Click here to join the effort!
ELIJAH AND THE GREAT DROUGHT.—The picture which the historian has just drawn of the shameless idolatry and the gross degeneracy of the earlier part of Ahab's reign forms a fit prelude to an account of the ministry of the great prophet Elijah, which occupies this and several succeeding chapters; for the two stand together in the closest connexion. It was only the unprecedented corruption of that age which necessitated such a mission, and a mission armed with such credentials as his. It will be obvious to the most cursory reader that the narratives comprised in the remaining portion of this book and the earlier part of 2 Kings are of a very different character from those which have so far been before us. The ministry of Elijah and Elisha alike is little more than a series of miracles. Of their words comparatively few are recorded; we hear of little but the signs and wonders that they wrought. And on this ground—because it is miraculous—this portion of our history is summarily discarded by many recent writers, not as wholly unhistorical, but as mythical; as containing, indeed, many germs of truth, and as having a basis of fact, which, however, has been distorted into its present legendary shape by the credulity and fancy of a later age, or by the half-unconscious exaggeration of some poetico-prephetic writer. But without entering upon the question of miracles generally, for which this is not the place, two remarks may be hazarded here. First, that the narrative is so sober, so circumstantial, so full of touches which have every appearance of having been painted from the life, that were it not for its supernatural element, the most destructive critic would never have thought of questioning its veracity. Secondly, that if miracles are ever allowable or conceivable, if there ever have been occasions in the history of our race when we might concede to the Necessary Being the liberty which we ourselves possess, of varying the so-called order of nature, or of impressing a visible purpose upon its forces, then assuredly the time at which we have now arrived, the beginning of Ahab's reign, was such an occasion. It is quite true that no new revelation was then given to the world. Neither Elijah nor Elisha, as Ewald has observed, "originated anything essentially new," but the task assigned them was one which needed supernatural support and attestation, no less than the promulgation of a new law or gospel. It was their work, at the very darkest hour in the spiritual history of Israel, when a determined effort was being made to stamp out the faith of God's elect, when the nation chosen of God to be the depositary of His truth was fast lapsing into heathenism, and more, into unutterable abominations, it was their work to witness for God and truth and purity. If God's purposes of grace to our world, which had been ripening from age to age, were not now to be frustrated; if the one lamp which cast a ray on the world's thick darkness was not to be utterly extinguished, then, as far as we can see, God must send special messengers, and arm them, in token of their mission and authority, with superhuman powers. The age demanded the messenger; the messenger must have credentials; the credentials could only be miraculous. If it is objected, therefore, against our history that it contains a mass of miracles, our answer is that the crisis necessitated them, and that only miracles would have availed to accomplish the moral and religious reformation which Elijah is allowed on all hands (see, e.g; Ewald, "Hist. Israel," 4.68) to have wrought; that only signs such as he was commissioned to show would have sufficed, in that age, to counteract the influences of such a princess as Jezebel and of such a propaganda as her eight hundred and fifty priests; to rescue the world from corruption, and to preserve to distant generations the treasury of truth and hope with which the Jewish people had been entrusted by the Most High. "The times," says Bishop Hall, were fit for Elijah, and Elijah for the times. The greatest prophet is reserved for the worst age. Israel had never such an impious king as Ahab, nor such a miraculous prophet as Elijah." "The profusion of God's miraculous working in Elijah was due to the exorbitant wickedness of the rulers of Israel at that time, which required an extraordinary maul-festation of God's Divine power, in order to recover His people from the ruin and misery into which they had fallen" (Bishop Wordsworth).
The grandeur of the character of Elijah, however, has been universally recognized, and not least by those who have disputed his miracles. Indeed, it may well be questioned whether the intellect and conceptions of that or a much later age were adequate to create such a character and personality as his, a character which has profoundly impressed men of all ages and of all creeds. The glowing panegyric of the son of Sirach (Ecclus. 48.) need only be hinted at here. The colossal proportions he assumes in the traditions and belief of the Mohammedans is well known. "Omnium suae aetatis prophetarum facile princeps; et si a Mose discesseris, nulii secundus," is the testimony of an illustrious Jew (Abravanel). "The grandest and most romantic character that Israel ever produced "is the verdict of a brilliant writer amongst ourselves (Stanley). His highest praise, however, is that "in the New Testament no prophet is mentioned and extolled so frequently as Elijah" (Bähr). Nor must it be forgotten here that he it was who was chosen to appear with Moses in glory at our Lord's transfiguration, and to speak of the exodus He should accomplish in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).
The chapter divides itself into four parts. In ver. I we see Elijah standing before Ahab and denouncing the drought; in verses 2-7 we find him hiding in the Wady Cherith and fed by the "Orebim;" in verses 8-19 he is resident at Zarephath, feeding the widow and her house; in verses 17-24 he restores the widow's son to life and health.
1 Kings 17:1
And Elijah [This name, which appears both as אֵלִיָּהוּ, and, less frequently, אֵלִיָּה, means my God is Jehovah. It is so singularly appropriate to the man who bore it, and so exactly expresses the idea of his life and the chapter of his work (see especially 1 Kings 18:39), that it is difficult to resist the belief that it was assumed by him. This is certainly more probable than that it was due to the prescience of his parents. It may, however, mark their piety and hopes, and may have influenced the life of their son. Cf. 1 Chronicles 4:10], the Tishbite [So he is called without any further designation in 1 Kings 21:17; 2Ki 1:8, 2 Kings 1:8, etc. The presumption is altogether in favour of תשבי being the name of his birthplace. (Cf. 1 Kings 11:29], who was of the inhabitants of Gilead [The interpretation of these words is much disputed. The Heb. stands גִלְעָד הַתִּשְׁבִּי מִתּשָׁבֵי It will be the first and second words have the same radicals, and it hits been inferred that they cannot mean "two entirely distinct things" (Rawlinson cf.) and that either the Masoretic pointing must be set aside, when the words would yield the meaning, "Elijah, the Tishbite of Tishbe of Gilead" or they must be interpreted "Elijah the stranger of the strangers of Gilead." But it is by no certain that the current interpretation not the best. Such a play upon words as it involves is not at all uncommon in Hebrew. The meaning would then be that Elijah , who was, if not by birth, by domicile, of Tishbe, was one of the strangers—תּוֹשִׁב is found in the sense of πάροικος, inquilinus, in Genesis 23:4; Exodus 12:45; Le Exodus 22:10; Exodus 25:35, 47, etc.—or immigrants who had settled in Gilead. The only objection to this rendering—apart from the identity of radicals just mentioned—is that we should have expected to find תּשָׁבֵי written plene, as the word always is elsewhere. It is alleged by Keil, Bähr, al; however, that the stat. constr. plur. may well be an exception to the rule, and in support of this view it may be mentioned that the cognate word, יוֹשֵׁב, is constantly found in the constr, plural as ישְׁבֵי. It is clear, then, that the usual interpretation is by no means to be lightly set aside. It is certainly preferable to the rendering, "Elijah the stranger," etc; for we have no proof that הַתִּשְׁבִּי can bear this meaning. In favour of the alternative rendering "the Tishbite of Tishbe," it may be said that it has the support of the LXX; ὁ ἐκ Θεσβῶν, and of Josephus (Ant. 8.13. 2), ἐκ πόλεως Θεσδώνης τῆς Γαλααδίτιδος χώρας. Nor is it any weighty objection to this view that we now here read of a Tishbe in Gilead: as for the matter of that, we have no undoubted traces of any such place west of the Jordan; the passage in Tobit (ch. 1:2, LXX.), which is often alleged as proving that there was a Tishbe in Galilee, and from which Gesenius, Bähr, Keil, etc; conclude that this must be the Tishbi here referred to, being too uncertain to permit us to build any positive conclusions thereupon. See Dict. Bib. 3. pp. 1489, 1516. In any case—and it is perhaps impossible to decide positively between this and the rendering of the A.V.—it is clear that Elijah, even if born in Galilee (but see John 7:52, for the belief of the Jews), was trained for his work in Gilead. It was, therefore, a rugged, unsettled, half-civilized, trans-Jordanic region gave to the world the greatest of its prophets. In this respect he was like Moses (Exodus 3:1), and his antitype the Baptist (Luke 1:80). "The fact that this mission was entrusted not to a dweller in royal city or prophetic school, but to a genuine child of the deserts and forests of Gilead, is in exact accordance with the dispensations of Providence in other times" (Stanley)] said unto Ahab [The abrupt way in which Elijah appears upon the scene without a word of introduction or explanation is certainly remarkable. Ewald observes that "his first entry within the province of the history seems almost as unique and inexplicable as his final disappearance." "Elijah comes in with a tempest, and goes out with a whirlwind" (Hall). But there is no sufficient ground for believing (Thenius, al.) that a part of our history which described some of his antecedents has been lost to us, or that our text merely recites the issue of a long conference which Elijah had held with Ahab, for other prophets of this period, Ahijah, Shemaiah, Jehu, are introduced to us in a similar manner, though it must be allowed that their respective ministries were of very different proportions and importance from Elijah's. This sudden appearance, however, is thoroughly characteristic of the man. He presently disappears just as suddenly (verse 5. Cf. 19:3; 2 Kings 1:8). It was thought by some in that age that he was borne hither and thither by the Spirit of God! 1 Kings 18:12), and men of a later time caught this as one of his prominent characteristics (Ecclus. 48:1-12). Hence, too, the traditions of a still later period, according to which he was "the fiery Phinehas returned to earth, or an angel hovering on the outskirts of the world," Stanley], As the Lord God of Israel liveth [This formula here occurs for the first time, and it is full of meaning. It asserts first that Jehovah, not Baal, is the God of Israel, and it suggests, in the second place, that he is the living God, such as Baal was not, and that though ordinarily He keeps silence, He is one who can make His power felt], before whom I stand [i.e; "Whose I am and whom I serve" (Acts 27:23). Cf. 1 Kings 18:15. The slaves of the East stood before their masters. See note on 1 Kings 1:28, and cf. 1 Samuel 3:1; Luke 1:19. Elijah claims to speak in God's name, and as His ambassador], there shall not be dew nor rain [Observe the order of the words. Dew is perhaps put first as more essential to vegetable life. Elijah only denounces a plague already threatened in the law as the punishment of idolatry (Deuteronomy 11:16, Deuteronomy 11:17; Deuteronomy 28:23; Le Deuteronomy 26:19). He came forward as the vindicator and restorer of the law] these years [An indefinite period. Its duration depended on Elijah's word, and that again on the penitence, etc; of the people. It was because of the obduracy of king and people that it lasted so long] but according to my word. [The idolatrous priests no doubt claimed for Baal the dominion over nature and absolute control over the clouds and rain—a power which, it may be worth observing, the monks of the convent of St. Katherine at Sinai, where Elijah was, are thought to possess by the Arabs of the Sinaitic peninsula. Elijah directly challenges them to a trial of strength. It was as if he had said, "The God that answereth by rain, let him be God." On the fitness of this miracle, both as a sign and as a punishment, see "Homil. Quart." 5:100,101. "To Eastern and Southern nations, where life and water go always together, where vegetation gathers round the slightest particle of moisture and dies the moment it is withdrawn…the withholding of rain is the withholding of pleasure, of sustenance, of life itself " (Stanley). "My word" is somewhat emphatic, "Nisi ego, et non alius vir … dixero" (Seb. Schmidt). No doubt there is a special reference to the prophets of Baal. Their inability to remove the ban would prove the impotency of their god. Elijah had asked for the supernatural powers which he here claims (James 5:17, James 5:18).]
1 Kings 17:2
And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying [cf. 1 Kings 17:8; 1Ki 18:1; 1 Kings 21:17; 2 Kings 1:3],
1 Kings 17:3
Get thee hence, and turn thee [for the construction (dat. commodi) cf. Genesis 12:2; Genesis 22:2; Song of Solomon 2:11] eastward [This he must do, whichever side of the Jordan, east or west, the brook Cherith was, for his interview with Ahab had probably taken place at Samaria. But the word would be specially appropriate, if the Cherith was beyond Jordan. Ewald, indeed, holds that our text is decisive on this point], and hide thyself [Heb. be hid, i.e; lie hid, Niphal. It does not seem to have occurred to the prophet that such a calamity as he had denounced against the country almost made his disappearance from the scene a necessity, or if it did, he still waited for instructions. Cf. verse 9; 1 Kings 18:1, etc. Not merely was his flight necessary in order to escape persecution or punishment—the search which Ahab instituted for him in part explains his disappearance—but to avoid importunity. It would have been morally impossible for him, though a man of inflexible will (Bähr) to dwell among the people, while the land groaned under the terrible burden which he had laid upon it, and which he alone was able to remove. His life would not have been safe—see 1 Kings 18:4—and the ordeal would have been intolerable. And 1 Kings 19:2 shows that the prophet's nature had its weaker side. Wordsworth observes that Elijah's escapes and departures into unknown places are "faint resemblances of the mysterious vanishings of our blessed Lord, after He had delivered some of His Divine messages which excited the anger of the people;" Luke 4:29; John 8:59; John 10:39] by [Heb. in] the brook [Heb. נַחַל; i.e; watercourse, wady. This word has two meanings. Its primary meaning is torrent; its secondary and, from the fact that the torrents of the East are for the most part dried up during the greater part of the year, its common meaning is torrent-bed, or ravine, valley. Both meanings are brought out here. Elijah should dwell in and drink of the נַחַל. Cf. 1 Kings 15:3] Cherith [The word means separation, a name which may possibly indicate that it was extremely secluded, or it may have been a boundary line of some sort. Tradition identifies the brook Cherith with the Wady-et-kelt, i.e; the great valley, west of the Jordan, which debouches into the Ghor, half a mile south of Jericho, and Robinson and Porter pronounce in its favour. Van de Velde suggests the Wady Fasael, a few miles to the north. But it is much more probable that it is to be sought in the region east of the Jordan, where, indeed, Eusebius and Jerome place it. It is extremely doubtful whether the Wady-el-kelt, or any Cis-Jordanic ravine, would afford sufficient privacy. Probably Jericho was already rebuilt. As we cannot decide with certainty, we may reasonably conjecture that it is to be sought in Elijah's own country of Gilead, and probably in the Waddy Alias, i.e; at no great distance from 'Abara, the Jordan ford nearly opposite Bethshan, where, indeed, an old tradition places it] that is before [Nothing positive can be concluded from עַל פְנֵי. In Genesis 16:12; Genesis 23:19; Genesis 25:18; Joshua 18:14, etc; it means eastward. But this meaning is gathered from the context] Jordan. [The Cherith was clearly one of the lateral valleys which run into the Ghor. It is just possible that the name may be recovered by the survey of the country east of the Jordan, which is now being organized.]
1 Kings 17:4
And it shall be that thou shalt drink of the brook [There was clearly nothing miraculous about the supply of water. No miracle was wrought even to continue the supply, 1 Kings 17:7]; and I have commanded [of. 1 Kings 17:9; Isaiah 5:1-30; Isaiah 6:1-13; Amos 9:3, etc.] the ravens to feed thee there. [Despite the general agreement of scholars that by ערבים we must understand "ravens," I think probability favours the meaning Orbites, i.e; inhabitants of Orbo. In support of the received rendering is the very powerful consideration, that it is the interpretation of all the versions (except the Arabic) and of Josephus, who, beyond all question, represented the belief current in his own time (Ant. 8.13. 2). It is also certain that elsewhere in Scripture we find some of the inferior animals supernaturally constrained to effect God's purposes, both of mercy and of judgment (1 Kings 13:24; 2 Kings 2:24; Daniel 6:22; 2 Peter 2:16), though never it must be said, in so rational and methodical a way. Nor can it rightly be contended that the words "I have commanded," צִוִתִי, imply human agency, for elsewhere we find the Almighty commanding (same word) the serpent (Amos 9:3) and the clouds (Isaiah 5:6; Psalms 78:23). It is not, however, a sufficient account of this narrative to say that the prophet merely helped himself to the food which the ravens, whose habitat was in the Wady Cherith, brought, day by day, to their nests and their young. For, not to insist on the words, מְבִיאִים לוֹ, bringing to him (Amos 9:6), the expressions '" bread (or food, לֶחֶם) and flesh," and "morning and evening" certainly point to something more than such a fortuitous supply. Whether the Orebim were "ravens" or not, they certainly acted in an intelligent and rational way: they brought food, that is to say, to the prophet, and they brought it for months together with unfailing regularity. But against this view the following considerations may be urged.
1. It is hardly in accord with God's usual way of working, that he should employ birds of the air and those unclean (Leviticus 11:15; Deuteronomy 14:14) and ravenous birds, to feed and succour His saints, rather than men or angels. Of course, no one who does not altogether repudiate the supernatural will deny for a moment that the Almighty could, had it seemed good to Him, have sustained His prophet by the instrumentality of ravens, just as easily as by any other means. But it appears to be almost a fixed principle of His dealings with men, not to resort to miracles when ordinary means will suffice; or if He does employ miracles, they are never bizarre or fantastic; they are not such as to suggest the idea of fable or legend; they are invariably the simplest and directest means to the end. And it is submitted that this prolonged and methodical ministry of ravens is altogether unlike God's method of procedure on other occasions. It was an angel succoured Hagar and Ishmael in their need (Genesis 16:7). It was an angel fed Elijah himself, a few years later (1 Kings 19:5, 1 Kings 19:6). They were angels who ministered to our blessed Lord after His long fast (Matthew 4:11). But God's,' chief means," it is always to be remembered, "is man." And it is to be carefully observed that when, about this very time, not one, but one hundred prophets were threatened, just as Elijah was, with death, no miracle was wrought to save their lives or to supply their wants, but they were fed by human agency, with bread and water (1 Kings 18:13). But it is still more significant that elsewhere in this narrative, which is characterized by the profoundest sobriety and reticence, there is what we may almost call a studied absence of the miraculous element. No miracle is wrought to protect Elijah against Jezebel, but he must consult for his own safety by flight. He is sent to the brook Cherith, because there is water there; in other words, God chose that hiding place in order to obviate the necessity for a miracle. And when the water of the brook dries up, no miracle is wrought to prolong the supply, but the prophet, at the risk of detection, must go forth and seek it elsewhere. And at Zarephath he is fed, not by ravens, but by human agency—by a widow woman. It is true a miracle appears to have been wrought, but the narrative has so little idea of effect and gives so little prominence to the supernatural that even that is doubted. To put the interpretation of "ravens," consequently, on the word ערבים, provided it will yield any other meaning, appears to be to do violence to the spirit of the context, and to the tenour of Scripture generally.
2. It is somewhat difficult to believe that such a prodigy as this, so altogether unique and irregular, would not have been mentioned, had it really happened, elsewhere in Scripture. The absence of all reference thereto is remarkable, when we consider how constantly the ministry of Elijah and its lessons (Luke 4:25, Luke 4:26; Luke 9:54; James 5:17; Revelation 11:5, Revelation 11:6) are referred to in the New Testament; but when we observe what an admirable and unequalled illustration of God's providential care this incident would have supplied to some of our Lord's discourses, and notably to that of Luke 12:22 sqq; this silence becomes almost suspicious.
3. Despite the practical unanimity of the versions, the interpretation "ravens" has been disputed from very early times. St. Jerome among Christians, Rabbi Judah Hakkodesh and Kimchi amongst Jews—these are but some of those who have repudiated this rendering.
4. A very slight change in the vowel points—עַרְבִּים instead of ערְבִים—yields the meaning "Arabians." That a fugitive would readily find, not only shelter but sustenance among the Bedouin, whose generous hospitality and loyalty to strangers is proverbial, is obvious, and we knew that about this time some Arab tribes had dealings with the Jews (2 Chronicles 17:11); but without any change at all, a sufficient meaning may be extracted from the word. For we find that somewhere in the Ciccar, or plain of the Jordan, off which the Wady Cherith lay, was a rock Oreb (עוֹרֵב, Judges 7:25), apparently east of the Jordan (Judges 8:1), but in any case, at no great distance from Bethabara (John 1:28). Now Beth-abara has been identified, almost to a certainty with the modern 'Abarah (i.e; passage or ferry), "one of the main fords of the Jordan just above the place where the Jalud river flowing down the valley of Jezreel and by Beisan, debouches into Jordan." But we learn from an ancient and independent source, the Bereshith Rabba, that in the neighbourhood of Beisan, i.e; Bethshean, there was anciently a town named Orbo, עַרְבוֹ—a word, it is to be observed, which preserves the radicals of עוֹרֵב transposed. We may safely assume that these two places, Orbo and Oreb, were identical; that the former was the representative at a later day of the latter, or was the shape which the name assumed when bestowed on the hamlet, as distinct from the rock. The inhabitants of this place would, of course, be called עֹרְבִים, just as the in. habitants of Ziph were known as Ziphim (1 Samuel 26:1), or the men of Zidon as Zidonim (1 Kings 5:6). We find, consequently, that this word, which means "ravens," also designates the inhabitants of a village near Bethshean, and probably east of the Jordan; that is to say, in or near Elijah's native country of Gilead. And with this agree the testimonies of Rabbi Judah and Jerome already referred to. The former held that the Orebim were not ravens at all, but inhabitants of Orbo or the rock Oreb, while the latter says, with equal positiveness, Orbim, accolae villae in fini-bus Arabum, Eliae dederunt alimenta. It only remains for us to notice the perfect naturalness and consistency of the narrative thus interpreted. Elijah is bidden to go eastward; to hide in the Wady Cherith, where he would be among tribesmen or friends. For water, there is the brook; for food, the Orbites, whose name would be familiar to him, and whom he may have known, are commanded to feed him. He goes; he is received with Arab hospitality; the Eastern law of Dakheel, by which any man at any time is entitled to throw himself upon the mercy and protection of another, ensures his safety. The Orebim minister assiduously to his wants. Every morning before the dawn, every evening after dark, they bring him bread and flesh.]
1 Kings 17:5
So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for [Heb. and] he went and dwelt by [Heb. in] the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.
1 Kings 17:6
And the ravens brought [Heb. bringing] him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening [the Vat. LXX. has" bread in the morning and flesh in the evening." It has been objected that this verse is fatal to the view advanced above—that the ערבים were not birds but men—that no men would have "come regularly twice a day,; thus giving themselves needless trouble and increasing the chance of detection, when they might easily have left him a supply for several days" (Rawlinson). But if we may believe that the prophet was, if not among kinsmen or friends, yet among the pastoral, semi-nomadic people of Gilead, a people, that is to say, like the Bedawin in their instincts and customs, it is easy to understand that having taken him under their protection, they would make a point of visiting him regularly, not only to show him all possible honour, as a person endued with supernatural powers (cf. 1 Kings 18:7, 1 Kings 18:13), but to afford him some measure of sympathy and companionship. And we can then see a reason for the morning and evening being mentioned. Their visits would be made in the twilight, which is really longer in the East than is generally supposed]; and he drank [Hebrew drinks. The Heb. future often has the force of an imperfect, and expresses continued or repeated action] of the brook.
1 Kings 17:7
and it came to pass after awhile, [Heb. at the end of days. Not necessarily post annum. The words no doubt have this force elsewhere, Leviticus 25:29; Judges 11:40; Judges 17:10; 1 Samuel 27:7, etc.; but in all these cases, the meaning is not resident in the words themselves, but in the context. It is impossible to say how long Elijah remained in the Wady. All we can be sure of is that he must have been more than two rears, out of the three and a haft, at Zare-phath. See on 1 Kings 18:1] that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. [גֶּשֶׁם, imber, signifies heavy rain. The word used in 1 Kings 18:1 is מָטָר, rain of any kind.]
1 Kings 17:8
And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying,
1 Kings 17:9
Arise, get thee to Zarephath [Cf. Obadiah 1:20. The name points to furnaces or workshops for the refining of metals, צָרַף, liquavit. LXX. Σαρεπτὰ; cf. Luke 4:26. It is now represented by an insignificant village, Surafend, which, however, preserves the original name. It lies still, as no doubt it did then, on the high road between Tyre and Sidon, and on the shore. The prophet would thus be in the lion's den, in the very heart of the dominions of Ethbaal. See Porter, 2:397. Stanley shows how the memory of this visit still lingers in the traditions of the neighbourhood], which belongeth to Zidon [Sidon is visible from a spot a quarter of an hour distant. "The dependence of Sarepta on Sidon is indicated in the inscriptions of Sennacherib, where it is mentioned as belonging to Luliya, king of Sidon," Rawlinson], and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee [In considering these words the generally destitute condition of the widow of the East should be borne in mind (Acts 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:3-5, etc.) We gather from Luke 4:25, Luke 4:26, that it was for her sake as well as his that the prophet was sent thither. Matthew 15:21-28 tells of another Syro-Phoenician woman.]
1 Kings 17:10
So he arose and went to Zarephath [It does not follow that his route lay over the "White Promontory," or Ladder of Tyre, the way our Lord took when He "departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon" (Matthew 15:21). If his place of concealment was anywhere near 'Abara, or Bethshean, it is probable he would keep east of the Jordan, as far as Banias or Dan, where the river is fordable, and whence a road leads direct to Sidon. He would thus avoid Tyro]. And when he came to the gate of the city [the ruins of Surafend are still very considerable (see Thomson,"Land and Book," 1:235) and prove it to have been a place of importance, a town with gates and walls. "Gate," however, is used somewhat loosely in the O.T.—of the entrance to a village, or even of the place of concourse and of judgment], behold, the [Heb. a. He did not yet know that this was the widow to whom he was sent. Her replies to his requests first informed him that this was the object of his search] widow woman was there [Heb. behold there, a widow woman] gathering of sticks [This was not a promising sign. It only proved her poverty]: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel [Heb. the vessel. Bähr understands the drinking-cup that Elijah had brought with him from the Wady Cherith; but surely it is extremely improbable that he would carry either cup or bottle with him. "The vessel" probably imports the ordinary vessel used for the purpose—the "potter's earthen bottle" Jeremiah 19:1). That this was used for fetching water, we know from Isaiah 30:14], that I may drink.
1 Kings 17:11
And as she was going to fetch it [The gift of water to the thirsty is always regarded as a sacred duty in the East. "Never yet during many years' residence in Syria and many a long day's travel, have I been refused a draught of water by a single individual of any sect or race. The Bedawy in the desert has shared with me the last drop in his waterskin" (Porter). It is clear that the water supply of Phoenicia had not entirely failed. "The fresh streams of Lebanon would retain their life giving power long after the scantier springs of Palestine had been dried up," Stanley] he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread [The request for food will soon reveal to him whether this is the widow woman who is to sustain him] in thine hand. [Bähr would understand here, "Give me a morsel of the bread which thou hast in thine hand"—einen Bissen des Brodes das du besitzest—and he has the LXX; ψωμὸν ἄρτου τοῦ ἐν τῇ χειρί σου, to support him. But it is fatal to this view
(1) that the verb is לִקְחִי—the same as already used in the request for water (1 Kings 17:10), and
(2) that there is no article before bread. "The bread in thine hand" would have been clear, but the words as they stand can only mean, "Bring me, together with the water in the vessel, a morsel of bread in thine hand." Besides, "in thy possession" would probably have been expressed by "under thine hand," as in 1 Samuel 21:3, 1Sa 21:4, 1 Samuel 21:8, though "in the hand" is found in Ecclesiastes 5:13; Ezra 7:25, in a somewhat similar sense.]
1 Kings 17:12
And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth [Bähr, Keil, al. conclude from this formula that the woman was a worshipper of the God of Israel. Bähr is extremely positive on this point, affirming that, had she been a heathen, the words would have been positively hypocritical, and more, that Elijah would never have been sent (Luke 4:26) to an idolater. He further suggests that possibly she was an Israelite by birth, who had been married to a Phoenician. But all this is extremely doubtful. In the first place, it is noteworthy that the words are, "Jehovah thy God," words which show that she recognized Elijah, perhaps by his Jewish face, probably by his prophetic dress (2 Kings 1:8) as a worshipper of Jehovah. But had she also been the same, it is probable that she would have said "my God," for that form would not only have given greater force to her obtestation, but would have established a bond of sympathy—such as Jews in a foreign land were only too glad to recognize—between them. And the remark that it is hypocrisy to swear by a god in whom one does not believe is disposed of by the consideration that she may well have believed in the Lord as well as in Baal. See note on 1 Kings 5:7. The Tyrians knew nothing of monotheism], I have not a cake [מָעוןֹ, the synonym of עֻגָּה (1 Kings 5:13), the smallest kind of bread. It was baked in the ashes; hence the LXX. ἐγρυφίας. We gather from this pitiful disclosure that the famine had already extended to Phoenicia, as it naturally would do, considering how dependent that country was on Israel for its breadstuffs; see note on 1 Kings 5:9,1 Kings 5:11. Josephus (Ant. 8.13, 2) cites Menander as attesting to a year's drought in the reign of Ethbaal], but an handful of meal in a [Heb. the] barrel [כַד, probably connected with cadus, cadeau, etc.; bucket, pail], and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks [i.e; a few sticks (Gesenius). We may compare the German idiom ein Paar and our "two or three." But "two" in this sense occurs nowhere else in the Bible—"two or three" is found in 2 Kings 9:32; Isaiah 17:6; Amos 4:8. According to Roberts, the word is constantly used for "few" by the natives of India. This widow was evidently reduced to the greatest extremities], that I may go in and dress it for me and my son [The LXX. has τέκνοις here and in Amos 4:13, and τὰ τέκνα in verse 15. Bähr contends that Elijah first learnt from these words—the mention of a son and the absence of any mention of her husband—that he was addressing a "widow woman." But we read Genesis 38:14, Genesis 38:19, of "garments of widowhood" (cf. Deuteronomy 24:17), and Genesis 38:10, "a widow woman," etc; almost implies that Elijah from the first recognized her as such], that we may eat it, and die.
1 Kings 17:13
And Elijah said unto her [This looks at first like a further test. But it is pretty clear that the prophet now knew that the widow of whom God had spoken was before him], Fear not; go and do as thou hast said [Heb. according to thy word] but [Heb. only, however]: make me thereof [Heb. thence, i.e; of the oil as well as the meal. The former took the place of butter. Bread was sometimes baked in oil] a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and thy son. [The "first" and "afterwards" are emphatic by position. When Bähr says that Elijah would never have made this demand, and that still less would the widow have paid any attention to it, had she been a heathen, he appears to forget the words that followed (verse 14). When one in the garb of a prophet swore, as this man did, by the sacred name, a heathen, with the belief of the heathen in miracles, might well be persuaded that the word was truth. Elijah's manner alone would carry conviction with it.]
1 Kings 17:14
For thus saith the Lord God of Israel [The words, "God of Israel," if anything, favour the supposition that he was speaking to one who was not of Israel. See on 1 Kings 17:1. There the words were addressed to one who was denying the God of Israel] The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fall, until the day that the Lord sendeth [Heb. giveth. For תִּתֵן see note on 1 Kings 6:19] rain upon the earth. [Heb. on the face of the ground. Like expression 1 Kings 18:1; Genesis 2:5. It has been said that there is not a syllable here to imply a miracle, and it has been contended that this Sareptan household was sustained for over two years simply by the blessing of God on the use of natural means. But clearly, if there was nothing else, there was supernatural knowledge on Elijah's part. And it cannot be denied that the literal construction of the words points to a "supernatural and inexplicable multiplication of food" (Rawlinson), similar to those of which the Gospels tell. It is just possible that this was a figure of speech, which practically meant no more than the necessaries of life should somehow be provided, directly or indirectly, by God. Nor is this view effectually negatived, as Bähr contends, by Luke 4:26; but, in view of 2 Kings 4:44, Matthew 14:15-21, Matthew 15:32-38, it is extremely improbable. It is curious how many miracles of Elijah and Elisha foreshadowed those of our blessed Lord.
1 Kings 17:15
And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah [the echo of 1 Kings 17:13, "Go and do according to thy saying"]: and she, and he, [or he and she, according to Chethib] and her house [probably her friends or poor relatives who came to partake of her plenty (Bähr)], did eat many days. [Heb. days, i.e; an indefinite period. See note on verse 7. The word does not refer to the first baking (verse 13), but it is to be explained by the next verse.
1 Kings 17:16
And [Omit. This verse is explicative, not additional] the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fall, according to the word of the Lord, which He spake by [Heb. by the hand of] Elijah. [Having received a prophet in the name of a prophet, she received a prophet's reward. (Matthew 10:41, Matthew 10:42). Stanley suggests that our Lord, when He spoke of the "cup of cold water," may have had this incident in his mind.
1 Kings 17:17
And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. [Does this mean that he was dead? Keil thinks it perfectly clear that it does. Bähr is as firmly persuaded that it does not. He justly remarks
(1) that the same expression occurs in Daniel 10:17 (cf. 1 Kings 10:5) where it does not imply death.
(2) That as the text does not say, "and he died," we must conclude that it did not mean to say it.
(3) Daniel 10:18, Daniel 10:20 do not necessitate the belief that he was dead (see below).
(4) Josephus, who was not afraid of the miraculous, has interpreted the words thus: ὡς καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἀφεῖναι καὶ δόξαι νεκρον. To this it may be added that נְשָׁמָה simply means breath, and that where it is desired to convey the idea of rife, additional words are used (as in Genesis 2:7, "the breath of life; Genesis 7:22, "the breath of the spirit of life." Cf. Job 27:3, Proverbs 20:27 (where the intelligence or reason appears to be meant), Ecclesiastes 3:21. It must be confessed also that the statement, "his sickness was so sore," etc; is quite apropos and intelligible, if we may understand that he lay in a state of coma, but would be an extremely roundabout way of affirming that he was dead.
1 Kings 17:18
And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee [Heb. what to me and thee. Same formula, Judges 11:12; 2 Samuel 16:10; 2 Kings 3:13; Matthew 8:29; John 2:4. It means, "What is there between us?" or practically, "What have I done?" "Is this the result of my association with thee? Must such sorrow befal me because thou art with me?" Bähr], O thou man of God? [This woman, if a Phoenician, was evidently familiar with the titles borne by the Hebrew prophets (1 Kings 12:22; 1 Kings 13:1-34. passim; Judges 13:6, Judges 13:8). Nor is this to be wondered at. The intercourse between the two nations had been very considerable] art thou come unto me to call my sin [not necessarily any "special sin in her past life,"] to remembrance [her idea evidently is that the prophet by residing with her, seeing her life, etc; had become acquainted with her sinfulness, and had called it to the remembrance of the Almighty. She does not mean that he had recalled it to her mind, but that he had been the מִזְכִיר or remembrancer of God. Cf. Genesis 40:14; Ezekiel 21:28; Jeremiah 4:16] and to slay my son? [Observe, she does not speak of him as slain.]
1 Kings 17:19
And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out Of her bosom, [the age of the child may hence be roughly inferred] and carried him up into a loft [Heb. הָעֲלִיָּה the upper chamber. LXX. τὸ ὑπερῷον. Loft is most misleading. The upper room, was often [rather, always] the best apartment in an Eastern house" (Rawlinson). It was sometimes the guest chamber (Luke 22:11, Luke 22:12), and, from the uses to which it was put, must have been large (Acts 1:13; Acts 9:39; Acts 20:8; 2 Kings 1:2). Thomson (L. & B. 1:235) infers from the fact that the widow's house had an upper room, "that the mode of building in Elijah's time and the custom of giving the 'alliyeh to the guest were the same as now; also that this poor widow was not originally among the poorest classes (who bare no 'alliyeh), but that her extreme destitution was owing to the famine"], and laid him upon his own bed. [It may be doubted whether the verb יַשְׁכִבֵהוּ lit; made him to lie down, would be used of a corpse.]
1 Kings 17:20
And he cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, hast Thou also [i.e. in addition to the misery and suffering brought through me upon my country] brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying [Heb. to slay. Words. worth partly bases his conclusion that the child was dead on the inexact translation of the A.V.] her son?
1 Kings 17:21
And he stretched himself [marg. measured himself, but Gesenius holds that stretch out is the primary meaning of the root] upon the child [cf. 2 Kings 4:34. The commentators are again at variance as to whether these words imply the use of natural means or not. Those who hold that the child was dead naturally adopt the negative, and some (Keil, Rawlinson, al.) compare with it the action of our Lord in the case of the blind, deaf and dumb (Matthew 9:35; Luke 7:14; John 9:6, John 9:7). But surely the circumstances and the purpose alike, in these latter eases, were entirely different. The object of the touch, of anointing the eyes, etc; in these cases of healing, appears to have been to awaken a sufficient faith—without which "He could do no miracle" (Matthew 13:58)—in men whose infirmities of blindness, deafness, etc; prevented their attaining faith through the ordinary channels of seeing and hearing the merciful and gracious Son of man. But here the child, if not dead, was senseless. We are driven, therefore, to the belief that the prophet "used rational means for warming and revivifying" the child, "not with the hope that of themselves they would prove effectual, but in the sure confidence that God, in answer to his weeping supplication, would impart supernatural force to the natural human agencies," Bähr] three times [Not only in his prayer but also in this triple repetition do we recognize Elijah's profound conviction that only by the Almighty power of God could the child be restored, and that whatever means were used, God alone could make them effectual. For three is the number and signature of the Godheads" die eigentlieh gottliche Zahl, die Signatur des gottlichen Wesens" (Bähr, Symb. 1:143). Hence it is, inter alia, that "the calling upon the name of Jehovah in the old covenant"—he might have added, "and in the new;" cf. Mark 14:39, Mark 14:41; 2 Corinthians 12:8—"was a threefold act:" Psalms 55:17; Daniel 6:10, Daniel 6:13; Numbers 6:24-26; Isaiah 6:3 (Bähr). The correspondence with 2 Corinthians 12:8 is very striking] and cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I pray Thee [Heb. now] let this child's soul come into him [Heb. upon his inside עַל is here, as elsewhere, used for אֵל] again. [Though נֶפֶשׁ, here translated "soul," constantly means "life," yet it by no means settles the question whether the child was really living or dead. For,
(1) the, primary meaning of the word is breath (Gesen; Thesaurus, s.v.), and
(2) the words might with perfect propriety, even if we interpret "life" or "soul," be used of one who lay in a lifeless and inanimate condition. Massillon's graphic language, showing the contrast between Elijah's procedure and that of our blessed Lord (Luke 7:14; Luke 8:54; John 11:43), is worth citing here: "Elie ressuscite des morts, il est vrai; mais il est oblige de se coucher plusieurs fois sur le corps de l'enfant qu'il ressuscite; il souffle, il se retrecit, it s'agite; on voit bien qu'il invoque une puissance etrangere; qu'il rappelle de l'empire de ta mort une ame qui n'est pas soumise a savoix, et qu'il n'est pas lui-meme le maitre de la mort et de la vie: Jesus-Christ ressuscite les morts comme il fait les actions les plus communes; il parle en maitre a ceux qui dorment d'un sommeil eternel, et l'on sent bien qu'il est le Dieu des morts comme des vivants, jamais plus tranquille que lorsqu'il opere les plus grandes choses."]
1 Kings 17:22
And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again and he revived [or recovered. Cf. 2 Kings 1:2; 2 Kings 8:8].
1 Kings 17:23
And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house [Probably the עֲלִיָּה. was reached by an outside staircase, and did not directly communicate with the lower rooms. Cf. Matthew 24:17; Mark 2:4; 2 Kings 9:13] and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.
1 Kings 17:24
And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this [Heb. this. Gesenius interprets עַתָּה זֶה just now. Similarly Bähr, nunmehr] I know that thou art a man of God [not that she had doubted it before. See verse 18. In the face of what Elijah had done for her, she could not doubt it. All that she means is that this is a great fresh proof of his mission], and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth. [This last word אֱמֶת from which Amittai (Jonah 1:1) is formed, perhaps gave rise to the tradition that this boy was afterwards known as the prophet Jonah. Amiitai was held to have been this widow's husband.
1 Kings 17:1
The Mission and Ministry of Elijah.
The appearance on the arena of Israel's history of such a champion as Elijah, armed with such high credentials, wielding such supernatural powers, marks a crisis in the history of God's ancient Church. We have but to see him, to hear him for one moment, to know that a great struggle is impending. God, like Nature, which is but a name for God, "does nothing in vain." Such high powers as his foreshadow great issues. Four points consequently may well engage our attention, viz; the man, his mission, his message, his ministry.
I. THE MAN.
1. He was a wild man (Genesis 16:12; Heb. a wild ass man). Abraham has been called an "Arab sheykh." We have in Elijah a veritable Bedawy, if not by birth or tribe, by training and in character. The rough sheepskin (1 Kings 19:13), the shaggy hair (2 Kings 1:18), the marvellous bodily endurance (1 Kings 18:46), the careful avoidance of the city, the flight into the desert (1 Kings 19:4), the whole bearing of the man suggests to us the child of the wilderness. He, the greatest of the prophets, one of the "first three" of those born of women, has the exterior, the instincts, the heart of an Ishmaelite. He was thus a fit successor of Moses, the shepherd of Horeb, who in the very haunt and home of the Bedawin, was trained for his high vocation; he was meet to be the forerunner and pattern of the Baptist who was bred in the desert, clad in Arab dress, and fed with Arab food (Matthew 3:1, Matthew 3:4). It is impossible to understand the man and his work unless this be borne in mind. The gaunt dervish who one day strode into the presence of the king and lifted up his sinewy arm and denounced the great drought; the shaggy, long haired sheykh, who single-handed faced the hierarchy of Baal, and knew no fear, his were the asperities, the privations, the scant fare, the primitive, semi-nomadic life of a Gileadite. The sweet uses of adversity had moulded this man for the crisis. Our great chancellors, it has been said, come to us from the garret: the desert has ever been the school of the greatest prophets. The rugged, unsettled pasturages of Bashan were a meet nurse for a prophetic child. This champion was cast "in the clay ground".
2. He was a man of like passions with ourselves (James 5:17). An "earthen vessel" (2 Corinthians 4:7). "In all points tempted like as we are," and not "without sin" (Hebrew 1 Kings 3:15). The Bible never pictures men as perfect. The phronema Sarkos remains even in the regenerate.
II. HIS MISSION. Consider—
1. Whence it was derived. He was not taught of men (Galatians 1:12, Galatians 1:17). He was ἰδιώτης καὶ ἀγράμματος. The God who separated him from his mother's womb called him by His grace (Galatians 5:15). He was an extraordinary messenger for a great emergency. But observe; when God employs such messengers, men whose mission is derived directly from on high, the "signs of an apostle" are wrought by them. We are not to listen to an angel from heaven, unless he shows us his credentials. We have a right to ask of those who run without being sent to show us a sign. When the missionary Dr. Wolff told one of the Eastern bishops that the "Lord had sent him," the prelate not unreasonably asked him for a display of his powers. If God should send us an Elias again, He will give us at the same time a sign from heaven.
2. When it was conferred. It was
(1) When iniquity abounded. When Hiel had built Jericho; when Ahab had raised a temple for Baal; when Jezebel had gathered round her an army of false prophets; when the faith of God's elect was in jeopardy. The darkest hour is ever before the dawn. Cum duplicantur lateres, venit Moses. "Man's extremity is," etc. "Israel was sore wounded when God sent them this balm from Gilead" (Henry).
(2) When ordinary means were insufficient. There were "sons of the prophets," it is probable, in Bethel and Samaria; There were seven thousand faithful ones in Israel; but what were these against such a queen as Jezebel, against such a propaganda and such a system as hers? It was then no longer a question of heresy or schism, of calves or cherubim, of Jeroboam's or Jehovah's priests; the very existence of the Church was at stake. Elijah was summoned to the court; he was armed with "power to shut heaven that it rained not in the days of his prophecy "(Revelation 11:6), with power to call down fire to devour his enemies, and the like, because only thus could the elect people be stayed from throwing themselves into the arms of an organized prostitution; from yielding themselves, body and soul, to the whoredoms and witchcrafts of "that woman Jezebel;" because only thus could the light of truth, the one lamp which illumined the world's darkness, be preserved from utter extinction.
III. HIS MESSAGE. It was a denunciation of immediate drought, one of the most terrible calamities that can befal an Eastern land. In Palestine, animal as well as vegetable life is directly dependent on the rain. Not only do the showers which irrigate the laud feed the springs, but they are carefully stored up in cisterns for daily use. It is only as compared with the arid wastes of Egypt that the Holy Land could be called "a land of brooks and waters, of fountains and depths," etc. (Deuteronomy 8:7). And it is also described by the same writer as a land that "drinketh water of the rain of heaven" (Deuteronomy 9:11). Consequently rain, everywhere a prime necessity of existence, is doubly indispensable in Palestine. The rainfall of Jerusalem is on the average three times as great as that of London. It is clear, consequently, that this message threatened a terrible plague, that it portended long and protracted suffering. There are some who will not hear of the "terrors of the Lord," who would never have them mentioned in the pulpit. Yet pain and privation are among the first sanctions of God's law, and we have the authority of many eminent divines for saying that more men are won to God and right by fear than by love. It sounds fine and philosophic to speak of fear as an unworthy motive, but men forget what an unworthy animal is man. Besides, this drought was a part of the punishment, and was admirably adapted to serve as a punishment for apostasy. It was meet that men who practically denied the living God should be practically reminded of their dependence on Him. It was well that those who held Baal to be lord of nature, should be left to discover his impotence (cf. Judges 10:14; Jeremiah 14:22). "Are there any of the vanities of the heathen that can give rain?" And it was a punishment this, which penitence might avert. Moreover it was the penalty foretold in the law (Deuteronomy 28:23). Elijah was not left to scatter plagues at his pleasure. Like an earlier prophet, he could not "go beyond the word of the Lord to do less or more" (Numbers 22:18). Of himself, he could do nothing (Numbers 5:1-33). His message was, "As the Lord liveth." If the rain should only come "according to his word," it was because his word was God's word. If his prayer for the drought had been answered (James 5:17), it had first been inspired. He speaks here as the minister, not the master. He is the willing, patient slave of Jehovah. "Before whom I stand."
IV. His MINISTRY. From this initial message let us turn to his ministry as whole. And it presents to our view these broad features—
1. It was exercised in silence. How few are Elijah's recorded words, and those few are the utterances of but five or six occasions. He was not "mighty in word." He had no sooner delivered his first brief message than he disappears, and for three years and a half Israel hears him no more. He speaks for a moment: he is dumb for a triennium. And when he reappears, it is but for a day. That one day's ministry ended, he is again hidden from our view. Thrice more he reappears in the history, but each time it is but for a day, and then he goes into the silent heavens, and save on the night of transfiguration, speaks to men no more. How like to the revelations of God to man. He "keepeth silence (Psalms 1:3). He too hideth Himself. "He spake and it was done." How unlike the everlasting chatter of some of our later prophets. "Ministers," it is sometimes said, "are mere talkers." Elijah proclaims the dignity, if not "the eternal duty, of silence.'" "All real work," some one has said, "is quiet work." How many of our sermons, full of sound and fury, leave not a trace behind them. But the silent Elias accomplished the regeneration of his country.
2. It was a ministry of deed. There was no need for him to speak. The works that he did bore witness of him. Declamation, argument, remonstrance, would have been absurd. The time for that was past. And he had actions to speak for him. Surely there is a lesson for Christ's ministers here. It is true they cannot work wonders like Elijah; and it is also true that they are sent to "preach the Word," to reprove, rebuke, exhort, etc.; but we are reminded here that a fruitful ministry must be one of action. Words, however eloquent, in the long turn count for less than a holy life. The age, however it may hanker after sensationalism, is nevertheless suspicious of all talk. Why is it that our holy religion has but such an indifferent hold on the masses of our countrymen? One reason is that while we "point to heaven," we do not always "lead the way." "Cujus vita contemnitur, ejus praedicatio despicitur." The life of their parish priest is the only Bible many Englishmen ever read, and alas, what a smeared and blotted page that sometimes is. And those who do hear our sermons have learned to discount them. They know full well that words are cheap, and that emotion, and even unction, can be simulated. They often wonder how much of our discourse we really believe and practise ourselves, and they turn to our lives for an answer. That familiar paradox, consequently, is full of truth and meaning, that, "in preaching, the thing of least importance is the sermon.' It was well said that actio—action in the truest sense of the word, not gesture or manner, but conduct—is the first, second, and third great essential of eloquence A French ecclesiastic, the Abbe Mullois, has laid it down, as one of the canons if preaching, that "to address men successfully, they must be loved much." "Nothing influences others so much as character. Few people are capable of reasoning, and fewer still like the trouble of it; and besides, men have hearts as well as heads. Hence, consistency, reality, everpresent principle, shining through the person in whom they dwell, and making themselves perceptible, have more weight than many arguments, than much preaching" (Heygate, "Ember Hours"). It is Baxter who speaks of clergymen who "cut the throats of their sermons by their lives;" but there are many who, without doing this, invalidate their words by their actions. It is well for us to remember that personal character is the best preparation for the pulpit. "Facta, non verba;" this is, and will be increasingly, the demand of the age upon the prophetic order. "Non magna eloquimur sed vivimus." This must be more and more the response of the ministry.
3. It was brave and fearless. On three occasions this court preacher took his life in his hand (1Ki 17:1; 1 Kings 18:2; 1 Kings 21:19). On one occasion he seems to have quailed (1 Kings 19:3), but even then it does not appear that he fled from any present duty, or, like Jonah, declined any commission. His ministry as a whole was boldly discharged as in the presence of the Eternal, "Before whom I stand." He saw none other than his Master. Like another preacher before royalty, Massillon, he spoke as if he saw Death standing at his elbow. Like Daniel, he knew that his God could deliver him. The fear of man is cast out when we realize the presence of God (Isaiah 51:12, Isaiah 51:13).
4. It was seemingly a failure. If others did not think so, he did. We know that no work, really and truly done for God, can be wasted (Isaiah 55:11); but we are often tempted to think it is. But it must be such work as will stand the trial by fire (1 Corinthians 3:13). It has been strikingly said, "If any man's work is a failure, the probability is that it is because he is a failure himself." Still, it is for our comfort to remember, in times of depression, that the greatest of the prophets saw little or no fruit of his labours. He was persuaded that even the unexampled miracles that he wrought were of little or no avail (1 Kings 19:10). We find that when there were seven thousand secret followers of the Lord God, Elijah thought himself left alone. And indeed the state of Israel, even after the ordeal of Carmel, might well lead him to take the gloomiest and most despairing view of the situation. Jezebel pursues her infamous way. The son of Ahab sends to consult a foreign oracle, and ignores the God of Israel. The fire must come down a second time and burn up the idolaters instead of the bullock and the altar. But all the same, we know that his work was not in vain. Nor can ours be, if done like his. We have nothing to do with immediate successes. "One man soweth, another reapeth." Nor is success in any shape mentioned in our instructions. That is God's part, not ours. We have but to sow the seed, He must make it grow. The world worships success—or what it calls success—and the greatest of ministries—Elijah's, Jeremiah's, Ezekiel's, our blessed Lord's—were all failures from a worldly point of view.
1 Kings 17:3-7
The Solitary Place.
We have just seen that it was from the wilderness that Elijah went forth into the busy, wicked world, and to the anxious, dangerous work of a prophet. He, like his antitype, was in the desert "until the time of his showing unto Israel" (Luke 1:80). There, in secret communion with God, he had gained strength for the encounter; there he had meditated over the grievous apostasy of his people, and had "vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their evil deeds" (2 Peter 2:8). And there, as he "prayed earnestly that it might not rain," the word of the Lord came to him and burned in his bones (Jeremiah 20:9), and bore him into the presence of the king (Amos 3:8). But it is now for us to observe that no sooner had he entered upon his ministry, and delivered his first brief message, than he was sent into the desert—it may be, the same desert—again. The word of the Lord straightway bids him turn eastward and hide in the brook Cherith. Now the word Cherith means separation. This section consequently may fittingly speak to us of the need of separation, of the uses of solitude and retirement in the discipline of the saints. From Elijah's separation from his work and the world we may glean some lessons as to our own. Observe—
1. Solitude was necessary to Elijah's safety. He must hide or lose his head. When Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:18), we may be sure he would not be spared. Was it not because of him indeed that the others were attacked? Had his dwelling been with men, the messengers of Ahab would assuredly have found him and slain him (1 Kings 18:10). So it is sometimes necessary, for the life of our souls, that we should flee into the desert. It is at our peril that we stay in Sodom. We must "escape to the mountain." It may be from some enchantress, whose whoredoms and witchcrafts are as cruel as Jezebel's; it may be from companions whose snares are more perilous than Ahab's sword; it may be from a society hardly less pestilent than that of Israel. There are times when our only safety is in flight. Those hermits who buried themselves in the Thebaid, or who burrowed in the rocks of the Wady Feiran, the world has only a smile for their folly, and it is no doubt true that God wound have us leaven the world, not leave it, But it would have been well if some had, for a time at least, followed their example. How many souls have perished because they would not enter into their chambers and shut their doors and hide themselves until the indignation be overpast (Isaiah 26:20); because they had not the courage to disappear for a while, if only into their closets. "He that wilfully stands still to catch dangers, tempteth God instead of trusting him."
2. Solitude was necessary to his soul's health. It is remarkable how God's elect messengers, each in his turn, have been sent "apart into a desert place to rest awhile" (Mark 6:31). Moses must spend forty years in the great and terrible wilderness; must spend forty days and forty nights in Horeb, the Mount of God. Elijah himself only emerges from the Cherith to go to another hiding place at Zarephath, and from Zarephath he passes almost directly to the same wilderness and the same mount where Moses was. The Baptist's life was almost divided between the desert and the prison. St. Paul must learn his gospel in Arabia. And our Holy Lord, He must begin File ministry by a forty days' fast, and from time to time must seek a quiet place to rest and pray. All men who are much before the world need their times of retirement. In the "loud stunning tide of human care and crime" it is difficult to hear the whispers of God in the soul. Now the voices of nature, such as men hear in solitude, are among the voices of God. Nature has been called "God's great green book."
"One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can."
"There are two books," says Sir Thomas Browne, "from whence I collect my divinity. Besides that written one of God, another of his servant nature, that universal and public manuscript that lies expensed unto the eyes of all." And is not every tree, every leaf, in its way a mute witness for God and purity? It is remarkable that the greatest crimes and brutalities are committed in those districts of this country where men can have neither nature nor solitude—in the dens of Liverpool, amid the cinder heaps of the Black Country, in the dingy pit villages of Durham It is only in quiet, under the silent stars, amid the purple heather, by the murmuring brook, or in the inner chamber, that we can know ourselves and our God. The "Ancient Mariner's" conception of his "wide, wide sea"—
"So lonely 'twas, that God Himself
Scarce seemed there to be,"
fine though it is, contradicts the experience of the saints, who have found that it is precisely the profoundest solitude that is instinct with His presence.
And now let us consider how God calls us all in turn to a brook Cherith.
(1) He calls us to separation from sin. The Church is a Cherith. Baptism is a "water of separation," the token and pledge of our renunciation of world and flesh and devil, of our admission into the family of God. While in the world, we may not be of it. Our calling is to holiness (1 Peter 1:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 2 Timothy 1:9). We are to be sacrifices (Romans 12:1), and the root idea both of holiness and of sacrifice is a separation to God.
(2) Sometimes He calls us to a chamber of sickness, sometimes to the very "valley of the shadow of death." How often is bodily sickness for the soul's health! That vale of separation becomes a vale of blessing; the Cherith leads to a Berachah (2 Chronicles 20:26; cf. Psalms 84:6). What a school of the heart has that enforced solitude often proved! See Homiletics, p. 13.
(3) Nor must we forget here the Retreat—those opportunities for meditation and prayer, happily revived amongst us of late years. The name may possibly be Romish, but the thing is sensible and scriptural enough—a voluntary retirement for a short period from the world that we may hear and think only of the things which make for our peace. The saying still holds good, "He goeth before you into Galilee"—a retired mountain place it was (Matthew 28:16)—"there shall ye see him."
3. Elijah's retirement was for the ultimate welfare of Israel. So long as he remained amongst them, the people would have looked to him as the author of their calamities, or would have cried to him to avert them. His disappearance afforded them leisure to examine themselves and face their sins, and left them only God or Baal to cry to. It is sometimes well that the prophet should keep silence. Deus habet suas moras. It is not always that He stretches out his hands all clay long to the disobedient and gainsaying. Having spoken by Elijah to Ahab and Israel, now He and His prophet must withdraw into the darkness, and the drought must do its silent work. And there are times, too, when Christ's ministers must he silent. When the Gadarenes besought our Lord to depart out of their coasts, He straightway took them st their word (Matthew 8:34; Matthew 9:1; cf. Matthew 23:38, Matthew 23:39). The apostles were to shake off the dust of their feet against the city that received them not, and to depart from it (Matthew 10:14), and they did so (Acts 13:51). When the Jews counted themselves unworthy of eternal life, Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). When the churches of Asia fell and repented not, their candlestick was removed out of its place (Revelation 2:5). Their loss is our gain. "These things were written for our admonition."
1 Kings 17:4-7
The Food of the Saints.
We have just seen the prophet in his solitude. Let us now consider the manner in which he was sustained there. His needs were supplied in two ways, partly by natural, partly by supernatural means. No miracle was wrought to give him water. He must make his home in the wady and drink of the rivulet that flowed past his feet. It was there, and he must help himself to it. But with his food it was quite different. He could not find that, and so it was brought to him; it was provided him by God. For even if it was not laid at his feet morning and evening by ravens—and we have seen reason to think that it was not—even flit was furnished him by the villagers of Orbo, his tribesmen and friends, or by the loyal and hospitable Arabs who roamed over the adjoining region, still it was supplied by the ordering and special Providence of God. For it is as much a supernatural work to control, by an unseen Power, the minds of men as the instincts or habits of birds. If we get rid of the ravens we do not get rid of the miracle. It is clear, consequently, that he was sustained in part by natural, in part by superhuman agency. Now our food, like his, is, though in a different way, natural and supernatural. We use the terms in the popular sense, for who shall say that all food is not supernatural. True, it comes to us by what we call "natural processes," in what we call the "order of Nature;" but it is obvious that the so called "laws of Nature" are only "statements of the observed course of Nature, or the uniform results of known physical causes ending in some prime cause or causes not merely physical" (Sir E. Beckett, "Origin of the Laws of Nature"). Nature only means what is fixed, settled, uniform (Bp. Butler). But, using the words as they are used in common parlance, part of our sustenance, the supply of our bodily wants is, for the most part natural; and another part, the satisfaction of our spiritual necessities, is for the most part supernatural. Our needs, that is to say, are supplied something like Elijah's were. Let us trace the resemblance a little more in detail, and let us see first how it holds good of our
I. BODILY SUSTENANCE. We learn from this history—
1. That we must use the means within our reacts. Not even for His elect messenger, the greatest of the prophets, does God work an unnecessary miracle. "Dieu n'agit pas par des volontes particulieres" (Malebranche). No doubt God could have supplied his drink just as easily as his daily bread, in an extraordinary way, but He would not. No; in a valley debouching into the Jordan was a stream, fed from some hidden source, such as the snows of Hermon, or springing from the roots of the hills of Gilead, and the prophet must seek it, and take up his abode near it. What do we learn from this but that God "will have our endeavours concur to our preservation," a truth somewhat roughly, but strikingly, put in the Puritan mot d'ordre, "Trust in God, and keep your powder dry." It is no real kindness to do for Elijah what he can do for himself. There are lands where daily bread is to be had without care or labour; where a man has but to put forth his hand and take the bread-tree fruit and eat and be satisfied, but that is said to be a doubtful boon. It is found that the natives of those lands will not work, and their life, which should be full of high endeavour, which should aim, if at nothing more, at "making two blades of grass grow where only one grew before," is wasted in basking in the eternal sunshine. The primaeval law, "In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread," though we call it a curse, is really a blessing. "Six days shalt thou labour" is as much a Divine command as the command to rest on the seventh. It is God decrees, "If any man will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The imperious necessity to provide our daily bread is one of the springs which keeps the world in motion: it is the salt which keeps our life from stagnation and corruption. It is in vain we cry to Jupiter for help. God has given us fields and seed. He gives us rain and sunshine; it is for our good that we should do the rest.
2. That then God will supply what is lacking. When we have done our best we may justly look to Him to give what we cannot get. And this He will do. "Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy waters shall be sure" (Isaiah 33:16). "Never have I seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread" (Psalms 37:25). In the barren wilderness, He gave bread from heaven. "In the days of famine, they shall be satisfied" (Psalms 37:19). What a commentary on these words does this history furnish l Elijah had "called for a famine on the land" (1 Kings 18:2; Luke 4:25), and had "broken the whole staff of bread" (Psalms 105:16); but he himself had enough and to spare. God spreads for him "a table in the wilderness" (Psalms 78:16), and almost "in the presence of his enemies" (Psalms 2:5). The stars shall fall from their courses, but he shall have enough. It has been thought by some that the ravens brought him bread and flesh from Ahab's own table. It would have been so, had it been necessary. If he was with food by human instrumentality, it was none the less by God's command. And this is God's ordinary way of hearing "the prayer of the poor destitute;" he puts it into the hearts of others to help. "God works by means, and the chief means is man" (Bossuet).
3. That God gives us our bread daily. Elijah only received a small supply of food at once. Though he had no lack, he had no profusion. He had "daily bread"—for "morning and evening are one day" (Genesis 1:5)—and no more. Even he must walk by faith and learn to "take no thought for the morrow." And daily bread is all that is promised us; all that we are taught to pray for (Matthew 6:11). And that, perhaps, because a day is a life in miniature; each day is rounded by dawn and dusk, by sleep and darkness, into a perfect little life. Whether the birds brought him food or not, he and they received it alike, τὸν ἐπιούσιον ἄρτον, the bread of a day in its day. The lesson of the manna (Exodus 16:20) is taught us again by the brook Cherith.
4. That God guarantees us necessaries, not luxuries. Elijah's fare was frugal. "Water, bread, and flesh" (cf. Isaiah 33:16). As a rule, He gives us food "exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think." How prodigious is the variety of our food, how lavish its supply! What rich provision has the Eternal Goodness made for the gratification of our tastes. Fish, flesh, fowl, fruits,—the list is endless. And of the flesh or fruits, again, how many genera, and in the genera how many species, and in the species what countless varieties. Lavish profusion marks His gifts. But all the same he covenants to give us less than the fare of Cherith, even bread and water. "God gives order for competency, not for wantonness" (Hall).
II. SPIRITUAL FOOD. But we are now to consider that "man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word," etc. (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). The saints have meat to eat of which the world knows nothing (Joh 4:1-54 :84). Elijah had other food than that which the ravens brought him. In giving" daily bread," God does not forget man's spiritual part, even if he forgets it in his prayer for bread. And God supplies the soul's needs by laws not unlike those which govern the supply of material food.
1. We must use the means of grace. The treasury of the Church contains an abundant provision. There are" living waters," there is" super substantial bread," there is word and sacrament, prayer and psalm But we must come to the waters and drink (John 7:37; Revelation 22:17). Our faith needs something to feed upon, and it is in vain we ask for miracles, so long as we do not use means. If we want to love God more, we must seek to know God, through His word and works, better. If we want to be more like Christ, we must be more with Christ, in His word and ordinances, for it is "association produces assimilation." There is a tendency to decry the means of grace. There is a religion which is wholly subjective, which seeks its growth and expansion in everlasting self-introspection or mystical contemplation of the Divine perfections. But "Thou shalt drink of the brook." True, the channel is nothing—Annus non ager, facit fructum,—but a channel. It is God must fill it, but if God has dug it, it is presumption to discard it. "The means that Heaven yields must be embraced, And not neglected; else if Heaven would And we will not, Heaven's offers we refuse."
2. If we are debarred from the means of grace, God will give grace without means. It is a blessed truth, gratis non ligatur mediis. We may not dispense with them, but God can, and does. He did so in the oft-cited instance of the dying thief. He was saved without sacraments, but St. Paul was not (Acts 22:16). And how often have the saints and martyrs, cut off, Amid fierce persecutions, from the communion of the saints, found their deserts or their cells glorified by direct communion with God. Matthew Henry quaintly says that "if we cannot go to the house of the Lord, we can go to the Lord of the house." The Church of England proclaims that there may be a true Eucharist without the elements (vide The Communion of the Sick, 3rd Rubric). But it is only when we are deprived of the means that we can justly expect God to dispense with them. He has commanded His ministers to feed His Church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2); He has given them word and sacrament, bread and wine, wherewith to nourish it; but He is independent both of means and ministers.
3. Supplies of grace are granted day by day. Our soul's bread is a daily bread. Every day we ask for forgiveness, for grace (Matthew 6:11); and as our days, so our strength shall be (Deuteronomy 33:25). If we have not morning and evening prayer in the Church, we may have it in the house. And morning and evening may be sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, in private. Each may find a Cherith in the closet; each receive there his portion of meat in due season.
4. Grace is given without measure. God does not promise luxuries, because they are often hurtful. But there is no over indulgence here. It is significant how excess in wine is contrasted with being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). One cannot drink too deep of the living waters (John 7:38). They are given freely (Revelation 22:17).
1 Kings 17:8-16
The Furnace of Trial.
The village of Zarephath appears to have borrowed its name from the furnace or furnaces created there for the smelting of metals. See note on 1 Kings 17:9. A great lexicographer interprets the word to mean, a "workshop for the melting and refining of metals." But that name might with scarcely less propriety have been bestowed upon it from the circumstances recorded in this section. It was a veritable furnace for men; a place of assay and refining both for the prophet and the widow with whom he lodged. "Surely… there is a place for gold where they fine it" (Job 28:1).
I. IT WAS A PLACE OF TRIAL FOR ELIJAH. In connexion with it he was subjected to the following trials of his faith and courage—
1. He had to leave his hiding place. For months he had dwelt safely in the deep, sequestered, peaceful wady. That he must hide there, and bide so long, showed how great was the danger to which he was exposed. But now he is commanded to quit his asylum, to go forth into the world, to run the risk of recognition, of betrayal, of death; and to do so, we cannot doubt, would cost him a struggle, and put his faith in God to the proof.
2. He had to seek a home in Zidon. How those words would strike upon his ears, "Which belongeth unto Zidon"! Zidon was the capital of Ethbaal. The father of Jezebel, his implacable enemy, held sway there. It was like going into the lion's den. His feeling would be something like that of David's men, "Behold, we be afraid here in Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah" (1 Samuel 23:3). Of all hiding places, that would seem to him to be the most to be dreaded. How can he escape detection there! He might well have taken fright, as at a later period, and have fled further into the desert. Or he might have petitioned, like Lot (Genesis 19:20), to be allowed to find some other refuge. But he did neither. "He arose and went to Zarephath." He was "strong in faith, giving glory to God" (Romans 4:20).
3. He had to be sustained by a widow woman. The position and circumstances of the Eastern widow are to be remembered here. The seclusion in which Oriental women live makes its difficult for a widow to find a livelihood, even if there were work for her to do. And we have only to consider what the position of widows amongst ourselves would be, if there were no such things as investments, no means of putting out money to usury (Deuteronomy 23:19). Hence the repeated injunctions to remember the widow (Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Job 24:21; Job 29:18; Psalms 146:9). Hence the special provision for widows in the early Church (Acts 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:4-9). The widow was an object for charity, and needed sustenance. And now Elijah learns that by a widow he is to be sheltered and sustained. And this widow a foreigner, probably an idolater—an alien both in race and religion. Surely there was a trial both of his faith and of his obedience here.
4. He finds the widow in the extremest poverty. He encounters her "gathering of sticks." That in itself was not an encouraging sign. Next he hears from her lips that her cupboard is empty. She has not food for herself, much less for a stranger. "A handful of meal," a "little oil," this is all her store. She who was to sustain his life is herself ready to die. But he knows in whom he has believed. He "argued not against Heaven's will." He did not "bate a jot of heart or hope." "Make me a little cake first." He is assured that "they shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied" (Psalms 37:9). He knows that "God will not suffer his word to fail, nor alter the thing that is gone out of his lips" (Psa 89:1-52 :84).
5. He is immured in her house for two years. Those two years were years of banishment from his country and his work. Three years and a half had he to wait, and most of the time in a strange land, ere his recal; cut off, "not from life, yet from usefulness, which is the end and comfort of life." Which of us would not have been impatient, or, like the Baptist in his fortress-prison, tempted to think God had forgotten us? And he knew that all this time his people were suffering. We think it strange if a servant of God is laid aside for a few months from his ministry. But the greatest of the prophets was silenced, was buried alive, for the mystical period of forty and two months, for "time and times and half a time" (Revelation 11:2, Revelation 11:8; Revelation 12:6, Revelation 12:14). "When we cannot work for God we must sit still quietly for him" (Henry). "They also serve who only stand and wait."
6. His presence there is no protection against sickness. Of the three inmates of the cottage home, one sickens and droops to his grave. This sickness causes us no surprise, but it did Elijah (1 Kings 17:20); and that because he lived under the dispensation of temporal rewards. Sickness was then regarded as, and it often was, the scourge of the Almighty (Deuteronomy 7:15; Deuteronomy 28:61; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:30). It was a trial, consequently, of Elijah's faith. It looked as if the hand of the Lord was gone out against him. It seemed as if he was to be always the author of misfortune ("Hast thou also," etc.); as if the widow by whom he had been housed, and who had hidden him at the risk of her life, was to be requited with cruel punishment for her good deed. But let us now see in Zarephath
II. A FURNACE OF TRIAL FOR THE WIDOW. It was this in two ways—
1. A stranger demands a share of her last meal. Or, rather, he demands the first share. "Make me a little cake first." Now consider her position. She is reduced to her last morsel So sore is the famine that she and her son, after they have eaten this meal together, are about to lie down and wait for death. They must have suffered hunger enough already; they must have dreaded the hunger even unto death which awaited them. At this moment a stranger suddenly appears before her, and says he must eat first. It is true that he wears the aspect el a prophet, and appeals to the Lord God of Israel, but prophets were often deceivers (1 Kings 13:18; 1 Kings 22:12), and foreign gods could be expected to show her no favour. And at home, her own flesh and blood, the son of her womb, stretches out his skinny fingers, attenuated by famine, and cries for all she has to give. Moreover if this prophet could multiply food, as he professed to be able to do, why should he ask her for bread? Was it reasonable that she should part with her last morsel on the strength of such a promise? "Charity begins at home." "Let the children first be filled." "Shall I take my bread and my water and give it to one that I know not whence he is" (1 Samuel 25:11) ? Thus she might justly have argued. We could not have wondered had the ordeal been too great for her; had she kept fast hold of her children's bread and denied it to "dogs." But, like that other Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:21 sqq.), her faith was equal to the test; she "went and did according to the saying of Elijah." And, therefore, of her also it might justly be said, "I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel."
2. Her son falls sick and lies apparently lifeless. The tie between a mother and an only son is, perhaps, the closest and tenderest of all blood relationships; and it has been remarked that it is peculiarly strong and sacred in the East. "The only son of his mother and she was a widow" (Luke 7:12): who does not feel the pathos of these words? And the tie would be all the stronger in this case because they had suffered together; because he had been given back to her from the jaws of death (1 Kings 17:12). It is said by some that we value things in proportion to what they have cost us, and on this principle they would explain the deep love of the mother for her offspring. Goethe's mother used to say that "she and her Wolfgang had always clung to each other, because they had been young together;" but to have hungered together, to have, hand in hand, looked Death in the face, to have seen the spectre retreating, surely this communion in suffering, this συμπάθεια, this compassio, would beget a much profounder sympathy. And now this boy, whose life had been miraculously preserved, is so sick that there is no breath left in him. What could this fond and anxious mother think? Was the prophet who had given them bread unable to defend them from sickness? Or was this God's recompense for her hospitality? She might have had hard thoughts of God, or unworthy thoughts of the prophet. It is a wonder she held fast her integrity. But she only thought hardly of herself. It must be, she argued, a judgment for her sin. The man of God had read her life; had brought her sin to the remembrance of his Master (1 Kings 17:18). It never occurs to her, strong as was the temptation, to arraign God's providence. But her faith and patience must have been sorely tried.
It now remains for us to consider how these assays of faith, which have given to this Phoenician workshop its tame and immortality, were "more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire" (1 Peter 1:7). In that workshop God Himself sat "as a refiner and purifier of silver."
It is said that when the crucible, the fining pot for silver (Proverbs 17:8), is put into the furnace, the chymist has a sure and ready test of its purity; a means of knowing when his long processes have accomplished their object. When he sees his face reflected in the glowing and untarnished metal, he knows that the purification is complete.
It was that Elijah and his hostess might learn to know God, might be transformed into the image of God, that they experienced this two years' purgation in the furnace. It was that the dross might be purely purged, and the tin taken away (Isaiah 1:25); that they might be changed into the image of their Creator (Colossians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
Now the historian does not record the results of this assay, except incidentally. But we can clearly see that the faith of Elijah and the widow alike grew stronger by the exercise. How much Elijah gained; how the discipline told on his subsequent career; how the trying of his faith wrought patience (Acts 1:8), we cannot now discover. But we can see that it resulted in the widow's conversion, or in the confirmation of her faith, and in the glory and praise of God (1 Kings 17:24). And that is not all. Its issues are in eternity. The cross was the forerunner of the crown (James 1:12).
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
1 Kings 17:1
In this sudden manner the Tishbite is introduced, upon which Bishop Hall remarks, "He comes in with a tempest who went out with a whirlwind." And Lamartine says, "Recalling his life and his terrible vengeance, it seems as if this man had the thunder of the Lord for a soul, and that the element in which he was borne to heaven was that in which he was brought forth." Let us consider—
I. HIS PRESENCE.
1. It is awful in its vagueness.
(1) It was of the inhabitants of Gilead—"The hard, stony region," south of the river Jabbok. This was one of the wildest parts of the Holy Land. The awful scenery of that district harmonized well with the ruggedness of the spirit of this prophet. John the Baptist first appeared in a wilderness. Out of a wilderness Jesus came up when He entered upon His public ministry (Matthew 3:1; Luke 4:1, Luke 4:14, Luke 4:15).
(2) He is distinguished as the Tishbite. Calmer says Tishbe was a city beyond Jordan in the tribe of Gad, and in the land of Gilead. Gesenius, from Relandi, mentions Tishbe as "a town of Napthali." Could there have been two Tishbes; and were the words "Of the inhabitants of Gilead" added to distinguish?
(3) "The Tishbite," we incline to think, was a name of office or commission. It designates Elijah as the Converter (תשבי from שב to turn). In this he resembled John the Baptist, whose commission also was to preach repentance. (See Matthew 11:13, Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12; Luke 1:17.) When Elijah comes again "before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord," it will be in his character of Tishbite or Converter, viz; "to turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." (See Matthew 4:5, Matthew 4:6),
2. It is awful also in its intensity,
(1) His name (אליהו) some interpret to be, "My God Jehovah is he," others, "God is my strength." In either case it reminds us of God, and God is the very centre of all reality.
(2) Elijah brings us into the very presence of God also by the manner in which he announces himself. "As Jehovah liveth, before whom I stand." In this way also the angel Gabriel announced himself to Zacharias, and that too when he revealed the coming of the Baptist. (See Luke 1:19.) It is probable Elijah, like John the Baptist, also was a priest, and the expression under review may intimate this. (Compare Deuteronomy 10:8.) About 940 years after this, Elijah, with Moses, in a remarkable manner stood, in the presence of Jehovah, in the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3).
(3) This declaration of the living God was appropriately timed. For the calves or young bulls of Jeroboam, and the bulls and goats of Sidon established through the influence of Jezebel, had so occupied public attention that He was forgotten. Lamentable is the substitution of death for life!
1. It is bold in its assertion.
(1) "There shall be neither dew nor rain." The material elements which mechanically produce dew and lain were worshipped by the Phoenicians, and now by the Israelites, while the God that made them was forgotten. Is not this the very error of modern atheistic physicists? They worship Baal, Ashtoreth, and Ashere under other names, and ridicule faith and prayer. But Elijah asserts the living God as superior to nature, who will restrain both dew and rain, and so make the gods to worship him. (See Deuteronomy 11:16, Deuteronomy 11:17; Jeremiah 14:22.)
(2) "There shall be neither dew nor rain these years." Dew and rain, according to the course of nature, may be withholden for days, for weeks, even, in rare cases, for months; but not for years. When therefore for "three years and six months" these meteors were awanting, the phenomenon was supernatural.
2. The qualification is no less remarkable—"But according to my word."
(1) Unless divinely authorized to say this, such a declaration would be most presumptuous. And the inevitable failure of the prediction would cover the pseudo-prophet with ridicule and confusion.
(2) But Elijah was a genuine man. He spoke under the inspiration of Jehovah before whom he stood. Such inspiration makes all the difference between presumption and faith. This is just the distinction made by James, who describes Elijah's faith as (ἐνεργουμεν) inwrought persuasion of a righteous man (James 5:16). Faith is the gift of God.
3. The directness is admirable.
(1) This address is to Ahab. It comes not to him as a hearsay, but with the highest authenticity. The inspired messenger of God is above kings. (See Jeremiah 1:10.)
(2) It is fearlessly delivered. When a man is conscious that he stands before Jehovah he may use great freedom of speech. The courage of the lion is in the heart of faith. Elijah was a man of faith because he was a man of prayer. It is an encouragement to our faith to know that "Elias was a man of like passions as we are" (James 5:17).—J.A.M.
1 Kings 17:2-6
Resources of Providence.
When the heavens are shut up by the word of the Lord, what will become of the prophet who declared that word? Will he not suffer from the drought in common with the sinners on whose account the dew and rain are restrained? Will he not be exposed to the rage of an idolatrous king and queen whose humbled gods cannot, in this crisis, vindicate themselves? Will not a demoralized populace resent their sufferings upon the man of God? God knows all, and is equal to all, emergencies.
I. HE HAS RESOURCES FOR THE PROTECTION OF HIS SERVANTS.
1. He could defend Elijah in the midst of his enemies.
(1) The power that had shut up the heavens could surely do this. The elemental fire which now scorched the earth, He could cause to fall upon the heads of any who would threaten his servant. (See 2 Kings 1:10-15.)
(2) Without recourse to violence, he could dispose the hearts of men to respect His messenger, as afterwards He did. (See 1 Kings 18:1-46.) But this was not now His way.
2. He has also places of refuge for His servants.
(1) If there be a valley secluded from human intrusion God knows it. In the courses traversed by the brook Cherith Elijah may safely hide. These recesses lay "eastward" from Samaria, where probably the prophet had encountered the king; and eastward from the Jordan, for this is the import of the phrase "before Jordan." Probably this seclusion was in his own wild district of Gilead.
(2) Ahab will not suspect that Elijah is here; for how could he possibly subsist in such a desolate region. Water he might find in the streams of the mountains; but where can he get bread from bald rocks in time of drought? (Matthew 13:5, Matthew 13:6.)
3. Into such asylums He can guide His saints.
(1) "The word of the Lord" came to Elijah. Christ is that Word (John 1:1-14). He was the MEMRA of the Targums—that personal Word, who "appeared" to patriarchs and prophets. See Genesis 15:1.; Genesis 28:20.) He will be ever with his people guiding them into safety.
(2) "The word of the Lord came unto him saying.," or expressing His wisdom in human vocables. To Elijah the direction was, "Get thee hence," etc. To all He comes in the promises and precepts of holy Scripture.
(3) Those who believe and obey God's Word, as Elijah did, are in safe keeping. They need never fear the combinations of wickedness against them.
II. HE HAS RESOURCES ALSO FOR THEIR SUPPORT.
1. Their water is sure. "Thou shalt drink of the brook."
(1) There was refreshment for the body. The stream of that brook continued to flow for a whole year. Such is supposed to be the import of (ימים) days, when there is nothing to limit it.
(2) His soul meanwhile was refreshed, as, by faith, he realized the wells of salvation which flow from the Word of the Lord, (See Psalms 46:4; John 4:14; John 7:37-39; Revelation 22:17.)
2. Their bread shall be given. "I have commanded ravens to feed thee there.
(1) What an unlikely thing! Ravens were unclean creatures (Le Genesis 11:15). They are insect-feeding, carrion-eating birds, themselves fed by special providence of God. (See Job 38:41; Psalms 147:9.)
(2) Yet God could do it; for the instincts of all creatures are in His hands. He restrained hungry lions from harming Daniel; instructed a fish how to behave to Jonah; and another to lift a piece of silver from the bottom of a lake and then fasten upon a hook. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"
(3) But would He do it? Would He employ an unclean creature to feed His servant? He might have His own reasons even for this. Elijah sustained for three years and a half in the wilderness was a type of the Christian Church nourished by the word of God for three and a half prophetic years (Revelation 12:6, Revelation 12:14). Babylon the great, from whose face the Church had to fly, was the mystical Jezebel, as the true Church was the mystical Elijah. But in this Church the destruction of clean and unclean creatures had no place. (See Acts 10:15, Acts 10:28; Acts 15:7-11.) Might not this gospel have been foreshadowed in the manner in which Elijah was fed?
3. But is it certain that ravens were employed?
(1) He might have been fed by Arabians! For the word (ערבים) translated "ravens" also denotes Arabians. (See it so used in the singular, Isa 13:1-22 :30; Jeremiah 3:2; Nehemiah 2:19; and in the plural as here, 2 Chronicles 21:16 : 2 Chronicles 22:1.) And Gilead bordered upon that tract of country more especially described in Scripture as Arabia.
(2) Or he might have been fed by merchants. For this word also designates merchants. (See Ezekiel 27:9, Ezekiel 27:27.) If Israelitish merchants supplied the prophet's needs, then probably would they be of the seven thousand who scorned to bow the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18), and so would not discover his hiding place to Ahab.
(3) Or he might have been sustained by certain inhabitants of Oreb, a rocky place beyond Jordan. (See Judges 7:22; Isaiah 10:26.) This opinion is favoured by Jerome, who says, "The Orbim, inhabitants of a town on the confines of the Arabs, gave nourishment to Elijah." (See more in A. Clarke.)
(4) Whether by ravens, Arabians, merchants, or people of Oreb or Orbo, matters little; God can spread a table in the wilderness. He can give us the bread of the day in the day—"bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening." Necessary things are sure; luxuries we may dispense with. The greatest luxury to the wise and good is the feast upon the spiritual food which accompanies faithful obedience to God (John 4:32-34)—J.A.M.
1 Kings 17:7-9
The Widow of Zidon.
Towards the close of Elijah's year of seclusion, to use the words of Dr. Macduff, "the brook began to sing less cheerily; once a full rill or cascade, which, night by night, was wont to lull the prophet of Israel to sleep, it becomes gradually attenuated into a silver thread. In s few days it seems to trickle drop by drop from the barren rock, until, where pools of refreshing water were before, there is nothing now left but sand and stones." It is time for the prophet to look to God for further direction; and in response to his prayer, "the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise," etc. How different are the resources of the believer from those of the worldling! When the Cherith of the worlding fails he has nothing further to look to, but when from the believer one comfort is withdrawn another is at hand (Psalms 37:19). Let us meditate upon—
I. THE COMMAND OF GOD TO THE WIDOW.
1. She is to sustain the prophet of the Lord.
(1) What an honour is this! For two years and a half to entertain the man that "stands before Jehovah," at whose word the clouds are sealed or the windows of heaven opened! (See 1 Kings 17:1 and 1 Kings 18:41.) The man whose prayer was to bring fire down upon the sacrifice on Carmel to the confusion of idolatry! (1 Kings 18:38.) Who was to bring the same element down upon the soldiers of Ahaziah I (2 Kings 1:10-12). Who was destined to ride alive into the heavens in a chariot of fire! (2 Kings 2:11). Who was destined, many centuries later, to appear in glory with Messiah on the mount of transfiguration! (Matthew 17:8). And who is yet to come before the great day of judgment to gather back the children of Israel from their dispersion! (Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6).
(2) How could she hope for such distinction? A poor widow, so poor that she has no servant and no fuel in her house! A widow with her son, both at the point of death! A stranger, and a stranger of Zidon too—the land of Baal—and the land of the wicked Jezebel! Note: God's ways are not as our ways. He brings unlikely things to pass. How little do we know what may be the thoughts of His heart concerning us!
2. But how is she to accomplish this?
(1) Unbelief might murmur at such a requisition. It might charge God foolishly as a tyrant requiring brick where he had not supplied straw. Those who shrink from Church work because of fancied incompetence fall into this error, neglecting to trust God.
(2) It is enough that God has commanded. His commands are promises. (See Exodus 3:10-12; Judges 6:14.) See how the meal and oil are multiplied in the hands of the widow. The more difficult (humanly considered) the undertaking, the more gloriously will the excellency of the power of God appear. (See 2 Corinthians 12:9.) Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.
II. THE REASONS OF THE COMMAND.
1. Elijah needed succour.
(1) The brook is dried up. Now is the time to test the prophet's faith. But he is a man of prayer, so is familiar with God. Those who best know God have most confidence in Him. Let us be much in prayer.
(2) Then "the word of the Lord came." Man's extremity is God's opportunity. In no strait let us despair of help while we keep a single heart. God knows all things. He can do whatever He will
2. The woman needed succour.
(1) She too had come to extremity—to the last handful of meal. What a touching spectacle is that widow at the gate of Zarephath gathering a few sticks to prepare the last meal for herself and her son!
(2) Had she not prayed? No doubt; and most sincerely. She was evidently a believer in the God of Israel. Jehovah was not unknown in the land of that Hiram who "was ever a lover of David," and so materially aided Solomon in building the temple (1 Kings 5:1-18.)
(3) But then she was not an Israelite to whom "were the promises." So in addressing Elijah her words are, "As the Lord thy God liveth." She believes in the "living God," but cannot presume to call Him her God. (See Romans 9:4.) What right had a poor stranger of Zidon to lock for any special consideration from the Lord?
(4) "He giveth grace unto the humble." He that reads the heart saw that she would believe if only she had a promise to authorize her faith. He accordingly gave her the opportunity which she seized and improved. (See Acts 10:1-6.) Let us act up to our light, and God will guide us into all the truth.
3. But were thee no widows in Israel?
(1) Upon the best authority we know that there were "many," and as needy as this Zidonian. In the severity of such a famine deaths from starvation were no rare occurrence.
(2) But the same authority informs us that there were none so worthy as this widow of Sarepta (Le 1 Kings 4:24-26). No widow in Israel would have received the prophet as this widow received him. The moral is that if we would have special favour of God we must have special faith to receive it. Let us ever be in that attitude of wholehearted consecration to God which will make us eligible for any service he may be pleased to promote us to. To be permitted to do anything for God is an unspeakable honour.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 17:10-16
The Barrel of Meal.
In the East the people kept their corn in earthen jars to protect it from insects which swarm in the heat of the sun. What in our translation is called a "barrel" (כד) was one of these vessels. The store in this case was run low; there was but a "handful" left; yet this was so multiplied by the power of God that three persons found at least in it sufficient provision for two and a half years. Let us inquire—
I. HOW ITS CONDITION BECAME KNOWN.
1. Elijah came to Zarephath in quest of the widow.
(1) Such were his instructions (1 Kings 17:8, 1 Kings 17:9). But was there only one widow in this city of "smelting furnaces", this hive of industry, this centre of population? How, then, is he to discover the right one?
(2) God knows her, and that is enough for the prophet. The Word of the Lord who came to him at Samaria and at Cherith will now guide him. (See Isaiah 42:16.)
(3) Let us follow the light we have and God will give us more. So was Abraham's faithful servant guided to Rebecca (Genesis 24:1-67.)
2. He found her at the gate of the city.
(1) She was there on an errand of her own, viz; to gather a few dry sticks to kindle a fire to cook her last meal in this world.
(2) She was there also, though unknown to herself, on an errand from God. She was commanded to sustain the prophet of Israel
(3) Yet these two errands harmonize. God uses man's purposes to work out His own. Man proposeth; God disposeth.
3. He readily identified her.
(1) He asked her for water, which, with admirable promptitude, she went to fetch. This was the sign by which Abraham's servant identified Rebecca (Genesis 24:14). The cup of cold water has its promise of reward (Matthew 10:42).
(2) Then he asked for bread, which further request opened the way for the whole truth, "As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but," etc. (1 Kings 17:12). From these words it is evident that she recognized Elijah, at least as an Israelite, and probably as the prophet of Israel; for he was a person of pronounced individuality. His profusion of hair, probably, placed Elisha in such contrast to him that Elisha was mocked as a "bald head."
II. HOW ITS RESOURCES WERE MAINTAINED.
1. By the miracle-working power of God.
(1) "The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord which he spake by Elijah." This supplied not only the guest but the widow and her son for two years and a half. As Bp. Hall remarks, "Never did corn or olive so increase in the growing as these did in the using."
(2) This miracle was similar to that of the manna. The off was used as butter for the meal, and the taste of the manna was like fresh oil (Numbers 11:8). Also to Christ's miracles of the loaves.
(3) The lessons are the same. The miracles all teach that "man lives not by bread alone, but by the word of God." That this spiritual food is the gift of God. That it differs essentially from the bread that perishes. Not only is it imperishable, but it multiplies in the using, grows as it is dispensed. How delightful were the spiritual feasts of that two years and a half in the widow's dwelling [(See Revelation 3:20.)
2. Through the faith of the widow.
(1) She was predisposed to believe. God saw this, else He had not honoured her with His command to sustain his prophet. (See Luke 4:24-26.) Let us ever live in that moral fitness to be employed by God.
(2) This disposition was encouraged. She waited for something to justify her faith in God, and she got it: "And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said," &c. (1 Kings 17:13, 1 Kings 17:14). She knew that the word of the Lord was with Elijah And this instruction to make first a little cake for the prophet was according to God's order. (See Numbers 15:20, Numbers 15:21.)
(3) She proved the genuineness of her faith by her works. "She did according to the saying of Elijah." By works faith is perfected, And God justified the faith that justified him.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 17:17, 1 Kings 17:18
The Reproaches of Death.
In 1 Kings 17:15 we read that the widow and her household did eat of the multiplied meal "days" (ימים), a term which is by some Hebraists understood, when used without qualification, to denote a year. So the phrase with which the text opens, "And it came to pass after these things," imports that the miracle of raising the widow's son occurred "after" Elijah had been one year in her house. The "things" to which this miracle succeeded were the earlier signs of the presence of God with the prophet, meanwhile the widow read the bereavement her own way.
I. SHE SAW THE HAND OF GOD IN IT.
1. She attributed it to Elijah. "Art thou come unto me, to slay my son."
(1) Not, however, under any notion of unkind. ness to her in the heart of the prophet. For
(a) had she not, and her son with her, been saved from death by famine in connexion with his sojourn in her house?
(b) The heavenly conversation they must have had during the year would preclude such an idea.
(2) Yet here is the fact; and it is written for our learning. The incidents in Scripture, given under Divine inspiration, are therefore to be very particularly noted. They cannot be too carefully or too prayerfully studied.
2. She attributed it to him as a "man of God."
(1) This was not, in her estimation, an ordinary case of death. The circumstances surrounding it were all extraordinary,
(2) At least she saw that it was intended by God for some high purpose. She was right. We should not be wrong so to regard ordinary providences. All God's purposes are high. All His providences are important. His providence is in everything. Life therefore is no stale thing
II. SHE READ HIS REPROACHES IN IT. "Art thou come to call my sin to my remembrance?"
1. We should newer forget that we are sinners.
(1) Whatever reminds us of God should remind us of sin. For all sin is, directly or indirectly, against Him; and this is the gravest side of the offence (Psalms 51:4; Luke 15:21).
(2) Death especially should remind us of God, before whose tribunal it conducts us. So it should especially remind us of sin, for it is its wages appointed by God.
2. The remembrance, however, will affect us variously according to our moral state.
(1) Sin, in the first instance, is called to the remembrance of all that they may hate it and forsake it.
(2) To those who have endeavoured to do this, it is still called to remembrance, that they may trust in Christ for forgiveness and salvation.
(3) To the justified it is called to remembrance that they may praise God for His mercy. In this sense sin will be remembered even in heaven. (See Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:17.)
III. SHE CONNECTED THESE REPROACHES WITH THE PRESENCE OF ELIJAH. "What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God?" etc.
1. Why did she do this?
(1) Prophets were sent usually to reprove, and denounce judgments. Hence the coming of Samuel to Bethlehem inspired the magistrates and people with alarm. (See 1 Samuel 16:4.) This bereavement, therefore, might suggest to the widow her sin in general, or some particular sin, though not clearly defined to her as yet.
(2) Or it might have brought home to her some imperfection in the service of God which she had not previously sufficiently considered. Had she adequately appreciated the great privilege of having such a guest?
(3) Was there not in this a confession that she was unworthy of such an honour, and a desire implied that she should be made worthy, lest otherwise his continued presence must become an occasion of judgments? Was not the expression of Peter, with whom Jesus lodged, of similar import when the divinity of the Master was brought vividly before him by the miraculous draught of fishes, and he exclaimed, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord?" (Luke 5:8).
2. Did she not here recognize a great truth?
(1) What sanctifications and consecrations Levites, and more especially sons of Aaron, needed, who had to draw near to God; and how perilous to them, even then, were their approaches to that sacred presence! (Exodus 28:43; Leviticus 8:35; Leviticus 15:31; Exodus 16:2, Exodus 16:18; Exodus 22:9; Numbers 4:15; Num 17:1-13 :18).
(2) How clean should they be who bear now the vessels of the Lord! How careful unsanctified persons should be not to tamper with holy things! Witness the judgments upon Uzzah and Uzziah. (See 1Sa 6:19; 2 Samuel 6:7; 2 Chronicles 26:19, 2 Chronicles 26:20.) The sanctification now required is moral, of which the ceremonial was the type.
(3) All shall have to appear in the very presence of the Judge. How shall we stand then? Let us now prepare for that solemnity.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 17:19-24
The Sign of the Widow's Son.
Here is a touching scene—a poor widow pressing to her bosom the corpse of her only child, while in the agony of her bereaved soul, addressing Elijah, she says, "What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come to call my sin to my remembrance, and to slay my son?" Now note the words of the text: "And he said unto her, Give me thy son," etc. In this history we have—
I. AN EXAMPLE OF THE POWER OF FAITH. Behold here—
1. The spirit of faith.
(1) He had confidence in God before he prayed. This is evident from the manner in which he asked the widow for the corpse. He did not tell her what he intended; but, on the other hand, neither did he express any hesitation as in the comfort she might expect.
(2) This confidence must have been divinely authorized, else it would have been presumption which, instead of conciliating the favour, would have awakened the displeasure of God
(3) This was what Elisha and the sons of the prophets called "the Spirit of Elijah," i.e; the. Spirit of God abiding with him. (See 2 Kings 2:9, 2 Kings 2:15.)
2. The prayer of faith.
(1) He recognized the hand of God in the bereavement: "Hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn by slaying her son?" He calls it "evil," yet attributes it to God. Moral evil God cannot perpetrate, but evil which comes in the form of affliction or punishment is a very different thing. (See Job 2:10; Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6; John 9:1-8.)
(2) He entreated God to restore the child's life. "He cried unto the Lord." Here is the "fervency" which characterizes "effectual" prayer.
(3) He entreated Him confidingly: "O Lord my God." This appealing to God in the possessive expresses a loving trust in a Covenant Friend. (See Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 11:16; Revelation 21:3.)
(4) Hence his success. "The Lord heard the voice of Elijah." He saw in Elijah those moral qualifications which make it fitting that He should answer prayer. So the prophet was able to restore the child alive to his mother.
3. But what example is this for us?
(1) Elijah's success in prayer was not because he was a prophet. James replies to this objection when he assures us that "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are." For this is the ground on which he proceeds to lay down the broad principle, viz; that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16; see also Acts 11:24).
(2) Therefore we also may be moved by the Holy Ghost; and we must be so moved if we would pray effectually. True faith is "of the operation of God" (Luther's prayer for the recovery of Myconius instanced in Krummacher).
(3) But how may we know that we are so influenced? God will make it plain as one of the secrets of holy communion with Him (Psalms 25:14; John 7:17; John 15:15). When we are free from selfish desire, and above all things seek God's glory, there is little danger of being led astray.
(4) The widow was no prophetess, but she also was an example of faith. (See Hebrews 11:35.) Witness her recognition of God, and the readiness with which she gave her son from her bosom at the prophet's request. Her faith was honoured as well as his.
II. A PROPHETIC SIGN.
1. So the widow interpreted it (verse 24).
(1) It authenticated Elijah as a "man of God." Not only that he was a good man, but that he was a prophet of the Lord.
(2) Consequently "that the word of the Lord in his mouth" was no sham. (Comp. ch. 22.) Spurious prophets could not give miraculous signs.
2. Such signs were parables. The question, then, is, what did this parable teach?
(1) Could it be a sign that the drought would be removed which had now lasted two years, working fearful ravages, and must, if continued long, destroy the nations visited? For the "word of the Lord in the mouth of Elijah" did encourage the hope that rain should come upon the earth (verse 14). The coming of rain would be a national resurrection.
(2) Could it be a pledge of the resurrection of the dead at the last day? The gospel has thrown floods of illustration upon this subject, but in old times it was obscure. This miracle taught the separate existence of the soul. Also that the disembodied spirit may and shall be reunited to its organic companion.
(3) Why did Elijah stretch himself upon the child? He was a type of Christ. So he made himself like the dead to foreshow that Christ by dying in our room should give us life. This He does morally. Also physically, viz; in the resurrection of the body. Is there any correspondence between the "three times" mentioned in the text and the "three times" in which our Lord prayed for the removal of the cup of His suffering? (Matthew 26:44).—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
1 Kings 17:1
The Messenger of Jehovah.
Stanley is justified in describing Elijah as "the grandest and moss romantic character that Israel ever produced". He appears suddenly, and disappears miraculously. Hence imagination has had scope. Some Rabbins believed that he was Phineas, the grandson of Aaron, and others that he was an angel from heaven. The impression his ministry made upon the mind of the people reappeared again and again after the lapse of centuries. When, for example, the miracles of our Lord aroused the wonder of the people, many said, "It is Elias." Such a character and work as were his deserve careful study. Describe the social and religious condition of the kingdom of Israel after Ahab's accession and marriage with the dauntless, fanatical, idolatrous Jezebel. Never was reformation more called for, and never were supernatural works more necessary as the credentials of a Heaven-sent ambassador. Our text presents for our consideration—
I. A messenger from a forsaken God, and
II. A message for an apostate people.
I. A MESSENGER FROM A FORSAKEN GOD. Ahab was congratulating himself on the success of his policy. It had been greater than he could have expected. The old faith and fervour of the people had died out so completely that they were quiet under the bold introduction of Baal and Ashtoreth. The Sidonians were linked with the kingdom of Israel against Syria. Scarcely a protest had been heard against these political and religious movements. Suddenly there appeared before the king and queen, perhaps as they were enthroned in their ivory palace, Elijah the Tishbite; rough in appearance, as he was bold in utterance. Above the ordinary height, of great physical strength, a girdle round his loins, and a sheepskin cloak over his brawny shoulders, his long thick hair streaming down his back, he was even in appearance a memorable man; and there was something very startling in this his sudden dash into the royal presence, to thunder out his curse, and the rebuke which no doubt preceded it. His appearance may be compared to the flash of lightning that for a moment makes everything which was before in darkness vividly distinct. Some points are worthy of note.
1. The obscurity of his origin. The Tishbite means the "converter," and would fitly describe his work. The endeavour to discover a town of such name in Palestine appears to have failed. The phrase, "from the residents of Gilead," does not necessarily imply that he was an Israelite. He may have been an Ishmaelite or a heathen by birth. It was designed that obscurity should thus hang over his origin. To the people he would seem to come all the more directly from God. The human element was overshadowed by the Divine. Show the mightiness of secret forces in nature, in thought, and in the kingdom of God.
2. The signs of his fitness. A rough man was needed to do rough work. The settler in the backwoods wants the strong sharp are to effect a clearing, before more delicate implements are required. Elijah had his constitutional strength and courage fostered by his surroundings. Gilead was a wild, unsettled country compared with Ephraim and Judah. Instead of stately palaces and flourishing towns, it boasted tent villages and mountain castles; and desperate and frequent were the fights with surrounding freebooters. (See 1 Chronicles 5:10, 1 Chronicles 5:19-22. Compare with it "Rob Roy," 1 Chronicles 19:1-19.) The Gileadites were to Israel what the Highlanders, a century back, were to the Lowlands. Amid scenes of conflict, of loneliness, probably of poverty, this strong character was moulded. Compare with Moses in Midian, with John the Baptist in the wilderness. God gives each servant the right training for the service appointed for him both on earth and in heaven.
3. The secret of his strength? His name, Elijah, and his formula, "as the Lord God of Israel liveth," indicate it. An overpowering conviction that Jehovah lived, that He was near, that He was the God of this people, and that He would assert His supremacy over all false gods is implied in the verse. This is the secret of spiritual strength in all ages. The disciples were weak when Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration, strong when He returned; they were despondent after the crucifixion, exultant at Pentecost. The revelation of God's presence and power is what all Churches now need.
4. The completeness of his consecration. "Before whom I stand." This he said, not with a sense of God's nearness only, nor of His favour, but to express that he was the Lord's consecrated servant, through whom and by whom he might do what He willed. Standing is an attitude of attention, expectancy, readiness. So in ancient Scripture servants are represented as all standing looking towards the king, with loins girded, eyes intent, ready to do his will. Note: We cannot stand before the Lord until we have knelt before Him in penitence and humility and prayer. This Elijah had done in Gilead.
II. A MESSAGE FOR AN APOSTATE PEOPLE, "There shall not be rain nor dew these years, but according to my word." We assume here the credibility of miracles and content ourselves with indicating the suitability of this to its purpose.
1. This was revealed in prayer. Elijah had "prayed earnestly that it might not rain" (James 5:1-20.) He felt that such a chastisement would move the hearts of the people, and turn their thoughts towards God, as it ultimately did. The prayer was the offspring of God's Spirit. The human utterance was the echo of the Divine will. The mystery of prayer is revealed (1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:16).
2. This was a response to the challenge of Baal-worship. The productive powers of nature were adored under the idolatrous symbol. Here they were shown to be dependent on the unseen God. All natural laws are. They are the expressions of the Divine will. It was in vain to cry, "O Baal, hear us!"
3. This man would affect all classes of the people. They had shared the sin, and therefore must share the penalty. The loftiest are not beyond God's reach, the lowliest are not hidden from God's notice. The tiny garden of the peasant was cursed, as well as the splendid park of the king. National sin brings national calamities. The message, not to some, but to all, is, "Repent, and be converted."
4. This was associated with estrangement from God. It was to be "according to the word" of His servant. The change would be foreseen and foretold, not by the false priests, but by the praying prophet. The curse came because of sin, as had been proclaimed by the law. (See Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 28:23.) It was removed on repentance (1 Kings 18:1-46.) Listen to the message God still sends to men, bidding them root out idolatry from every nation and from every heart. May the God of Israel, before whom they stand, prosper all His messengers!—A.R.
1 Kings 17:2-4
Strange Provision in a Sad Necessity.
The miracles associated with the ministry of Elijah and Elisha have led some to deny the historical credibility of the Books of Kings. It should be remembered that great miracles were rendered necessary by a great and general apostasy. It was essential to the survival of true faith that Jehovah should indicate His unseen sovereignty. In Israel such attestation was more required than in Judah, where the sanctuary and the priesthood, in the worst times, testified for God. This passage sets before us
I. Silent suffering.
II. Divine deliverance.
III. Restful retreat.
Each of which points we will consider.
I. SILENT SUFFERING is implied by all that we know of the prophet's circumstances. The famine he had foretold had come; and he shared the privations of the people. Others might have kindness shown them, but there was none for this man. Regarded as the cause of the calamity, he was an accursed outcast. Upon such a temperament the steady persistent pressure of hunger and hatred would tell severely. He would feel pity for others—for the poor dumb beasts, for the innocent children—and would be tempted to ask, "Was I right in praying for this, and bringing this woe on the people?" Meantime he was himself suffering the rigours of famine, and no chariot of fire came to bear him away from the desolated land. Like Samson, it seemed as if he had shaken the house, and was bringing destruction on himself as well as on the idolaters. Yet not a word of complaint. He was sustained by the conviction that he had done fright, and that God would see to the issues. Apply the teaching from this to occasions on which men are still called upon to do God's will, to utter God's truth, regardless of consequences. Sometimes we are able to "count the cost," and then we should do so. But often this is impossible. The love of Christ may constrain us to do, or to say, something which will place us in unexpected difficulties. Illustrate by Peter's zeal, which prompted him to step out of the boat upon the sea. He was terrified at a result he had not taken into calculation; but he was perfectly safe, for he was going towards Christ. Exemplify by instances from ordinary life—e.g; an assistant in business refuses to tell a lie, or to act one, and loses his situation. A daughter confesses her love to Christ, and finds her home a place of torment, etc. The one thing that can support us in such circumstances is the humble, yet confident, conviction that we have done what God willed, And often from those straits He delivers us in the most unexpected way, before we ask Him, as He delivered Elijah.
II. DIVER DELIVERANCE.
1. It was unexpected. No one would have imagined, and some cannot now credit the means adopted. The ravens have been a sore offence to critics. Discuss some of their theories—that they were merchants, Arabians, etc. The difficulties are not removed by the interpretations suggested, nor do they seem warranted by the text. Had men brought food to the hidden prophet, Ahab would soon have discovered his whereabouts; nor would they be likely to bring food twice daily, when a store might have been conveyed with only one risk. The supernatural is always startling, but to those who reject materialism it is not incredible. If God notices a sparrow fall, and if diseases obey Him, as soldiers obey their general (Matthew 8:8-10), this feeding by the ravens might well be. God often uses strange instruments to effect His purposes. Give examples from Scripture and history. Even the plans and the deeds of the wicked are under His control. All things work His will.
2. It was revealed. "The word of the Lord came to him." It comes to us. Sometimes the inward impulse after prayer impels us to take God's way; and sometimes all other paths are closed, and of the one left open Providence says, "This is the way, walk in it." Are we seeking to know God's will about ourselves? Are we concerned that our way should be His choice, and not our own? "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
III. RESTFUL RETREAT. Describe the wild ravine of the Kelt, which Robinson and Stanley identify, with some probability, as the Cherith. The precipitous rocks, in places 500 feet high, the caverns in the limestone, in one of which the prophet hid, etc. Such a man needed quiet. He had it afforded to him again in Horeb. No great activity for God can be worthily sustained without much waiting on Him. In this retreat Elijah had two sorts of provision.
1. Daily bread. It is only that which we are taught to expect, and pray for. The daily reception of blessing teaches us our constant dependence. The manna fell every morning, and could not be hoarded for the future. Daily strength, too, is given for daily duties.
2. Quiet communion. All nature would speak to Elijah of his God. The brook would whisper of the water of life; the birds would celebrate the care of God, etc. In the world around him, in secret converse with his own heart, and in earnest prayer to the God of Israel, before whom he stood, Elijah would get refreshment and strength for coming conflict and conquest. Refer to the invalid, to the aged, to the little children, as those to whom God gives a time of quiet, to prepare them for the future service.
1. Expect God's deliverance whenever you are in the path of duty.
2. Be content that God should work in His own way.
3. Seek to have a spirit of contentment, and a heart that is "quiet from the fear of evil."—A.R.
1 Kings 17:16
The Widow's Cruse.
Describe this incident in the life of Elijah. Show some of the ADVANTAGES which arose from his visit to Zarephath; e.g.,
1. It was a means of blessing to himself. He found a true worshipper of Jehovah even in the coasts of Tyre, where, under the rule of Jezebel's father, one was least to be expected. This would strengthen his faith, and it would keep alive his hope that his work in Israel would "not be in vain in the Lord." We may sometimes assure ourselves of the vitality of Christianity by witnessing its effects among the heathen. A visit to the South Sea islands would prove a tonic to debilitated faith.
2. It was a means of blessing to the widow. Not only was she kept alive in famine for the prophet's sake, but she received spiritual blessing. Christ refers to Elijah's visit as a sign of the care God had, even under the old dispensation, for the heathen peoples, where He left not Himself without witness. (Compare Luke 4:25.) Show that as Elijah turned from Israel to Zidon, so the apostles turned to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6). Learn from the story the following general lessons:—
I. THAT GOD PROVIDES FOR THE NECESSITIES OF HIS SERVANTS. In the famine He had already made provision for Elijah at Cherith, and now that the supply there had failed, other resources were opened. Not always in our way, but in some way, He answers the prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread." He does not promise luxuries or wealth, but our "bread shall be given to us, and our water shall be sure." We are not to be anxious about our future, but are to remember that it is in the hands of God. It is said of our food and raiment, that our "heavenly father knoweth that we have need of these things." When a child is at home he learns his lessons, obeys the rules of his parents, etc; but he has no care about the food he will want on the morrow. He never dreams but that it will be provided. Such should be our spirit, whatever may be our powers of productive work. We are diligently and earnestly to do whatsoever our hands find to do, feeling certain that "they who seek the Lord shall not want any good thing." The Israelites followed the cloud, though it led them into the wilderness, with the conviction that God was leading them; and when it was necessary He provided manna in proportion to their wants. If God does not ignore our temporal necessities, He will certainly not fail to supply our spiritual wants. In the Father's house there is bread enough and to spare. This we may prove on earth, but its highest fulfilment will be seen in heaven, where the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, shall feed us.
II. THAT GOD USES WHAT MEN WOULD DESPISE. With limitless resources, we should have imagined that God would miraculously create what was required, disregarding "the handful of meal" and the little oil left in a cruse. Not so, however. There is no waste in the Divine economy. The breath of men, the exhalations of plants, the refuse cast into the field, or into the sea, the rising mist, the falling shower, are all accounted for, and have a purpose to fulfil, a work to do. There is no physical force which becomes utterly extinct, though it passes from one form of manifestation to another. Motion passes into heat, heat into electricity, etc; in an endless cycle. The economy of force asserts itself everywhere under the rule of God. This, which is proclaimed by science, is constantly illustrated in Scripture. It is the same God who worketh all in all. If manna is given to the Israelites, it ceases directly the people can eat of the corn of the country. The supernatural rises out of the natural. The miraculous provision for Elijah was not a new creation, but an increase of what already existed; and in the use of this there was no prodigality or waste. Compare with Christ's miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. After showing that He had infinite resources, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."
III. THAT GOD REVEALS OUR WAY STEP BY STEP. Picture Elijah sitting by the brook Cherith, watching its waters becoming shallower day by day under the drought. He knew not what he should do next, but he waited, and trusted, and prayed; and when the brook was dried up, "the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath," etc. God does not reveal the future to us, but draws across it an impenetrable, or at most a semi-transparent veil. We know not with absolute certainty what a day may bring forth. The advantages of this are evident—
1. It saves us from sorrow and from sin.
(1) From sorrow, because if we foresaw all that we should have to endure, if we knew the day of our death, the extent of our losses, etc; our burden would be greater than we could bear. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
(2) From sin, because we should grow absorbed in worldly occupations it we were certain life would be long; or become despondent and spiritless in work if we knew it would be short.
2. It fosters in us the graces of trust and prayer. If we know nothing of the future ourselves, and cannot feel confident about our own plans, we are led to confide in Him who foresees what is before us, and to ask Him in prayer for daily guidance and support.
IV. THAT GOD REWARDS OUR CONSECRATION OF WHAT WE HAVE TO HIM. It was a generous act towards a stranger, a pious act towards a servant of Jehovah, to fetch for Elijah the water which was now so costly, and to be willing to share with him what appeared to be her last meal. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth." Even in temporal affairs this is true. Hoard seed in the springtime, and you cannot be enriched; scatter it, and the harvest will come. Give to the poor in the name of their Lord, and you will not fail of reward—either here or hereafter. We are to give, however, not for the sake of applause or recompense, but "as unto the Lord," to whom we owe all that we have. This woman not only gave to the prophet, but gave to him in the name of a prophet, and therefore "received a prophet's reward" (Matthew 10:40-42). May He who commended the widow when she gave her two mites so accept our gifts and services, and so approve our motives, as at last to say, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me!" (Matthew 25:40.)—A.R.
1 Kings 17:21
Prayer for the Dead.
The portrait of the widow of Zarephath is remarkably natural. Her calmness in speaking of the trouble that was only threatened (1 Kings 17:12), is contrasted with her agony when trouble actually comes (1 Kings 17:18). She believed in Jehovah though in a heathen kingdom; yet there was a blending of superstition with her faith. She supposed that God might have overlooked her sin, had it not been that He was present with His prophet in her home; and she confounded discipline with retribution. The latter was the mistake of the barbarians at Melita. (Compare Acts 28:4.) See also our Lord's teaching, Luke 13:4. The death of this child is to be explained on the principle which asserted itself in the blindness of the man whom Jesus cured (John 9:3), or in the illness of Lazarus, concerning which our Lord said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for glory of God" (John 11:4). Rembrandt has depicted the scene brought before us in this chapter. In a roughly built upper room the dead child lies upon the bed; one hand rests upon his breast, while the other has fallen heavily at his side, giving a wonderful idea of the weight of death. Elijah stands on the further side of the bed with his rugged, earnest face upturned towards heaven and his hands clasped in an agony of supplication as he says, "O Lord my God, I pray thee let this child's soul come into him again!" This event was not intended to be wondered at as a prodigy, nor was it merely to benefit the widow, but for all time has spiritual significance. With this belief we see in it—
I. AN EMBLEM OF SPIRITUAL DEATH. The child had died suddenly, Or Elijah would have been told of his illness. His death was real, and was more than the insensibility of Eutychus (Acts 20:10). We say that a thing, susceptible of life, is dead when it cannot receive what is essential to its growth and well being; e.g; a tree is dead when it is no longer able to absorb the nutriment without which it must fade, and ultimately fall. An animal is dead which can no longer breath air or assimilate food. The mind is dead—as is that of an idiot—when it receives no true mental impressions. The soul is dead which is insensible to spiritual influence. As it is possible to have physical without mental life, so it is possible to have mental without spiritual life. "Spiritual death" is not a mere figure of speech. It may be illustrated by the condition of this child. The food provided for him was useless now, the tenderest words of his mother were unheeded, and the voice that so lately was musical with laughter was silent. Similarly the spiritually dead are indifferent to God's provision, unconscious of their own possibilities, irresponsive to the Father's voice. "Except a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God." "He that hath not the Son hath not life." "Dead in trespasses and sins." "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live."
II. AN EXAMPLE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER. A man of Elijah's strong nature would have strong affections, and we can imagine how intensely he had come to love this child. On hearing of his death he could only say to the distracted mother, "Give me thy son," and then carried him up to his own room, and cried to God in an agony of prayer.
1. It was offered in solitude. Not even the mother was there. Such intense crises in life must be met alone. Jesus Christ was wont to "depart into a solitary place" to pray. Understanding our needs He said, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut to the door, and pray to thy Father which seeth in secret." "Jacob was left alone" when he wrestled with the angel. Compare Elijah's miracle with that of the Lord, who, when He went into the room where Jairus' daughter lay dead, "suffered no man to go in," beyond those who were one with Him in sympathy and prayer.
2. It was peculiarly definite. There was one want in his heart, one cry on his lips. Our prayers too often are meditations on the Divine attributes, or general confessions, and thanksgivings. If our King asked "What is thy petition?" we should sometimes be at a logs for an answer. Pray for one grace, for one unbelieving friend, etc.
3. It was intensely earnest. Elijah could not be denied. His was not a speech, but a cry. He looked for the awakening, and flung himself on the dead in an agony of earnestness as if he would infuse his own warmth and life. The touch was similar to that of Peter, when he took the cripple by the hand (Acts 3:7)—not the cause of blessing, but the medium of blessing. The Divine power works through the human agency.
III. AN EARNEST OF TRUE RESURRECTION. Elijah could not give life, but he could ask God for it. Nor can we arouse to new life by preaching, though God can do so through preaching. Our words are only the media through which the Holy Spirit works. The Atlantic cable is useless except as the message is flashed forth by mysterious unseen power. This distinguishes the miracles of our Lord Jesus from those of His servants. (Compare Luke 7:14 with Acts 3:12-16.) There is a resurrection wherein saints shall be raised by the power of God to a life of immortality, the promise and pledge of which we have in the resurrection of Christ, who is the "firstfruits of them that sleep." There is also a spiritual resurrection, to which Paul refers when he appeals to Christians as those "risen with Christ; and of this, as well as of that, is there an illustration in our text. Raised to newness of life we, like the child Elijah prayed for, have to live for awhile in the old sphere. The prophet gave the child to his mother. Jesus restored Lazarus to his sisters, the young man at Nain to his mother, and the ruler's daughter to her parents; and so to us, who have "passed from death unto life," He says, "Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done for thee." This miracle constrained the widow to accept as God's truth the declaration of His servant (Luke 13:24). How much more reason have we, who believe in the supernatural works of His Son, to say, "We know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him!"—A.R.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
1 Kings 17:1-6
Elijah the Tishbite.
One of the noblest of the noble figures that cross the stage of Old Testament history appears before us here. Few names have such a halo of glorious associations surrounding them as that of Elijah. The mystery of his origin, the grandeur of his mission, his physical and moral characteristics, the peculiar nature of his miracles, his wonderful translation and reappearance with Moses at the time of our Lord's transfiguration, together with the place that he occupies in the last utterances of inspired prophecy, and in the anticipations of the Jewish people—all combine to invest the person of this great prophet with a peculiar and romantic interest. This opening chapter in the story of his prophetic ministry is full of instruction. Note—
I. HIS ABRUPT APPEARANCE. There is nothing actually unique in this. Other prophets of the age are introduced thus suddenly (Ahijah, Jehu, Shemaiah, etc.) But considering the circumstances of the time it is remarkable.
1. It proclaims God's continued interest in, and sovereignty over Israel as well as Judah. The revolt of the ten tribes had not broken the bond between Him and them, or altered the fact of His supremacy, Nor had their religious defection nullified His purpose of mercy.
2. It is called forth by a dread moral crisis. The seed sown by Jeroboam was fast developing its most deadly fruits. The Baal worship brought in by Ahab and Jezebel was a far worse "abomination" than the worship of the calves. A cruel persecution was raging, the prophets of the Lord were being slain, and it seemed as if the true religion would perish out of the land.
3. It was a revelation of irresistible power. The worship of Baal was essentially the worship of power; probably the productive power of nature. Here is the messenger of Him "to whom all power belongeth," that great unseen Power that can arrest the order of nature, seal up the fountains of heaven, wither those resources of earth on which the life alike of man and beast depends. We are reminded of the various ways in which God may see fit to fulfil His sovereign purposes. All powers, human and material, are at His command. "All things serve his might." In the darkest hour in the history of church or nation, let us believe that still "the Lord reigneth." Let us trust Him to "plead his own cause," and vindicate the claims of truth and righteousness.
II. HIS PERSONAL DIGNITY. It is the dignity of one who sustains a special relation towards "the living God." His name implies this: "Jehovah is my God." And this solemn asseveration, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand," is suggestive of the dignity
(1) of personal fellowship;
(2) face to face vision; and
(3) Divine proprietorship;
(4) consecrated servitude.
One would think the old Jewish tradition were true. It sounds like the voice of an angel. But lofty as this utterance is. majestic as is the relation towards the Divine Being which it indicates, it has its Christian counterpart. Think of St. Paul's words: "There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am and whom I serve" (Acts 27:23). This is not an exclusive, exceptional dignity. We may all in our measure share it. And as no earthly position sheds any real glory upon a man except so far as he recognizes a Divine element in it, fills it as before God with holy fear; so there is no work or office of common life which may not be ennobled by this feeling. We stand there before God as His servants to do that very thing. "Such honour have all his saints."
III. HIS COURAGE. It is the courage of one who knows that God is with him, that he is the messenger of the Divine will, the instrument of a Divine purpose, the channel of Divine strength. He boldly confronts Ahab, "not fearing the wrath of the king," bearding the lion in his den. Does not mingle with the people, antedating their sufferings by spreading among them the evil tidings, but goes straight to him who is the fountainhead of the mischief and can avert the calamity by his repentance. Such is the brave spirit with which God fills his heroes. Whether in the defiance of danger, or the endurance of suffering, it is the sense of God—a Divine inspiration, Divine support—that has ever been the spring of the noblest form of courage. "Greater is he that is in you," etc. "If God be for us," etc. "Be not afraid of their terror, but sanctify the Lord God in your heart," etc. This is the principle—the solemn fear of God taking possession of a man casts out all other fear; in the sense of the sovereignty of a Divine claim, he fears nothing but the dread of being unfaithful to it. Now this brave spirit was not kindled in the breast of Elijah all at once. Such a moral phenomenon is not the birth of an hour or a day. We may believe that it was developed in him gradually among the mountains of Gilead—a fitting scene for the nurture of such a moral constitution as his. The fire burned within him as he mused on the degradation of his country. St. James speaks of the fervency of Elijah's prayer: "He prayed earnestly that it might not rain," etc. (James 5:17). No doubt the withholding of the rain was given as a "sign" in answer to his prayer; but after all, may we not regard his prayer most as the means of preparing him to be the prophet and minister of this great "sign"? Not that the order of nature was placed at the caprice of a poor, frail mortal; but that he, "a man of like passions with us," was able in the fervour of his faith and prayer to rise up and lay hold on the strength of God, to read the purpose of God, reckoned worthy to become the agent in the execution of that purpose. The historic incident is not so far removed as it may seem to be from the range and level of our common life. Heaven gives back its answer to suppliant faith. As regards the fellowship of the human soul with the mind and with the power of God, it must ever be true that "the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much."
IV. HIS EXTRAORDINARY PRESERVATION. A type of the providential care that God will ever exercise over those who are faithful to Him in the path of duty and of trial. Whether "ravens" or "wandering Arabians were the instruments in his preservation, it little signifies, so that we recognize the positive Divine interposition. And what is the supply of our daily wants but the fruit of a perpetual Divine interposition? "Give us this day our daily bread." Walk uprightly before God, be true to Him in all the sacred responsibilities of life, and trust in Him to provide (Matthew 6:33).—W.
1 Kings 17:16
Entertaining a Stranger.
We naturally ask why Elijah should have been sent at this crisis to Zarephath. The fact that it lay so near to the birthplace of Jezebel, and in the very home of the Baal worship, may have had something to do with this. It might be a safer place of retreat for the prophet than it seemed to be, for Ahab would scarcely dream of following him there. But other reasons are suggested by the use our Lord makes of this incident (Luke 4:25, Luke 4:26). The prophet was not "accepted in his own country," but found a confiding welcome and generous hospitality at the hands of an alien. God rebuked the proud unbelief of His own people by making this poor lone widow, in the midst of her idolatrous associations, the instrument of His purposes. And thus that early age had its foreshadowings of the grace that should hereafter be bestowed on the Gentiles. The lessons of the narrative lie upon the surface.
I. GOD'S SURE GUARDIANSHIP OVER HIS SERVANTS. Elijah is perfectly safe under the shield of Divine protection, as safe in the region of Sidon as he was by the brook Cherith. He who commanded the ravens to feed him can put it into the heart and into the power of the Phoenician woman to do the same. When one resort fails He can provide another. He causes one and another to fail that He may show how boundless His resources are. There is absolutely no limit to the possibilities of God's sustaining and protective power. "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee." The angels of God are many and various. There is nothing which He cannot make to be the instrument of His purpose, the vehicle of His power. And He causes them to wait in duteous ministry on those whom He has called to high and holy service in His kingdom. God has a grand mission for Elijah to accomplish in Israel and will take care that he shall be able to fulfil it. "Man is immortal till his work be done."
II. THE HONOUR GOD PUTS ON THE LOWLY. We see here not only the Divine preservation of Elijah, but a special act of grace towards the woman of Zarephath. It was a signal honour to have been thus singled out from the crowd for such a Divine visitation, to be used as an important link in the chain of great public events, to have her name handed down to future ages as the "woman of Sarepta," whose glory it was to "entertain a prophet in the name of a prophet and receive a prophet's reward." And in this there was not merely a providential arrangement of outward circumstances, but a gracious influence exerted on her own soul; for God lays His sovereign hand not only on the course of external events, but on the secret springs of moral life. Her readiness to respond to the prophet's appeal was from Him. Poor and humble as she was His eye was upon her for good. "He regarded the low estate of his handmaiden." Thus has God often put distinction upon those who might least have expected it. Let none think themselves beneath His notice, or too insignificant to be made by Him the instrument of some high and holy purpose. "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly" (Psalms 138:6).
"He hears the uncomplaining moan
Of those who sit and weep alone."
The forlorn and desolate, if only they walk humbly and reverently before Him, are the objects of His tenderest regard. He is nearer to them than He seems to be, and often has surprising grace in store for them. The poor widow casts her two mites unnoticed into the treasury, but He to whom the secrets of all hearts are open clothes her with honour above all the rich pretentious people who only gave what they so well could spare. The sinful woman, in self forgetting devotion, pours her rich ointment on the head of the incarnate Love; captious onlookers see no glory in her deed, but a word from Him crowns it with an everlasting halo of worldwide fame.
III. THE REWARD OF TRUSTFUL AND OBEDIENT FAITH. The poor widow "showed her faith by her works, and by works was her faith made perfect." At the prophet's word she drew freely from her scanty store, and "the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail." The reward of her faith came in the form of a miracle similar to that of Christ's multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry multitude. It surpasses our comprehension, but is not more wonderful than the mysterious process that is ever going on in the building up of the tissue of plants and of the animal frame. Shall not the Power that is perpetually changing the elements of earth and air and water into nourishing food for man and beast be able to increase "the meal and the oil" as it pleases? The true life of faith is one of patient continuance in well doing, coupled with calm dependence on that ever active power. Of the righteous God says, "Bread shall be given him," etc. (Isaiah 33:16). "In the day of famine they shall be satisfied" (Psalms 37:19). Christ. did not mock us when He taught us to pray to our Father in heaven, "Give us this day our daily bread." Tread faithfully the path of duty, and "He that ministereth seed to the sower will both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness" (2 Corinthians 9:10).—W.
1 Kings 17:17-24
Life from the Dead.
The miracles wrought by Elijah or associated with his name were for the most part of the nacre of severe judgments, and present the person of the lowly prophet in a stern and terrible light before us. But the two miracles that mark the opening of his career were miracles of mercy, and show that there was another side to his character, one that was tenderly sympathetic and humane. Having at first brought hope and a new lease of life to the starving mother and her child, he now lifts the dark shadow of death from off the desolated home and turns its sorrow into joy. This narrative has a peculiarly pathetic interest, and is suggestive of lessons that touch the deepest realities of human life. It naturally divides itself into two parts, in which we see
(1) the sadness of death and
(2) the joy of restoration.
I. THE SADNESS OF DEATH. That the child was really dead we cannot doubt. "There was no breath left in him." The gleam of hope in the poor widow's condition was suddenly beclouded, and a strange, yet not altogether unnatural, revulsion of feeling took possession of her breast. Thus does an unexpected calamity, especially perhaps when it takes the form of personal bereavement, often work for a while a sad change in the attitude of the soul
1. It darkens the whole horizon of life—quenches the light of other joys. The abundance of meal and oil, and the honour of the prophet's presence are as nothing while the child lies dead in the house. There are sorrows which seem utterly to blot out the sunshine of one's existence, and to be aggravated rather than relieved by the joys that accompany them.
2. It creates resentment against the supposed, or perhaps the real, author of it. "What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God?" The prophet, who had proved himself so beneficent a friend, is regarded as an enemy.
3. It's a severe test of one's faith in God. This woman, it may be, was in an intermediate state of mind between blind devotion to the old idolatries and the full acceptance of the faith of Israel How rude a check did this event seem to give to her progress into clearer light! Thus is the faith of men often sorely tried by the adversities of life. This is part of their Divine purpose. The "fiery trial" seems "strange at first, but the meaning and reason of it are revealed afterwards." Happy they whose faith, in spite of the severe strain put upon it, holds fast to the living God—too deeply rooted in the soul to be torn up by any sudden sweeping blast.
4. It awakens the sense of sin. "Art thou come to me to bring my sin to remembrance?" It is significant that the thought of her own sin should be her first thought. The calamity brought this to her remembrance because it seemed to her a sign of God's remembrance of it. Learn that though particular afflictions are not always to be connected with any particular transgression as their cause (John 9:2, John 9:8), yet all sorrow must be traced ultimately to its source in moral evil. It is a true instinct that leads us to think of our sins in times of adversity. Whenever affliction comes to us it should produce tenderness of conscience and call forth the prayer, "Show me wherefore thou contendest with me," in order that if there be any secret wrong in ourselves that demands this severe discipline we may have grace to fight against it and cast it out.
II. THE JOY OF RESTORATION. The behaviour of Elijah is beautifully expressive of his deep human sympathy, and also of the intimacy of the relation between himself and God as a man of prayer and the instrument of the Divine energy. Having special regard to the nature and effect of this miracle of restoration, observe that—
1. It is typical of the beneficent ministry of Christ. In Him the power of God came, as it never had before, into healing contact with the flame of our diseased and dying humanity. He took our nature upon Him that He might effectually cure its infirmities and sicknesses. "Virtue" continually went forth from Him. He was the great health-restorer and life giver; and as all the healing ministries of former ages had anticipated His coming, so all true philanthropy since has caught its highest inspiration from the constraint of His love and the force of His example.
2. It is prophetic of the future glorious resurrection. We see here one of the many witnesses that gleam out amid the obscurity of the olden times to the truth that God would surely one day "bring life and immortality to Light," while it points us on to the time when, "at the voice of the son of God, all that are in their graves shall come forth." "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:54).
3. It illustrates the joy of a soul that for the first time is made fully conscious of the gracious presence and power of God. "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God," etc. There is a tone of deep satisfaction in these words. It is the satisfaction that springs from the discovery of Divine truth and the vivid sense of God. There is no satisfaction of which the soul of man is capable that can be compared with this. The end of all forms of Divine manifestation—prophetic visitations, miracles, providences, etc.—is this. We reach the highest joy possible to us upon earth when we can say with St. John, "We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is tame, and we are in him that is true, even in his son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 4:20).—W.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
1 Kings 17:1-6
Elijah's Advent and Service.
I. THE GREAT PROPHET.
1. His name: Elijah, my God (is) Jehovah. It was a symbol of his spirit. It expressed his judgment of Israel's idolatry and the choice which with his soul's whole strength he had made of God. Light and fidelity are the only foundations of any true work for God or man.
2. His origin. The words ("of the inhabitants," etc.) seemed to indicate that he belonged to none of the tribes of Israel
(1) His mission was prophetic of that of the Gentiles. Israel, forsaking God, were to feel that God was also forsaking them (Genesis 10:19). The very meanness of the origin of God's faithful ones lends power to their testimony.
(2) It proved the infinitude of God's resources. Ahab and Jezebel might slay His prophets; they could not arrest the progress of His work. From the most unthought-of quarter there arises a mightier than all whose lives had been taken. The power of a devoted life to make the world feel the impossibility of its prevailing in its contest with God.
3. His attitude toward God. "Before whom I stand." He was the Lord's servant. He lived for Him. His eye rested on Him. The whole man stood girded for prompt, unquestioning obedience. This is the spirit of all true service. Is God as real to us? Do we thus stand before Him?
II. HIS MESSAGE.
1. The judger. It was that predicted from of old as the chastisement of Israel's idolatry (Deuteronomy 11:17). The land was to be consumed by drought. The blessings which God withholds from the soul that forsakes Him are imaged in those withheld from the land. There is "neither dew nor rain." The refreshment, the rich consolation, once imparted by the word or found in prayer, are no longer known. The stimulating of loving zeal meter what is nobler and purer has ceased.
2. Through whom it fell: "According to my word." Those who reject God will be judged by man. God will still confront them in their fellows. God is magnified in His servants. The kingly power and priesthood of believers in their relation to the world.
III. HIS RETIREMENT.
1. It served God. Ahab and Israel were left face to face with Him. Man disappeared that the eye might rest on God alone. There are times when He is best served by silence. Many words often undo the effect of the homethrust dealt by a few.
2. It was his safety. He was shielded from Ahab's anger. We may be hid by affliction from the power of our great foe. Temptation and danger may have been darkening the path that lay before us when God led us aside and made us rest awhile with Him.
3. It prepared him for after service. He was taught God's unfailing power and care. His wants were provided for though no man knew of his dwelling place; and that by the most unlikely instruments. He learned how fully he might trust God. He to whom God is thus revealed will not fear the face of man.—U.
1 Kings 17:7-16
I. THE ENDLESSNESS OF GOD'S RESOURCES.
1. The brook failed; and one essential of life could no more be had there. But it was only that this wondrous provision might give place to greater marvels. When means are threatened, the heart sinks; but He who has provided these for a season knows of the failure; and He who sent go Cherith can send elsewhere. One channel of help fails only that the soul may be quickened by a fresh revelation of God's kindness.
2. He was sent to what seemed to be the most dangerous of all places—to the territory of Jezebel's father. And yet the very unlikelihood of his seeking shelter there increased his safety. God's path can only be trod by faith, but that faith is soon changed to praise.
3. He was sent to a most unlikely quarter. The hostess whom the Lord had chosen was a widow and one who possessed sufficient to furnish only one more meal for herself and her child. But here again faith was to break forth into praise. God's power is infinite, and the meanest as well as the mightiest may be used to glorify Him.
II. THE REWARD OF OBEDIENT FAITH.
1. For Elijah. He went undoubting; he sought the city, and lo, at the gate (1 Kings 17:10) he met his hostess. Those who act on God's promises will meet with the revelation of His truth and graciousness.
2. For the woman (1 Kings 17:11-16). It was her last meal Love of her child and her own hunger must have made it hard to obey, but the seed she sowed in faith yielded a thousandfold. God's call to sacrifice for His service, for honesty and truth, is the path to plenty not to loss.
3. For both. The woman entered a new world. The unseen was unveiled; she knew God. Elijah found in a heathen land a home which God had sanctified. The communion of faith glorifies all human relationship.—U.
1 Kings 17:17-24
Affliction and its Fruits.
I. THE DISCIPLINE OF TRIAL.
1. It is no proof of God's anger. Sorrow darkens the homes of God's beloved. This was a home of faith and ministering love. Affliction is no more proof of wrath than is the farmer's ploughing of his field. To him, with his eye upon the future harvest, it is only the needful preparation of the soil. And the great Husbandman, with His eye upon the eternal glory, must open up a bed within the soul's depths for the seed of life.
2. God's blow may be very heavy. Her son, her only child, is taken. God's plough sinks deep that His work may be rightly done. The very greatness of our anguish is a measure by which we may gauge the greatness of the Lord's purpose and of the love which will not suffer us to miss the blessing.
II. THE FRUITS IT YIELDS.
1. It reveals our need. She may have been conscious daily of the goodness of God and yet been blind to the fact that she needed more than she had yet received. God now awakens her
(1) to the sense of her unworthiness: "What have I to do with thee?"
(2) to the remembrance of her transgressions: "Art thou come to call my sins to remembrance?" The darkness of trouble is the shadow of guilt. There is discipline because there is need of salvation. Sins may be pardoned, but God must open up a gulf between the soul and them. The time of trouble is meant to be a time of heart searching and of confession.
2. It stirs up to prayer. Elijah's heart was poured out in bold expostulation and earnest entreaty (1 Kings 17:20, 1 Kings 17:21). In the sharpness of our need our cry gains strength; we press, in our urgency, into the Divine presence. These times open up a way to God by which we find ready access ever after.
3. It leads to the vision of God's glory. "And the Lord heard," etc. (1 Kings 17:22). The prayer was followed by a revelation of God's power such as till then man had never seen: the dead was raised. "Ask and ye shall receive." The soul that asks will see God's salvation and be filled with the light of the Divine glory.
4. It deepens trust. "Now by this I know," etc. (1 Kings 17:24). When man's need meets God's help, the soul is bound to Him by the strongest ties.—U.
HOMILIES BY E. DE PRESSENSE
1 Kings 17:1-7
First Preparation of Elijah for his great Mission.
After Elijah's first appearance before Ahab to announce to him the Divine visitation of sterility and dearth which was to come upon the land as the chastisement of his sin, the prophet was sent away into a solitary place to prepare himself for his great and solemn mission, which was to overthrow idolatry and vindicate the worship of the true God. This work of preparation was divided into two great periods.
1. The preparation of the desert.
2. The lonely life of the prophet in the house of the widow of Sarepta.
The Desert was, from the time of Moses to the days of John the Baptist, the great school of the prophets. These men of God were trained for their work:
1. By being brought face to face with their sacred mission in all its greatness, and free from the prejudices and petty influences of human society. There they could steadfastly contemplate the Divine ideal, undistracted by the rude realities of man's fallen condition.
2. There they were also cut off from all human aid, left to test their own strength, or rather to prove their own utter wetness, and, overwhelmed with the sense of it, to cast themselves wholly on Divine strength. Thus they received directly from God, as did Elijah, the supplies by which they lived, and realized the conditions of absolute and immediate trust in Him. Coming forth from this discipline of the desert, they were enabled to say with Paul, "When I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).
3. This loving converse of the prophets with their God brought them into closer fellowship, more intimate union, with Him. Thus they came forth from the desert, like Moses from the Mount of Sinai, bearing unconsciously upon them the reflection of His glory. As St. Paul says," We, beholding as with open face the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18). Considerations like these have a fit application to the pastor, who ought to be much in solitary communion with God, in order to be raised above the compromises of principle so common in society, and to get his whole nature permeated with Divine strength. Every Christian soul has in like manner a prophet's mission, and ought therefore often to seek the desert solitude, in which the Invisible is brought near, and to frequent those sacred mountain tops of prayer, where the disciple, like the Master, renews his strength (Luke 5:16).—E. de P.
1 Kings 17:7-24
Second Preparation of Elijah.
Elijah passed through his second phase of preparation under the humble roof of the widow of Sarepta. He is in the right attitude for gaining a holy preparedness for his work, for he has placed himself absolutely and directly under the guidance of God. When the word of God comes to him, he is ready to arise and go whithersoever it bids. Thus was Christ "led of the Spirit" to commence His public ministry (Matthew 4:1); and throughout His whole course He recognized the same unfailing guidance. The purpose of God in sending Elijah to the poor widow was to show him, before he entered on the great conflict with idolatry, that he had at his disposal a Divine power which nothing would be able to resist. Elijah was, so to speak, to prove his arms, far from human observation, BY A PASSAGE OF DEEP PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. Hence the double miracle of the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil always full. Hence, yet more distinctly, that glorious miracle of the raising of the widow's son by the prophet. This miracle had no witnesses; nor must we marvel at this. God does not perform miracles to fascinate onlookers; He does not make a spectacle of His marvellous working. His glory is sufficiently magnified in the deliverance of a humble believer like the widow of Sarepta, and in the qualification of the prophet for his mission. Jesus Christ refused to work any miracles for show, and the power were reserved for humble hearts and lowly dwellings. Elijah has learnt to know the strength of God which is in him; he has proved it in the secresy of his soul. He has a full assurance that it will be manifested in him when he stands before Ahab, no less mightily than in the obscurity of the widow's house. This intimate personal experience of the grace of God is of incomparable value to His servants. If we would have Divine strength to use in the great conflict with sin around us, we must prove its miraculous energy in our private life. And let us remember also that our homes may be the scene of the mightiest manifestations of the grace of God, and of the most signal providential deliverances, if only our hearts be open to Him in humility and love, like the heart of the widow of Sarepta.—E. de P.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany