Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE OCCASION OF THIS PRAYER.
1. Jezebel had threatened his life.
(1) Ahab had reported to his queen what Elijah had done at Carmel, and in particular recounted how he had slain all the prophets. In this statement we notice two capital faults. He did not recount what Jehovah had done; he did not properly distinguish the "prophets" slain as idolatrous and false. The gospel may be variously preached.
(2) Instead of reflecting and repenting, Jezebel was filled with resentment, and resolved upon the destruction of Elijah. Miracles will not do more than reason with a corrupt and prejudiced heart. (See Luke 16:31; John 12:10, 11.)
(3) She accordingly sent messengers to Elijah with an oath, declaring that within twenty-four hours she would revenge upon his life the slaughter of her priests. Wickedness is not always politic: by giving him this notice she gave him an opportunity to escape.
2. To save his life hefted.
(1) Was this wrong? Some have blamed him for it because he did not first ascertain the will of God. Had he no voice of God in the instinct of self preservation? Had he no voice of God in the providence which apprised him of his peril? Would he not have tempted the Lord his God to have waited for another voice? Had he remained and forfeited his life, would he not have been to blame? God gives us our reason, and if we follow its light, together with that of an upright conscience, we shall do well.
(2) But who can say that Elijah had no direction from the word of the Lord? Certainly there was a plan for his journey recognized by the angel with which he was familiar (see ver. 7). The distance from Beer-sheba to Horeb was about 150 miles.
(3) In his flight he came first to Beer-sheba, where he was under the pro. tection of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, who feared the Lord. There he left his servant in safety, and might have abode himself in safety had he not acted under the promptings of inspiration to proceed alone into the wilderness.
3. Alone with God he asks to die.
(1) The Hebrew phrase is, "He requested for his life that he might die." There is life in death to the righteous.
(2) "It is enough." This is the language of disappointment. He looked for better fruit of his ministry than he found. He thought, surely this demonstration on Carmel will extinguish idolatry; but he finds Jezebel swearing against his life, and apparently in a position to carry out her purpose. "Now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers." I am no more useful here than they have been who are gone hence. Let me join them.
II. THE ANSWERS GIVEN TO IT.
1. They come in the form of physical refreshment.
(1) Elijah's prayer was evidently uttered under the influence of physical exhaustion and discomfort. His sitting under the "juniper" is mentioned, not to suggest that he derived comfort from an ample shade, but rather to show how little shelter he could find. The word (רתם) is construed as in the text by the Hebrews, by Jerome, and the Vulgate; yet it is rather the genista (broom), a shrub with yellow flowers which grows in the desert, and which has its name (from רתם to bind) from the toughness or tenacity of its twigs, which were used for withes. Not only was he wayworn with his journey and exposure to the sun, but faint also for want of food and drink.
(2) The answer came to his prayer, therefore, in the blessing of refreshing sleep. Out of this also he was seasonably aroused by an Angel to find a cake on the coals (as bread is sometimes baked in the East) and a cruse of water at his bolster. God knows our frame, pities us, and makes due allowance for our frailties. When we find our spirits in a morbid state let us look to our health. Hygiene may come, even to the soul, as an angel of God.
2. They came to him in spiritual blessing.
(1) The refreshment which Elijah received was supernatural in its source. The bread and water came to him with the word and touch of the Angel-Jehovah (מלא יהוה). This was no common angel, but one of the Persons of the Godhead.
(2) It was supernatural also in its effects (ver. 8). In these he is brought intimately into association with Moses and Jesus. (Compare Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9, 18; Matthew 4:2.) It is also noteworthy how these three appear in glory together on the holy mount. (See Luke 9:30, 31.) The spiritual life we derive from God's word is set forth in the mystery of the manna which for forty years nourished the people of God in this wilderness. It is also set forth in that new life of Jesus in which after His resurrection He appeared to His disciples during forty days. (See Romans 6:11; Galatians 2:20.) - J.A.M.
(1) The prophet's state of mind.
(2) The way in which God deals with him.
I. THE PROPHET'S STATE OF MIND. It is one of deep despondency. Fear of the queen's revenge is not enough of itself to explain it. There is disappointment at the apparent result of the events of the previous day, weariness of life, disgust at the condition of the land, a sense of powerlessness before the difficulties of his position, perhaps doubt as to the wisdom of what he has done. He speaks and acts as a dispirited, broken-hearted man. Note some of the manifest causes of this despondency. We can never thoroughly understand the feelings of a man unless we take into account the sources and occasions of them, and try to put ourselves in his place.
1. Physical exhaustion. His bodily frame was worn and weary. animal spirits had had a great strain upon them, and now suffered a corresponding relapse. Unwonted exertion of strength was followed by unwonted weakness. The relation that exists between the state of the body and the state of the mind is very mysterious, but very real. The elation or depression of our religious feeling depends far more on mere physical conditions than we often imagine. A diseased body will often cause a dark cloud to come over the spirit's firmament; much that is morbid in the religious thoughts and emotions of good men needs to be dealt with by the physician of the body rather than of the soul.
2. Loneliness. He was without the companionship and sympathy of those who would share his labours and perils. "I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to destroy it." It is a single-handed conflict in which he is involved. There are none to stand by him, none whom he can trust. Such isolation is the severest possible test of fidelity, As the rock never appears more majestic than when seen standing alone, with the ocean billows rolling round it, so with one who is "faithful found among the faithless," cut off from all natural and human supports, isolated in a surrounding sea of indifference or iniquity. (Think of Paul: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me," 2 Timothy 4:16; above all the Christ. "I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with me," Isaiah 63:3.) Supernatural help will often come for special emergencies, and will make the soul sublimely independent of external aid; but it is hard to carry on a long, patient conflict with difficulties alone.
3. Want of success. His ministry, seems all in vain. His words are but as the dreams of the false prophets. The solemn testimony given on Carmel has passed away without effecting any real change in the condition of things. The fire that consumed his sacrifice has gone out. Righteous vengeance has been inflicted on the idolatrous prophets, and the Kishon has swept away their blood. The drought has done its work, and the rain has returned upon the land. And now all seems to be going on just as it was before. Ahab and Jezebel are as hostile and treacherous and full of cruel hate as ever; and as for the people, there is no kind of security for their constancy to their recent vows. Surely he is living his sad life in vain! That dreariest of all thoughts to a man of high and holy purpose - that his labour is utterly fruitless - sweeps like a withering wind through his soul, and he wishes he were dead. "O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers."
4. The sense of having forsaken the post of responsibility. It may have been a natural impulse that moved him to "fly for his life," but no wonder his despondency deepened as he lost himself in the solitudes of the wilderness. His was the inward disquietude which will always be the penalty of a man's having weakly or wilfully deserted the path of duty. When good men place themselves in a false position, they must expect the shadow of some morbid condition of feeling to fall upon their spirits. When the hands of those who ought to be busy about some work for God are idle, their hearts are left a prey to all sorts of evil influences. Religious activity is one of the main secrets of religious health. What is our grand business in this world but just to battle against the weaknesses of our own nature, and the force of adverse circumstances? And when the difficulties of our position gather thickest about us, then is the time to cast ourselves most fearlessly on the Divine power that will enable us to overcome them and listen to the voice that says, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life."
II. GOD'S WAY OF DEALING WITH HIM. Taking a general view of the Divine method, we see that each successive step is wisely adapted to the prophet's need.
1. Physical refreshment. An angel is sent with food for the nourishment of his exhausted frame; not to talk with him, not by remonstrance or persuasion to chase away his morbid feelings, but to feed him. The disease of the mind is to be cured by first removing the weakness of the body, which was one of its causes. It is a suggestive incident. Our physical nature is as truly an object of Divine thought and care as the spiritual. God will not fail to supply the meaner wants of His children. The beneficent ministries of His providence are ever auxiliary to the higher purposes of His grace.
2. A significant revelation of the Divine presence and power. The remarkable phenomena described in the eleventh and twelfth verses on doubt had a symbolic meaning. The wind, the earthquake, and the fire were emblems of the conspicuous and extraordinary manner in which Elijah probably expected the work of God to be carried on. The "still small voice" that followed taught him that God's chosen way of working was rather one that is calm and noiseless. The stirring events that had recently taken place were only preparatory to the silent but mightier energy of His spirit working through the voice of the prophet. We are apt to overestimate the power of that which "cometh with observation." Why should the wind, and the fire, and the earthquake be God's only instruments? Is He not equally in the gently dawning light, the soft-whispering breeze, the silent, secret forces of nature? Your path of usefulness may be obscure, your influence unobserved, its issues slowly developed. But be not disheartened. Remember the "still small voice" breathing in the ear of the prophet at the mouth of the cave when the tumult was over and learn that it is by a feeble instrument and a quiet, patient process that God will accomplish His grandest work in the moral sphere. This is the method of the world's Redeemer. "He shall not cry nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets, etc. (Isaiah 42:2, 8, 4).
3. Words of rebuke and encouragement. "What doest thou here, Elijah?" "Go, return on thy way." "Yet have I left me seven thousand in Israel," etc. Thus does God reprove him for the faithlessness that lay at the root of his despondency. If the veil that hid the secret life of Israel could at that hour have been uplifted, he would have seen how little real reason there was for it. Seven thousand living witnesses might have come forth from their obscurity to show that his work was not in vain. We little know what God is doing beneath the surface, at the secret heart of society, when appearances seem most unfavourable. Let us be true to ourselves and to Him, doing faithfully the work He has given us to do in storm or in calm, and leave it to Him to bring about the glorious issue. "Be ye therefore steadfast, immovable," etc. (1 Corinthians 15:58). - W.
I. ELIJAH'S WEAKNESS.
1. His disappointment. With the hand of the Lord upon him he had come to Jezreel (1 Kings 18:46). Was it not because a further success for God awaited him there? Could Carmel's wonders and the mercy of God in the rain now flooding the earth be resisted? Jezebel's message, displaying only determined and increased hostility, rudely dispels the dream. The blighting of the long-expected fruit of prayer and waiting and mightiest effort is worse to bear than all the hardships which went before. Other trials may depress, but under this the spirit is utterly broken.
2. His flight. He shows no trust in Him who was mightier than Jezebel tie flees to the south of Judah. Even there it does not seem to him that he is in safety, and he goes a day's journey into the wilderness; but neither at Jezreel nor at Beer-sheba does he seek direction from the Lord. The overthrow of hope is also the overthrow of faith. Ceasing to hope in God we cease to wait on God.
3. His prayer.
(1) Its inconsistency. He had fled for his life, and now he prays God that he may die. We are not fittest for heaven when we are most tired of earth. We must "enter his gates" - the gates of the city that hath foundations - "with praise," not with complaints and accusations.
(2) Its unbelief. God's work is abandoned as impossible; nothing remains for Him but to take back the life of His defeated servant! Many a noble heart besides has lifted up the same cry of despair. The noblest of mankind are nothing when once the fire of trust is quenched in the soul. "The just shall live by faith;" when faith dies, every good and noble thing dies with it.
II. HOW GOD BINDS UP THE BROKEN HEARTED.
1. He gives rest. "He lay and slept." Even in the desert to which we flee unbidden, God gives shelter and rest. "For so he giveth his beloved sleep."
2. He imparts strength for the onward way to where light will break upon the darkness and a new mission will be given. Elijah is fed once and again with angel food, and in the strength of it goes "forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the mount of God." We are revived with tender heavenly ministrations: we see His goodness in the land of the living, and pass onward to the place where we shall meet with Him and hear His voice. - J.U
despondency, is set before us here, and we will seek to discover its causes.
I. REACTION AFTER EXCITEMENT. Great natures are peculiarly subject to this. The impulse which impels to a noble act has a rebound proportioned to its intensity. Peter and John the Baptist stand beside Elijah as exemplars of this fact. From it arises the special peril of revivalistic services. Excitement has its place and power in the advance of Christ's kingdom, but we must not substitute spasmodic feeling for steady growth.
II. EXHAUSTION OF PHYSICAL AND NERVOUS ENERGY. Even the gigantic strength of Elijah underwent a terrible strain on Carmel Anxiety, enthusiasm, burning zeal, exultation combined to agitate him, and these were doubtless preceded by many days and nights of passionate, agonizing prayer. God's provision for the prophet - the sleep that came over him, as over a tired child, the food prepared by angel hands - prove that this was recognized. Show the mutual dependence of body and mind. Neither the equable temperament of some Christians nor the excitability of others is due always to the presence or absence of Divine grace. Good food, fresh air, and change of scene would do more than religious exercises to restore tone to some who are despondent. The neglect of sanitary laws is a sin. There was far-reaching wisdom in Paul's declaration, "I keep the body under."
III. ABSENCE OF SYMPATHY. "I am left alone." "I only am left." Such was the burden of Elijah's cry. This is a special source of despondency to missionaries surrounded by the heathen. It affects also multitudes who are not so literally alone. They may have many Christians around them, but in their special work, in their peculiar difficulty, they can find none to help, or even to understand them. "Alone in a crowd" is a true description of many a disciple of Christ, who is thinking his own thoughts and fighting his own foes. Show from this the wisdom of the provision God has made in Church fellowship. Point out the causes which tend to make such communion unreal or unhelpful. Urge the cultivation of sympathy with young disciples, with obscure workers, etc.
IV. INFLUENCE OF DOUBT. The confidence of the prophet on Carmel had broken down. Jezebel had not been cowed by the sudden revulsion of popular feeling. She doubted its permanence, and at all events resolved that she would not lose heart, so Ahab and his courtiers were reassured when she swore to have revenge on Elijah. The prophet thought now that he had been too sanguine - that the one chance had come and gone without effect. Doubt paralyzed him. Doubt of God's willingness to forgive plunges the penitent into despondency. He would scarcely venture secretly into a crowd to touch the hem of Christ's garment. Doubt of God's readiness to hear and answer prayer keeps the Christian from the light of His countenance, etc.
V. INVISIBILITY OF ANTAGONISTS. Elijah could face his visible foes on Carmel without quailing - indeed, he dared to taunt them at the risk of being torn to pieces - but against this vague feeling of despair he could not hold his own. Moral battles are the hardest to fight. He who can grapple with what is tangible sometimes fails when called on to "wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with principalities, and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world." Some would rather run the risk of being condemned hereafter, as wicked and slothful servants, than have the certainty of being sneered at now as those who are "righteous overmuch."
VI. ENFORCED INACTIVITY. Elijah's opportunity for vigorous action seemed over. He was cast in upon his own thoughts. Few could bear it less patiently than he. The man who can dare and do anything finds it specially hard to wait and to suffer. Similar temptation to despondency comes to those who are laid aside by illness, or removed from a happy sphere of service. But that is the time to wait on the Lord, and so "renew our strength."
CONCLUSION. In all hours of despondency remember that He who knew the agony of Gethsemane and Calvary pities us, and feels for us. "We have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities," etc. - A.R.
Exodus 32:22), and here becomes the subject of Divine communications and revelations. Consider now -
I. HIS INTERCESSION AGAINST ISRAEL.
1. Observe the occasion.
(1) The question came to him by the word of the Lord, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" In answer to this he urged what Paul calls his "intercession against Israel" (Romans 11:2, 8). Wherever we are it behoves us to ask ourselves what business we have here. Everywhere our first business is to glorify God.
(2) This question is thought to suggest that Elijah might have been more profitably employed elsewhere. But did he not come here after receiving supernatural strength from God Himself expressly for this journey 2 (See vers. 7, 8.)
(3) Rather must we not look upon his journey in the light of a parable, showing how God abandons those who refuse to be reformed? (Compare Jeremiah 9:2.) In this view we can see how Elijah acted in "faith" in this journey; for Paul seems to allude to him in Hebrews 11:38.
2. The matter of the accusation.
(1) The view now given harmonizes with this, the substance of which is the prophet's great jealousy for the Lord God of hosts, whose honour had been outraged by the apostasy of the children of Israel. Here is no confession of that unworthy timidity with which Elijah has been, we think, too hastily charged. Nor had he any rebuke from God for such supposed dastardliness, which doubtless he would have received had he deserved it. He is here because he cannot abide in the land of Israel, where Jehovah was commonly insulted.
(2) He recounts the particulars of his grief. "For the children of Israel have forsaken flay covenant" - have substituted false Elohim for Thee; "thrown down thine altars" - attempted to abolish Thy worship; "slain thy prophets with the sword" - to provide against any revival of the pure religion of their fathers; "and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away." Of what use, then, could he be to such a people? (See Hosea 4:17.)
(3) The motive of this intercession to God against Israel is not personal revenge, but zeal for Jehovah. And though we are bound, as Christians, to love our enemies, that does not say that we are to love the enemies of God. There is a spurious charity in high favour which the Scriptures do not sanction. (See 2 Chronicles 19:2; Psalm 119:19; Psalm 139:21; Luke 14:26.) Beware of that charity which has complicity with sin.
(4) The repetition of the answer when a second time the question was put evinces the deep sincerity of the prophet's soul.
II. THE ANSWER OF GOD UNTO HIM. I. This was first given in symbol.
(1) To witness the vision he was caused to stand on the mount before the Lord. Probably this was the place where Moses stood on a similar occasion (see Exodus 19:9, 16). We should have the Rock of Ages for our foundation when we witness visions of God. All shall witness them in the judgment of the great day.
(2) Terrible signs immediately followed upon the passing by of Jehovah.
(a) First, "a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord." Here was a sign of wrath upon the rulers and people, through invasion. (Compare Jet 4:11-15; Ezekiel 6:2; Amos 4:1).
(3) But the Lord was in none of these. Judgments are a strange work to Him. They are necessary to the order of His government, but not congenial to His nature. "He delighteth in mercy." So the Lord was in the "still small voice" which followed. The gentle voice of the gospel follows the law which came with the uproar of the elements, and God is in it. So Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle. (Compare Exodus 3:6; Isaiah 6:2.)
2. It was afterwards expounded in words.
(1) Elijah, the intercessor against Israel, and therefore the impersonation of anger against sin, was to return to Israel by way of Damascus, where he was to "anoint Hazael to be king over Syria." In Hazael now we must look for the "strong wind" that was to come up and make havoc upon the mountains and rocks of Israel. (Compare 2 Kings 8:12, 13; 2 Kings 10:32, 38; 13:3.)
(2) "Jehu the son of Nimshi" was Elijah to "anoint to be king over Israel." Here was the instrument of the "earthquake" of revolution. (See 2 Kings 9:1-3.) Not only did Jehu bring a signal destruction upon the whole house of Ahab; he brought down judgment also upon the worshippers of Baal (2 Kings 10:28).
(3) "Elisha the son of Shaphat" was this impersonation of righteous anger to "anoint to be prophet" in his room. Here is God's instrument of "fire." His words are to be swords of flame. So "it shall come to pass that him that escapeth from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay." No sinner can escape the fire of God's word.
(4) But the "still small voice" of the gospel of mercy has its triumphs. "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel," etc. God has His faithful "hidden ones" (Psalm 83:3). No wonder Elijah should cover his face with reverent gratitude at the discovery of that sealed company in whose midst was JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH! (Ezekiel 48:35; Revelation 7:13-17.) - J.A.M.
Psalm 139.) Christ knew the plans of His foes (Matthew 12:25). He understood the unexpressed wants of the sinful (Matthew 9:2). He heard the secret conversations of His followers (Mark 9:33), and lovingly answered their unspoken questions (John 16:19). In this story God's pity is as conspicuous as His knowledge. Refreshed by the provision given by unseen hands, Elijah went to Horeb, a place sacred in its associations and lonely in its grandeur. There, hidden in a cave from the wrath of Jezebel, the voice of Jehovah reached him, saying, "What doest thou here, Elijah?"
I. THE QUESTION CAME TO A PROPHET IN HIS HOUR OF DESPAIR. This Divine interposition on his behalf teaches us the means God uses to bring us out from our despondency. The prophet was delivered from his depression by learning the following lessons:
1. That God was near. Whatever the sin that needs pardon, the weakness that wants conquering, the doubt that wants unravelling, there is no fear of the issue if we can consciously bring it to God. Elijah was saved because he dared tell Jehovah all that was in his heart. Moses sometimes was compelled to leave his work to the elders, that he might speak to God face to face. The disciples "went and told Jesus" their grief and their triumph. Aye, and the Master Himself nerved Himself for work and for suffering by prayer - on the mountain or in the garden., Satan says, Give up prayer till your difficulties are removed. Christ says, Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
2. That success was assured. Elijah thought he stood alone. but the Lord said, "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel," etc. Success was not where the prophet had looked for it. The crowds on Carmel had not been radically changed, but the secret worshippers of God had been strengthened by his heroism. So in the Lord's ministry, the nucleus of the Church was not found in the applauding multitudes on Olivet, but in the few faithful ones in the garden of Gethsemane. Our work may be greater than we think. No word or work for Christ fails of its reward. "For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
3. That work was waiting (ver. 15). Elijah was not to remain in the cave, any more than the disciples were to dwell on the mount of transfiguration. For his own sake and for the good of others he was to be up and doing. If you would be saved from brooding, despondency, and doubt, throw yourselves into the work of God. Do with all your might what your hands find to do: and your service will restore tone to your mind, and bring hope to your heart, and prepare you to hear the "Well done, good and faithful servant."
II. THIS QUESTION CAME TO A MAN IN A FALSE POSITION. "What doest thou here, Elijah?" The inquiry should pursue others who have fled in caves in which they would fain hide themselves from responsibility.
1. It comes to the impenitent, in the cave of concealment. They say, "Doth God know?" He sees the secret sin. He knows the iniquity of that which society applauds, and the day is coming when excuses shall be stripped off, and wickedness discovered Before that terrible day, when "the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed," come to the feet of a pardoning God.
2. It comes to the penitent in the cave of despondency. To all such God says, "Come now, and let us reason together."
3. It comes to the indolent in the cave of sloth. Years of profession unrelieved by a single act of service or sacrifice call for repentance.
4. It comes to the sorrowful in the cave of murmuring "Lift up the hands which hang down," etc. Suffer your Redeemer to bring you out of the horrible pit, and "put a new song into your mouth, even praise unto our God."
CONCLUSION. The Lord speaks to all. "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." - A.R.
I. How GOD DEALS WITH THE DESPAIRING.
1. Elijah's mistake. Because Jezebel's enmity remained unsubdued the straggle was at once given over as hopeless; "and he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there." The same mistake is made by those who labour on with unexpectant toil, whose wrestling with God is given up, whose feeble thought and listless tones proclaim their hopelessness: by those who have laid down the work to which God called them - preachers in retirement or in other spheres, teachers, etc. - and those who have ceased to strive against their own sin.
2. God's remedy.
(1) The heart is searched. "What doest thou here, Elijah?" A prophet in the desert? A living man illumined with the light of the knowledge of God, a companion of reeks and stones and solitude; and death and sin crying to be visited with the rebuke of God, and hearts fainting for lack of His light and consolations? Was it for this God endowed and called thee? A word for those who have left the vineyard; for those who have not yet entered; for the worldly and the sinful. To hear this voice is preparation for entering the path of life and of service. Till it be heard there is no possibility of either.
(2) Unbelief is unveiled. When God's voice is heard, and the reasons for the wilderness flight are named, it is seen that He has been shut out of sight. He mentions his own zeal, and Israel's sin, but of God there is nothing said. It is unbelief alone which can kill prayer and earnest, hopeful toil. It was only when Peter ceased to gaze on Jesus that the stormy waves engulfed him. If we are in the wilderness, forgetfulness of God has set us there.
II. THE PATH OF DELIVERANCE FOR THE HOPELESS.
1. The vision of God. Elijah's thoughts of God's way were corrected.
(1) God was not in the whirlwind, or the earthquake, or the fire. What had failed to turn Israel and subdue Jezebel was not what was really God's power unto salvation, but what Elijah erroneously conceived to he this. We despair because certain methods, influences, arguments fail; but they can only fail because God is not in them.
(2) God was in the still small voice that awoke within the heart. The power which now held and searched the prophet's own soul was the manifestation of what was power for the souls of others.
2. The recognition of ourselves as only part of the manifold agency of God. Other hands as well as his were to carry on the work of judgment and of mercy (vers. 15-17). To feel our brotherhood with the servants of God fills us with joy and power.
3. The assurance that God never works in vain (ver. 18). The results may be hid from us, but they are known to Him. - J.U.
I. THE SPIRITUAL WEAKNESS OF WHAT SEEMS MIGHTY. "The Lord was not in the wind ..... in the earthquake, .... in the fire." Let us exemplify this truth -
1. By the experience of Elijah. He had done many mighty works, but the people were startled rather than reformed. No radical and abiding change had been effected. "The wind" may represent the drought, both in its coming and in its ceasing; "the earthquake," the raising of the child from the dead; and "the fire," the answer to prayer on Carmel. It was not these wonders which could change the heart of the people, but "the still small voice" speaking within for God.
2. My the miracles of judgment. Take the plagues of Egypt as specimens. Marvellous enough they were, but in the result "Pharaoh's heart was hardened."
3. By the penalties of the law. Show from the history of Israel, and from the comments made on it in the Epistles, the powerlessness of the law to put away sin. The fear of punishment may check the outward manifestation of sin, but in itself does not conquer innate sinfulness. If a child does not love his father, no orders, however stringently enforced, will make him happy. It was not John the Baptist, but Jesus Christ, who was the world's Redeemer,
4. By the events of Providence. Illness, the dread of death, a startling bereavement, a national calamity, etc., do not convert men, unless through them or after them "the still small voice" is heard. Men may be driven to alarm, to murmuring, to despair, perhaps to suicide; but their hearts are still rebellious under the influence of trouble. It is not the storm, but the voice of Jesus in the storm, saying, "It is I," that brings rest to those who welcome Him.
II. THE SPIRITUAL STRENGTH OF WHAT SEEMS FEEBLE. The still small vice, which only a listening man could hear, was more Divine and more mighty than all Elijah had witnessed before. There was all the difference between God's power and God's presence. "The Lord was not in the fire," but His was the still small voice; concerning which we observe -
1. It follows on preparation. Elijah had heard so much, had been so startled into keen listening for the wonderful, that he did not fail to hear this. So the miracles which had not converted the people had made them ready for Elisha and the school of the prophets. Similarly John preceded Jesus. It is thus in personal experience. The earthquake did not convert the jailer at Philippi, but it aroused him to ask, "What must I do to be saved?" Trouble does not save a man, but it may make him ready to listen to the words of life. Some must lose all before they find all in God.
2. It reminds of secret forces. The most mighty are silent in nature and in grace; e.g., gravitation is far more tremendous than volcanic agency.
3. It typifies the influence of the Holy Spirit. "He shall convince the world of righteousness," etc. How secretly He melts the heart to repentance, faith, and obedience, and changes the whole current of affection and thought.
4. It whispers of the love of Christ. He forced none into His kingdom, but won all His subjects man by man. Not His reproaches, but His look of love, broke the heart of Peter into penitence, after the denial. Paul's inspiration was found not in applause or success, but in this - that he could ever say, "The love of Christ constraineth me."
CONCLUSION. Wait for no resistless influences, for no startling events; but listen to the "still small voice" which speaks within, testifying of your deep necessity and Christ's glorious redemption. - A.R.
predict. (See Jeremiah 1:10; Ezekiel 43:3; Romans 4:17.) The reason is that their predictions are sure to be accomplished; and upon the same principle a true faith in the promises of God is said to be the "substance" or subsistence of "things hoped for" (Hebrews 11:1). It is certain that Elisha made provision for the anointing of Jehu; Elisha also informed Hazael that he should be king over Syria (see 2 Kings 8:13; 2 Kings 9:1-3). The call of Elisha was by the hand of Elijah.
I. THE CALL OF ELISHA WAS FROM GOD.
1. Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha.
(1) The prophet's mantle was the symbol of his office. It seems to have been the skin of an animal, or composed of some hairy material (see 2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:5; Isaiah 20:2; Matthew 3:4). In allusion to this, perhaps, the popes invest their cardinals with the pallium - a cloak or pall made of wool.
(2) The mantle of Elijah thrown upon Elisha was the sign that he was to "follow him," to be his servant first, and eventually to be his successor. The mantle, accordingly, came fully into the possession of Elisha when his "master" was "taken from his head" (2 Kings 2:3, 16).
(3) The "spirit of Elijah" then "came upon Elisha." So essential to a prophet is the Spirit of God that prophets themselves are called "spirits." False prophets also are called "spirits," but for an opposite reason (see 1 Kings 22:22, 23; 1 Corinthians 14:32; 1 John 4:1, 2).
2. Elijah acted under Divine direction.
(1) After he had asked for himself that he might die, God expressly commissioned him to anoint "Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-Meholah" to be "prophet in his room" (ver. 16). The lame minister is God's gift.
(2) God knew the qualities of Elisha. The manner in which he received the call proved him to be a true man. God's order is, first "grace," then "apostleship" (see Romans 1:5). Those persons deceive themselves who, being destitute of godliness, affect apostleship (see Psalm 1:16). Nor can apostleship abide where grace is forfeited (Acts 1:25).
(6) Elijah found Elisha, not in the schools of the prophets, but ploughing in the field. The spirit of prophecy will not be tied down to human institutions, however venerable and respectable.
II. THE RESPONSE OF ELISHA WAS TO GOD
1. He accordingly renounced the world.
(1) He had something to sacrifice. The "twelve yoke of oxen" indicate prosperity. The glimpse we get of his home is sufficient to discover comfort and happiness. Everybody has something to give up for God.
(2) At the call of God he gave up all. Instantly he "left the oxen and ran after Elijah." There should be no hesitation in entering upon the service of God. Elisha did not go home to ask but to take leave of his parents. For the authority of God is above that of parents. His proposal to return to his home was not a pretext for delay, else he would have merited the censure of our Lord (see Luke 5:29; Luke 9:61, 62) The completeness of his renunciation of the world was expressed in his sacrificing the oxen together with the gear. Ministers, in particular, should be free from the entanglements of this life (see Matthew 10:9, 10; 1 Corinthians 9:14; 2 Timothy 2:4).
2. He followed Elijah.
(1) He had something to encounter. The life of a prophet was not without its privations and discomforts. And in following Elijah, whose life was threatened with an oath by Jezebel, he would expose himself to her malignity. The offence of the cross has not ceased.
(2) He encountered all cheerfully. Elijah responded to his request to let him kiss his father and mother before following him, saying, "Go, return; for what have I done to thee?" This answer was intended to throw upon Elisha the consideration of all that was involved in his call, so that his choice might be intelligent and free. He was not long in counting the cost. God had predisposed his heart (see Psalm 110:3). Soon we find him pouring water upon the hands of Elijah - lovingly serving the servant of his Lord (2 Kings 3:11). Observe:
1. Elisha, though evidently a great man at Abel-Meholah, could handle the plough. There is no disgrace in honest labour. It is even honourable.
2. While in pursuit of his business he was called of God. Business will not be honest if it prevent us from hearing God's voice.
3. He returned to kiss his father and mother and make a farewell feast with his household before following Elijah. Natural affection and social endearments, within proper limits, are respected by religion.
4. Elisha's parents do not seem to have hindered him. Those parents incur fearful responsibilities who, under worldly influences, hinder their sons from responding to a call of God to enter His ministry. - J.A.M.
I. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE DIVINE CHOICE. No indication is given as to why Elisha particularly should have been called to this office. So it has generally been in the case of those who, in the olden times, were raised up to occupy distinguished positions in the development of the Divine plan. (Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, etc.) So was it in Christ's choice of the inner circle of His disciples; as when to the sons of Zebedee mending their nets, and to Matthew at the receipt of custom, He said, "Follow me." But the elections of God are never arbitrary and capricious. He chooses whom He will to be the instruments of His purpose, "taking one of a city and two of a family" as it pleases Him (Jeremiah 3:14). But there is always some deep and sufficient reason for this, though we may not be able to trace it. Every man who has done any great work for God in the world has been more or less deeply impressed with this sense of a special Divine call and commission. And it has given a dignity to his bearing and strength and courage to his spirit that nothing else could give. Every true Christian finds highest inspiration in the thought that God has singled him out from the crowd and summoned him to the service of a consecrated life. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you," etc. (John 15:16).
II. THE SACRED PERSONAL RELATION IT ESTABLISHED BETWEEN THE PROPHET AND HIS SERVANT. Elijah's throwing his "mantle" upon him as he passed by was a symbolic act indicative of this. It was the sign of their common prophetic vocation, the seal and bond of the new relation existing between them. It betokened
(1) some kind of adoption to sonship. "My Father, my Father" (2 Kings 2:12).
(2) A transference of the responsibility of the prophetic work.
(3) The impartation of the same spirit, even the "double portion" of the firstborn (2 Kings 3:9, 10). We see here something dimly typical of the relation Christ sustained towards His chosen apostles. "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so also have I sent them," etc. (John 17:18, 19). Some such relation subsisted between Paul and his "dearly beloved son" Timothy. "As a son with the father he hath served with me in the gospel" (Philippians 2:22). "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance," etc. "Hold fast the form of sound words," etc. (2 Timothy 1:6, 13). The thought becomes proverbial when we speak of the "mantle" of a great leader falling upon his successors. One of the chief ends of a noble life is answered when others take up the work that it left unfinished, and catch the spirit of its example; nothing more sacred than the spiritual bond thus established.
III. THE COMPLETENESS OF ELISHA'S SELF SURRENDER. Natural feeling for a moment throws an obstacle in the way. "Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother." It was a hard task for him at once to loosen himself from family ties, and relinquish the comforts of what was probably a prosperous pastoral life, and cast in his lot with the wandering prophet. Elijah's answer seems to disown the exercise of any undue constraint upon him, and simply leaves him free to choose. But the loyalty of his spirit to the Divine authority soon settles the alternative, and aider an act expressive of his entire abandonment of the associations of his former life, "he arose and went after Elijah and ministered unto him." We are reminded of the way in which Christ called on men to surrender their all and follow Him (Luke 9:57-62). Fidelity to Him demands complete self-sacrifice. The strongest fascinations, and even the dearest ties of earth, will give way to the realized sovereignty of His claims. "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37). - W.
I. THE CALL TO SERVICE.
1. Where it found him - in the field engaged in laborious, careful toil. The Master chooses servants for higher trusts who have been faithful in lower.
2. How it came. The mantle cast upon him was a sign of adoption. It was a call to share the prophet's home and love. Elijah was to find a son in the newly-called servant of God, and Elisha a father in the great prophet of Israel. We pass into God's service through union with His people.
II. INDECISION REBUKED (ver. 20).
1. The request. He "ran after Elijah," yet with entreaty for permission to go back and kiss father and mother. The new ties and the old were both binding him, and the vain attempt was made to comply with both. God's call must from the first have the mastery. The seeming severity which we are called upon to exercise will yield fruits of joy. God, fully chosen, will be fully known; and the breaking of lower ties may preach the claims of God to those we love best.
2. The answer. "Go back again, for what have I done to thee?" The gift neglected is taken away. As we value it and sacrifice for it, in that measure is it given to us. Treat God's grace as nothing, and to you it becomes nothing.
III. THE CHOICE MADE.
1. The past was broken with. His own yoke of oxen were slain, the instruments of his toll consumed.
2. It was done with gladness. He made a feast for the people.
3. He took the place which God meanwhile assigned him. "Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him." Humble, loving companionship with God's people is preparation for taking up their work. - J.U.