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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Ashes; Symbols and Similitudes; Scofield Reference Index - Parables; Thompson Chain Reference - Benhadad; Disguises; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Syria;
Verse 38. Disguised himself with ashes upon his face. — It does not immediately appear how putting ashes upon his face could disguise him. Instead of אפר apher, dust, Houbigant conjectures that it should be אפד aphad, a fillet or bandage. It is only the corner of the last letter which makes the difference; for the ד daleth and ר resh are nearly the same, only the shoulder of the former is square, the latter round. That bandage, not dust, was the original reading, seems pretty evident from its remains in two of the oldest versions, the Septuagint and the Chaldee; the former has Και κατεδησατο εν τελαμωνι τους οφθαλμους αυτου, "And he bound his eyes with a fillet." The latter has וכריך במעפריאעינוהי ukerich bemaaphira einohi; "And he covered his eyes with a cloth." The MSS. of Kennicott and De Rossi contain no various reading here; but bandage is undoubtedly the true one. However, in the way of mortification, both the Jews and Hindoos put ashes upon their heads and faces, and make themselves sufficiently disgusting.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:38". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/1-kings-20.html. 1832.
Defeat of Ben-hadad (20:1-43)
Ahab appeared to be in serious trouble when a combined army of Syria (Aram) and neighbouring states besieged the Israelite capital Samaria and demanded heavy payments. Ahab at first submitted (20:1-4), but when their demands increased, he changed his mind and decided to fight (5-12).
A prophet assured Ahab that God would give Israel victory (13-15). Ahab’s plan, based on the prophet’s advice, was to send a large group of young men ahead to distract the Syrians, then follow with a surprise attack by his army. Ahab won a decisive victory, but was warned to be ready for a further battle the following spring (16-22).
The Syrians improved the combined fighting force by replacing the allied commander-kings with their own professional soldiers. They also thought they had a better chance of victory by changing the location of the battle to a region where their gods were stronger. Again Israel won, proving to the Syrians (and to Ahab) that they were mistaken in thinking God’s power was limited to only certain places (23-30).
Ahab captured the enemy king Ben-hadad, but let him go after Ben-hadad agreed to give back to Israel territory that Syria had previously seized. The two kings also made a trade agreement that was very favourable to Israel. This cooperation with Syria was no doubt intended to give Israel added strength against any possible invader, but it would not have been necessary had Ahab trusted in God, as his recent victory should have taught him (31-34). A young prophet acted a parable to show Ahab that because he rejected a God-given opportunity to destroy the enemy once and for all, that enemy would return and bring increasing suffering upon Israel (35-43).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:38". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/1-kings-20.html. 2005.
Ashes - Rather, “a bandage” (and in 1 Kings 20:41). The object of the wound and bandage was double. Partly, it was to prevent Ahab from recognizing the prophet’s face; partly, to induce him to believe that the man had really been engaged in the recent war.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:38". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/1-kings-20.html. 1870.
Now Benhadad who was presently the king of Syria gathered all of his host together: and there were thirty-two kings that went with him, with their horses, and chariots: and they came up and besieged Samaria, and they warred against it. And he sent messengers to Ahab the king of Israel the city, and he said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad, Thy silver and thy gold is mine; your wives and your children, the best of everything you have, is mine. And so the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to your saying, I am thine, and all that I have ( 1 Kings 20:1-4 ).
So he asked for complete capitulation. I want all your gold and silver. I want all your wives, all your, you know, all of your possessions. So Ahab was surrendering. He said, "Everything I have is yours."
So Benhadad wasn't satisfied.
He sent back his messengers again, and said, Thus speaketh Benhadad, saying, Although I have sent unto you, saying that you shall deliver to me your silver, gold, wives, and children; Yet I will send my servants unto you to morrow about this time, and they will search through your house, and the house of your servants; and it shall be, whatever is pleasant in their eyes, they shall put it in their hand, and take it away. And the king of Israel called his elders together, and he said, Mark, I pray you, look how this guy is just really seeking a fight: he doesn't want just our gold and silver and wives; he wants a fight. And so all the elders that were with him said, Don't hearken to him, don't consent. Therefore he sent messengers to Benhadad, he said, Tell my lord the king, All that you did send for your servant at the first will do: but this other request that you have made we're not going to do it. And so the messengers departed, brought him word again. And Benhadad sent unto him, and said, The gods do so to me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for the handfuls for all the people that follow me ( 1 Kings 20:5-10 ).
And he said, "If everyone took the dust of Samaria, there wouldn't be enough for the number of people I have to even have a fistful of dirt. I got so many people that I'm coming against you with."
And so the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girds on his harness boast himself as though he was putting it off ( 1 Kings 20:11 ).
In other words, don't count your chickens before they hatch.
And so it came to pass, when Benhadad heard this message, as he was drinking, and his kings in the pavilions, he said to his servants, Set yourselves in array. And so they set themselves in battle array against the city. And, behold, there came a prophet to Ahab the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Have you seen this great multitude? behold, I'm going to deliver it into your hand today; and you will know that I am the LORD. So Ahab said, By whom? And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Even by the young men the princes of the provinces. Then he said, Who shall order the battle? And he said, You. And so Ahab numbered the young men, the princes from the provinces, there were two hundred and thirty two: after them he numbered the people, all of the children of Israel, seven thousand. They went out at noon. And old Benhadad was drinking himself drunk in his pavilions, he with his kings. And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first; Benhadad sent out, and told them, saying, [There are. They sent. They came to Benhadad and said] There are men coming out of Samaria. And so he said, Have they come out if they've come out for peace, take them alive; if they've come out for war, take them alive. So the young men of the princes of the provinces came out of the city, and the army followed them. And they slew every one his man: the Syrians fled; Israel pursued them: Benhadad the king of Syria escaped on a horse with his horsemen. And so the king of Israel went out, and he smote the horses, the chariots, he slew the Syrians with a great slaughter. And the prophet came to the king of Israel, and said unto him, Go and strengthen yourself, and mark, and see what you are doing: for at the return of the year the king of Syria will come up against you again ( 1 Kings 20:12-22 ).
In other words, now strengthen yourself, fortify things, because at the end of the year the guy is going to be back.
And so the servants of the king of Syria said unto them, The problem is their gods are the gods of the hills; that's why they were able to defeat you; now if you could fight them in the valley, then you could defeat them ( 1 Kings 20:23 ).
Because their gods are the gods of the hills and not the gods of the valleys. Now of course, they thought of gods in localized sense. We should never think of God in a localized sense. God is what we say omnipresent. That means he's everywhere at once. Therefore, it is wrong to think of God in a locality. Sometimes we think of God in a localized sense in heaven. And he seems very far off and remote because I don't know where heaven is. It's out there in space somewhere. But I'm pointing out in the space this way but you know if you realize the earth is actually round, and so you'll be pointing down that way through the earth and not in space in the other direction. So I may head out, you know, in space looking for God but I may be going the wrong direction in space, if I think of God in a locality, you know, heaven, wherever that may be.
Or if I think of God here in the church, in a locality. And so often even in our prayers we sort of express the idea of God dwelling here. "Lord, we are so thankful that we can come into Your presence this evening. We can gather here together in Your presence." Hey, you were in His presence when you left home tonight. You were in His presence when you were driving out here. You can't escape the presence of God. And thus it's wrong to think of God in a locality. And yet that was the pagan concept of God. He's the god of the hills. And that was your problem. You let them fight you in the hills and their god is the god of the hills. That's why you were defeated. Next time fight them in the valleys because their god is the god of the hills, not the god of the valleys and you'll be able to defeat them, so they said.
Now gather your army again, all of the kings, all of the chariots. And go up again the second time. And so Benhadad gathered the forces of Syria together and he came up to Aphek to fight against Israel.
And the children of Israel were numbered, all that were present, went out against them: and the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids ( 1 Kings 20:27 );
They were totally, hopelessly outnumbered.
but the Syrians filled the country ( 1 Kings 20:27 ).
They were just like two little flocks. And here the whole vast number of Syrians.
And there came a man of God, and spake to the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Because the Syrians have said, The LORD is the God of the hills, but not the God of the valleys, therefore I'm going to deliver this great multitude into your hand, and ye shall know that I am the LORD ( 1 Kings 20:28 ).
Now the interesting thing to me at this point is that though Ahab had turned against God and was a very wicked king, still God was continuing to speak to him. You know, though you may turn your back on God, and though you may go your own way, God continues to speak to you. God doesn't just forsake you and let you go, though you may have forsaken Him. God is continuing to speak after this guy has turned his back. So long his back has been turned against God and yet God is still speaking to him. As God continues to speak to you because He loves you and He's seeking to draw you unto Himself, and thus God doesn't cease His work speaking to man.
And so the children of Israel came against them and they're in the valleys and wiped out the Syrians really worse this time than before. The Syrians were fleeing. Benhadad was captured and he was brought back.
And he said unto him, The cities, that my father took from your father, I'm going to restore them; and you shall make streets we'll make streets for you in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. And then Ahab said to him, I will send you away with this covenant. So he made a treaty with him, and sent him away. And a certain man, one of the sons of the prophets came and said to his neighbour, Smite me, I pray you. And the man refused to smite him. Then he said, [All right, because you've refused to smite me,] you've not obeyed the voice of the LORD, so as soon as you depart from here, a lion is going to slay you. So as soon as the man departed from the prophet, a lion slew him. So he found another man, he said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, in that he was wounded. And so he came and he waited for Ahab to come along, he disguised himself, he put ashes upon his face. And the king passed by, and he cried to Ahab: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: and if by any means he is missing, then we'll require your life for him. And this man got away from me and now they want to kill me. And Ahab said, You pronounced your own judgment; you said that it was your life for his life and you let him get away. [Man, you've set your own judgment.] And so the guy took off the disguise; and the king of Israel discerned that he was one of the prophets. And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because you have let go out of your hand the man who I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people. And the king of Israel went home [and he began to live more carefully from that point on,] but he was heavily displeased when he came to Samaria ( 1 Kings 20:34-43 ). "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:38". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/1-kings-20.html. 2014.
So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way,.... As he went from Aphek, the place where the battle had been fought, to Samaria, his royal seat:
and disguised himself with ashes upon his face; the Targum is, he covered his eyes with a vail, or piece of cloth, which he wrapped about his head, as men do when they have got a wound or bruise in such a part, which seems very probable; for had he besmeared his face with ashes, clay, or dust, or any such thing, he could not so easily have got it off, as in 1 Kings 20:41.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:38". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-kings-20.html. 1999.
31 And his servants said unto him, Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life. 32 So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother. 33 Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy brother Benhadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Benhadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot. 34 And Benhadad said unto him, The cities, which my father took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. Then said Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him, and sent him away. 35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his neighbour in the word of the LORD, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man refused to smite him. 36 Then said he unto him, Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the LORD, behold, as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion shall slay thee. And as soon as he was departed from him, a lion found him, and slew him. 37 Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him. 38 So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face. 39 And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver. 40 And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it. 41 And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets. 42 And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people. 43 And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.
Here is an account of what followed upon the victory which Israel obtained over the Syrians.
I. Ben-hadad's tame and mean submission. Even in his inner chamber he feared, and would, if he could, flee further, though none pursued. His servants, seeing him and themselves reduced to the last extremity, advised that they should surrender at discretion, and make themselves prisoners and petitioners to Ahab for their lives, 1 Kings 20:31; 1 Kings 20:31. The servants will put their lives in their hands, and venture first, and their master will act according as they speed. Their inducement to take this course is the great reputation the kings of Israel had for clemency above any of their neighbours: "We have heard that they are merciful kings, not oppressive to their subjects that are under their power" (as governments then went, that of Israel was one of the most easy and gentle), "and therefore not cruel to their enemies when they lie at their mercy." Perhaps they had this notion of the kings of Israel because they had heard that the God of Israel proclaimed his name gracious and merciful, and they concluded their kings would make their God their pattern. It was an honour to the kings of Israel to be thus represented, as indeed every Israelite is then dressed as becomes him when he puts on bowels of mercies. "They are merciful kings, therefore we may hope to find mercy upon our submission." This encouragement poor sinners have to repent and humble themselves before God. "Have we not heard that the God of Israel is a merciful God? Have we not found him so? Let us therefore rend our hearts and return to him." Joel 2:13. That is evangelical repentance which flows from an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ; there is forgiveness with him. Two things Ben-hadad's servants undertake to represent to Ahab:-- 1. Their master a penitent; for they girded sackcloth on their loins, as mourners, and put ropes on their heads, as condemned criminals going to execution, pretending to be sorry that they had invaded his country and disturbed his repose, and owning that they deserved to be hanged for it. Here they are ready to do penance for it, and throw themselves at the feet of him whom they had injured. Many pretend to repent of their wrong-doing, when it does not succeed, who, if they had prospered in it, would have justified it and gloried in it. 2. Their master a beggar, a beggar for his life: Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, "I pray thee, let me live,1 Kings 20:32; 1 Kings 20:32. Though I live a perpetual exile from my own country, and captive in this, yet, upon any terms, let me live." What a great change is here, (1.) In his condition! How has he fallen from the height of power and prosperity to the depths of disgrace and distress, and all the miseries of poverty and slavery! See the uncertainty of human affairs; such turns are they subject to that the spoke which was uppermost may soon come to be undermost. (2.) In his temper--in the beginning of the chapter hectoring, swearing, and threatening, and none more high in his demands, but here crouching and whining and none more low in his requests! How meanly does he beg hi life at the hand of him upon whom he had there been trampling! The most haughty in prosperity are commonly most abject in adversity: an even spirit will be the same in both conditions. See how God glorified himself when he looks upon proud men and abases them, and hides them in the dust together,Job 40:11-13.
II. Ahab's foolish acceptance of his submission, and the league he suddenly made with him upon it. He was proud to be thus courted by him whom he had feared, and enquired for him with great tenderness: Is he yet alive? He is my brother, brother-king, though not brother-Israelite: and Ahab valued himself more upon his royalty than on his religion, and others accordingly. "Is he thy brother, Ahab? Did he use thee like a brother when he sent thee that barbarous message? 1 Kings 20:5; 1 Kings 20:6. Would he have called thee brother if he had been the conqueror? Would he now have called himself thy servant if he had not been reduced to the utmost strait? Canst thou suffer thyself to be thus imposed upon by a forced and counterfeit submission?" This word brother they caught at (1 Kings 20:33; 1 Kings 20:33), and were thereby encouraged to go and fetch him to the king. He that calls him brother will let him live. Let poor penitents hear God, in his word, calling them children (Jeremiah 31:20), catch at it, echo to it, and call him Father. Ben-hadad, upon his submission, shall not only be honourably conveyed (he took him up into the chariot), but treated with as an ally (1 Kings 20:34; 1 Kings 20:34): he made a covenant with him, not consulting God's prophets, or the elders of the land, or himself, concerning what was fit to be insisted on, but, as if Ben-hadad had been conqueror, he shall make his own terms. He might now have demanded some of Ben-hadad's cities, when all of them lay at the mercy of his victorious army; but was content with the restitution of his own. He might now have demanded the stores, and treasures, and magazines of Damascus, to augment the wealth and strength of his own kingdom, but was content with a poor liberty, at his own expense, to build streets there, a point of honour and no advantage, or no more than what the kings of Syria had had in Samaria, though they had never had so much power as he had now to support the demand of it. With this covenant he sent him away, without so much as reproving him for his blasphemous reflections upon the God of Israel, for whose honour Ahab had no concern. Note, There are those on whom success is ill bestowed; they know not how to serve God, or their generation, or even their own true interests, with their prosperity. Let favour be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness.
III. The reproof given to Ahab for his clemency to Ben-hadad and his covenant with him. It was given him by a prophet, in the name of the Lord, the Jews say by Micaiah, and not unlikely, for Ahab complains of him (1 Kings 22:8; 1 Kings 22:8) that he used to prophesy evil concerning him. This prophet designed to reprove Ahab by a parable, that he might oblige him to condemn himself, as Nathan and the woman of Tekoa did David. To make his parable the more plausible, he finds it necessary to put himself into the posture of a wounded soldier. 1. With some difficulty he gets himself wounded, for he would not wound himself with his own hands. He commanded one of his brother prophets, his neighbour, or companion (for so the word signifies), to smite him, and this in God's name (1 Kings 20:35; 1 Kings 20:35), but finds him not so willing to give the blow as he is to receive it; he refused to smite him: others, he thought, were forward enough to smite prophets, they need not smite one another. We cannot but think it was from a good principle he declined it. "If it must be done, let another do it, not I; I cannot find it in my heart to strike my friend." Good men can much more easily receive a wrongful blow than give one; yet because he disobeyed an express command of God (which was so much the worse if he was himself a prophet), like that other disobedient prophet (1 Kings 13:24; 1 Kings 13:24), he was presently slain by a lion,1 Kings 20:36; 1 Kings 20:36. This was intended, not only to show, in general, how provoking disobedience is (Colossians 3:6), but to intimate to Ahab (who no doubt was told the story) that if a good prophet were thus punished for sparing his friend and God's, when God said, Smite, of much sorer punishment should a wicked king be thought worthy, who spared his enemy and God's, when God said, Smite. Shall mortal man pretend to be more just than God, more pure or more compassionate than his Maker? We must be merciful as he is merciful, and not otherwise. The next he met with made no difficulty of smiting him (Volentinon fit injuria--He that asks for an injury is not wronged by it) and did it so that he wounded him,1 Kings 20:37; 1 Kings 20:37. He fetched blood with the blow, probably in his face. 2. Wounded as he was, and disguised with ashes that he might not be known to be a prophet, he made his application to the king in a story wherein he charged himself with such a crime as the king was now guilty of in sparing Ben-hadad, and waited for the king's judgment upon it. The case in short is this--A prisoner taken in the battle was committed to his custody by a man (we may suppose one that had authority over him as his superior officer) with this charge, If he be missing, thy life shall be for his life,1 Kings 20:39; 1 Kings 20:39. The prisoner has made his escape through his carelessness. Can the chancery in the king's breast relieve him against his captain, who demands his life in lieu of the prisoner's? "By no means," says the king, "thou shouldst either not have undertaken the trust or been more careful and faithful to it; there is no remedy (Currat lex--Let the law take its course), thou hast forfeited thy bond, and execution must go out upon it: So shall thy doom be, thou thyself hast decided it." Now the prophet has what he would have, puts off his disguise, and is known by Ahab himself to be a prophet (1 Kings 20:41; 1 Kings 20:41) and plainly tells him, "Thou art the man. Is it my doom? No, it is thine; thou thyself hast decided it. Out of thy own mouth art thou judged. God, thy superior and commander-in-chief, delivered into thy hands one plainly marked for destruction both by his own pride and God's providence, and thou hast not carelessly lost him, but wittingly and willingly dismissed him, and so hast been false to thy trust, and lost the end of thy victory; expect therefore no other than that thy life shall go for his life, which thou hast spared" (and so it did, 1 Kings 22:35; 1 Kings 22:35), "and thy people for his people, whom likewise thou hast spared," and so they did afterwards, 2 Kings 10:32; 2 Kings 10:33. When their other sins brought them low, this came into the account. There is a time when keeping back the sword from blood is doing the work of the Lord deceitfully,Jeremiah 48:10. Foolish pity spoils the city. 3. We are told how Ahab resented this reproof. He went to his house heavy and displeased (1 Kings 20:43; 1 Kings 20:43), not truly penitent, or seeking to undo what he had done amiss, but enraged at the prophet, exasperated against God (as if he had been too severe in the sentence passed upon him), and yet vexed at himself, every way out of humour, notwithstanding his victory. He who by his providence had mortified the pride of one king, by his word cast a damp upon the triumphs of another. Be wise therefore, O you kings! and be instructed to serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling,Psalms 2:10; Psalms 2:11.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on 1 Kings 20:38". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/1-kings-20.html. 1706.
The days were very dark in Israel. Not only rebellion. And rebellion, always serious, was peculiarly so in Israel, for there it was insubordination in a direct manner against not only God's providence, but God's government. That government, as no other, was the direct action through the family that God Himself had chosen to govern His people, and therefore the very fact of their being the people of God made their insubordination to be so much the more grievous. For there cannot be a more false maxim than to bring in the question of whether people are God's children to apply it to present circumstances in order to mitigate the judgment of any evil thing that is done by them. In fact, the very thought is a pollution, and shows that souls must have departed from God, whenever the fact of the grace of God towards any person could be used in order to mitigate the gravity of their guilt against God. It is evident that if sin be always sin, the aggravation of the sin is the favour that God has shown the person that is guilty of it, and the nearer the relationship of the person that is guilty the greater the sin. Hence, even in Israel, God did not require the same sacrifice from one of the common people that He did from the ruler, nor did He look for that from a ruler which He did from the congregation as a whole; and the high priest, although he was only one man the high priest's guilt as being that of (in early days at any rate) the representative of Jehovah on the earth in Israel as king, became Israel's guilt. The high priest's sin had precisely this same effect, that is, it damaged the communion of the whole people, just as the whole people's guilt would have interfered with, or affected, him. But now we see the very darkness and evil of the people of God for here we have to do not with a family, not with His children in the true and Christian sense of the word; but we have to do with a people under the government of Jehovah in having now set up, not the fullest form of apostasy from God, but that which was verging towards it the first great departure from God, religiously as well as politically.
In the setting up of the calves of gold founded upon antiquity, no doubt, but an ancient sin having gone back as men will, not to ancient purity, but to ancient sin, so it was a divided allegiance, nominally to Jehovah. They had not yet cast Him off entirely, but really there was the worship of the golden calves. But dark as this day was, it only furnished the occasion for God to cause a new light to shine the light of prophecy. It always gives a grand testimony for God, and if that light be always alight, when would it shine most? When the darkness was greatest. So then we find it coming out now in a very conspicuous manner, even in a richer and fuller form, as we know it afterwards did when not merely the ten tribes of Judah were departing from God. Then we have the grand burst of prophecy in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and all the rest, not to speak of the Minor Prophets. But here we have a peculiar form prophecy not merely in word but in deed the blending of miracle. For these are miraculous signs, as well as wonders. Indeed, this is a very common thing in the miracles that God causes to be done by His servants, that is, even what was done teaches. The facts speak out the mind of God, and so it was in the case of Elijah. He is introduced most abruptly. The occasion required it. It was high time for God to interfere. There is no preparation of the way. It was a question of God, and God accordingly works by His servant.
But this remarkable planting of prophecy on miracle is found, not in Judah, but in Israel. The reason is manifest. Judah maintained still, however guiltily, the word of the Lord. Israel had virtually cast it off. Accordingly, therefore, having sunk into the place of the faithless they would have signs offered to them, as the apostle Paul shows that miracles are for the unbelieving. Prophecy, in the Christian sense of the word, no doubt as such when compared and contrasted with miracles prophecy is for the church. Thus you see we find that the double character remarkably suits the case. On the one hand it was Israel, and, consequently, there is prophecy; on the other hand it was Israel faithless or unbelieving, and consequently there were miracles, that is, there were signs to unbelievers at the same time that there was prophecy planted with them. So that the perfect wisdom and harmony of the dealings of God with the grand principles of truth that are found throughout the word of God, I think, must be apparent to any person who will consider what has been just brought before him.
Elijah, then, gives to Ahab a most solemn warning of the first great miracle which was itself a prophecy. He says, "There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." He does not say merely, "According to Jehovah's word." Had it been simply according to Jehovah's word it would have been simply a prophecy; but "according to my word" made it miraculous as well as prophetical. He was in the secret of Jehovah; he was an announcer of Jehovah's mind, but more than that, he was the executor of Jehovah's purpose; that is, there was prophecy in deed as well as in word, and this we have seen to be most suitable to the circumstance of the case.
The word of Jehovah, then, bids him flee. He has been bold in telling the king the guilty king. But now that his testimony has been rendered, and that the fearful calamity that the restraint of dew or rain for years must be particularly in the east that this was about to fall upon the people and to be connected indeed in a measure with the prophetic, and not merely with God, would have at once exposed him to the resentment of a wicked people and their king. God therefore bids His servant for it must not be a mere resource, still less a question of timidity, but according to the word of Jehovah to flee and hide himself by the brook Cherith. Yet even in this hiding-place he brings out the illustrious power of God, and His care for His servant, for God had many ways of watching over him. He chose one that suited His own glory. He says, "I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there" birds which, as we all know, are remarkable for their voracity. These were the birds that were ordered to feed the prophet. "So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord, for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening."
Undoubtedly, it was a solemn sign to Israel when it came to be known by them that is, that the unclean should be rather the instruments of the action of God, the medium of caring for His prophet. It was, I say, a witness to them that they were even below what God had commanded to feed His prophet. It was not to be some particular person. Yet at this very time we know that there was one that God employed. But no, God would prove before all Israel how little His sympathies were with the people how completely He was independent of all such action. He would care for His prophet Himself, and in a way suitable to His own glory. So after a season the brook dries up, but not before God had another purpose in hand. He sends him now to a place outside the land, to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon. And how important this is, our Lord Himself teaches us, for in Luke 4:1-44 the Saviour particularly selects this fact, as well as another that will come before us in the Second Book of Kings, as the witness of grace to the Gentile when the Jew had accounted himself unworthy of the government of Jehovah. Grace must work somewhere or other if the chosen people cast it out from them and will have none of it. God will not permit that brook to dry up, for the waters shall only flow in a fuller volume for the refreshment of weary souls elsewhere. And thus it is that God is always above the evil of man, and that the deeper the evil, God's goodness only shines the more.
So the widow of Zarephath, or Sarepta, as it is called in the New Testament, becomes the favoured one. She is met in great desolation. She is reduced to the lowest state. The prophet makes no small demands upon her pity, he puts her faith thoroughly to the test, and says what, if he had not been a prophet, and if it had not been a trial of faith, would have been a most cruel and selfish word, for with what face could a man, as a man, have asked her out of her little her last meal to provide first for him and then for herself and her son? But this was exactly the trial of it. God, when He gives a trial of faith, does not pare it down so as to spoil the very force of His blessing; but contrariwise. The greater the faith the more He tries, and if any one makes up his mind for slighting the practical cross in this world the sense of what it is to have the dying of the Lord Jesus that man will be tried in that very way. So this poor woman. She was in circumstances next door to death, and it is evident that God was far from giving her by the prophet, as He could easily have done, a barrel of meal to encourage her and the cruse to begin marvelously supplying oil. This would have spoiled the whole teaching of the Lord. Not so. Everything adds to the difficulty. This stranger-prophet that she never saw, never heard of before, is entirely unnoticed, and indeed, I think, we are warranted rather to gather that it was her first sight, and it may be, the first sound even of the prophet Elijah.
But still there is that, as in the word of God, so also in the prophet of God in a man of God that gives confidence where there is faith. Very likely it will shock and provoke the flesh; very likely it will give ground for unbelief there, for you will find this to be most true that the very same things which are a support to faith are the stumbling-block to unbelief; but however that may be, God in no wise softened the trial, but brought it out to her in all its apparent harshness and difficulty. But He strengthens the heart to meet the trial, and we must never leave out this, which does not appear, and it is one of the beautiful features of the Old Testament.
Here we get the facts. The New Testament shows us the key that is behind. The New Testament lets us see every now and then, as, for instance, in this very case. There was the electing grace of God that wrought in this widow just as in the case of Naaman the Syrian. There were many widows in Israel; God chose this one outside Israel. There were many lepers; it was not there that the grace of God was running, but it was towards the Syrian towards the great captain of their great enemy, for Syria was, at this time, perhaps their greatest foe. But if grace works God will prove that it is grace. He will show that there is no ground for acceptancy which indeed would deprive it of its character of grace if there was any ground to look for it. Well then, the widow acts upon the word of the prophet, and not without a solemn word which he received. "For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days."
But there was a greater trial still, for all this was either the sustenance of the prophet or the sustenance of those who were dying, as it were, from the famine, along with the prophet. But now comes another thing death. And it is evident that there are no discharges for man in that war. There a man is utterly foiled. There, at least, he must feel the vanity of his pretensions. And so it came to pass that God would give a witness of that. It was manifestly above man, for soon the only son of the widow fell sick and died; and this searches the woman's conscience, and she thinks of her sins and she spreads it out before the prophet the lamentable, irreparable loss, as she supposed, of her son. But he asked for the dead body and he cries to Jehovah, and he stretches himself upon the child three times a most unmeaning thing without the Lord. But the Lord would give the sign of interest, of tender interest, and the use of means even to any other, but not so with Him. We know still that He is pleased to use according to His own power, and I must make a little remark upon this.
There is a common idea that prevails, even among Christians, that miracles mean the setting aside of the natural laws of God. They mean nothing of the sort. The natural laws of God the laws that He has been pleased to stamp upon creation are not altered by a miracle. They go on all the same. Men are brought into the world; men die. There is not an alteration of that. That goes on. What a miracle is, is not the reversal of what are called these natural laws, but the introduction of the power of God to withdraw from the operation of them in a particular case. The laws remain precisely the same as before. The laws are not altered, but an individual is withdrawn from the operation of those laws. That is another thing altogether, and this is the true and only true application of the thought. This alone is the truth as to a miracle. So in this present case there was no question at all about setting aside the ordinary operation of death. God acted according to His own sovereign will, but the same sovereign will that orders the creation and deals with each soul in it was pleased to withdraw a particular person for His own glory. This does not interfere, I repeat, with the ordinary course of nature, except in that one particular case or those cases where God has been pleased to do it. And in this instance Jehovah heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived, and Elijah takes him and gives him to his mother, who at once owns the God of Israel.
In the next chapter (1 Kings 18:1-46), however, we have Elijah called to show himself to Ahab, and now comes the great testimony to the guilt of the people. The restraint of all that would refresh the earth from the heavens had passed over the people a most solemn sign, for it was not merely water turned into blood, or various blows which fell upon the earth, but the very heavens were withdrawn from all the kindness of which they are the medium from all the refreshment that God is pleased to give this earth. This was a far more solemn thing than anything that had been done in previous days, even with a stranger-people with an enemy. But now the time was come for God to terminate this chastisement, and Elijah comes to show himself to the king.
"And there was a sore famine in Samaria, and Ahab called Obadiah which was the governor of his house" who, singular to say, "feared Jehovah" feared Him "greatly." So wondrous are the ways of the Lord, and so little are we prepared; for the last place in this world where we would have looked for a servant of the Lord would have been the house of Ahab. Yet so it was. Do we not well to enlarge our thoughts? We should take in the wondrous ways of God's wisdom, as well as of His goodness. God had a purpose there, for this comes out. "It was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of Jehovah, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water." And why I make the remark, beloved friends, is this, that as there was a failure of Elijah, it is apt to be our failure. We are constantly in danger of forgetting what is not before our eyes. We are in danger of failing to identify ourselves with that which God is doing outside of what, I have no doubt, is the more honourable path; for it was a poor place for a servant of Jehovah to be in the house of Ahab, though it was a great honour, for God gave him to feed these prophets by fifty in a cave even in the face of Jezebel.
But Ahab now says to Obadiah, "Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks." This gives occasion to Obadiah's meeting Elijah. Elijah bids him go and tell the king that he was there. Obadiah declined. "What have I sinned?" said he, for indeed it troubled him to appear to disobey a prophet "What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab to slay me? As Jehovah thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee." We can understand therefore why Elijah was fed by ravens. "And when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not. And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of Jehovah shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I, thy servant, fear Jehovah from my youth." And so he tells of what he had done to the prophets. Elijah, however, says: "As Jehovah liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself unto him today."
So Obadiah, with this pledge of the, prophet, goes and tells his master; and Ahab meets Elijah. He meets him as wicked men do. He throws the blame of all the trouble not upon the sinner, but upon the denouncer of the sin; not upon himself, the most guilty man in Israel, but upon the servant of Jehovah. And Elijah answers, "I have not troubled Israel" answers the king of Israel who taxes him with it "but thou" for this was the truth "but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table." It was a challenge given a fair and open challenge by the prophet. It was to be a question between God and Baal, and this was to be decided by Elijah on the one hand and these prophets on the other. So Ahab sends to all, and all gather together. "And Elijah came unto all the people and said, "How long halt ye between two opinions? if Jehovah be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of Jehovah; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under; and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of Jehovah: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken."
And so it was done. Elijah tells the prophets to choose the bullock, and dress it first; and so they do. "And they called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice" for Elijah would make them feel their folly and their wickedness "that there was neither voice nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of Jehovah that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones," for there must be the testimony always of the full people of God. No surer mark will you find throughout the whole of the Old Testament of the line and direction which the Spirit of God gives of what is according to Himself than this, that even though it were a man isolated as no man ever more felt himself to be than Elijah, nevertheless, that man's heart was with the whole people of God. Therefore it was not merely ten stones to represent the actual number of the tribes that he was immediately concerned with, but twelve. That is, his soul took in the people of God in their whole twelve-tribe nationality as God's people, for faith never can do less than that. Never can it content itself with a part; it must have all God's people for God. This is what, at any rate, his soul desired, and this is what his faith contemplated, and on this the judgment was to take its course.
"And Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob unto whom the word of Jehovah came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: and with the stones he built an altar in the name of Jehovah; and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood." There must be the fullest proof here that, if on the one hand, in trying the poor Gentile widow there was no weakening of the trial, so still less where God's own honour was concerned, and the disproof of Baal's pretensions. Therefore it was not anything that would feed the fire, but rather put it out if it were fire from man. "Fill four barrels with water and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time." There was therefore the fullest witness on his part.
"And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near "not merely the people to him, but the prophet to the Lord. He drew near to that which was to be the witness of His power, of His testimony, of His own name and glory "and said, Jehovah God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word." How blessed! It was a secret between God and His prophet, but it was a secret divulged now before there was any answer that all the profit of the answer might belong to the people and that the word of the Lord might be enhanced and glorified in their eyes.
"Hear me, O Jehovah, hear me, that this people may know that thou art Jehovah God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of Jehovah fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, Jehovah, he is the God; Jehovah, he is the God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there." For we must remember, and it is an important thing in looking at all these operations of the ancient testimonies of God to understand it, that a prophet had his warrant for what he did from God that not only the word of the Lord, but the power of God that accompanied it, was his warrant. Therefore we do not find God and the prophet at all acting according to the mere letter of the law. It was not that the law was set aside any more than, as I said before, the natural laws of creation are set aside in the case of a miracle. Prophecy did not set aside the law of the Lord, but prophecy was the special intervention of the law of the Lord and the ways of the Lord without any setting aside of the law. The law had its course where the law was owned, but these prophets who were acting thus were where the law was not owned, and, accordingly, there God acted according to His sovereignty. It was therefore no infraction of the law. The law had its own place according to its own proper sphere, but where it was disowned and where there was idolatry set up instead, there God acted according to His own sovereignty.
Accordingly, it was no question of going up to the temple at Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice. It was no question of calling in the priests or anything of that kind; it was enough that God warranted, and the power of God that accompanied was the sanction of His warrant to this prophet. And what could have been more so than the fire of Jehovah coming down even to the altar, licking up all the water in the trench? And it is the more remarkable, too, that this very character of miracle is what Satan will imitate in the latter day. The same power that God used, either in the days of Elijah when it was a question of Jehovah, or in the days of the Lord Jesus, when it was a question of Messiah, will be imitated by the devil, and will deceive the world, for fire is to come down from heaven in the sight of men in the latter day. It is not said, really, but, "in the sight of men." As far as men can see it will be the fire of Jehovah. It will not be really so. But this will completely ensnare men, who will then, more than ever, be on the watch for material proofs and present instances of the power of God. The whole story of evidences will have been exploded as a fable, and men will no longer attach any importance to the record of what they consider the myths of Scripture! Indeed, they have come to that already. These very facts that carry the stamp of divine truth upon their face are now treated as the mythology of Israel, just as the miracles of the New Testament are treated as the mythology of Christianity. And the one effort of learning on the part of men of the world, now is, in general, to account for it to trace their connection with the fables of the heathen in one form or another. Clearly all this is dissolving, as much as possible, confidence in the word. And then will come something positive, not merely a negative destruction of the true testimony of God, but the positive appearance before their eyes of the very same power. Thus man between these two forces will fall a victim to his own folly and to the power of Satan.
But there is more than this. Elijah now says to Ahab, "Get thee up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of abundance of rain." Yes, but no ear of man on earth heard that sound but Elijah's. "The secret of Jehovah is with them that fear him." And Elijah goes up, as well as the king, and casts himself down upon the earth, puts his face between his knees and sends his servant to look. He had heard the sound, but he wanted to get the testimony of the sight from his servant. His servant goes, and looks, but sees nothing. "And he said, Go again, seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time" patience must have its perfect work in every case "that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand." It was enough. Elijah said, "Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. And it came to pass in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. And the hand of Jehovah was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel."
Now that the judgment had taken its course, he was willing and ready to be a servant of the king. But if Elijah was willing to serve the king, and did so as no man could have served him without the power of God strengthening him running and keeping up with his chariot at full speed Ahab was not prepared to serve the Lord one wit the more. "And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had, done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there" (1 Kings 19:1-21).
What! Elijah? Elijah? What is man? What is he to be accounted of? Elijah quails not at the message of the Lord. There was no quailing there, but there is at this message of Jezebel's! And thus it is that the greatest triumphs of faith often precede the greatest failure; for, beloved friends, it is not triumph that, keeps a man, it is dependence. There is nothing that has preservative power but self-emptiness, which looks to God and His resources. And this, we see, Elijah did not now, for though he was a wondrous man he was a man, and here the point is not his wonders but that he was a man, and a man that listens to Jezebel instead of looking to God. What was she to be accounted of? What was he now to be accounted of? No, there is not one of us that is worthy of one single thing apart from the Lord Jesus, and it is only just so far as we can, because of our confidence in Jesus and in His grace, afford to be nothing, that we are rich, and then we are rich indeed. If content to be so poor as to be only dependent upon the Lord we are truly rich. Elijah trembles for himself. There was the secret of it. He could not tremble for God, and he was not thinking of God, but of Elijah. No wonder therefore he shows what Elijah was what Elijah was without God.
He went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree, and he requested for himself that he might die. It is not but what we see the man of God, but still the man who was tired of life. That was not a feeling of faith. There is very often much more faith in being willing to live than in wishing to die. Wishing to die is not the proof of faith at all. I grant you that no man that knows what death is, that knows what judgment is, that knows what sin is, that knows what God is, could wish to die unless he knew the Saviour. But having known the Saviour we may wince under the trial to which we are exposed in this world. Elijah did, and he wished to die, wished to get out of the trial certainly a most unbelieving wish. The Lord never did. And there was the perfection of it. If the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane had wished to die it would have been the same failure. It could not be, and God forbid such a thought, but on the contrary the perfection of the Lord Jesus was that He did not wish to die "Not my will, but thine be done." On the contrary, He felt death, and He felt the gravity. I grant you, there was all the difference between the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and that of any other. In any other case death is a gain. Death to a believer is gain, but still we ought not to wish to gain till the Lord's time comes for it. We ought to wish to do His will, the only right wish for a saint. He said, "It is enough; now, O Jehovah, take away my life." He was impatient. "Take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers." Yet he was running away from Jezebel. He was vexed; he was unhappy. He now fails after his testimony. He, was miserable now, but after all he wanted not to die when Jezebel wanted to take his life, and now that he is here he wants to die.
So "as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of Jehovah came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights." There are those that would try to throw a question upon this one transaction on the ground of its similarity to Moses, and even to the blessed Lord; but I meet all that in the face and say they are not similar not one of them. They are each of them different. They are each exactly constituted to the particular case, and if we lost one we should have a positive gap in the scheme of divine truth. And what is the difference? Why in Moses' case there was no eating at all; no eating and drinking. It was the presence of Jehovah the enjoyed and applied presence and power of Jehovah that proved its power of sustaining, even if the people must learn that it was not with bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Surely God's own presence had not less power to sustain the man that was in it in the way that the children of Israel were not, than the manna that came down from Him.
But more than that. In the Lord Jesus Christ's case there was this difference. There we get perfection. It was not in the presence of Jehovah in the presence of His Father here it was in the presence of Satan,. and there He was kept, because He and He alone was found in the power of dependence upon God by faith. Where there was not the visible display of His presence and His glory there is nothing like the sustaining power of dependence and faith. And the Lord Jesus showed us that in its full perfection in the presence of the enemy. Thus you see the cases are all different. Elijah's was decidedly the lowest one of the three, for there there was the gift of that which miraculously sustained. It was not the power of the Lord alone without, anything, but it was what God gave power to sustain. It was therefore more what was conferred. In Moses' case it was what, was enjoyed, not conferred. It was not things or creature-things used to give him power, but it was the Creator Himself that was enjoyed. And in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ it was the Creator Himself in the most perfect self-abnegation, and dependence upon His Father.
Well, the prophet now goes forth to a cave, or the cave, for it seems to be some special one, and lodged there. "Behold the word of Jehovah [came] to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for Jehovah God of hosts." The presence of God always brings out our true state invariably. So we find in the case of the companions of our Lord Jesus Christ. Directly they get near enough to the glory they go to sleep. It does not matter whether it is glory or whether it is sorrow. There is no power in flesh, even in a saint of God nor in a prophet. There was no power to enter in either instance. The men that sleep upon the mount sleep at Gethsemane. There was One that slept not; there was only one.
And now Elijah's trial comes, and, "What doest thou here?" brings out the state of his heart. "I have been very jealous." "I have been very jealous." There was the point. It was Elijah. Elijah was full of Elijah. "I have been very jealous for the Jehovah God of hosts for the children of Israel" that was his first thought. It was not that God was not in his thoughts. He was a true saint, and I trust that no soul will admit such a thought as that I wish to lower him. But I do wish to exalt the Lord; and I do wish to draw out the profit and the blessing of the word of the Lord; and I say, beloved friends, rather than that He should not have His glory, let every man be a liar. "I have been very jealous for Jehovah God of hosts; for the children of Israel have, forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with. the sword, and I, even I, only am left." It was not true. It was not "I, even I, only." He was wrong. It was not that what he said was the smallest approach to deceit. There was no deceit about Elijah none. But it was the blinding power of self even in a most true saint of God, for self always blinds, and the one and only thing that gives us to see clearly is when self is judged. "When thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light." Now singleness of eye means that instead of having self as the centre which is occupied with every object around, or, at any rate, with such objects as engage me for the moment one object fills me. The eye is single then, and then only.
That was not the case with Elijah. God was not his first thought. Self was possessing his mind as well as God. It was not what God was for Elijah, but what Elijah was for God. After he was grieved and wounded this is what it came to "I, even I, only." "And he said, Go forth and stand upon the mount before Jehovah. And behold Jehovah passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before Jehovah; but Jehovah was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but Jehovah was not in the earthquake." The Lord was not there either. "And after the earthquake a fire, but Jehovah was not in the fire." He was not in any of these exertions of judicial power. The time will come for wind, and earthquake, and fire, but not yet. It was the due testimony. It was the testimony for the prophet to bring in God, for that is the very business of the prophet to bring in God, as we see in 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 that where there is prophecy, the man, if he were an unbeliever, is smitten in his conscience and falls down and says, "God is in you of a truth." That is the effect of it the sense of the presence of God being there, not merely in the person that prophesies. It is not that God is in the prophet, but God is in you, the people of God in the assembly of God a much more important thing than even in the prophet.
And so now, God was in none of these exertions of judicial power all most truly of God, but still they were of God and not God. Where was He? And how? "After the fire a still small voice." Who would have thought of finding God there? None. None, perhaps, save those that have seen Jesus. Elijah learns, but he never would have thought of it. He learns it. He never could have anticipated it. He could follow, and does follow. He had to be taught. He needed it. "And it was so when Elijah heard it" for he was a true man of God "that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?" Was he brought down to the true point yet? Not quite yet. He said, "I have been very jealous." There he is again. "I have been very jealous." There it is again. "I have been . . . the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I, only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away. And Jehovah said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha" solemn word that for Elijah! "Elisha, the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room."
Elijah's work Elijah's proper work was closed. It was not that he died yet for indeed he was not to die, but to be translated nor was it that he did not yet wonderful deeds. It was not that there was not a lingering. But he was sentenced. He was sentenced to die, as it were. His proper work was closed, and this, too, because, as far as he was concerned, as far as the ability went, as far as he had failed to answer according to the grace of God towards His people he had failed just as another before him had failed, and there is a singular resemblance between the two. Moses had failed at a most critical point before. Moses had not sanctified Jehovah when the great trial came, for when Jehovah was full of grace towards the people, Moses, smitten by the people's dishonour that they had put upon him and his brother, resented it, and Moses would have brought out something judicial. Moses would have liked the wind or the earthquake, or the fire, just as Elijah would. He would have liked to have burnt up Jezebel and all the rest of them. No doubt they deserved it, no doubt of it. But where was God in it? Where was God? Was this what God had called him to? Elijah failed the Lord at this most serious crisis in the dealing with His people. Instead of sanctifying Him he had, on the contrary, isolated himself, and here separated himself from the twelve tribes. He no longer, as it were, reared the twelve stones for an altar for all Israel before the Lord God: He found the Lord true to His name, but Elijah now was filled with the thought of his own injured honour his own slighted place his own power before Jezebel. Elijah accordingly was in a complaining, murmuring spirit. Even though a most true man of God, there was no real representation of the Lord God of Israel in such a state, and the consequence is Elijah not only must call forth others for whatever God gave them in His providence to do, but he must hand over his prophetic gift to another man in his room. It was a solemn word from God for Elijah.
And mark, too, how completely God shows the connection of this. "Yet I have left me," says He, "after all you have been saying as to 'I, and I only' yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him." A sorrowful tale that it should be so that out of all the thousands of Israel there should be but seven thousand; but still there were seven thousand, instead of Elijah, and Elijah alone, left. Elijah was wrong, and he was wrong most of all because he had not known this from the Lord. He ought to have known it, for I am persuaded of this, that where our heart is with the Lord, where we look for God, the shall see God. No doubt if people are always on the hunt for evil they will always find evil enough in such a world as this, and there is no great spirituality in seeing and pronouncing upon evil. The great thing is whether we are able to bring down the goodness of Christ to meet the evil and the difficulty. This is where faith really shows itself, not in finding fault only, and finding this or that that is not correct that is easy enough and requires no power at all, but the other does, and it requires what is greater than power grace willingness and delight of heart for that which is good.
Now Elijah failed there, and failing there he failed God, for certainly these were very precious to God, and Elijah had not seen one of them, did not know one of them, did not suspect the existence of one. If Elijah had not thought so much about himself he would have seen some of these seven thousand before, and so too, with ourselves; for I am quite persuaded that while the Lord has given us a most special place, and a place of communion with His own mind in the present ruined state of the church of God, still we must not forget the seven thousand. We must not forget that there are those that we do not see that we do not meet with that we are not in the habit of having to do with, but we must leave room for them in our hearts, in our faith. We must bear them on our soul before God. If not, the Lord has a controversy with every one who does not, as He had with Elijah then. And be assured of this, beloved friends, it is of the very greatest importance for our own souls, as well as for God's glory, that He has these, and the only question is whether we give credit for it and whether our souls take it in, not as a mere thing that we believe, but as that which acts upon our hearts, which draws us out in prayer, in intercession, in care, and in desire for every one of these seven thousand every one of the lips that have not kissed Baal.
Well, the next thing is that he finds Elisha, for that comes first, though mentioned last. He finds Elisha. "And Elijah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah," for he understood the act, "and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee? And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose."
You see there was at once the free action of prophetic power. Had he not had the mantle of Elijah he would not have been authorized to act as he did. Who is he to sacrifice thus? He understood it; he understood it well, and you observe it was not merely the return to his parents. It was not that God was not in his thoughts. He sacrificed the oxen. It was not only the thought of natural relationships. "Then he arose and went after Elijah and ministered unto him." Now the Lord does not rebuke that. Where He is concerned He rebuked it, but Elijah was not the Lord, and there was just the difference between them. Elijah had not that all-absorbing claim that was to supersede a father and a mother; but the Lord Jesus had, and therefore it was a sign of want of perception, want of faith, for the man mentioned in the New Testament to wish to go back even though it were to bury his father. That might be a great deal more, surely, than kissing father or mother as a farewell to bury him. Surely it was impossible for nature to stand out against that, but this is the very thing the Lord God of heaven and earth was there, and the very first point of faith is that His claim should be paramount; he was not even to go and first bury his father. Christ first, and not even the burial of one's father!
In the next chapter (1 Kings 20:1-43) and on this I shall not dwell long we are in the presence, for the most part, of the national place of Israel with their enemies, but yet we have the singular fact that even when judgment was approaching on the people, still when evil was judged, when the Lord was owned, He owns His people, a thing which people often wonder at. Look, for instance, at the religious world now. Well, does any one of us who understands the nature of the church of God doubt what God thinks of that which is going on under the name of the Lord Jesus there? Does any one of us doubt how horrible is the system of clergy? I am not speaking of any particular body, but of all, for to me it makes no difference whether it is clergy of Rome or clergy of anything else. It is all the same principle, for it is the direct dishonour of the Holy Ghost, and yet, beloved friends, does not God own the preaching of His word and of His gospel there? I am never surprised if there should be, apparently, ten times more effect produced in that which is flagrantly contrary to God than in that which is according to Him, and I will tell you why. If you are come out to see wonders wrought and to see great things done you have made a great mistake; and if you are caught by such things you will fall into a serious error, and you will lose the place of blessing to which you are called. Do not be deceived; we are come out to the word of the Lord. We are come out to that Person that was sent down from heaven to represent the Lord Jesus Christ here, and it is no question of what results; it is no question of great things done. On the contrary, wherever anything on our part becomes great, or becomes an object, or becomes something for us, depend upon it there is something human in it undiscovered; there is something of nature that is unjudged infallibly so. We are called to the despised One, we are called to the rejected One, and it is not merely so, but we are called out of what is broken or ruined, and anything that would gainsay the breach and the ruin is not true in the sight of God; and if so I say that unless our souls are prepared to cleave to the Spirit of God and the word of God, apart from all appearances, we are unworthy of the place that God has given us.
And therefore, shall one be jealous of the mighty grace of God working? I rejoice in it. Why, there are persons that get their thousands where we get our tens, and shall I not rejoice in these thousands that go to hear, even though it may be a most imperfect testimony though it may be mixed with a great deal that is fleshly and contrary to God? Shall we not rejoice that God awakens souls and that souls are brought to Him; that there were hundreds converted, if there were hundreds, or that there were thousands converted, if there were thousands? Certainly, let God do it. We love to hear of it. So we find in this very case, because, after all, it is a great mercy in the midst of the ritualism and infidelity of the day, that there are persons, although they are hand in glove with ritualists and rationalists, yet who, for all that, are preaching Christ. Most miserable that they are obliged to own, perhaps, a rationalistic bishop, or a ritualistic one! But yet for all that, they are godly men, and they preach the gospel as far as they know the gospel, and are blest often largely: I do not say deeply. You will never find the man in that state who has got, what I should call, solid peace. At least I have never seen one, and I have seen many; but I do say that, although you will not find a deep work in that state, you will find an extensive one, and that is exactly what I bless God for, because if it seemed to be deep it would not be true. You cannot have what is deep where things are false, but you may have a wide scattering of the seed and a great extent, apparently, of result from it, and you may have that which looks very fair, because there is nothing that keeps up weakness so much as great appearances. Well, that is the case there. And accordingly one can rejoice, and the more so because judgment is coming; and therefore that God should gather out of what is going to be judged is what one delights in.
So it was here. The Lord had partially dealt with the evil in Israel. He had smitten down, and Ahab was there and had seen it, and these prophets had been destroyed by the mere prophet of God, Elijah himself, and God was free therefore to give an apparent blessing and a real blessing, as far as it went.
A most remarkable change takes place. Benhadad besieges Samaria, and God, by the direction of a prophet, sends out even the feeble part of the army, because there must be honour put upon that which is known not the warriors, but the armour-bearers and the Syrians are demolished, and they learn not that God was against them. No, it was "the god of the hills." They knew very well that Samaria was a hill, and Jerusalem was a hill, and they thought that the Jehovah God of Israel was only a god of the hills. Well, the next time they would go into the valleys and they would see whether the God of Israel was able to meet, them there; but the God of Israel was the God of the hills and of the valleys as much as of the hills; and there they are beaten more disastrously on the second occasion than on the first, for there was a challenge given by them and God answers, and they were overwhelmed.
Well, one might have thought to look at the outside, "What a good state Ahab was in now," or, "The children of Israel." Not at all. They are going to be thoroughly judged, but inasmuch as there was a measure of the outward holding of the true God a measure of truth and of honesty so far the king was a party. He was in the presence of the slaughter of the prophets of Baal. God did, so far, grant this outward mercy from His hand. The enemies of Israel were utterly put to nought, and yet, for all that, there was no soundness in the king. And this became apparent from another circumstance deeply to be considered by us. When Ben-hadad now fled, a man that had been so bold and vaunting, his servants said unto him, "Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life. So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Ben-hadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother. Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy brother Ben-hadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Ben-hadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot. And Ben-hadad said unto him, The cities which my father took from thy father I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. Then said Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him, and sent him away."
But God had seen and God had heard. "And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his neighbour in the word of Jehovah, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man refused to smite him. Then said he unto him, Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of Jehovah, behold, as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion shall slay thee." And so it was. He found another man. He said the same. The man smote him and wounded him. Now he could be a sign a sign to king Ahab and he goes. "And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver. And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it. And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and the king of Israel discerned him that he was of the prophets. And he said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall be for his life, and thy people for his people. And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria."
Mercy is not always of God. There are times when God's honour is concerned, when mercy is a curse, when mercy is purely human and purely according to self-will, and the more deceitful because it seems so fair. There are times when to spare the enemy of the Lord is to fail entirely in meeting the Lord's will and the Lord's glory. And so it was now, and we too have to do with the very same principle; and let us look to it, beloved friends, that whenever the time comes to stand firm, though it may seem to be showing an unkindness though it may seem to be a rejecting those that would gladly avail themselves of mercy on the contrary we are bound to be firm against that which overthrows the glory of the Lord. God only can show us when mercy is right, and when it is fatal. Ahab entirely failed the Lord, and this becomes most apparent in the next chapter, on which I will not dwell in this lecture. The vineyard of Naboth becomes an object, and Ahab cowers before the difficulty even of that which he coveted. But the wife had none. Possessed of not one link of feeling with the people of God, an enemy, although the wife of the king of Israel it was nothing to her to rob an Israelite. It was nothing to her to shed the blood of the guiltless. It was nothing to her to fly in the face of the Lord Jehovah, and what her weak and guilty husband shrank from she stimulates him to. Jezebel has therefore an undying, but a most miserable memory in the word of God, and the last book of Scripture does not fail still to bring before us the sad character and way of Jezebel for our instruction.
So Naboth perishes, but his blood was watched by the Lord, and the word comes forth, too, in consequence, through Elijah. "Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it. And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine. And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of Jehovah. Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every man child, and him that is shut up and left in, Israel, and will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and made Israel to sin. And of Jezebel also spake Jehovah, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat" (1 Kings 21:18-24).
Nevertheless, Ahab humbled himself, and in consequence the judgment lingers, and the word of the Lord meets his trembling heart as he humbled himself and walked softly. The blow was only to fall in the days of his sons. Ahab reigns; his next son reigns too. On Jehoram it falls. The word of the Lord never fails. But for all that we find in the very next chapter that this same man is led away by false spirits, by evil prophets, and that he is slain according to the word of a true prophet of Jehovah, and the dogs do lick up his blood, and his son succeeds him. And then Jehoshaphat reigns, but the chapter does not end before we have another, and a most sorrowful, picture, for the pious king of Judah seeks an alliance with the guilty, idolatrous king of Israel. Oh, what a solemn warning this is for us, for it was not merely that the guilty man sought him, but he sought the guilty king of Israel. And what was the consequence? He becomes the servant of Israel's wicked purposes. Never does the king of Israel join in what was of God. You never can, by an alliance with what is unfaithful, raise or recover the unfaithful. The faithful man sinks to the level of the unfaithful, instead of lifting the unfaithful out of his infidelity.
I need not say more now. I commit the whole details of it as most profitable for every soul that respects and loves the word of the Lord.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on 1 Kings 20:38". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/1-kings-20.html. 1860-1890.
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14