumed his sacrifice, and the mighty wind and rain that came so quickly after, together with the slaughter of the false prophets, would accomplish the speedy reformation of Israel; but because they did not, he yielded to discouragement and despair. His radical error was in placing too much confidence in the outward and the marvellous. So the still small voice, as it developed itself into the sure word of prophecy, showed him how groundless was his despair, how mistaken his notions of Jehovah’s ways, and how manifold might be other agencies of judgment yet at God’s command.
3. At the same time, the lesson might remind him that the impious Jezebel from whom he fled, and who now, after all his work against her gods, seemed to be triumphant still, was trusting in the outward appearance of power at her command. She might array against him and his fellow-prophets all the forces of government, and all the pomp and pretensions of the idolatry to which she was devoted; but these would soon exhaust themselves, for God would not be in them. The wind and fire of her presumptuous wrath would soon pass by, and after all its fury was spent, there would rise the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal; a silent force, perchance, but, with God in them, mightier far than all that could come against them.
4. But the deeper and grander lesson of these symbols is the contrast they present between the Old Dispensation and the New—the Law and the Gospel. The miracles of the Exodus, the clouds and thunders and lightnings that attended the giving of the Law at this same Sinai, and all the later marvels in the sacred history of Israel, only prepared the ear of man to catch more readily and appreciate more fully the gentle voice of Him who did not cry or lift up His voice in the streets, but still spake as no other man spake. The sweetest, holiest sound that ever steals upon the soul of man is the voice of the Word that was made flesh; and that voice, ever speaking in the Gospel, shall go forth throughout the earth, and its words unto the end of the world, until all idols fall, and all tongues confess that Jesus is the Christ.—Whedon.
1 Kings 19:9-11.19.14. The powerlessness of the terrible in moral teaching. Storm, earthquake, and fire, are the symbols of the Divine punishments exterminating the ungodly. God is not in the storm, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, to show that His sway in the theocracy is not implacable, annihilating vigour and all-consuming jealousy. Jehovah appears in the sound of a gentle blowing or soft murmur—the sign of the nearness of God—which is the love that endures the sinner with sparing mildness, with patience and long-suffering, and delays the punishment as long as mercy is possible. The acted parable is, in fact, an anticipation of the evangelical rule—a condemnation of that “zeal” which Elijah had gloried in, a zeal exhibiting itself in fierce and terrible vengeance; and an exaltation and recommendation of that mild and gentle temper which “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Read in the light of after revelation, we can thus understand the true drift of this most marvellous scene; but it may be questioned how far Elijah was able to perceive its meaning. Perhaps he felt dimly something of the true force of the lesson; perhaps for a while it moderated his excessive zeal, and inclined him to gentler courses.—Speaker’s Comm.
—Though I do not read in this story of Elijah’s deep despondency the condemnation of his last act—the slaughter of the priests of Baal—I do see in it the natural effects of any great exercise of destructive power, perhaps of power at all, upon the mind of him to whom it has been entrusted. The sense of exhaustion, the cry, “I am no better than my fathers,” though I have done such wonders; the hopelessness of the future becoming all the more deep from the apparently useless triumph that had been won already—surely every prophet must have these bitter experiences, if he is not to sink into a Baal-worshipper, and after all to regard the God of Truth and Righteousness merely as a God of Might. Elijah, though he wrought so many miracles, was comparatively still a novice when he sat under the juniper tree. When he left the cave he was an initiated man. He had thought that the earthquake, the fire, the wind that rent the mountains, must be the great witnesses of the Lord. But He was not in them. Not they, but the still small voice, had that awe in it which forced the prophet to cover his face with his mantle. What a blessed and a beautiful conclusion of all the past history! What an interpretation of its meaning! The glaring outward signs, which the priests of Baal sought for, were feeble; the living power which spoke to the heart within, this only demanded and compelled reverence. He who could send bread to the woman of Zarephath was indeed the God who answered by fire.—Maurice.
1 Kings 19:9-11.19.10. Elijah at Horeb. We may feel a little surprised to find him at Horeb, so far away from the kingdom of Israel, the place to which God had sent him to make known His will, and to fulfil His purpose. But it may be that Horeb had special attractions for him. It was far away from the scenes through which he had been passing, and it was in the midst of a mountainous region, away from the habitations of men, abounding in caves and ravines; so that its solitude and security would afford him a quiet retreat where he could rest awhile and feel secure from the wrath of his enemies. Its religious associations, too, would doubtless exert a healthy influence upon his mind. It was here that God appeared to Moses while tending the sheep of Jethro, his father-in-law, and commissioned him to deliver His people from the bondage of Egypt. It afterwards became a place of encampment for the Israelites during their journey through the wilderness, and it was from the adjoining mountain of Sinai that God delivered to Moses the Ten Commandments. But he was not long left alone there. He little thought how he was watched, until he was surprised by the voice of the Lord. Notice—I. The rebuke administered. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” Elijah was now in a fit state, both of body and mind, to be dealt with. He was a deserter. It was necessary to make him feel his cowardice and his want of faith in God. When under the juniper tree, he was too weak in body and too dejected in mind to receive rebuke, and God dealt tenderly and considerately with him. But now he was stronger, and able to bear conviction. In this question he is rebuked for forsaking duty. He was sent to Israel as the messenger of God, and to remain there during the Divine pleasure. In former instances of his life God showed him when to leave and when to return, but now he did not wait for God’s direction; he goes himself. He had chosen his own way, and so set God aside. He would be reminded of this by the question: “What doest thou here?”—so far away from the place whither he had been sent; as much as if God had asked him, “Who is to do the work in Israel when thou art here?” The question would also be a rebuke to his want of faith in God. What doest thou here? He, above all men, should have remained at his post. His past experience of God’s favour should have served him now; his faith should have been strengthened by the remembrance of such favour, so that when Jezebel threatened him, he would have fled instinctively to Him who could restrain her wrath and protect his servants. How often do men still act as Elijah did? They forsake God’s way, and choose their own. He has assigned them some special work, but they have withdrawn from it. And God follows them into their wanderings, as He followed Elijah, and proposes the same question to them, Sinner! backslider! lukewarm professor! what doest thou here? II. The defence. He does not frankly acknowledge his error, and come to God with a penitent heart, seeking to be restored, but he seeks to justify himself, and that upon these grounds.
1. Former service. “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts.” He looked with satisfaction upon his past labours, and claimed some merit because of them, and that now he might retire from his arduous toil. Thus he clung to a feeling of self-righteousness. He overlooked his obligation to God. As it was God who called him to work, so it was for God to release him from it.
2. Isolation. “I, even I only, am left.” No doubt he felt weary of continuing his work by himself, without sympathy from anyone. But, admitting the influence of loneliness, his service had not been a very long one—three and a-half years at the utmost. And he overlooked the never-failing presence of God. Our Lord experienced this loneliness, but He did not yield to it. He said, “I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”
3. Persecution. “They seek my life, to take it away.” He shrunk from the opposition which his enemies now raised against him, and fled from it, thinking he was justified in doing so. But he had been in as much danger before, when the king had searched the country for him. He forgot this, and forgot also the Arm by which he was then protected. These are the grounds upon which Elijah sought to defend his conduct before God. But that defence reveals to us a departure from God. He had lost, for the time, faith in God; his heart was not aglow with love and devotion to Him. These were the true reasons of his being at Horeb. And the example of Elijah is often imitated by those who wander from God, and who are arrested in their wanderings by the question: “What doest thou here?” The sinner will excuse himself—time enough yet—a more convenient season. The backslider may blame difficulties, associates, change of circumstances. The lukewarm Christian hides himself beneath the increase of other duties, want of success in his work for God, weariness. All these excuses reveal a departure from God in heart, and the only safe course is to acknowledge this, and return to Him at once.—The Study and Pulpit.
1 Kings 19:10. Elijah’s zeal for the Lord.
1. A pure and sincere zeal. It was solely for the Lord, not for himself, for his opinion, honour, glory, or advantage, just as with the apostle who counted all things but loss that he might win Christ (Philippians 3:8). How often folly, dogmatism, passion, and injustice are mingled with zeal for the Lord and for His kingdom! Would that all who would be, or pretend to be, zealous for the cause of God, could stand before the Searcher of hearts and say in sincerity, I have been zealous for the Lord.
2. A persevering and regardless zeal. Like Paul, he shrunk from no distress or labour, from no strife or affliction, nor hunger, nor nakedness, neither scoffing nor disgrace (Philippians 4:12-50.4.13; 2 Corinthians 6:4-47.6.10). He had no respect of persons, did not ask whether he was a king, serving Baal, or a beggar; whether he was lord or servant; whether his opponents were few or many. It could be said of him—The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. How few of those have any knowledge of such a zeal, who follow their calling mechanically, and never become warm in its behalf; whose zeal is like a smothered fire, and grows less and inefficient, and cools, both when temptation arises, and when they are in prosperity.—Lange.
1 Kings 19:11-11.19.17. The disclosure on the mount. We learn from this incident—
1. That men are not brought to acknowledge God merely by outward manifestations of power or greatness. Elijah needed this lesson. Our Lord, in the days of His flesh, constantly met with those who sought signs and wonders as the only means of producing faith. The rich man prayed that Lazarus might be sent to warn his five brethren, pleading that if one went to them from the dead, they would repent. And the same feeling is still shown by men in the importance they attach to some outward circumstances for producing repentance—calamity, bereavement, affliction. Others look with great confidence to special means or special men, the various revivalistic agencies, revival preachers, thinking that without these the work of God cannot be promoted. We need to learn that all these may be present to us, and still God be absent.
2. That outward circumstances may be helpful in bringing men to acknowledge God. While some depend too much upon the outward and circumstantial, others go to the opposite extreme, and ignore them altogether in the work of God, whereas they have a place in that work. Calamity or affliction may not produce repentance, but they tend to subdue the spirit, and make it more susceptible to the work of God. They break up the fallow ground, and prepare it for the seed of truth.
3. That true repentance is produced by the voice of God. It was when Elijah heard the still small voice that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood at the entrance of the cave. He had been prepared for such submission by the terrible displays he had witnessed. And so, when the voice of God speaks to the conscience of the guilty, or to the heart of the sorrowful, there comes peace to the one and comfort to the other.
4. That Christian work is needful to spiritual health. Elijah was commanded to return to the wilderness of Damascus, and to do the work assigned him. He obeyed, and we never read of him wandering away again. Many Christians get low-spirited, and wander into forbidden paths, because of inactivity. Earnest work for God would restore and preserve them.—The Study and Pulpit.
1 Kings 19:11. Go forth and stand upon the mount before the Lord! This call is issued to all those who, like Elijah, lodge in caves and dens. The caves, however, are of various kinds. Our heart is a cave, a dark tomb. The soul attacked and tormented by doubts is in a cave. Bodily distress and external affliction may be called a cave. O, go forth and go upon the mount, and look aloft to Him who hangs upon the tree. Go forth! spread the wings of hope, soar and place thyself upon the heights of the everlasting promises of God, which are yea and amen, and from thence cast a look of confidence into the heart of Him whose council is truly wonderful, but who, nevertheless, doeth all things gloriously.—Krummacher.
1 Kings 19:12. In that God was! Behold, in that gentle and mild breath there was omnipotency; there was but powerfulness in those fierce representations; there is not always the greatest efficacy where is the greatest noise. God loves to make way for Himself by terror; but he conveys Himself to us in sweetness. It is happy for us if, after the gusts and flashes of the law, we have heard the soft voice of evangelical mercy.—Bp. Hall.
1 Kings 19:15-11.19.18. The answer of the Lord to Elijah. Includes—
1. A direction. “Go, return!” which is the answer to—Thus far have I been zealous in vain. Carry forward the work already begun, doubting not the result; let thy hands fall not; fear not, for I am with thee. So the Lord always calls to all workers in the vineyard.
2. A commission. “Anoint Hazael,” &c. That is the answer to—They have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars. Through Hazael will I chastise rebellious Israel, through Jehu destroy the house of Ahab, through Elisha preserve the order of the prophets. Observe how the royal government of the Lord influences so deeply and so powerfully, and yet so quietly and noiselessly, all human undertakings, contrivances, and conditions, all worldly events; and how so much happens under His direction which seems to happen without Him, as if by accident.
3. A promise. “Yet have I left, &c.” This is the answer to—I only am left, and they seek my life. The race of believers will never perish; no storm, no earthquake, no fire will destroy them. They are the salt of the earth which preserves the world from corruption and ruin.—Lange.
1 Kings 19:15-11.19.17. Return to active duty the cure of despondency.
1. The soul finds true health and vigour in obedience to God.
2. The example of a faithful worker is an inspiration to others.
3. The vengeance of God against evil-doers will never lack instruments to carry it out—Hazael, Jehu, Elisha.
1 Kings 19:18. God’s hidden ones.
1. Exist in the worse times, and in the most unexpected places.
2. Illustrate the unremitting care of God over His persecuted people.
3. Are often made manifest for the encouragement of the solitary worker.
—Thou art deceived, O Elijah! Thou art not left alone; neither is all Israel tainted. God hath children and prophets in Israel, though thou see them not. Those clear eyes of the seer discern not the secret store of God: they looked not into Obadiah’s caves, they looked not into the closets of the religious Israelites. According to the fashion of the wealthy, God pleaseth Himself in hidden treasures: it is enough that His own eyes behold His riches. Never did He, never will He, leave Himself unfurnished with holy clients, in the midst of the foulest depravations of His church. The sight of His faithful ones hath some times been lost, never the being. Do your worst, O ye gates of Hell! God will have his own. It was a true cordial for Elijah’s solitariness that he had seven thousand invisible abettors; neither is it a small comfort to our weakness to have companions in good.—Bp. Hall.
1. Never to take too gloomy or desponding a view of the position and prospects of the Church. 2. Beware of harsh judgments on our fellow-men and fellow-Christians.
3. The influential power of a great example.—Macduff.
1 Kings 19:18. The faithful seven thousand. We learn from these words.
1. That men may be often deceived with regard to the strength of God’s church. Many have possessed a similar feeling to that expressed by Elijah. They have looked upon the prevalence of sin, in all ranks and conditions of life; they have looked upon the wide-spread indifference to religion, and that, too, in the midst of religious privilege and effort; and at such a sight their hearts have failed them; they have thought that the people of God were very few, and they have been tempted to think that their efforts to increase the number were vain and useless, and under such temptation many have relinquished their work. Such thoughts and feelings as these often arise in consequence of ignorance and a partial view of the subject. And are we not often very narrow in our views of Christian life? We are apt to look for that life to manifest itself in one particular form; for those who profess discipleship to conform to one outward mode of conduct, without taking into consideration the difference of temperament, education, &c. God’s spirit comes into men as they are; He does not change the constitution of their minds; He inspires the powers already there, and brings them into submission to His will.
2. That God has a perfect knowledge of His own people. The children of God may be unable to recognize each other, especially in times of persecution, which may restrain men from making an open avowal of their faith. And even in ordinary times there are many who may not feel called upon to make this avowal, so that their relation to God remains unknown to those around them. But God sees and knows them.
3. That God can keep His people amid the most widespread sin and evil. It is not without reason that Christian people fear for themselves and for others when sin and evil abound, and when temptations are numerous and powerful. They know their own weakness, and they know, too, how many have fallen in the conflict with sin. But they may be delivered from their fears by the assurance that God is able to keep that which they commit to Him. Nothing can separate from the love of God. Trusting in Him, they shall never be confounded.
4. That men should be faithful to their duty, and leave results with God. Elijah was so discouraged at not seeing the result he looked for, that he shrank from his work, and fled from the post of duty. And many since his day have acted in a similar manner. They have looked for certain results to their labours, and have not seen them; then their hearts have failed them, and they have grown weary in well doing. They have forgotten that they were responsible for the faithful discharge of their duty, not for the results. And whilst they have been mourning over failure, their efforts may have been bringing forth fruit which they little thought of. And in the great harvest of the world, many who in this life mourned over a want of success to their efforts will find that their labours were not in vain.—The Study and Pulpit.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
1 Kings 19:20. Go back again; for what, &c.—לֵךְ שׁוב. Luther renders, “Go (to thy parents), and come (then) again.” (Keil) “Go, but return soon, for it is a great thing that thou shouldst be my successor.” (Lange) “Return to thy parents as thou wishest; I have not intended to coerce thee; I leave the decision as to thy prophetic call to thy free will. What have I done to thee?—Bids him recognise the solemn meaning of the symbolical action in casting his mantle upon him. It laid him under obligation to assume the prophetic mission.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 1 Kings 19:19-11.19.21
THE DIVINE CALL TO DUTY
THESE words describe the call of Elisha to the office and work of a prophet of Jehovah. The contrast between Elijah and Elisha was striking and complete. Elijah appears on the scene abruptly, without warning and with an unknown history; Elisha is first introduced to us as a domesticated man, at home with his father and mother, and familiar with the pastoral scenes and employments of the rich Jordan valley. Elijah is the solitary, haunting the grots and caves of the wilderness and the solitudes of the hills; Elisha tarries at Jericho (2 Kings 2:18), is a frequent visitor at Shunem (2 Kings 4:8-12.4.9), has his own house in Samaria (2 Kings 5:9), and lingers now and again among the schools of the prophets (2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 6:1): Elijah is robed in a rough mantle of sheepskin, with his massy hair waving in long shaggy locks; Elisha is attired in the ordinary dress of the period, and with a shaven crown at which the young men mocked (2 Kings 2:23): when Elijah appears in connection with kings and courts it is as their opponent; Elisha as their counsellor and friend: Elijah was fierce, furious, stern, unbending; Elisha gentle, peaceful, calm, approachable: Elijah was the bold, intrepid Luther of his age; Elisha the Melanchthon. Observe—
I. That the Divine call to duty is significant and unmistakable. “And Elijah cast his mantle upon him” (1 Kings 19:19). Elisha at once understood the meaning of this act. It was a formal investiture with the prophetic office, and a sign of adoption as a son. This ceremony is considered by the Eastern people as an indispensable part of the consecration to the sacred office. It is in this way the Brahmins are still invested with the priestly character, a yellow mantle being thrown across their shoulders, which is buckled round the waist with a sacred ribbon: in this way, too, the Persian suffees are appointed. Elisha realized the solemnity and obligation of the call, and as soon as he recovered from his surprise, “he left the oxen and ran after Elijah.” The Lord leaves his servants in no doubt as to the reality and meaning of their call to work for him. In some way or otherwise, sufficiently distinct and impressive, that call will be made known; it may be in a deep inward impression which no self-battling against can remove, it may be by significantly favourable providential events, or by the unanimous call of the church. The call is always so plain and unmistakable that it cannot be disobeyed without involving acute suffering; and what suffering is more constant and aggravated than to feel every day of a rapidily fleeting life—“I am in my wrong groove; I have missed my way”?
II. That the Divine call to duty is the occasion of much anxious thought. “Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother” (1 Kings 19:20). Can it be wondered at if Elisha’s heart still clung to home and kindred—a home where he had every comfort, and that in abundance, and where, perhaps, he was the only child of fond, loving parents? The prospect was not inviting. The untamed Jezebel still reigned; and every prophet of Jehovah would be exposed to her vindictive fury. Elijah had no luxuries to offer, for he had none himself; sustenance was at least sure, if the fare was coarse and simple; but to Elisha it was exchanging affluence for comparative poverty. Besides, there was the sense of personal unworthiness for so high and holy a calling, and this to a sensitive nature is the exciting cause of much mental anguish. It is a duty we owe to ourselves as well as to God to give to the Divine call the most pains-taking consideration. At such a time the destiny of an individual life is at stake; and who can say how many will be affected by the decision either way?
III. That the Divine call to duty demands an immediate and absolute response (1 Kings 19:21).
1. It is superior to the claims of the most lucrative worldly calling. Elisha’s occupation is an indication of his character. He is emphatically a man of peace. He lives in the rich Jordan vale, on green meadowland, where village festivals are held with dance and song. He passes the year in those rural occupations which are natural to the son of a wealthy yeoman, superintending the field-labourers himself, and, with the simplicity of primitive manners, taking a share in their toils. But all this he willingly surrenders. The most flattering worldly prospects may turn to bitter disappointment if we resist the Divine call on their behalf.
2. It is superior to the claims of home and kindred. It was at this point that Elisha seemed to show hesitation. This may account for Elisha’s somewhat cold reply, “Go back again; for what have I done to thee?—i.e., “Go, return to thy ploughing; why shouldst thou quit it? Why take leave of thy friends, and come with me? What have I done to thee to require such a sacrifice? for as a sacrifice thou evidently regardest it. Truly I have done nothing to thee. Thou canst remain as thou art” (vide Speaker’s Comm.). But Elisha has meanwhile made up his mind to choose the better part. The exigencies of a Divine call supersede human duties and relationships (Luke 9:61-42.9.62).
3. It is justly regarded as a distinguished honour. No longer hesitating, Elisha returns a few steps to his oxen and labourers, indicates the complete relinquishment of his home and calling by the slaughter of two oxen and the burning of the instruments, makes a feast to his people to show his gratitude for his call and his sense of the honour done to him, and then, leaving father and mother, cattle and land, good position and comfortable home, attaches himself to the fortunes of the wandering Elijah. It is no small dignity put upon man when he is culled to be a “co-worker with God.”
4. It brings man into association with the noblest spirits. “Then he arose and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him” (1 Kings 19:21). Elisha had heard of the startling exploits of the mountain-prophet, and it would be with feelings of reverence and awe that he found himself in such intimate fellowship with the fearless and august Tishbite They were together as father and son, as is evident from the final address of Elisha to Elijah: “My father! my father!” (2 Kings 2:12); and in the request for a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit (ib., 1 Kings 19:9). God calls us into companionship with the loftiest and choicest spirits of the universe: these are ever in the vanguard of the holiest progress. Above all, we have the exalting and sublimating friendship of God Himself!
1. It is disastrous to embark in any sacred work without a consciousness of the Divine call.
2. Everything should be freely surrendered in obedience to the Divine call.
3. To persist in resisting the Divine call is to entail the bitterest remorse and suffering.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Kings 19:19-11.19.21. The call of Elisha. Note—
1. The variety of character among God’s servants.
2. The honour God puts on the ordinary secular occupations of life.
3. The spirit of joyful self-sacrifice manifested at the call of duty.—Macduff.
1 Kings 19:19. The dignity of labour.
1. A blessing to man.
2. Not to be despised by any.
3. Sanctioned and approved by God.
—Though master of the ground and oxen and servants, yet he himself laid his hand to the plough. Idleness is no man’s honour, nor is husbandry any man’s disgrace. An honest calling in the world does not put us out of the way of our heavenly calling.
—Elisha is found, not in his study, but in the field; not with a book in his hand, but a plough. His father Shaphat was a rich farmer in Abelmeholah, himself was a good husbandman, trained up, not in the schools of the prophets, but in the thrifty trade of tillage; and behold this is the man whom God will pick out of all Israel for a prophet. God seeth not as man seeth; neither doth He choose men because they are fit, but therefore fits them because He hath chosen them. His call is above all earthly institution. I hear not aught that Elijah said; only he casts his cloak upon Elisha in the passage: that mantle, that act, was vocal. He finds a strange virtue in that robe; and, as if his heart was changed with that habit, forgets his team and runs after Elijah. The secret call of God offers an inward force to the heart, and insensibly draws us beyond the power of our resistance.—Bp. Hall.
—Another in his place would long before have come to the conclusion that he was too good for the plough; he was born for a higher sphere than that of a simple peasant; he was not at liberty to withhold his talents from mankind; he must study, and then enter upon the theatre of public action to help to enlighten and govern the world. Consider: the lights have the fairest and clearest lustre which know not that they shine; and those flowers of God scatter the sweetest perfume around them which, well contented with the little spot the Lord has appointed them, bloom hidden in silent dales. It does not follow from the calling of Elisha away from the plough to become a prophet, that every one without much gifts and without much knowledge can leave the plough, or any other ordinary occupation, and take up the prophet’s calling. Men often think the Lord calls them to another, higher position, while it is only their vanity and the over-estimation of their gifts and powers which impel them. If God has called thee to anything, he will also open the way for thee, and furnish the means that are requisite thereto.—Krummacher.
1 Kings 19:20-11.19.21. Grace is no enemy to good nature: well may the respects to our earthly parents stand with our duties to our Father in heaven. I do not see Elisha wring his hands and deplore his condition, that he should leave the world and follow a prophet; but for the joy of that change he makes a feast; those oxen, those utensils of husbandry, whereon his former labours had been bestowed, shall now be gladly devoted to the celebration of that happy day wherein he is honoured with so blessed an employment. If with desire, if with cheerfulness, we do not enter into the works of our Heavenly Master, they are not like to prosper in our hands. He is not worthy of this spiritual station who holds not the service of God his highest, his richest preferment.—Bp. Hall.
—Elisha in comparison with the three followers of Christ (Luke 9:57; Luke 9:62).
1. Although the son of rich parents and heir to a great possession, yet he forsakes and renounces all, for he considers it a greater gain to follow and serve the poor prophet.
2. He takes leave, indeed, of his parents, but he does not put off the succession to a later time, until after their death; he does not disavow filial affection, but it does not keep him from entering upon his succession immediately.
3. He looks not backward after his call, but forward, and has no longing after that which he gives up; he follows on and serves with undivided heart in complete and joyful consecration. How deeply this Elisha shames many amongst us, to whom, however, not an Elijah, not a prophet, but the Lord of glory calls—Follow me!—Lange.
1 Kings 19:20. A good home.
1. A privilege to be improved.
2. An opportunity to prepare for public life.
3. A centre of peace, sympathy, and affection.
4. Never too good to be left at the call of duty.
1 Kings 19:21. Obedience to the Divine call.
1. Should be prompt: “He returned back from him.”
2. Should be thorough and complete: “Took a yoke of oxen and slew them and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen.”
3. Should be cheerful: “And gave unto the people, and they did eat.”
4. Should be apparent: “Then he arose and went after Elijah.”
—Self-sacrifice for God is here plainly inculcated. In the case of Elisha we read of no struggle between duty and convenience, between personal interest and obedience to the unmistakable will of heaven. There was compliance at once, hearty and unreserved; and of his surrender to Elijah it may be said, as of the disciples with reference to a higher master, he “left all and followed him.” The example is lofty, and the invitation becomes us all. We are not asked to relinquish our homes, and our friends, and our substance to anything like the same extent; but if the sacrifice in our case be easier, it should be all the more willingly and cheerfully made. Why speak of unreasonable demands in relation to Him who gave what even He could never exceed in gift—“that whosoever believeth should not perish, but have everlasting life”?—Howat.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Kings 19". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany