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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Elijah

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THE prophet Elijah towers up like a mountain in Gilead above all the other prophets. There is a solitary grandeur about Elijah that is all his own. There is a mystery and an unearthliness about Elijah that is all his own. There is a volcanic suddenness, and a volcanic violence, indeed, about all Elijah's descents upon us and all his disappearances from us. We call him Elijah the Tishbite, but we are no wiser of that. We do not even know where Tishbe is. Elijah has neither father nor mother. As Elijah never died, so he was never born, as we are born. Elijah came from God, and he went to God. Elijah stood before God till God could dispense with and spare Elijah out of His presence no longer. Elijah's very name will tell you all that, and more than all that, concerning both Elijah and his father and his mother, Eli-jah-my God is Jehovah. You may know the hearts of fathers and mothers to some extent, even among ourselves, by the names they give to their children. And I leave you to judge what kind of a father and mother they must have been who so boldly coined out of Moses, and out of their own hearts, this magnificent name for their circumcised child. Elijah had a heavenly name, but he had, to begin with, but an earthly nature. Elijah was a man, to begin with, subject to like passions as we are. Elijah was a man, indeed, of passions all compact. We never see Elijah that he is not subject to some passion or other. A passion of scorn and contempt; a passion of anger and revenge; a passion of sadness and dejection and despair; a passion of preaching; a passion of prayer. Elijah was a great man. There was a great mass of manhood in Elijah. He was a Mount-Sinai of a man, with a heart like a thunderstorm. That man among ourselves who has the most human nature in him and the most heart; the most heart and the most passion in his heart; the most love and the most hate; the most anger and the most meekness; the most scorn and the most sympathy; the most sunshine and the most melancholy; the most agony in prayer, and the most victorious assurance that, all the time, his prayer is already answered-that man is the likest of us all to the prophet Elijah; that man has Elijah's own mantle fallen upon him. Only, alas! there is no such man among us. There is no man among us fit, for one moment, to stand like Elijah before God.

Now, whatever is the matter with us that God has not an Elijah among us, or anything like an Elijah, it is not that we are wanting in passions. We have all plenty of passions; and too much, since we are all so subject to our passions. What an ocean of all kinds of passions all our hearts are; and lashed with what winds without rest. What dark depths of self-love are in all our hearts. And what a master-passion is that same self-love. Self-love is a serpent; and, like the famous serpent in Scripture, it swallows up and swells out on all the other serpents of which our hearts are full. Yes; we all have passions enough to make us not Elijahs and Ahabs only, but angels in heaven, or devils in hell. And our passions are every day doing that within us. All the difference between Elijah and Ahab was in the subjection of their passions. Elijah was a man of immensely stronger passions than poor Ahab ever was; only Elijah's powerful passions all swept him up to heaven, whereas all Ahab's contemptible passions shouldered And shovelled and sucked him down to hell. Queen Jezebel, also, Ahab's wife, when she was still a woman-child, her passions were as sweet and pure and good and subject as were the passions of the Virgin Mary herself. The whole difference between Elijah and Ahab, and between Jezebel and the mother of our Lord was in their hearts' desires, till their hearts' desires grew up into all-consuming passions.

On life's vast ocean diversely we sail,
Reason the card; but passion is the gale.
May I govern my passions with absolute sway,
And grow wiser and better as my strength wears away.

And what a passionate preacher Elijah was. You know the story of the play-actor who scouted the minister because he dawdled over his prayers and his sermons as if he was ashamed of his message. 'We act our parts in dead earnest,' he said; 'and that is the reason that you have to sell your empty churches to us to make our theatres out of them.'

Yea,
This man's brow, like to a title-page,
Foretells the nature of a tragic volume.
Thou tremblest, and the whiteness of thy cheek
Is apter than thy tongue to tell thy errand.

'Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me in this matter of preaching. Lord, be Thou my helper. Turn my dreamings,' implores the passionate Andrewes, 'into earnestness, my follies into cleansings of myself, my guilt into indignation, my past sin into all the greater fear for the future, my sloth into passionate desire, and my pollution into revenge. And enable me, O my God, to bend all my passions of faith, and love, and hate, and fear, revenge, and remorse, and what not, in upon my own salvation, and the salvation of my people!'

And then in prayer. The translators of the New Testament tell us that they have preserved the Apostle James's passionate idiom in the margin of the text, 'Elias with all his passions prayed in his prayer.' And I, for one, am for ever deep in their debt for their so doing, for the prophetic and apostolic idiom in the margin takes possession of my imagination. It touches my heart; it speaks to my conscience and that because, after all these years of prayer, how seldom it is that we really 'pray in our prayers,' as the apostle tells us that the prophet prayed. We repeat choice passages of scripture in our prayers. We recite with studied pathos classical paragraphs out of Isaiah and Ezekiel. We praise one man and we blame another man in our prayers. We pronounce appreciations and we pass judgments in our prayers. We do everything in our prayers but truly pray. The Bible naturally shows a preference for men of like passions with itself; and the more of his passions any man puts into his prayer, the more space and the more praise the Bible gives to that man. Jacob was a prince in the passionateness of his prayer all that night at the Jabbok. What a tempest of passion broke upon the throne of God all that night. What a tempest of fear, and despair, and remorse, and self-accusation, of all indeed that was within Jacob's passionate heart. Jacob's raging passions really tore him to pieces that terrible night in his prayer. His very thighbones were twisted and torn out of their sockets, and his strongest sinews snapped like so many silly threads. There was not on the face of the earth another night of passion in prayer like that for the next two thousand years. Esau, also, often halted upon his thigh. But that was with hunting too hard; that was with running down venison, and leaping hedges and ditches after his quarry. Esau wrestled with wild beasts with all his passions, but Jacob wrestled with the angel. Now, let any man among ourselves henceforth pray in his prayers like Jacob and Elijah: let any man among ourselves determine to put his passions into his prayers like Jacob and Elijah, and it will make him a new man. His heart, and all the passions of his heart, will, in that way, more and more be drawn off the things of this life, and will be directed in upon the great world that is within him, and above him, and before him. The heat of his heart will begin to burn after heavenly things. His passions, that have made him so impossible for men to live with, will now all become subdued, and softened, and sweetened till he will be like a little child in your hands. He was at one time so hard, so harsh, so impossible to please, so full of his own opinions and prejudices, so loud, and so forward, and so wilful. But you never hear him now, he so despises himself, and so honours, and respects, and yields up to you. Nothing in the world so renews a man as putting his passions into his prayers. This, in time, will make a saint of the very chief of sinners. This, in time, will turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. O why do we ministers not preach more about prayer, and about the employment of our own and our people's passions in prayer! But if your ministers do not so preach, and do not know the way-you are independent of them. There is a great literature of prayer, and it would splendidly and immediately repay and reward you and your households to have it in your hands every day.

But Elijah would not be the great lesson to us that he is if he were always Elijah, with all his passions at all times at a flame in his prayers. That no man may glory before God, after all that Elijah has done, we see him before he dies just as weak, and as downcast, and as embittered, and as unhappy as if he had never known how to subdue and subject and sanctify his passions. No. It is no strange thing that is happening to us when we sit under our juniper-bush and say, 'It is enough. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.' Elijah was getting old. He was feeling lonely. His work seemed to him to have all come to nothing. Till death was now his only desire, and the grave his true resting-place. All men have their own dejections, and defeats, and despairs. But ministers far more than all other men. Partly from themselves; partly from the peculiar nature of their work; and partly from the deadly opposition to it in the world, and in the hearts of their people. What have I been spending all my life for? an old minister asks himself. Who is any better of all my work? Who is any holier or any happier, or whose house? Who is any less selfish, any less proud, any less worldly-minded, any less envious, any less ill-natured, any less faultfinding, any less evil-spoken? So we despond. So we repine. So we despair. So we sit and say after the triumphs, and the praises, and the hopes of our youth are all past, and our early successes are all over. It is enough. And now, O Lord, take away my life. But it is our pride. It is our self-will. It is our passions coming out of our prayers and coming in between us and our despisers, opposers, and persecutors. How much better did Samuel behave himself when he was deprived and dismissed and his work all forgotten. Samuel's wisdom and sweetness and absolute heavenly-mindedness never came out more than in his solitary and superseded old age, when he counselled and comforted the people, and said, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will still teach you the good and the right way. In this way Samuel showed Elijah the way to keep his old heart young to the end, and his spirit quiet, and good, and sweet, and beautiful. And it was prayer that did it; and it was putting all his remaining passions still into his prayers to his very end; and it was in that way that Samuel did it, and that Elijah at last learned to do it also.

For Elijah's passions all came back to all their first obedience, and to all their former splendid service, as he stood by Jordan and waited for his signal from the Lord. For, what was the chariot of Israel to Elijah that day, but Elijah's heart already in heaven? And what were those horses of fire that day, but all Elijah's passions all harnessed, in all their heaven-bounding strength, to that heavenly chariot? His faith, his fearlessness, his scorn of evil, his prayerfulness, his devotion to Israel and to God. Those horses of heavenly fire all spurned the earth as they stood and champed by the Jordan. And when the Lord would take up Elijah to Himself, all those horses of fire sprang with one leap up to heaven. And when Elisha saw it he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof! And he saw him no more.


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Elijah'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/e/elijah.html. 1901.

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Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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